Sur--Prise...damn that bitch.
I could have bitten off Beatriz’s tongue and spat it out at Hamish. As it was, Hamish shrunk back in his seat, as if I gate-crashed his tête-à-tête. He half-rose, but my composure wavered.
‘No time for idle chit-chat, no doubt you’ll see us in the hospital later, Mr. Donaldson.’ Mary nudged me, and I realised my manners were left wanting. ‘Oh, forgive me, Doctor,’ — I propelled May forward — ‘meet Mrs. Parrington, Jane’s mother.’
Hamish excelled himself; his face creased into his bedside smile, and he held out a hand — nails freshly manicured and polished.
Beatriz closing in?
I didn’t listen to his meaningless words...
‘...in different circumstances, Mrs. Parrington.’
‘Call me Mary, please.’ She squirmed against me, clearly taken by his charm and manners. ‘We’re about to pick at a salad or something light. Would you care to join us?’
Beatriz folded her arms. ‘Sorry, we’re...err...’
Hamish cut her off. ‘No, not at all, Beatriz. I’ll accompany these ladies while you set up our meeting with NEMO.’
Beatriz’s expression mirrored mine. Maybe Hamish was a serial womaniser. But, if that was the case, why did he fall asleep on me? Or had I been too easy? Or..?
Hamish clutched Mary’s arm. ‘Let’s sit inside, it’s cooler.’
From the radiant smile on her lips and flushed face, I had the feeling that I would be playing gooseberry. Daughter not yet cold, a new-born grandson, and here she was, acting like a tramp. I sighed.
She hadn’t changed.
I followed them inside, one step behind, and we sat at a table underneath a whirling ceiling fan.
‘Seafood is good here,’ said Hamish. ‘Fresh...’ He stopped as if recalling how I lost my Angelique.
But the reminder made my stomach heave, and quelled my appetite. ‘Only iced tea for me,’ I said. ‘And a straw.’
Mary glanced at me, then at Hamish. How long would it take her to work out we had history?
No matter. That’s what it was.
During lunch, I picked my way through an untrod minefield, sidetracking initial attempts by Hamish to engage with me. Not that he persisted; his attentions were all too readily consumed by Mary, who ate her way through his every word.
While they drank coffee and became engrossed in current UK society affairs, which bored me to distraction, I thought about Richard and Charles. Two men in my life; my husband, who had forsaken me, and Charles, who emerged as shallow as his honourable war record — tied to a desk at Sandhurst. Not that either man was truly bad; we were all suffering in our own ways.
And with Hamish, would I be clutching at straws? I sipped a glass of iced tea that was mostly slush. Would my life, too, be similarly destined?
Just a compromise..?
I blinked my eyes, heavy lids that weighed them down — too many sleepless nights that no amount of moisturiser or makeup could mask. A touch on my arm.
‘Time to go.’
A scraping of chair legs on the wooden floor as they both stood up. I made the effort to follow suit. I doubted whether Mary really needed my support, or whether I was merely a convenient ally here a million miles away from civilisation as she knew it. I dreaded the next couple of hours. Would I be strong enough to discuss the cold mechanics of Jane’s funeral — a closure that I hadn’t had with Angelique — without breaking down? I brushed a hand across my forehead to ward off a dull throb that threatened to erupt into a migraine.
‘Are you feeling ill, petal?’
Mary appeared concerned; frowning, but her eyes sought denial.
‘I’ll be fine inside the hospital,’ I said. ‘A couple of aspirins should see me through.’
‘If you’d rather...’ said Hamish, as always showing the caring doctor face. He glanced at Mary, she shrugged.
Leave them to plot together? No way.
‘Please don’t worry. It’ll pass.’
It didn’t. Our meeting with Rod and the Hospital Director, which should have been straightforward, was beset with uncertainty, much to Mary’s distaste which I put down to jet lag. As Rod explained — once the formal introductions and condolences were concluded — there was no precedence although NEMO would pay the costs of expatriating Jane’s body back to the UK.
‘No,’ said Mary, looking at me. ‘I haven’t come all this way to pass the time of day. I want closure here.’
We were seated in large, hard chairs around an oval mahogany table in what could be a Committee Room. Pictures of the President and high- ranking officials adorned one wall, next to a large window with a view over the Grand Mosque. A coffee pot bubbled away on a sideboard, next to a brooding Beatriz who was taking notes. Mary and me, together with Hamish commanded one side with Rod and the Hospital Director, Mr. Saleem — a well-dressed and well-fed Indonesian who oozed platitudes — facing us.
‘That would be difficult,’ said Rod, turning towards Saleem. ‘We have to comply with Sharia law here.’
Mary shrugged. ‘What’s that, when it’s at home?’
A band of dull pain crossed my forehead, but Saleem held out a hand, not offended. His English had an Aussie twang, which seemed out of place, somehow.
‘Our Muslim society, Lady Parrington’ — I stifled a gurgle — ‘is governed by a very strict code of conduct here in Aceh. With regard to your late daughter, non-Muslims like yourself would find the customs, and expected behaviour, very rigid.’
In other words — don’t mess with us.
Mary glanced at me as if seeking my support. I touched her arm.
‘Perhaps Mr. Saleem could offer us his guidance.’
That’s when we went round in a few circles, everybody chipping in, which didn’t improve Mary’s mood or my revolving headache.
‘I’m not so good at this,’ Mary said. ‘Maybe Richard or Charles...’
She opened her bag and fished out her mobile. ‘I’ve got Charles’ number. Do you have Richard’s, petal? Time to round up the troops.’