The sound of rain pounding against my bedroom window heralded a new day. It had to be better than yesterday, surely? By the time I roused myself and wandered downstairs in my dressing gown, there was toast and tea awaiting me. Mary, cup in hand, was in buoyant spirits. While I busied myself with the butter knife, she told me the latest.
‘Good news,’ she said. ‘Richard and Charles are on their way.’
I’m sure my expression would have been the same had a pink elephant flapped past the sunroom window. Recovery took a few heartbeats until I reassured myself that there was a huge difference between saying it was going to happen and it actually happening.
And I said so.
Mary shook her head. ‘Petal, don’t worry. I’ve convinced the boys they need to support me, and Jane. They will be here soon.’
Convinced the boys? How? What was she up to?
I sensed a Machiavellian combination of cunning and duplicity, but I let it pass. Not the right time. Not now. Maybe never.
Mary picked up on my expression. ‘Laying Jane to rest in this God-forsaken country is only the beginning, petal.’ At that, her upbeat mood turned. I’ve also got my grandson to think about.’
Her face crumpled, and I comforted her. ‘Even if the boys are...delayed...I’m still here.’ Trite words, but a true sentiment. And it would be a relief to hand Mary over to “the boys”, while I imposed a strict code of celibacy on whoever Charles dragged in from the rain. If he had Hannah with him, at least her toast would taste like bread, and not cold cardboard.
My musings ended while I put my half-eaten cordon-bleu breakfast to one side and reached across for the tea-pot.
Mary pushed my hand away. ‘Oh, what am I thinking of, petal. Here, let me pour you a cup of tea before it gets cold.’
I wouldn’t bet on it.
Thankfully, unlike the cardboard, the tea passed the warming palate test; enough to suggest an early lunch at Majestyk Bakery, where I could devour a few pastries.
And two hours later, after doing things we women do while getting ready to go out, and which Richard could never understand, we found ourselves outside the bakery door.
Reading the hand-written note taped to the window. “Due to unforeseen blah, blah — blah — closed until further notice”.
Aceh wasn’t like London. There, a metropolis of dining places within walking distance, even wearing high heels. Here a few eateries, favoured by Aid workers, dotted about, and not within my walking distance even wearing open top sandals.
Plenty of traffic noise and fumes, though, and a procession of curious locals eyeing us as they trawled past on their scooters. Some waved, some smiled, and some shouted hello mister.
Mary tugged at my arm. ‘What about that place near the hospital?’
Where you met Hamish, you mean?
I felt a tingle inside, a tingle that persisted. ‘Well I—well, I suppose.’
Mary laughed. ‘Don’t try to hide it from me. You’ve still got the hots for our eminent Mr. Donaldson.’
Oh, yes. If only...
‘I told you. Nothing happened.’
Her eyes gleamed. ‘And does Richard know about your little fling?’
My stomach lurched. In another life, Mary could have been a terrier; never letting go of the bone, so I relied on a tried and trusted response. ‘It’s not something I want to talk about right now.’
She linked her arm in mine. ‘Okay, petal, have it your own way. Do we walk or get a taxi?’
‘It’s too muggy to walk,’ I said, glancing at the traffic jam, and up at the sky where more grey clouds scudded our way. ‘And it looks like rain.’ A few taxis were edging closer, and I hailed a clean one.
The driver, a polite young man, opened the doors for us and turned on the air-con. The seats, comfortable enough and we relaxed — except my calm facade hid an eager anticipation that we might bump into Hamish. Would Mary be feeling the same?
As if reading my mind, she nudged me.
‘I hope that awful Beatriz woman isn’t with him. He’s all ours, isn’t he, petal?’
I smacked her wrist. ‘I told you...’
‘Yes, yes, and I don’t believe a word.’ She glanced out of the window as a few drops of rain spattered against the glass. ‘But if he’s there, I need to get him onside before that NEMO man dictates what I can or cannot do.’ She brushed a hand across her face, smudging her make-up. ‘For all I know, petal, the father could be claiming my grandson, and even worse naming him Yuri or Vladimir or...’
Alarm crossed her face. ‘You don’t think..?’
I shook my head. ‘No way. We’ve both seen the baby. Jane told me that he’d play rugger for England.’
‘She said that?’
‘He was kicking a bit.’
The driver tooted, and we pulled in to a parking spot close to the restaurant. He unfolded a large umbrella and escorted us the few steps to the entrance.
I tipped him.
‘Thank you, mister,’ he said.
‘No it’s not...’ but Mary grabbed my arm and pointed inside.
‘It’s him. And he’s alone.’
All our Christmases come at once...
Inside, we sashayed past a table of four men who stank of tobacco and made our way over to the back veranda where Hamish was sitting beneath a cool fan.
‘Well, hello,’ he said, greeting us with his usual charm and good manners. ‘Please join me.’
Neither of us could refuse such an invitation, and we graciously accepted.
‘And what brings you good ladies here today,’ he said, as we perused the menu board. ‘Don’t answer that, you’re on your way to visit Junior.’
Well, not exactly.
‘Of course,’ said Mary, ‘and it’s lucky we bumped into you.’
He tilted his head towards her. ‘Sounds intriguing.’
Mary kicked my shin under the table. ‘I want custody of Jane’s baby.’
At her age? Would she be able to support the boy?
Hamish frowned. ‘Are you sure? I’m not a lawyer, but surely the father would have a say in that?’
She reached out and touched his arm. ‘And I’m a poor grandparent. That’s why I need your help.’
I couldn’t make out what Mary needed. Poor? Unless...unless...oh, no, she wouldn’t, couldn’t.
Use Junior as her bargaining chip?