The next morning, with no news about Tevfik, I caught the ferry back to Aceh. I arrived at lunchtime, and decided to have a snack at a café before returning to the House. The sweetmeat pastries tasted fine, as did the coffee. The world passed me by, and I relaxed into people watching from the veranda. I had another cup, nodded to a few locals I’d seen on my travels, and contemplated my future.
My phone rang.
I hitched it out. Mary calling. I pressed the green button.
‘What now?’ I said.
‘Where are you?’
‘Richard, you know what I mean. Are you back in Aceh?’
‘Is this twenty questions? I told you yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that. You can stop calling me. I’m in town.’
‘Oh, good. Listen to me. I need you to meet us at the hospital, today. Now. It’s critical.’
‘About our grandchild.’
What? ‘Look here, Mary, if…’
‘Jane was eight months pregnant when she left me. The baby lived.’
‘Richard. Can you come?’
Too bloody right. Sort out this bloody nonsense once and for all. I glanced at my watch. ‘Give me twenty minutes.’
Bloody woman. I clicked off the phone, tapped the table, and fumed. I’d forgotten about Jane’s pregnancy — stupid, stupid. Had I really been too absorbed in finding Eko?
What now? She needed my support? Or my bloody life-savings? Ten minutes later, no better idea than to go along — although returning to a place where bossy Beatriz and that rotter Donaldson, reigned supreme, didn’t fill me with joy.
I paid my bill and strolled among the jostling locals to the hospital. Scrawny mongrels sniffed around my feet, and tsunami wreckage still littered a few alleys — deserted fishing boats, strewn rubble, and piles of rotted timber.
Thankfully, no carcases.
I wiped my brow, another humid day, but once inside the hospital entrance with the air cooler — perspiration before, a chill of expectancy now as I sighted Mary and Delcie at reception.
Mary grimaced at me as I walked up. ‘You’ve aged,’ she said, ‘but better late than never, I suppose.’
Bloody woman. ‘And great to see you after so many years. It is Mary, isn’t it? My god, I hardly recognised you.’
‘Richard,’ Delcie growled, ‘Mary’s had a hard day.’
‘And I haven’t? Everything was hunky-dory until she started to bull-shit me.’
Delcie grabbed my arm. ‘Keep quiet, people are looking.’
‘Can I help you?’
I knew that voice. My bossy nemesis, Beatriz. I turned, and pointed at Mary. ‘This lady says it’s critical.’
Mary latched onto Beatriz. ‘At last. Someone who can speak English. ‘I want to see Mr. Donaldson immediately.’
‘I’m afraid that’s not possible.’
‘And why’s that?’
‘Do you want to leave a message?’
‘No I don’t. Where is he?’
The irresistible force meets the immovable object. While the two combatants glared at each other, I glanced at Delcie. She shook her head as if to say, don’t interfere.
I coughed. ‘Excuse me.’ When they looked, I conjured up a smile of peace and goodwill. ‘Beatriz,’ I said, ‘Mrs. Parrington needs to talk to Mr. Donaldson about her daughter’s funeral and her grandson’s wellbeing. When will he be available?’
She relented. ‘Take a seat. I’ll page him.’
‘I’ll wait,’ Mary said. She nudged Delcie. ‘I told you Richard would come in useful. More than I can say about that bounder, Charles. His phone has been switched off for days.’
Eh? Where’s he gone? I scanned the crowded reception area, half-expecting him to materialise in front of me, chewing on an evil-smelling cigar and greeting me with a caustic comment like, “what kept you?” or “where’s your toy-boy?” Thankfully, he didn’t. Delcie led me to a couple of vacated seats while Mary stayed put — she wouldn’t be budged until Donaldson appeared.
‘What happened to Charles?’ I said, more from boredom than interest. Waiting in hospitals among the sick and maimed brought back bad memories, and my bones still ached.
Delcie, though, seemed preoccupied. She brushed my question away. ‘I’m sure Mary will bring you up to date, Richard.’
We lapsed into silence amidst a hubbub of activity, remained seated but fidgeting as each minute ebbed past. A wall clock — its face gleaming — ticked up to three o’clock, and Mary hadn’t moved.
Delcie stood up. ‘You stay here. I’m going to ask her what’s happening.’
I scratched my leg, squirmed to a new position on the chair, and sighed.
At nine minutes past three Delcie returned, Mary in tow. ‘That woman told us, Hamish… I mean Mr. Donaldson… is due out of theatre by five.’ She patted Mary on the arm. ‘Keep Richard company, I’ll be back later.’
I shuffled in my seat. ‘Where you going? I’m bored stiff.’
A muscle in Delcie’s cheek twitched. ‘You won’t be when Mary’s finished.’
‘C’mon, Richard,’ said Mary, pointing at the cafeteria sign. ‘I’m dying for a cuppa.’
Cuppa? Most unlike her. Fathoming what went through her mind was beyond me, but I welcomed the prospect of tea and cakes.
The café was as crowded as reception and definitely as noisy, but by the time we’d shuffled up to the cash-desk with our tray, it had thinned out.
‘Get me a pack of Marlboro, as well,’ she said, ‘I’ll find us a table.’
Ah. Dying for a fag, more like.
The No Smoking signs plastered on every wall were no deterrent to the locals, several of whom were puffing away outside on a small balcony. And as soon as I returned, Mary grabbed the pack and made haste to join them.
‘Five minutes,’ she said, putting a saucer on top of her cup, ‘and then we will discuss our grandson’s wellbeing.’ My startled look made her smile, as she turned away and hurried off.
Five minutes. I took out my notebook and started to write. That bloody woman wasn’t about to fleece me, and I wanted to see her face when I produced my trump card.
Had I looked into a mirror, I wouldn’t see a startled look, I’d see a man about to deliver a come-uppance.