Tevfik meandered his way past old colonial buildings shadowed by huge trees into Sabang Town. He led us past the bustling fruit market to a well-weathered coffeehouse where several younger men greeted him.
‘Fellow compatriots,’ he said, pointing at the moon-shaped “C” emblem on their jackets. ‘I retired from the agency last year.’
I nodded. Muslim Relief was active in Aceh; on my walks, they were rebuilding mosques and houses. He waved me to an empty seat.
‘Relax, Mister Richard,’ he said. ‘My men will help us find Eko.’
I breathed a sigh of relief and absorbed the aroma of fresh coffee beans. Tevfik was on the ball, and when he introduced the two youths to his ex-colleagues — I assumed that was the case, although they spoke different languages — my hopes soared.
And plummeted, when, after a lengthy discussion, their expressions told me it was a lost cause.
Tevfik explained, ‘All we know is Eko caught the ferry back to Aceh, but according to my men who are based there, they haven’t recognized any boy who fits Eko’s description.’
I stirred a lump of sugar into my coffee, feeling a mixture of disillusionment and despair. Why had Eko returned? I asked the question, and another round of dialogue commenced. This time Tevfik’s men were more optimistic.
He also beamed, nodded towards the youths. ‘They said Eko hoped to work for an Aid Agency, with Allah’s blessing, an Islamic one. The tsunami mostly spared Sabang and that is why he went back.’ He held up a hand to still my next question. ‘There’s more, Mister Richard. My men say their colleagues are rebuilding the Turkish village of Lampu’uk — it’s a three-year project.’
I drew in a breath. I remembered Delcie talking about Lampu’uk after one of her meetings with Jane Parrington. She called it Lame Duck, much to Charles’s amusement and my annoyance. The tsunami wiped out the town and four-fifths of its six thousand inhabitants; a tragic disaster. It was some twenty kilometres from Banda Aceh — which could explain why Tevfik’s men hadn’t seen him — and far away from that damn Charles.
Could Eko be there?
I stood up and thanked everyone for their courtesy and consideration. I offered to pay for our coffees, but Tevfik put a comforting paw — his hands were large and hairy — around my shoulders.
‘Mister Richard, all settled. We are happy to have helped you.’
Smiles and handshakes all round, and I felt a sense of gratitude towards these men —and the two youths — for welcoming a stranger into their midst.
I downed the last mouthful of my coffee, and then the two youths excused themselves and waved us goodbye. I didn’t want to be impolite, but I now had a new lead to follow. I shuffled my feet and glanced at Tevfik. He read my expression because he removed a business card from his pocket and wrote a name and contact number before giving it to me.
‘This man can help you. He’s based in Lampu’uk.’ He glanced at his watch and turned to his men. ‘We have to go. I’ll escort Mister Richard back to the ferry — it’s leaving for Aceh soon.’
More handshakes and a few hugs later, and we were on our way. First stop, his resort — wife at reception — where I showered and collected my belongings, while he called for a taxi. He waved away my protestations — he was escorting me, and that was that. I hardly noticed the ride to the harbour; my mind was full of unanswered questions and renewed expectations.
What had happened to me? It was all Delcie’s fault. I never imagined losing my daughter so cruelly. It carried me to the depths of despair, but finding Eko — my surrogate son — rekindled my spirit and gave my life meaning again. Once I located him, I would have my longed-for family reunited: Angelique, as my spiritual guide, and Eko would be enough to give me everlasting happiness...
‘...Mister Richard?’ Tevfik interrupted my thoughts. ‘We are here.’
‘Ah, yes of course.’ I gathered my bag and alighted into a hazy, humid heat that made my head spin for a moment. I leant against the car door and squinted at Him. ‘Hang on… I’ve some rupiah in my pocket. For the drive here and back to your resort.’
He came round to my side, grasped my arm with one hand, and picked up my bag with the other.
‘Mister Richard, it’s all been settled,’ he said for the second time that morning as he led me, like an elderly gent, along the bustling road to the ferry.
Down by the ferry the air was fresher and less clammy — albeit a fishy smell — and this time He allowed me to pay for my ticket. I’m sure he would have paid, but I sensed he didn’t want me to leave, and I felt the same.
‘I’ll find Eko and bring him back to meet you,’ I said, my voice full of conviction. ‘It’s the least I can do to repay your kindness.’
He nodded as though it was bound to happen, and we hugged once more without speaking. The ferry’s hooter interrupted our silence, and I disengaged myself, picked up my bag, and held out my hand.
‘I’ll be back,’ I reiterated as he clasped it.
Tevfik gave me a long stare. ‘Inshallah,’ he said.
I crossed my fingers, saw a vision of Angelique above me.
Inshallah, Papa, she said.