Father Angelo sighed as he pushed open the door to the annex. ‘Propositions belong to the material world,’ he said, beckoning me inside. ‘But it’s my calling to listen to my flock’s troubles. Shall we take tea first?’
I followed him into a small but homely kitchen with a table and four chairs, one chair occupied by a contemplative Berko. Already a kettle was spouting steam on the hob, and I could smell freshly baked bread. Emily fussed around us as we joined Berko — who was under-joyed to see me again — and helped ourselves to a welcome but simple breakfast.
I ignored Berko’s simmering animosity as — between his scowls and sighs — I explained my quest.
‘...When Hannah lost her job through no fault of her own, she returned to her mother’s home near Lake Toba. My cousin is going through an emotional crisis right now and is naturally upset. I’m sure she would welcome her back.’
I paused to pick up my cup and take a sip while all three of them — Emily nursing a newly brewed mug of tea — swallowed my embellishment of the truth. ‘So that’s why I’m here,’ I said. ‘I need your help to find her.’
Father Angelo stared at me. I wasn’t sure I convinced him. Finally he spoke.
‘It’s possible I know this girl and her family. I’ll make enquiries. But your financial situation, owing to your —’ he glanced at Emily, ‘— somewhat ill-advised behaviour, precludes your imminent involvement. Is that correct?’
I drew in a deep breath, let the air hang, before exhaling. ‘It’s temporary, but until I receive funds from England, I’m at God’s mercy.’
Father Angelo turned to Berko. ‘What do you think?’ he said, but before he could reply, Emily interrupted.
‘It’s our duty to help him. It’s God’s wish.’
Thank you, God.
Berko shook his head, but Father Angelo held up a hand. ‘We all have demons to conquer. Some have weaknesses of the flesh, but God’s compassion is boundless.’ A sly grin replaced his sermonic attitude. ‘Besides, I’m convinced that Mr. Charles is penitent.’
No flies on him.
What could Berko say? Stuck between a rock and a hard place, he relented. ‘Let me know what you need,’ he said. ‘But I expect you to pledge a generous donation to Christian Mission.’
‘And to St. Michael’s,’ added Father Angelo, as if it was preordained. He placed a restraining arm on Emily’s. ‘And, of course, Emily must be compensated for her goodwill.’
They all looked at me.
What could I say? Stuck between the same rock and a hard place, I capitulated. ‘It’s my duty as a Christian,’ I said, gritting my teeth. ‘Thank you for your compassion. I won’t forget it.’
Berko stood up, pushed his chair to one side. ‘I’ll send the boy.’
The following lunchtime I avoided the considerate clutches of Emily, who eyed me as a potential beau and, with twenty dollars’ worth of rupiah and a charged-up Nokia in my pocket, walked into town. I called Mary from the Western Union office inside the Indonesian State Bank.
She didn’t answer.
After a number of aborted attempts and leaving several ripe messages on her voicemail, I put plan B into action. Outside, I found an Internet shop a few doors down from the bank and — according to the gaudy sticker on the window — it had high-speed connectivity at minimal cost.
Neither of which was true. Five minutes uptime followed by ten minutes downtime, unless I paid premium rate. Other customers, mostly children playing noisy video games, were unaffected, so I simply nodded in agreement.
I was relocated to a relatively new machine situated at the back of the shop; this time donning headphones I could use Skype to contact my UK NatWest bank. A polite young man answered the customer helpline.
‘Just a few details, sir.’
Of course it wasn’t quite that simple. The security questions seemed interminable — including those on my lost MasterCard. The upshot an eon later: if I registered for Internet banking, I could transfer money from my UK account to anywhere in the world.
‘Use the Internet guide, sir.’
‘You will receive your registration number and code by post within five working days.’
Five sodding days? By sodding post?
After that, the conversation degenerated into a one sided shouting match — much to the bemused looks of the game players — until the exasperated young man disconnected my call.
Bollocks to banks.
And goodbye to more precious rupiah.
I tried Mary once more — still no answer. And no call back from Father Angelo (I’d left my number with Emily).
Sod the lot of them.
A stiff double gin and tonic later in a nearby Chinese restaurant helped to lower my blood pressure from pending haemorrhage to hypertensive levels.
I ordered another.
By the time I wobbled back to the Western Union office, the bank was closed. An alcoholic haze was the least of my worries. I’d run out of ideas, exhausted my options, and depleted my bankroll. Without much hope, I found myself back in the Internet shop staring at a blue welcome screen and sipping machine-made black coffee from a paper cup.
Then my Nokia rang.
I fished it out of my pocket, along with a ragged bundle of rupiah, pressed the on-button, and mumbled hello.
A woman answered — it wasn’t Mary. And it wasn’t Emily.
I couldn’t believe it.