By the time Delcie called me mid-afternoon, I’d had a rough day chasing my tail. That morning, Eko had not returned. I wouldn’t say I was suicidal, but after all the recent trauma, and my hopes dashed to dust, I debated the possibility. It was then, head in hands, resting on the lounge sofa, Angelique visited.
‘Papa, be strong. It’s not your time.’
Be strong. First Charles, and now my precious angel. Could she help?
He’s close. And safe. Give him time.
Time for what?
Wait, Papa. Wait. Jane is with me.
Another voice. He’s gone, Papa. Help him. Help him.
The voice faded. Angelique now. Close your mind, Papa. Now.
I rubbed my forehead. Tried to soothe a searing pain behind my eyes. I hoped it wasn’t a migraine attack. Maybe the last throes of Dengue?
Give him time? A puzzling message, but I felt more assured that Eko would come back to me. And was Jane talking about Junior? What had happened?
Or had it all been my imagination?
Whatever, it galvanised me to take a trip into town and get my phone recharged. I ordered a taxi, wrote down the resort’s telephone number on a piece of paper, and left strict instructions with Mae to chain Eko to the tractor when he returned. By the way she blinked at me, my attempt to make light of a serious situation wasn’t understood.
‘It’s okay,’ I said. ‘Just make sure he doesn’t leave until I get back.’
‘You come back?’
‘Yes. To see Eko.’
‘Oh. When you come?’
‘Today. Later.’ I showed her my dead phone. ‘I go town to get new battery.’
‘You want room?’
I shook my head. ‘No. Maybe. I don’t know.’
‘And Mr. Charles?’
‘Oh. He go?’
‘Yes. He go. I stay.’
The arrival of my taxi saved me from a conversation which became derailed from the beginning. My fault for being so damn clever and confusing her. The trip back into town took twenty minutes owing to construction works causing traffic delays. Slowly, Sabang was renovating its infrastructure — the ongoing influx of Aid workers from Aceh taking R&R breaks, and the increase in sight-seeing backpackers on island hops was a welcome boost to the local economy.
But phone shops hadn’t yet reached there. We must have circled the town several times without joy, before I hit on a solution that Charles had told me about when he was stuck at Lake Toba. I told the driver to make for the pier and stop outside the busiest café with backpackers inside — hopefully.
It might have worked for Charles, but the few foreigners I met didn’t possess a Nokia charger. I was told to try Aceh. Not a viable option. In the end I hung around waiting for boats to arrive, eat lunch, and was well into the afternoon, when my luck changed.
A group of Aid workers from Oxfam stopped by for coffee, seemingly many different nationalities, but all spoke English. Happy, smiling faces. Couldn’t have been more helpful.
One tall black guy with bulging biceps searched his bag, and pulled out a charger. ‘Spare one, man. Fits the electric plugs here. Next time you’re back in Aceh, hand it in to the office.’
‘We’re everywhere, man. Flag down one of our vehicles, if you like.’
‘Yes, I will,’ I said. ‘Thank you very much.’
I plugged it into a nearby socket, and within five minutes the phone was up and running. I could make and receive calls.
I sat around drinking tea for an hour. The battery nearly half-charged. I took out the piece of paper and called the resort. Eko had not returned, and Mae was worried.
Bloody hell. So am I.
Now I had a dilemma. Do I stay? Or what? I decided to give it another hour to see if Charles called.
I had enough tea, so I changed to coffee. A bottle of vodka would have suited me better, and I muttered it aloud in the presence of a waiter. He put a finger to his lips, and whispered banana brandy?
Sod it. I couldn’t care less if the police caught me — I nodded.
So, a little later I had two cups of coffee — camouflage — one of which I left to get cold, and the other more palatable one gulped down and replenished after Delcie phoned me.
Bloody Charles. Can’t he get anything right? Didn’t he realise I was out here on a limb feeling morbid? Bloody surprised he ever reached the rank of Major.
By the time I had planned his execution, my “coffee” had cost me enough Rupiahs to rattle my savings bank, plus giving me a new headache. Then my phone rang.
He sounded cheerful, damn him. ‘Good news, old boy.’
Huh. ‘You’ve found Eko.’
‘How did you guess?’
‘Didn’t you know I’m clairvoyant? — hang on, what did you say?’
‘How did you guess?’
‘You having me on? Because if you are, I’ll…I’ll…’
‘I’m not. He’s mowing the lawn. Preparing a cricket pitch, actually. And if you want to see him tonight, better hightail it down to the pier. The last ferry leaves soon.’
Bloody cricket pitch? The man’s gone loopy.