‘Well, was it?’
Delcie’s words bored into my brain. The world stopped spinning for an eternity, both of us frozen in a time warp. My mind went back to the aftermath of that fateful day at Cheltenham...
‘...I’ve come to apologise.’
Delcie shook her head. ‘It doesn’t matter.’
We had been sitting in a Columbian coffee shop near Kings Cross station, a public venue by mutual consent. Both of us stirring cappuccinos with plastic spoons — Delcie licking the froth off hers, while I peered into my cup, perhaps seeking redemption from within.
‘Mary means nothing to me.’
Delcie glanced up, face expressionless. Didn’t reply.
I tried again. ‘We’re engaged to marry. I…’
She removed her diamond ring and pushed it towards me. ‘Not now. You’re free to play the field — with Mary, if that’s who you want.’
I pushed it back. ‘Delcie…’
She ignored me, looked at her watch, and beckoned to a waitress.
‘I need to go.’
She stood up, gathered her purse, and left. Turned once to give me a glance. I’m sure I saw a teardrop caress her cheek. I know my eyes were glistening, too.
Hope springs eternal. I resolved to make sure I saw her again…
‘…Why are you resurrecting old wounds? When we got back together, we swore never to talk about it again.’
‘Mary will be here soon. We need to clear the air before she arrives.’
‘No,’ I said. ‘It’s history, now. And I’m leaving.’
She didn’t ask where, and I sensed, behind her brittle exterior, she was feeling lost. ‘For Lampu’uk,’ I added, ‘to find Eko and bring him back here.’
‘And what about me? Don’t you care what happens now I’m alone?’
Best not to answer, it would lead to another argument. Instead, I busied myself gathering up the coffee mugs, but then her words hit home.
I glanced up. ‘Why? What’s happened to Charles and Hannah?’
‘Good riddance to the pair of them, they betrayed me.’
Hands on hip, daggers in her eyes. ‘I suppose you’d call it a quickie — as if I wouldn’t find out — so I showed Hannah the door and told Charles to follow suit.’
‘Richard, don’t act dumb. But that was before Jane…’
At that point her face crumbled and fresh tears flowed. She turned away, and made her way out of the room — out of my life.
Strangely, our conversation ‘cleared the air’ for me. After losing Angelique I blamed Delcie for everything. But now I felt connected to the spiritual world and my life became more meaningful. While it was a new direction and a new path, it still made me a little sad that I would not be sharing my future with her — or with that temptress, Mary.
And it was the only time...
Thirty-seven minutes later with the dining room and the kitchen pristine again, my bag packed, I closed the House door behind me. Checked it was locked. I hadn’t forgotten anything; despite everything I’d lost with Delcie, I remembered to copy her mobile number into my new Nokia from the house-phone book — and added mine.
Just in case.
I flagged down a taxi — not the one driven by the lunatic — and told the driver to take me to Lampu’uk. My watch ticked off thirty-nine minutes to travel the seventeen kilometres at a slow crawl owing to the numerous pot-holes in the road — and slow moving trucks full of building supplies.
My chosen destination, Rahmatullah mosque near the beach — like our House and nearby mosque — was the only building in Lampu’uk mostly spared by the tsunami (Allahu Akbar). Nevertheless, necessary renovation funded by Muslim Relief was in progress.
I prayed I’d find Eko there.
The taxi pulled up outside the mosque and I paid off the driver, who raised his eyebrows when I told him I wouldn’t be requiring his services for the return trip. My energy was up and I felt elated to be there. It was a bright morning and, scouting around, I noted damage to the pillars surrounding the building and piles of rubble that hadn’t been cleared.
I made my way over to a stone seat, sat down, patted my jacket pocket, and fished out the business card that Tevfik had given me.
I called the number.
I tried again.
I waited ten minutes, and tried once more.
I stood up, walked around the seat a few times, and blinked into the sun when a US Navy helicopter flew overhead. A mud-encrusted bulldozer passed me by, heading for distant paddy-fields. Debris and desolation all around; the town had been flattened by the tsunami. An hour went by. Then two. Still no response.
I hadn’t forgotten anything.
Except to bloody well call first and tell Mr — I peered at the name — Ahmet Hussein that I was coming to visit.
By then my elation waned, and the stone seat lost its attraction. Not that there was much to see or do, until the next call to prayer at midday — which, according to my watch, was imminent.
When the call came the majority of men entering the mosque were aid workers. Local residents (temporarily housed in makeshift huts) were few — all who shuffled past me wore vacant expressions, none bothered to even stare at me.
But no Eko.
Nevertheless, I waited until the service finished and the men trooped out; to a man, their faces unchanged — suffering survivors, I realised.
I dialled Hussein’s number again, still unanswered but I spotted someone wearing a Muslim Relief shirt making his way from the mosque to a parked Jeep. I called out and ran over to confront him, showed him my card.
‘Can you help? I need to find Mr. Hussein.’
The young man — clean-shaven, olive skin, and wiry — rubbed a hand across tired-looking eyes, before smiling at me. ‘Ahmet, yes, I know him, but...’
‘He’s not here.’
I hadn’t forgotten anything.
Except — as Charles would say — having a bloody plan B in place.