I nearly dropped my phone. My mind went into turmoil. Mary’s words kept slicing through my thoughts like a carving knife.
You fathered Jane.
You fathered Jane.
You fathered Jane.
‘Richard, did you hear me. I want you back here now.’
I slumped back on the couch trying to muster a coherent thought.
‘Richard, answer me.’
I could hear her breathing. What if it was true?
‘If you’re playing games...’
‘I’m not. When will you be here? This afternoon?’
Papa, Jane needs you.
I blinked, tried to focus on replying to Mary. ‘Okay, okay. Give me time to think.’
‘This afternoon, Richard. Or else.’
‘What the bloody hell does...’ but I was talking to a dead line.
Half an hour or so later I was still slumped on the sofa when Eko returned.
‘You go now? Car outside.’
It appeared my future was ordained and I was expected to follow it. I nodded, while I repacked my bag. ‘Yes, my son. I’ll return soon, Inshallah.’
We embraced, and I held him tight. ‘Take care, I said. ‘I don’t want to lose you again.’
We pulled apart, his eyes were glistening.
Or did I only see my reflection?
A horn sounded, and I heaved up my bag, gave a fleeting glance around my temporary abode, and followed Eko to the front door.
Outside, Ibrahim’s driver was waiting for me. Between him and Eko explaining in pigeon English, I worked out that the driver would take me to a local coffee shop and call a taxi for me. It might take an hour or so.
No matter, plenty to think about.
Or else what?
On our way to the coffee shop, we passed truckloads of labourers, building materials, sand and cement; Lampu’uk was one large construction site right then. Ibrahim certainly had his hands full, and had I been younger I’d have volunteered for a few weeks. Physical exertion to clear my mind — and right then, befuddled with the remnants of dengue, I needed that clarity.
Or else what?
The coffee shop, fashioned from the materials of a half derelict house by a local entrepreneur, also served a few freshly-cooked Padang dishes — the mixed aromas tantalised and tempted me to sample one, as I’d hardly touched the spicy soup at breakfast.
Mid-morning, and I sat alone on a wooden bench at a wooden table, with my unfinished pot of coffee and now empty beef stew plate, waiting for the taxi to arrive. I presumed the shop clientele consisted of Aid workers, who by now would be out on site, and I didn’t expect company until lunchtime.
Which gave me time to think.
Cause and effect.
I dug out my notebook and ballpoint from my bag, pushed aside my plate, and listed possibilities.
A lot of “ifs”. If Mary had been telling the truth and if I had impregnated her, why disclose this over a quarter of a century later?
What was her game? To protect Jane? Or maybe Delcie?
I settled for Blackmail — on the principle that the most likely answer to “or else” would be the correct one, although of course Delcie would see it as the ultimate betrayal, and any remote chance of us reconciling would be irretrievable.
So if the “ifs” hold water, what now?
I wrote down “DNA test”. And underlined it several times.
A small bird hopped onto the far side of my table, eyeing the small piece of gristle left on my empty plate. Which didn’t quite make it an empty plate. And which made me realise that one’s view of “empty” might not be another’s view.
Of course. Bloody idiot.
The bird chirped, hopped to the plate, speared the gristle in its beak, sidled his head at me, and flew off.
I slapped my head. Dimwit. Mary didn’t “know” I’d fathered Jane. Back then, her liaisons were legendary — I’d been simply one more conquest to scratch on her bedpost.
Then I thought of Angelique. Papa, Jane needs you. I squirmed on my seat as an uneasy feeling filled my mind.
I glanced down at my notebook again. Do I take a paternity test? And if I did, what if it was positive?
A horn beeped, which made me jump. Back to reality, and my limited options — none of them appealing.
—contemplate life here in Lampu’uk until Eko could join me.
—travel to Medan to sort out my visa and finances.
—go back to the House and face the music.
I wrote them in my notebook and added two columns: Pros and Cons.
The horn beeped again. This time louder and longer.
What’s the hurry? I’m bloody well paying. But my concentration was broken, and I got to my feet and went out to meet and greet my taxi driver.
To my surprise it wasn’t a local entrepreneur in a clapped out van, but Ibrahim wearing his straw sombrero inside his silver Land Cruiser. He wound down his window and explained that my luck was out with a taxi that day — something to do with a provincial holiday of peace and reconciliation, but he could help.
‘I’m going to Sabang for the weekend. Are you heading that way?’
Mentally, I placed a tick against that option. All pros and no cons. Mary would have to wait, I couldn’t face going back to the House alone, couldn’t face her or Delcie. My immediate priority — being reunited with Eko as soon as possible. I smiled for the first time that day.
‘Actually, Sabang is perfect. I’ll even treat you to dinner this evening.’
And talk to Tevfik. He’ll be onside.