Richard’s infidelity upset me more than I cared to admit, although he’d tried to disregard it. Quickie or not, I thought about having it out with Mary after the funeral — at the wake, perhaps.
Or maybe not — as Richard said, it was history, and it appeared we no longer had a future together. Was it worth dredging up another set of painful memories; Jane’s passing was enough for me right then.
Besides, we all had to consider the baby’s future. What had Hamish said? NEMO would be contacting the father.
The thought of him led to fresh tears. Why had he upped and left me?
My phone rang. I squinted at the display. It wasn’t Hamish.
I connected. The voice sounded worn out, but clear. ‘Hello, is that Delcie?’
‘Mary. Where are you?’
‘Just landed at Aceh, petal. It’s hot, and crowded with hundreds of sweaty young backpackers all yakking away in some foreign lingo at the tops of their voices. I’m exhausted. Are you coming to fetch me?’
‘Oh, my gosh. What backpackers?’
‘Well, you know, petal. The T-shirt brigade from Save the Children, Oxfam and goodness knows who else.’
She didn’t mention Jane. Or NEMO. Why? What sort of person was Mary now?
Our recent calls had been all about Jane, both of us too upset to do anything but grieve. Had the passing years eroded our closeness? Or was she putting on a brave face, now she was here in Aceh? I needed to be strong, just in case.
‘Oh dear, I’ll call a taxi. Be with you soon.’
‘A taxi? Doesn’t Richard or Charles have a car, petal?’
Don’t go there.
‘It’s quicker to use my local driver. The roads can be a bit tricky nowadays. Potholes everywhere. Can you get a coffee or something while you wait?
I heard her sigh. ‘I suppose, but an iced Pimms would be better.’
I was feeling the same. Eleven, according to my watch. A pre-lunchtime vodka and tonic would go down a treat. Maybe if I plundered Charles’s cabinet…
‘I’ll get going now. Give me half an hour, okay?’
It was later than I reckoned — blame the traffic, not the aperitif — when I arrived at the airport with fresh make up masking my blotched face. For my meet and greet outfit I chose Armani: a simple cream blouse and tailored dark-blue pantaloons bought in Jakarta on my last visa trip. I remembered her words when we were young and carefree. Image is everything, petal.
And true to her style, Mary was instantly recognisable in the waiting area — not so much by her apparel, but by her trolley-load of Louis Vuitton luggage. An ashtray half-filled with stubbed-out Sobranie filters completed the image of a well-heeled sophisticate.
I knew better.
According to Richard, Jamie had substantial Life Assurance, enough to pay off the mortgage and more when he died. But of course, Mary spurned that idea; her lifestyle was more important. While she had numerous young suitors at first, the sympathy faded away when the money ran out. She wasn’t impoverished — far from it — downsizing the country estate to a town house in Notting Hill kept her afloat. Or so I believed.
She glanced up — tired eyes, tired smile. ‘Hello, petal,’ she said, ‘I’d almost given up.’
I placed my hand in hers, pulled her up, and we embraced. My eyes glistened. ‘Oh, Mary,’ I said. ‘I’m so sorry.’
Her whole body shook against mine, stifled sobs now having free rein, and we held each other close until the storm subsided. Both of us determined to be brave, we pulled apart.
‘Petal, you look wonderful. So young.’ Mary dabbed a tissue on her cheeks, the blush now streaked with tears. ‘Wish I could say the same.’
What could I say? Her once smooth skin now puffy and etched with spidery lines, stale smoke in her hair, and one too many gins on her breath.
‘You poor thing,’ I said. ‘Once you’ve rested, you’ll be as good as new.’
Mary shook her head. ‘Not yet, petal. While I waited on you, Rod, the HR manager at NEMO called. We’ve arranged to meet up at the hospital later to see Jane’s doctor. I was hoping...you know...come with me for moral support?’
A shoulder to cry on -- and a chance for me to chew Hamish’s ear.
‘Sounds like a plan, I said, ‘but fancy lunch first? I’m famished.’
‘Me too,’ said Mary. ‘Now I’m with you, my appetite’s come back.’
But for how long? Maybe I was a bit hasty in sacking Hannah. I wonder if Charles...
‘Hey, petal, what’s up?’
I shook off that thought. ‘Nothing. Merely wondering where to go.’ But not where I went with Jane. I couldn’t expose Mary to those memories — not yet, anyway. ‘We’ll go to a local place near the hospital.’
She nodded, and we pushed her trolley-load of luggage to the exit. Outside, the concourse was crowded with Aid workers loading up their huge vehicles, and a gaggle of local taxi-drivers touting for business. I dabbed at my face with a tissue to soothe the heat haze that smothered me like a well-warmed electric blanket, and prayed we’d find the sanctuary of a taxi with working air-con.
Mary tugged at my sleeve. ‘Where are the boys, then?’
Richard and Charles. A deserter and a traitor -- both gone walkabout.
I shook my head. ‘I’ll tell you later.’
Mary, as before, picked up on the innuendo. ‘Ooh, petal. Sounds intriguing. What...’
‘Taxi, lady?’ A thin man wearing a brown wrap-around sarong was tugging at the trolley. ‘Where you go?’
Clearly, I had a lot of explaining ahead. But that paled into insignificance when we embarked at a small restaurant close to the hospital. Sitting on the terrace was Hamish. He was in deep conversation. Too deep for my liking.
My body trembled and my legs felt like they’d been skittled.
His companion, glanced up, smirked at me like a cat licking cream. ‘What a surprise,’ said Beatriz.