On our way to the Manor I stopped at a small supermarket to extract cash from an ATM outside, and to stock up my larder with basic necessities. Soon after we arrived back and unloaded the provisions, Mary retired to her room.
I drank a glass of water to sober up, and sat in the lounge with the TV on at low volume. BBC world-wide news full of disasters; I switched to local news, similar, but one in particular held me transfixed to the screen. I turned up the sound. “…a colleague from NEMO had this to say about the victim...” — the road accident scene cut to a young woman wearing a burkha and dabbing a tissue at her eyes — “Adil Ahmed is a martyr…” — she slumped to her knees and started to pray.
Adil Ahmed? No, can’t be.
The camera switched back to the reporter. “Initial reports indicate the victim risked his own life to save a young child who crossed the road in front of a truck. He died at the scene. Mr Ahmed was twenty-nine, an engineer from Islamabad.”
Oh God, it’s him.
“…Family members of the child, who suffered a few minor injuries, are believed to be distraught. Another victim of the tsunami, another sad day in Aceh.” The camera panned in to the reporter’s face. Face unlined. Not one straggling hair. “Katie Robinson, Jakarta news.”
I felt surrounded by spirits floating around me, as if I didn’t have enough to cope with. And now another. What the hell do I tell Mary..?
After yet another restless night I broke the news mid-morning before breakfast. Better to get it over with. We were sitting in the lounge in our dressing gowns like two old dears, a pot of tea in front of us. I picked up the pot and filled our cups. ‘I have some bad news. Last night I sat up watching TV news of a road accident here in Aceh. A man was killed.’ Mary was half listening, more occupied with fiddling with her phone. ‘Listen to me, Mary.’ She looked up. ‘Mary, he was Jane’s ex.’
‘What?’ The phone dropped from her hand, hit the sofa and bounced on to the rug by her feet.
While she retrieved it, I moved across and put my arms around her. ‘I’m sorry.’
‘Are you sure?’
Hmmm. Perhaps…? ‘Jane mentioned his name once.’
‘Adil? Adil. Why didn’t you tell me he’s a raghead?’
‘Enough. That’s racist. Jane would never…’
Mary squirmed out of my embrace. ‘But she did, didn’t she? Got herself bunged up with some fucking desert rat, and now look…’
She went silent for a few moments. ‘There must be a mistake. I’ll talk to NEMO.’
I nodded. Maybe she was correct. Jane’s mention of rugger and Adil didn’t match. More like cricket, surely? Or was it merely a figure of speech?
I sipped my tea. ‘I’ll call Hamish,’ I said. ‘He should know.’
Not available, in surgery, the receptionist told me. Sod it. I left a message for him to call back. I grimaced at Mary. ‘No good. Shall we have a bite to eat, and go straight to NEMO after?’
‘Definitely, pet. Kick Rod’s ass.’
I let it ride. ‘Drink up, and get ready,’ I said, ‘while I rustle up some toast.’
Damn Charles. Where’s Hannah, when I need her?
And by the look on Mary’s face when she came back down wearing a red dress, which matched her eyes, she’d had no luck with either of the “boys.”
‘Charles cut me off. Would you believe it? Just wait until I see him. And Richard’s not making sense, babbling on about some echo. Is he ill, pet?’
Echo? Good question.
I shrugged. ‘Richard’s not the man he was. Losing Angelique…’ Damn. Shut up, woman.
Too late. Mary broke into a bout of histrionics. Much cursing, much arm-waving, much hair pulling and teeth grinding.
‘It’s not fair,’ she said, when the storm passed.
I pushed my cushion to one side and emerged from the sofa intact. ‘Help yourself to toast,’ I said, making my way upstairs.
With Richard in need of a prolonged rest in a mental home, I didn’t need Mary to go Loopy-Lou as well. Add Charles, throwing himself at any bit of skirt, it would be a miracle if I didn’t go bonkers as well.
I took a long soak under the shower, which cleared my head. Control the situation — tell Rod to get Jane put to rest and sort out Junior’s future, and I could say adieu to Mary. Meanwhile, I’d put the “boys” future on hold.
I wore a cream blouse, blue pantaloons and matching jacket for our meeting with Rod. Business like, not so Mary whose colour choice oozed confrontation.
Our simple plan went sour after we arrived at NEMO to be told that Rod was conducting interviews all day.
While we stood looking at pictures and posters on the walls, the receptionist asked if someone else could help us. My mind flashed back to the road accident scene. ‘Yes,’ I said, ‘one of your staff, a woman wearing a burkha, on TV last night. About Adil. Is she available?’
We were ushered into a small box room — doubled as a library — and offered tea. We declined, introduced ourselves— Mary making it clear who she was — and offered condolences. She accepted, responded.
‘I’m Sara,’ she said. ‘Head of Media. I’m sorry to hear about Jane. She was one of our best.’
Another image today away from the limelight. No burkha; jeans and a NEMO T-shirt sufficed. And a touch of make-up. She smiled, recognised my expression. ‘Code of dress in Aceh is very strict. For Muslim women, Sharia law prevails.’
Tell me… Covered legs and headscarves when out and about.
‘Stuff and nonsense,’ said Mary. ‘I’m English, and I’ll wear what I like.’
Sara didn’t appear ruffled. ‘We’re working on women’s rights in village communities, but it’s not easy to change centuries of tradition. Now, how can I help you?’
I glanced at Mary. She gave me a nod. Go ahead. ‘Tell me about Adil,’ I said. ‘He was one of Jane’s colleagues. Was he also her boyfriend?’
Sara shook her head. ‘Certainly not.’ She reached for a box of tissues and extracted one. ‘It’s a personal tragedy. So sad. He didn’t deserve to die.’ She dabbed at her eyes. ‘Why do you ask?’
Mary put one hand on my arm, pointed a fag-stained finger at Sara. ‘I’ll answer that. It might come as a shock to you, but this Adil arsehole fathered my daughter’s baby son.’
Sara’s face blanched. She clenched her fists together. ‘Impossible,’ she said. ‘He was my fiancé.’