I thought it would be Hannah phoning to apologise for being late, and to rescue me from my two Aussie travellers. I picked up my Nokia and glanced at the screen.
Mary. What now..?
I clicked the button, turned away from Sheila’s prying eyes, and declined Jake’s attempt to hand me a bottle of beer.
‘Charles, is that you?’
‘Where are you? I was expecting you to meet me at the airport. Didn’t Delcie tell you?’
Airport? What’s going on? ‘Ah, no.’
‘It must have skipped...I mean...slipped my mind.’
‘Charles, you’re not answering my questions. Are you ill?’
Jake and Sheila were looking at me. ‘Five minutes,’ I said to them as I staggered up and edged away from the table.
‘Five minutes? Oh, that’s... that’s when my taxi is due. Yes, that’s right. Should have been here hours ago.’
‘Charles, you’re not making sense. Talk to Delcie.’
‘Err, not right now,’ but in the background I heard Mary hiss at Delcie.
Outside the sky darkened, and still no sign of Hannah, but I could sense an opportunity if I could clear my mind. I was needed in Aceh for some reason. Maybe I could inveigle my way back in with Hannah in tow.
Worth a try.
Delcie sounded like...well, like Delcie. Blowing hot and cold. ‘Charles, listen to me. Mary...we need you back to oversee Jane’s funeral.’
‘I’m sorry. I didn’t realise.’
Delcie’s voice softened. ‘You left before...before it happened.’
‘I went to Medan. I told you I needed to renew my visa.’
Delcie’s voice hardened. ‘You left your keys in the letter-box.’
‘Did I? Thank god. I thought I lost them.’
Delcie wavered. ‘Charles..?’
‘I got robbed at my hotel. The bugger made off with my wallet — and my keys.’
How was I going to bring Hannah into the equation? To my satisfaction, Delcie’s intuition was working overtime.
‘This bugger? It wouldn’t have been Hannah, would it?’
I put Father Angelo’s confessional out of my mind.
‘Definitely not. The laundry boy — he’s on the run from the police. No doubt vanished into the ether.’
‘As it happened I did bump into Hannah at the cybercafé, when I tried to contact my bank. She was seeking another job.’
‘Never mind, it’s technical. Anyway I stopped to talk.’
‘And I said I’d made a big mistake. What happened shouldn’t have happened, and it was all my fault that Madam was angry with us. Told her I was sorry.’
Delcie sounded placated. ‘Yes, and I’m sorry too. Maybe I acted too hastily—the Manor is a mess.’
‘Eh? Isn’t Richard there? He usually tidies up.’
‘Charles, don’t go there. Not now.’
Right then, I wasn’t going anywhere. While I’d managed to talk myself back into a more sober mood, my traffic lights were still red. And for the first time I felt abandoned. I glanced back at Sheila and Jake who were deep in conversation with a table half-full of empty Bintang beer bottles. I shook my head.
‘Delcie, I’ve learnt my lesson. I can call Hannah. Tell her she can have her old job back, no strings attached, and no monkey business, everything above board. How’s that?’
Delcie spluttered. ‘Each one a cliché, but let’s bygones be bygones, okay?’
At last, a result. ‘Okay,’ I said, punching the air. ‘See you soon.’
I clicked off and returned to the table. If Hannah didn’t arrive soon, I’d try and borrow the bar bill from my Aussie friends, so I resigned myself to a late session with no saviour in sight.
‘My voyage’s been cancelled,’ I told them. ‘Regretfully, my word of honour is not hard currency.’
‘You lost me,’ said Jake. He pushed a fresh bottle towards me. ‘Go on, take it. Plenty more.’
Sheila had her wits about her, though. ‘You stranded, mate?’
I nodded, swigged a mouthful of beer that had all the finesse of dirty dishwater, and belched. ‘You wouldn’t believe it.’
‘We got all night, mate,’ said Jake.
Which was the last thing I needed to hear.
Not them. They were all ears when I recited the sanitised version of my adventures — I didn’t want to corrupt their Christian faith by relating my lurid encounter with a Thai temptress — and were more than willing to help me escape my predicament, if it came to that.
But first the beer. Bar tab on them. Absolutely no argument. Settled. By the third more engaging bottle I couldn’t care less, which was most unlike me. I supposed Hannah had second thoughts, cold feet, or whatever other metaphor that seemed appropriate. Just when I thought I had it made, the rug was pulled out from under me.
Bollocks to metaphors. Slurp. Burp. Swear...Hoot?
What was that? Sheila shook my arm.
‘Hey, mate, is that your girl?’
I raised my head from the table and blinked open my eyes. And shut them again.
More insistent shaking, and I resigned myself an undeserved ear-bashing. But it didn’t come to that.
‘Oh Meester Charles, I so sorry.’
When the words sunk in, I ventured a squint.
‘Hannah,’ I said.
Another longer hoot that rattled my eardrums, Hannah saying something to Sheila, and now there were three Samaritans hauling me to my feet, picking up my belongings, and escorting me into a waiting taxi.
Hannah fell in beside me, and I heard my Aussie friends cheer.
‘Nice one, mate. See you in Oz sometime.’
I noticed tear-streaks down Hannah’s cheeks. ‘I tried to call you,’ I said. ‘What happened?’
Hannah’s voice trembled. ‘Louise sick. She go hospital.’
I felt even more of an idiot for not trusting her. ‘Oh,’ I said. ‘That’s why.’
‘Never mind. What now?’
My phone rang as she said something about tomorrow. But by then I had closed my eyes and drifted off.
My phone could wait. Tomorrow could wait.