Once out of the hospital I took a taxi to NEMO’s office. The traffic was heavy and I passed the time reflecting on recent events.
I’d glimpsed a change in Richard, more self-assured, and composed. The way he handled that woman reminded me of his earlier days; regretfully long gone. I hoped he would also cope with Mary when she accused him of fathering Jane. A confrontation I wanted to avoid.
Part of me wanted to help her, but she’d done nothing but stir up trouble since her arrival. Her latest crusade in targeting her grandson’s father — whoever that might be — was all about money, nothing else. I doubt if she wanted the baby, and I wasn’t about to be a surrogate mother, either.
My best chance of finding the truth lay with Rod. “Only rumours”, he’d said, but I sensed he knew more than that. He met me in reception; one of the job applicants had cancelled, and he needed a break.
‘Left something behind?’ he said, when he saw me.
Don’t bullshit me. ‘That’s right—the truth about Jane.’
His face clouded, he muttered something that sounded like a prayer, and ushered me back to the library room.
Good manners, a pleasant young man with a genteel charm, but I hadn’t time for distractions.
‘Not for me. Water’s fine.’
‘Ah, yes. Water. Here, no-one goes without. In our villages, a different story. At best, contaminated, but improving daily. NEMO is making a difference.’
The speech sounded rehearsed, maybe for the benefit of the job applicants, but also to delay answering my questions. While he poured us cups from a dispenser, I focused my thoughts.
‘Rod, can we talk about Jane? You talked about rumours in our previous meeting, so did she have an affair with Adil?’
His hands shook as he placed our cups on the table. Spilt a few drops. ‘Oh, sorry,’ he said, ‘I’ll get a cloth.’
I beckoned him to stay. ‘You’re upset. Tell me what happened.’
He slumped down in his chair. Avoided looking at me. ‘I can’t talk about it, I promised.’
He shook his head, didn’t speak. A scene I’d played out with Richard time and again, getting him to open up. I knew once Rod started he’d blab out the whole story, and I had a funny feeling I wasn’t going to like what I heard.
I tried again. ‘Jane counselled me when I lost my daughter, and she helped me through my bereavement. Now I’m trying to make it right for her son, Rod. Please tell me.’
A glazed look came into his eyes, as though he was reliving a previous scene. He sniffed and rubbed a hand across his face.
‘The bloody condom split,’ he said.
I sat there while he recounted events. ‘We — Jane and myself — had been visiting a project site. NEMO liked us to experience our work in the field.’ He looked up at me. ‘Helps us to do our job better, was the idea.’
I nodded. He continued.
‘We spent two nights there, met up with Adil. The last one was a Friday, and we got invited to a party in town by another agency. Norwegian, I recall.’ He took a gulp of water from his cup. ‘Their guesthouse was huge, many rooms with several bathrooms — and plenty of free alcohol.’
He saw my expression, and explained. ‘Aid workers are dedicated, the work stress is enormous, believe me. Someone’s birthday is a good excuse to let our hair down.’
‘And you did?’
‘Yes…no. Jane did, a young woman with several admirers, her glass always being topped up. The evening wore on, I’d had enough, but Jane wanted to stay.’
‘She had a thing about Adil. Pakistani, tall, dark, good looking, and available that night. Even when drunk, which was rare.’ He smiled at me. ‘Sara made sure of that. But that night, Sara was here in Aceh and Jane took advantage. Dragged him upstairs, came back down about an hour later, Jane frowning, Adil staggering.’ He stopped, looked at his watch. ‘I ferried them back to our place. That’s it.’
‘And the condom?’
‘When Jane’s pregnancy became noticeable, she had to talk with me. HR policy. Swore me to secrecy. She wasn’t even sure if Adil knew much about it, and no way did she want Sara to know.’
Why did she tell me his name? A slip? I felt sick. ‘So I blew open a can of worms?’
He nodded. ‘You and Jane’s mother.’
I sat back. Looked at the HIV poster for what good it had done. Jane had it planned. A single mum, with me to help with the babysitting while she continued to support Mary. No-one hurt.
He opened his hands. ‘So am I. A real tragedy.’
What now? I asked him the question. He shrugged as though it didn’t matter anymore.
‘The parentage is out of NEMO’s hands, but if Mrs. Parrington wants to pursue the matter with Adil’s family, I’ll support her claim.’
At what cost? ‘You’ll lose your job?’
He nodded. ‘Of course.’
A real quandary. Did I want to help Mary ruin two more lives? Sara had suffered enough, and Rod — well, Rod had only been protective.
If I only had someone to talk to. I looked at my watch. Hamish? I stood up. ‘Leave the matter open,’ I said. ‘Do not contact Adil’s family yet.’
He looked puzzled. ‘But you said…’
‘I’ve changed my mind.’ I smiled at him as I moved towards the door. I opened it up, turned back, ‘Woman’s privilege, Rod.’
The boys talked about having a plan B.
Now, my turn to produce one.