Ibrahim told me Lampu’uk had been destroyed, leaving only desolation and despair. How could anyone, let alone me, visualise the wanton loss of five thousand souls, their homes, and belongings. Of the six-hundred junior school children in Lampu'uk before the tsunami, only five youngsters survived.
Where was Allah that day?
But now, there was hope. Aid Agencies donating houses to the survivors, many of them orphans.
Could he be here?
Sadly, no. Ibrahim’s driver toured me around several sites — including those of other Agencies — and no one we asked recollected anyone answering Eko’s name or description. It was mid-afternoon by the time we returned to pick up Ibrahim, and he noticed my distress.
‘I’m sorry,’ he said, ‘what now?’
What now, indeed? The day’s efforts took its toll; I felt exhausted and, to be honest, also on a fool’s errand. But Ibrahim was willing to help me further.
‘I need somewhere to stay here tonight, if it’s possible.’ I saw him frowning, and I added, ‘I’ll leave tomorrow.’
He nodded. I had a deal. While his driver went to locate a B&B, Ibrahim engaged in conversation over a new pot of coffee in his office.
‘I’m curious,’ he said, ‘tell me about Eko.’
Where to begin?
We were slumped in cushioned chairs around a low glass-topped coffee table and, from my seat, I had a view of the compound through a screened window. The sky above glowed red as the setting sun hung low over the horizon, and I watched several unladen trucks entering the gates. Day’s work finished.
I cradled my cup of thick black espresso, took a welcome sip, and relayed my embryo relationship with an orphan who would, in time I hoped, become part of my life — a son.
Relating my post-tsunami experiences to a virtual stranger was a welcome catharsis, something I couldn’t have unburdened to Delcie, however much we both needed to move on with our lives. Ibrahim waited until I’d finished.
I shrugged. How could I explain our spiritual connection with Angelique without sounding like a bloody crackpot? Or worse, being deemed a bloody pervert. But now I was in full flow.
‘Why do you work here? Just a job? Or to help others recover from their suffering? That’s what Eko’s done for me.’
Ibrahim nodded, glanced at his watch. ‘I think I understand, Mr. Richard. Our faith is a great healer.’ He gulped down his coffee and stood up. ‘Please excuse me, I’ve a meeting scheduled. My driver will take you to your lodgings.’
He left me with a half-full coffee pot and my half-baked thoughts on what would happen if I failed to locate Eko. I rejected a refill; instead with heavy eyes contemplated dusk descending over the compound, until the strident sound of a call to prayer roused me.
Angelique, help me.
Papa, I can sense his spirit. Somewhere close.
If Angelique thought it worth a try, I would go. I jotted down a note and left it on top of my bag, then made haste to the mosque entrance. If I expected Eko to materialise out of the gloom it would have been fate.
But it never happened. Once again, I was left despondent, and both physically and mentally exhausted. I trudged back to the compound where Ibrahim’s driver was waiting in the office.
‘Come,’ he said, shouldering my bag. ‘Houseboy — speak same you.’
I nodded, lost in my thoughts, and followed him to the pick-up. I heaved my creaking bones into the front seat and slumped back, too tired to make any conversation. The driver paid little attention, and soon he stopped in a side street not far from the closest building site.
‘Here,’ he said.
The lodgings — if the reconstructed building with a tin roof could be described as such — sat close to a line of similarly built barracks which I presumed, housed construction workers, or maybe homeless survivors. Close by was a food stall; the cooking aromas tantalising my senses and making me realise I hadn’t eaten for many hours.
The driver picked up my bag, escorted me to the door, and rang the bell. At many traditional houses unaffected by the tsunami, security was a priority; most were surrounded with high stone walls and had heavy metal gates with padlocks. Here, though, a doorbell sufficed.
I heard a shuffling of feet, and the door opened to reveal a thin man wearing a typical sarong and clasping a black leather-clad book — I assumed the Qur’an — in his hands.
Immediately my driver engaged in conversation, nodding his head and inclining it at me, until the man stepped to one side and beckoned me to enter. I thanked the driver, picked up my bag, and made my way inside. It was indeed a humble abode; no trappings of wealth, wall lanterns casting shadows across bare stone, and a musty smell, somewhat masked by their scented candles that drew me into a small lounge area. I passed a sideboard with a threadbare towel and a water pitcher in a bowl resting on top. In front of me a wooden table between a reclining couch and two shabby armchairs were the entire trappings of comfort and homeliness.
My bedroom, I presumed.
The man motioned to me to take a seat. Too tired to do anything but comply, I slumped into the nearest and closed my eyes...
...Papa. Listen to me. His spirit is near.
...My Nokia was ringing. I rubbed a hand across my eyes and blinked. Standing before me and placing a tray laden with a dish of pungent curry and a pot of coffee onto the table was a face I recognised. His eyes bulged.
I ignored the persistent ring-tone of my Nokia, hauled myself out of the chair and embraced him. My quest was over.
I’d found Eko.