The knock on Hamish’s door was repeated. He called out “yes, okay”, and I swivelled in my chair to look. The door opened, and in came a bloated woman I hardly recognised.
Our eyes met. ‘You’re looking a bit worse for wear,’ she said, her face grimacing. ‘To think I once fancied you.’
I remained seated. A most discourteous and ungentlemanly behaviour befitting an Army officer. Nevertheless, I slapped my hand on my thigh. ‘Atta girl. Always the life and soul of the party, eh Mary?’
‘Don’t patronise me,’ she said, ‘and while we’re on that subject, Charles Fotheringay, I trust Mr. Donaldson has briefed you on my requirements.’
Bollocks to that.
Hamish coughed. ‘Mary, that’s unmerited. Charles has been very sympathetic and cooperative. I am sure we all want what’s best for you and Junior.’
Mary glared at me. ‘He hasn’t got a sympathetic bone in his body. Apathetic is more like it.’
I stood up, offered my hand. ‘I won’t say it has been a pleasure to see you again, Mary, but my best wishes for a safe return to the UK.’
A choking noise came from her mouth, her eyes glazed over, and she collapsed. Hamish came quickly out of his seat, bent over her, and felt for her pulse. He looked up at me, frowning. ‘Quick, call a nurse.’
I’d seen soldiers crumple in the field from stress, and I assumed the same with Mary. I hot-footed it down the corridor to an open ward, burst through, and signalled to a blue-uniformed lady who was addressing a couple of nurses. I tried pigeon-English.
‘Help. Mr. Donaldson room. Patient sick.’
Bollocks. After several hand-waving exercises worthy of a diploma in semaphore, I succeeded in enticing her to follow me back. Not a moment too soon. By the time we arrived Hamish was giving mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, and I realised Mary’s condition was more serious than a fainting episode.
And so it proved.
When Mary was whisked away on a stretcher after her breathing steadied, I heard Hamish whisper suspected myocardial infarction.
My fault? Surely not?
I didn’t think wishing Mary a safe return to Blighty would be enough to bring on heart failure, but I felt guilty enough to wait and see it through.
Our session with Hamish was put on indefinite hold, and with nothing better to do I returned to reception to wait for Delcie and Richard to show themselves. A few magazines laying on a side table caught my eye, and I riffled through them. I picked out an English one with an intriguing article on the aftermath of the tsunami, took it to an empty seat by a water dispenser, and sat down to read:-
“On Dec. 26, 2004, the massive 9.3-magnitude earthquake hit the Indian Ocean just west of the northern tip of Aceh.
The epicenter of the quake was located some 160 kilometres west of Aceh. The tremor sent devastating tsunami waves across the region, reaching as far as Africa’s eastern coast.
The tsunami killed some 230,000 people in 14 countries along the rim of the Indian Ocean. Of these, 170,000 were Achenese residents”.
I wiped a hand across my face, put down the magazine, and filled a cup of water from the dispenser. More people died here than the population of Oxford — or Cambridge — and my Celia, and Angelique, were amongst them. Now Jane, and maybe Mary, were added casualties.
I gulped my drink, returned to the magazine, and looked at a picture of a wrecked ship. Underneath was the story:-
“The PLTD Apung, an electric generator ship owned by state electric company PLN has become a monument to the tragedy in Banda Aceh. Although the ship weighed 2,600 tons, the torrent forced it nearly three kilometres inland. It now sits in the capital city, a constant remembrance of the tsunami’s power”.
Don’t remind me.
I closed the magazine. My eyelids felt heavy…
‘…Charles, wake up.’
A hand on my shoulder shaking me. I blinked into bright lights, and focused on Delcie bending over me. My mouth felt dry, and my stomach rumbled.
‘What’s the time?’
Instead of answering she hurled a stream of questions. All sounded accusatory. ‘What are you doing here? What’s happened? Where’s Mary?’
‘Hold on,’ I said, rubbing my eyes. ‘Must have dropped off.’
Delcie straightened. Behind her, lurked Richard. He looked at his watch.
‘Time we found Donaldson,’ he said.
I glanced at the wall clock ticking to eight-thirty. The reception area, quiet.
‘Not today, you won’t,’ I said. ‘He’s attending to Mary. She’s had a heart attack.’
They both stared at me, mouths agape. Delcie recovered first.
I nodded. ‘Lucky I was there. Touch and go for a minute. Mouth to mouth, and all that. And before you ask me the same damn questions, she’s alive and breathing unaided, and Hamish has rushed her off to ICU.’
Delcie had a hand covering her mouth, staring at me in disbelief. Richard, blank expression, non-committal. I didn’t blame him, I felt the same. Neither of them spoke, so I made the first move. ‘You can wait here all night if you want, but I’m going back to the House.’
‘Good idea,’ said Richard. ‘I’m all-in.’
Delcie shuddered. ‘You can’t do that. What if she…she…’
‘Kicks the bucket, you mean,’ said Richard. ‘Well, then we’ll only have Junior to worry about.’
Delcie gritted her teeth, raised a fist, and punched his arm. I wasn’t sure if it was in anger or in jest.
‘Richard. How can you say that?’
I stood up ready to go, but Richard turned to her, put both hands on her shoulders, and held her still. He seemed different, somehow, more self-assured. His words struck a chord.
‘Delcie, listen to me. We both know that Mary’s been a meddling witch, and we’ve bent over backwards to accommodate her outlandish behaviour and hysterical demands. Naturally, I want her to recover and fly back to England—but I’m not going to shed any tears if she doesn’t pull through.’
He took his hands off and left Delcie standing there like a lone sentinel. A few moments passed. Finally, she sniffed, nodded at us.
‘You two can go.’
‘What about you?’ I said.
Delcie brushed a hand across her face. Tears coursed down her cheeks. ‘Mary needs me. I’ll sit with her…hold her hand until…until…whatever.’
‘Okay,’ I said. ‘Best you do that.’