I’d found Eko alive and well. Now unburdened, despite the aching in my bones and the weariness behind my eyes. On reflection, it was strange that of all the things I could have and needed to say, became mere platitudes.
‘It’s good to see you,’ I said. ‘I was hoping...well...maybe...’ but Eko drew back from my embrace.
‘Eat,’ he said, pointing at my dinner. ‘Finish prayer, we talk.’
I smiled at his broken English: taught by a retired professor who rented a house close to Eko’s family — sadly, all of them swept away that fateful day.
‘Okay, eat now, talk later.’
When Eko left to attend to his chores, I picked up my spoon and savoured the Gulai — chunks of chicken in a cinnamon curry sauce.
Simple staple dish, but good.
Food devoured and warming my stomach, I relaxed and poured myself a cup of coffee from the pot. Three sips later, and I wasn’t so calm. What before seemed an easy resolution to my quest, was finding Eko only the beginning?
What if he refused to return with me? That he was happy here in Lampu’uk. Or worse, that Charles threatened to knock his block off with a bloody cricket bat? My loss of confidence upset me. I had climbed one mountain only to see a higher one behind it. Or was it my imagination?
Lost in my morosity I didn’t register Eko’s return until he coughed. I looked up. He was holding a prayer mat and the same black leather-clad book as the owner — or it could have been another copy. I nodded, and he took that as permission to unfold the mat and kneel on it in front of me.
He opened the book. Chanted a prayer. Closed the book. His eyes met mine.
I nodded again. The message was clear.
‘Eko, I understand, but I hope you can come back with me.’
He shook his head. ‘Cannot, Mister Richard. Work here, not finish.’
I could sense he had made up his mind. Maybe I could have begged and pleaded, argued, and offered enticements to return with me to the House, but it didn’t feel right to coerce him.
Instead we talked about what had happened since he left me, and what he — and I — were planning for the future. His was simple; tend to the labourers’ wants until the nearby houses were built — a couple of months or so — and then maybe return to Aceh.
I hadn’t a plan.
I unzipped my bag and gave him the spare Nokia I’d purchased a while back.
‘I can call, you can call. Okay?’
His teeth gleamed. ‘Okay,’ he said, ‘Inshallah.’
To make sure, I had him practice calling me several times. Then, before he retired back to kitchen duty, I fished out a fistful of crumpled banknotes to pay for my stay, and gave him extra rupiah to top up his credit until I returned.
Until I returned? Alone in my bedroom with the dishes cleared, it nagged at me, kept me awake. My phone rung several times; maybe Delcie had left a message. It had to be her, and I required none of it right then.
I toyed with the idea of travelling to Medan, renewing my visa, and sorting out my finances, but that thought drifted in and out until the dawn light filtered through the window. I sat up, and rubbed my eyes.
What now, Angelique?
A few moments passed. I tried again. This time she answered.
You must go back home, Papa.
Jane wants you there.
I have to go now, Papa.
But no response.
I had no time to reflect. Eko hurried in with a bowl of spicy soup, a pot of coffee, and left it on the table before excusing himself.
‘Eat,’ he said. ‘Go pray.’
I supposed that meant that he finished his meal before the Fajr call to prayer, which now shook the foundations of our ramshackle building. As a non-believer to most, it didn’t matter when I chose to eat.
And that was my challenge. Could I ever persuade Eko to live with me in the House amongst infidels?
Work here not finish.
If my mind had been a hundred percent I would have grasped the solution but once again it eluded me, and I spent the next couple of hours not quite sorting myself out until my phone rang.
I glanced at the display, and sighed. Pressed the button.
It wasn’t Delcie.
A ghost from the past. The siren’s voice, unforgettable.
‘Hello, Mary,’ I said.
‘It’s about time you answered. Where are you?’
‘And good to hear from you, too. How’s the weather in England?’
‘Richard. I’m here at the Manor. Didn’t Delcie tell you?’
‘Oh. Are you? Sorry to hear that.’
I could hear Mary’s exasperated breathing — as if she was talking to the local idiot — but she changed her approach. Just as well.
‘Listen to me,’ she said. ‘Please. I need you to help with the funeral arrangements.’
‘Well, I was thinking of going to...’
‘For the last time, Richard. You have to be with me.’
Much as I felt remorse for her, and I knew it was the correct thing for me to attend the funeral, I couldn’t face it. Not after Angelique, who I still hadn’t laid to rest. And not after being isolated from Delcie. And certainly not with Charles there. Without Eko for my solitary support I didn’t know which way to turn.
My silence prompted Mary to plead.
‘Jane would have expected it.’
‘Jane? I don’t understand.’
‘Oh Richard. You really don’t know, do you?’
The after effects of dengue befuddled my brain. First with Eko and now Mary.
‘Mary, you’re losing me.’
‘Do you remember that day at Cheltenham? The day you ravaged me.’
My mind was in turmoil. Mary’s next words seared my very soul.
‘Richard. You fathered Jane.’