Things were looking up. Both Richard and Delcie onside. And I was on a promise. Earlier that morning, after I rejected Ms. Ganardi’s lithesome approach with a panache she found impressive, I was taken hand-in-hand to see Eko.
Kind of cute?
He was amongst Jubair’s group — they had also caught the early ferry back to Aceh — a precaution, she told me as we made our way along the deck.
‘We feared for his safety — my colleague, Tevfik, advised me to distance him from you and Mr. Richard until I had a chance to assess you.’
‘Assess me? Is making a pass at me what you call it?’
She edged past four heavily-laden backpackers leaning against the rails. The rain had eased, and they were watching the ferry dip and rise in the swell. Rough, today.
She squeezed my fingers. ‘Believe me, that was the last thing on my mind. Amera, while giving me feedback from your meeting with her, didn’t trust you. It’s a woman thing.’
I didn’t press the point. Besides, her hand in mine was also a woman’s thing. A father complex, perhaps?
All wishful thinking. Besides, if I was honest with myself, I wasn’t up to having a relationship — however short — with any more young nubiles. Not my scene, anymore.
Father Angelo would approve.
‘Here he is.’
Shaken out of my reverie by Ms Ganardi disengaging my hand from hers, I spotted Eko surrounded by his protectors, all of whom watched me out of half-lidded eyes. He wasn’t cowering, though, and I greeted him by utilising a deflection technique perfected at Sandhurst.
‘Do you like cricket?’
He wasn’t shy to speak, either. Clear English. ‘Cricket, mister? Who is that?’
I chuckled. ‘It’s a game, my boy. With a ball and bat.’
‘No,’ I said. ‘Do you want me to show you?’
The group seemed disinterested now, more inclined to shuffle away, leaving Eko with me. I turned to Ms Ganardi. ‘He’s quite grown-up from the last time I saw him. And more confident as well.’
She nodded. ‘He is a very bright boy. A quick learner. And you — how do you say it — broke the ice.’
I refrained from smirking. ‘You mean, I passed the test?’
She made a face and stuck out her tongue. ‘It wasn’t a test, silly.’
If only I was several years younger…
By the time we reached the mainland, I had Eko trusting me — which boded well — and the delightful Ms Ganardi hanging on every word as I explained the intricacies of cricket. Yet, when I invited her to the House, she declined. Needed to attend a debrief meeting at Muslim Relief HQ, she said. Maybe another time.
Next life, you mean. Pity.
The House was empty. After familiarising Eko with his duties, and explaining that Madam was to be obeyed, I spent time making a wicket out of three bamboo sticks, and teaching Eko how to hold my bat and strike a ball — old tennis ones — while I puffed and panted, and wrenched my bowling arm.
Game over, and I directed Eko to prepare a pitch instead. While he was engaged in that task, Delcie arrived with a shed load of luggage.
She seemed happy to see me.
I introduced Eko, nudged him, and he rushed over to her and picked up one suitcase, while we discussed his culinary skills — or lack of them, in Delcie’s opinion. I mentioned a scooter for Eko. She turned up her nose at that. And she wasn’t too enamoured with my take-away option. Sniffed the air, as if sensing a bad smell, and changed the subject.
‘Where’s Richard? Last I heard, he was on Sabang waiting for the world to end.’
I chuckled. Explained he was on the late-afternoon ferry, and with Eko here, he would be ecstatic.
Her eyes lit up. ‘Good,’ she said. Told me we’d all go and visit Mary, followed by dinner.
Then she hit me with a tornado I never saw coming. ‘Mary’s decided to drop the Paternity Tests.’
‘What the fuck..? Why?’
She moved in close — I felt her heat — linked her arm in mine. ‘That’s what we need to discuss. I think Junior’s future will rest on it. Now come inside, make me a drink. A stiff one.’
Hey, what’s this? I’m up for it. ‘Did you say a stiff one?’
She tapped my arm. ‘Not now, major. We’ve got company.’
Bollocks. I squeezed hers. Put on my seductive expression. ‘Later perhaps?’
She was smitten. ‘Depends if you’re a good boy,’ she said.
I was a good boy. Couldn’t have behaved better. Raided the drinks cabinet, and extracted a half-empty vodka bottle. Filled two tumblers.
‘Next time I renew my visa in Medan, I’ll stock up,’ I said, topping up with tonic, ice, and a slice of lemon from the fridge. ‘We’re running low.’
She took her drink, sipped at it, and gave me a look. ‘I hope you’re not accusing me.’
Now what? Play it cool. ‘Not at all. Merely stating facts.’
She relaxed, had another guzzle. ‘Maybe our new houseboy can find an outlet.’
‘His name’s Eko.’
‘Yes, well, he’s got to earn that right. I’ll see how he turns out, first.’
I drained my drink. ‘Want another?’
Her glass was half-full. ‘No. Call Richard. If he hasn’t landed, we’ll meet him at the docks.’
Hmm. ‘I’m sure he would prefer to be reunited with Eko, first.’
‘The houseboy can wait. I’ve—I mean we’ve got more important matters to resolve.’
I called Richard. Said we’d meet him. When I mentioned Mary, his reaction — a cascade of expletives — was similar to mine. He wasn’t placated until I told him that she had dropped the paternity tests — and that Eko was yearning to see him again. I stretched the truth, Eko hadn’t revealed a lot about his feelings. But he seemed eager to please, and…
Delcie moved across and whispered in my ear. ‘Have you finished bullshitting?’
I grinned at her, carried on talking to him. ‘Yes, Richard, we’ll see you in about twenty minutes. Yes…yes…don’t worry.’
‘About time,’ she said. ‘You two are worse than women.’
I didn’t rise to the bait. Picked up our empty glasses. ‘Okay,’ I said. ‘Let’s get the show on the road.’
For a final showdown?