Deep Waters Chapter 2 | by Lydia Penn

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Deep Waters Cover by Lydia Penn

Deep Waters Chapter 2 by Lydia Penn

When after a sleepless night, Ben woke the next morning complaining of earache,  he got scant sympathy from Justin, who was still nursing his anger and bruised ego after Skippy’s departure. “Aw, shut up,” he growled. “Go and see the doc, and don’t moan to me. “

There were no other patients in the surgery and Ben was attended to at once. “Just a slight infection,” stated the doctor, peering into his ear. “We’ll soon fix you up with an antibiotic.” He was a jovial, friendly man in his forties,  and seemed glad to have someone to talk to. He confided that he had recently been divorced, and a job on a ship provided him with an opportunity to get away from it all and have some breathing space.

Ben sympathised. “Have you been very busy during the voyage?” He inquired as he took the antibiotics.

“No,” said the doctor. “All pretty boring actually; mainly cases of heatstroke and tummy upsets due to overindulgence.” He chuckled. “Oh, and there was one old lady who insisted she had appendicitis. But it was only a case of eating too much fruit! My, she was difficult to convince though!”

“What about the old lady who fell and bruised her ribs. Didn’t she keep you busy? She sounded pretty demanding to me,” commented Ben, also happy to stay and chat.

The doctor looked puzzled. “What old lady?”

“She walked with a cane and couldn’t manage the stairs because of the fall,” Ben explained.

“You must be mistaken,” replied the doctor. “If there had been such a case, I certainly would have treated her. Where did you get that from?”

Ben felt a little foolish. “A girl my friend got to know, said she was sharing a cabin with an elderly aunt who’d had a fall and was demanding all her attention. Said it stopped her from socialising.”

The doctor began to laugh. “That’s a good one,” he said. “Sounds like it was her way of giving him the brush off, and keeping him out of her cabin. You young men get up to all sorts of things on board ship I know.” He grinned and gave Ben a broad wink. “A good looker was she?”

Ben wished he hadn’t raised the subject, but it was obvious the doctor was enjoying a good gossip, so he attempted to describe Skippy. “She was very antisocial, and never mixed with any of the other passengers,” he concluded.

“Hm,” said the doctor. “I think I know the girl you mean. One of those slim cool blondes. Never mentioned an aunt, but came in here about a week ago and asked for some strong sleeping tablets. Said she couldn’t sleep but didn’t look too tired to me.” He chuckled again.

Thoughtfully, Ben made his way back to his cabin. Justin was not there, so he lay on his bunk and fell asleep. After about an hour he awoke refreshed and went to find Justin. The ship was still docked in Melbourne; it was now the southern winter, with a grey sky overhead that looked cold and uninviting, the sea choppy. The decks appeared deserted and there was an atmosphere of desolation everywhere. After all the sun and activities of the past few weeks, Ben found it very depressing. Rather like the end of term at school, he reflected, everything packed up and corridors deserted. Most of the group he had been with had also disembarked in Melbourne, including his ‘shipboard romance’, an Australian girl named Jan (not Sheila!). He had not been seriously involved with her, but she had been good company.

He found Justin in a corner of the writing room playing cards with three of the other remaining passengers. It was now close to lunchtime, and after lunch, they joined Justin’s card-playing acquaintances in an excursion into the city. So it was not until that evening after dinner that they were alone and had a chance to talk together.

As they sat morosely drinking beer in the lounge, Ben related what he had learned from the doctor. “I don’t buy that idea that she just wanted to keep you out of her cabin, “he concluded.” And it’s obvious that those sleeping tablets were for you! I thought you had just been indulging too much at the bar when I came in and found you snoring your head off. But I can see now, it’s obvious, she drugged you! But why?”

Justin shrugged. “Beats me. Maybe she didn’t want me to see her disembark without an aunt. But why go to all that trouble, and give me all those lies?” After his initial shock, he was becoming very angry. “And to think that I wasted all that time on her, and really felt sorry for her with all her tales about the aunt. She took me for a fool, and how she must have laughed at me,” he stormed.

“Calm down,” urged Ben, “and let’s think this through. There’s something very strange about it all.” His legal mind was already at work. “Did she actually say that she was disembarking in Sydney?”

Justin thought for a moment, trying to recall the conversation. “Well, not exactly.” he said finally. “But when I said I was going all the way to Sydney, I asked her if she was, and she said something about ‘going all the way’, so I took that to mean Sydney.”

“Well she’d no intention of going “all the way” with you in any sense,” said Ben with a wry grin. “But think, man.” He took a long drink of his beer and then went on. “Was there anything else she said that seemed a bit odd when you look back?”

Justin thought again. “There was just one I can remember. She asked me if I was a journalist, and when I said no, I remember she did seem a little more relaxed. But that was all. Perhaps she just didn’t like journalists.”

“Seems like she was trying to travel incognito,” Ben suggested. “She avoided mixing with other passengers very deliberately. Look how she always stood on her own on deck, and she never went ashore or joined in any activities. Maybe she is someone famous, an actress perhaps, and she didn’t want people to recognise her.”

“I thought people like that wanted recognition and publicity,” said Justin, “I wonder …”

But what he wondered, Ben never knew, for at that moment a male English voice broke into their conversation. “Mind if we join you. It’s so quiet and deserted everywhere.”

The friends looked round to see the middle-aged man who had loaned Justin his binoculars as they approached Port Said. He was accompanied by a middle-aged woman, obviously his wife. “Please do,” said Ben with a smile. “I agree, it’s quite depressingly quiet now. I’ll be glad when we arrive in Sydney. Are you staying in Sydney or travelling further?”

“We’re visiting our married daughter in Sydney, but I hope we can travel around a bit too before we return,” said the woman with a north country accent.

“Mavis wants to go up to Queensland and see the Barrier Reef,” explained her husband.

“What about you two,” asked Mavis. “Are you travelling around for a holiday, or are you emigrating?”

“I’m visiting relatives, and Justin just tagged along with me,” explained Ben. “I’m looking forward to getting around too. It all seems so different from home.”

Justin felt it was time he joined in. “Yes we went into Melbourne today on the train and I was really surprised as it is not nearly as English as I thought it would be. It seemed very noisy too with the trams. Reminded me of Cologne actually.”

” Ah yes, ” said the man whose name they learnt was Alfred, and then he embarked on a long discourse of his impressions. The conversation became more general as they all talked of their experiences, and it was quite late before Justin and Ben returned to their cabin.The subject of Skippy was quite forgotten.

Until the next day.

They were frantically packing in the afternoon before the ship was due in Sydney. Justin grabbed one bundle of clothes from the mountain he had piled up on the dressing table, and out fell a small book. “What on earth!” he exclaimed as he picked it up. Then he remembered, that night, the book Skippy had dropped. He had picked it up intending to give it to her the next day, but he had been so drugged he had forgotten all about it. “How did it get in with all my clothes, ” he wondered. “And who’s Banjo Patterson anyway?”

” He’s an Australian poet, ” Ben informed him. “Jan told me a lot about Australian poets. But how did you get that book? Did you pinch it from the library?”

“Of course not, ” Justin snapped. “It fell out of Skippy’s bag and I was going to return it to her the next day.” He was thumbing through the pages. “Hey! Wait a minute. Here’s a name and a phone number. Must be her real name — Sarah Cummings. She never did tell me her name and I never asked. She was just ‘Skippy’.”

Ben was foraging among another pile of discarded papers, paper bags and wrappers. He produced a stained, crumpled passenger list. “Here, ” he said. “We can check her out.” He looked up in bewilderment a few minutes later. “There’s no Sarah Cummings on the passenger list at all. In fact, there is not a single Cummings.”

“Here, let me look.” Justin grabbed the book and looked through it. Ben was right. He looked up perplexed. “She must have been travelling under another name. This gets more and more strange! But at least there’s a phone number here. When we get to Sydney I’m going to ring Miss Sarah Cummings and ask what her game is.”

But the phone call only increased the mystery!

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Deep Waters Chapter 1 |  by Lydia Penn

Deep Waters Chapter 1 | by Lydia Penn

Deep Waters Cover by Lydia Penn

Justin first noticed the girl as he and Ben joined other first-class passengers at the ship’s rail as the Sydney bound liner sailed closer to Port Said and the Suez Canal. She was standing at a little distance from the other passengers, a slim figure leaning over the rail, her long blonde hair blowing in the slight breeze. It was 1960, just four years after the Egyptian government had nationalised the Suez Canal.

“Change of colour isn’t it,” remarked a tall grey-haired man standing next to Justin, as he perused the landscape through a pair of binoculars.

Justin agreed; gone was that deep Mediterranean blue, which they had enjoyed for the past few days, and in its place, the sea now appeared pale green as they approached the Nile Delta. “Can you see land yet?” he asked.

“Here, have a look through these,” responded the man, handing over his binoculars, which gave a clear view of buildings and the land ahead. It was a welcome sight after over a week at sea. Justin returned the binoculars and looked around again to see the girl. But she had gone.

“Come on,” urged Ben at his side. “Let’s go for a swim before lunch. We can’t go ashore until this afternoon anyway.”

“Did you see that blonde to the left of us, leaning over the side?” Justin asked him as they made their way towards the pool. “I don’t remember seeing her before, and she must have been aboard since Tilbury.”

Ben shrugged, knowing his friend’s weakness for good looking blondes. “The ship is full of blondes – and, funny thing, so many of them seem to be called “Sheila”, too. I’m sure there are still a lot of passengers we haven’t met yet. I met up with a whole new crowd last night when you were well occupied with that little blonde on the dance floor.”

Justin continued. “She seemed so aloof, she just intrigued me somehow. Maybe we’ll see her when we go ashore after lunch.”

But the colourful spectacle that met their eyes when they went on the deck that afternoon totally occupied their interest. The ship was berthed at the quayside, and the decks were filled with native vendors displaying their wares. Alongside were other natives in small craft, passing up goods by ropes which passengers had tied to the ship’s rails. Up and down the ropes went baskets of goods and the noisy business of bartering was well underway. To Justin and Ben, who had not previously travelled outside Europe, it was a novel experience. As they made their way ashore they encountered even more vendors with their wares either side of the metal landing stage.

“Great fun,” commented Ben, who had bought a leather bag for 10/-. “I’ve probably been ripped off,” he added, “but so what! It’s quite an experience.” They entered Simon Artz, a shop practically opposite where the ship was berthed. At first, it appeared deserted, and goods were only on view under glass-topped counters, which stretched the length of the oblong shop. Suddenly, as if from nowhere, they were surrounded and the sales pitches began. They extricated themselves and joined up with a group of other passengers to explore the town. It was a full afternoon. Then back on deck later they watched as the ship slowly entered the Suez Canal. So it was the next morning before Justin saw the girl again. They had gone up on deck before breakfast, and found the ship at anchor in the Great Bitter Lake, awaiting the passage of the northbound vessels. She was again on her own, a little apart from other passengers, and appeared totally absorbed with the view before her. Justin sauntered over, while Ben remained to study the landscape through a borrowed pair of binoculars.

The girl appeared startled as Justin greeted her, but she turned and smiled. She was wearing a big straw hat and her eyes were hidden behind a pair of large sunglasses, but there was something in her manner that Justin found fascinating; he had already noticed her long shapely legs beneath a pair of white shorts. “Rather a monotonous landscape isn’t it,” he continued, indicating the long stretches of the desert before them. He introduced himself. “I’m Justin, by the way – and don’t tell me your name is ‘Sheila’. There seem to be an awful lot of girls called ‘Sheila’ onboard among the Australians.”

She gave a light tinkling laugh, which somehow seemed at odds with the rather flat tone of her voice. “Oh, you’re English of course,” she said. “A ‘sheila’ is Australian slang for a girl, so that is why you keep hearing it.” She paused, then added, “my friends call me ‘Skippy’.”

“I don’t think I’ve seen you on deck before,  while we were in the Med,” went on Justin.

“Maybe that’s because I wasn’t on deck,” said Skippy, but volunteered no further explanation, and she went back to studying the desert before them.

This is really hard going, thought Justin, while at the same time he realised he was extremely hungry, and it was breakfast time. He decided to make one last effort. “Look here,” he said, “I’m starving and I must go to breakfast, But perhaps we could meet at the pool bar for a drink before lunch, say around eleven?”

She paused for a moment, then shrugged her shoulders. “Why not,” she said. “Thank you, I’ll be there.”

It was scarcely encouraging, but Justin loved a challenge, and he did find her intriguing; there seemed to be a sort of reserve about her which he aimed to breakthrough. However later, by the pool, as they sat sipping large glasses of cool lemonade, Skippy appeared much more friendly. She took off her sunglasses and he saw that her eyes were a large pale blue, fringed with dark lashes. She wore light blue slacks and a sleeveless white top. “Have you been away from Australia long?” he inquired.

“Too long,” she said and gave that light tinkling laugh. “It’s time I got back. And you? Are you emigrating, or just on a visit?”

Justin explained. “My friend, Ben is on a visit to his Australian relatives, and I have a little free time between jobs. So I thought I’d come with him and see more of the world. He’ll probably stay a while, but I have to be home by Christmas as I start a new job in January.”

“Are you a journalist?” Skippy asked.

“Heavens no,” said Justin, a little surprised, “I’m an engineer.”

She seemed to suddenly relax, and asked, “are you going all the way to Sydney?”

“I certainly am,” said Justin. “Ben’s relatives live on the North Shore, and I’m going all the way there, hoping they’ll put me up for a short stay. And you?”

“All the way,” she responded, and they sipped their drinks in silence for a moment, before Justin asked, “are you going ashore at Aden? I didn’t see you ashore at Port Said.”

“No. I’m not keen on going ashore,” she said. “All the noise, dirt, and the natives trying to sell things all the time.”

Justin thought this a little odd, but he said nothing. He pulled out a packet of Benson and Hedges and offered her a cigarette.

“No thank you, I don’t smoke,” she said, as he lit his cigarette and sat back relaxing while he inhaled. Skippy got up to leave as lunchtime approached. But she agreed to meet him again before lunch the next day.

However, as the ship made good progress through the Red Sea towards Aden, Justin felt the same could not be said about his relationship with Skippy. She accepted his invitation to have a drink with him, but she volunteered little information about herself, and the conversation remained very general. “She’s playing hard to get,” said Ben, with all the experience of his twenty-four years. “Why don’t you just drop her and join in more with a group. There are plenty of other attractive girls onboard.”

But at their third pre-lunch drinks meeting, Skippy suddenly opened up. “I’m sorry, Justin, but I haven’t been quite honest with you. The truth is that I find it rather embarrassing.” She looked at him earnestly, anxiety mirrored in those large blue eyes. “You see,” she went on hesitantly, “actually I’m acting as a sort of paid companion to an aunt who’s paying my fare, and she’s rather demanding. She had a fall when we were in the Bay of Biscay, and bruised her ribs quite badly. So she has been confined to her cabin and she rather expects me to be with her. So I’m not free to do as I would like.”

“I see,” said Justin slowly, but in actual fact, he didn’t see at all. Skippy, he thought, was perhaps a couple of years older than he was, and it seemed awful to him that she couldn’t participate in all the ship’s activities or visit the ports en route. She was missing all the fun.

Now she had opened up to him, Skippy became quite loquacious. “You see,” she went on as she put down her empty glass, ”she has a real temper and can get very upset. But usually, she’s very kind. So I don’t want to upset her. She has to walk with a stick which she finds awkward on the stairs.”

“I’m so sorry,” said Justin, taking her hand across the table. ”But things will be better when we reach Australia surely, and then you will be free. I’d like to take you out when we reach the shore.”

“That would be nice,” said Skippy, looking a little brighter, as they gazed into each other’s eyes.

I am making progress, at last, thought Justin. He was becoming infatuated, and infatuation combined with sympathy made quite a heady cocktail!

Skippy refused to let him walk her to the cabin which she shared with the aunt, nor would she go for the traditional “stroll on deck” that he wanted. But as they neared the Australian coast, she reported that her aunt was much better and happier. She sat in the lounge with him in the evenings drinking coffee after dinner, and sometimes accepted his offer of a liqueur.

At Fremantle, they went ashore together, and hand in hand wandered around the dark deserted streets. They joined a crowd at a radio shop window, watching T.V. which had come to Australia only two years previously, then before they returned to the ship, Justin took her in his arms and kissed her. She responded warmly and Justin felt things were promising for the future when they get to Sydney. He suggested that she joined him on one of the shore excursions while the ship was in Melbourne. “But how about your aunt?” he queried hastily.

“I’ll see what I can do,” Skippy assured him.

It was the night before they were due in Melbourne, and they were once more, after dinner enjoying each others company and drinks in the lounge. Suddenly Skippy said, ”I’d love another gin and tonic. Would you mind?”

“Not at all,” said Justin. “And I’ll have another beer.” He signalled the waiter; it was still early and Skippy seemed exhilarated in a way he hadn’t seen her before, but he made no comment and went on discussing activities for the next day. Skippy then indicated an elderly lady sitting not far away. “She reminds me of my aunt,” she said. “I’m so glad she’s better, but I really must go and see her now. No, don’t get up,” as Justin made a move to rise. She gave him a light kiss, and picking up her large bag from the floor, was gone.

Justin sat for a few minutes slowly drinking his beer. He began to feel very drowsy. Must be all these late nights catching up with me, he thought as he yawned. He decided to go to his cabin, but as he got up he felt something against his foot under the table. He bent down and picked up a small leather-bound book. Must have come out of that large bag of Skippy’s when she put it on the floor, he thought. I’ll take it and give it to her tomorrow. His head began to swim, and it was a relief to reach the cabin; he was only half undressed before he fell asleep on his bunk.

Suddenly someone was shaking him vigorously and he could hear Ben’s voice, as from a distance. He groaned, opened one eye, and then quickly closed it.

Ben shook him again. “Wake up, man” he shouted, “It’s lunchtime. Are you all right?”

Justin sat up groggily and clutched his head as he swung his legs over the side of the bunk.

“You’ve had a helluva hangover,” said Ben. “Here, I’ve brought you a black coffee. I reckon you need it. You were snoring your head off and behaving as if you were drugged. I’ve been quite worried about you.”

Drugged!

Surely not, … How could that be, Justin thought hazily as he sipped the coffee Ben gave him. He suddenly realised what day it was. Lunchtime, Ben had said. He looked at his watch. “Oh,” he mumbled. ”Skippy! I was to go on a shore excursion with her this afternoon. How I …”

“You can forget Skippy,” said Ben matter of factly. “ I saw her disembark two hours ago. She’s well-named — she’s certainly skipped out on you!”

Justin stared. “She can’t have!”

“Look here,” said Ben, “I don’t know what you drank last night, but you were flat out when I came in. Skippy’s gone, and you’re in no shape to be going anywhere.”

As his head cleared, Justin thought back to last night — that second drink — the slight diversion as he looked at the woman Skippy had indicated.

Yes, he’d been drugged!

But why?

It was the first of many puzzling disclosures to come.

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The King and The Colony

The King and The Colony

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The King and The Colony

The King was justifiably angry as he perused the latest report from the Colony. “My patience with these people is coming to an end,” he raged as he paced up and down the Throne Room. “People are starving, crime is increasing, and in their blindness, they start yet another project with no firm foundation, doomed from the start. With their defective sight, they can’t even get the walls straight either.”

He sighed as he handed the missive back to the Littlest Courtier, who was standing nervously to attention, regarding his silver-buckled shoes, and clutching a silver salver. It was his first visit to the Throne Room, and he was awed by its magnificence and the sight of so many courtiers standing stiffly to attention, resplendent in their blue and silver uniforms. With relief, the Littlest Courtier departed and returned to the Lord Chamberlain’s office to make his report.

An older courtier who was sorting out files, smiled at him as he entered the office. “Your first visit to the Throne Room, lad?” he said. “What did you think of it?”

“Oh,” said the Littlest Courtier. “It is so beautiful, all those beautiful tapestries, the purple drapes and the lovely stained glass windows. There is so much light there; it is awesome. But the King was so angry when he read the report.”

The older man had turned back to his work and gave no reply. The Littlest Courtier wanted to ask some questions, but he knew better than to try and continue the conversation. However, he was a bright boy, and as he went about his work that day, he was puzzled as he thought more and more about the King’s anger.

Late that afternoon, as he was having a hearty meal in the refectory, another older courtier comes to sit opposite him. He had a kind, friendly face, so the Littlest Courtier plucked up the courage to speak to him. “Excuse me, Sir,” he said, “but may I asked you a question! It’s about something that has been bothering me all day.”

The older courtier was wise, and as he looked at the Littlest Courtier, he could see before him a smart boy with an inquiring mind; this was not just idle curiosity. “What’s troubling you, boy?” he asked as he laid down his fork.

“I don’t understand why the King is so angry with the people of the Colony,” began the Littlest Courtier. “I know he is kind, just, rich and all-powerful. Why doesn’t he help the people of the Colony, instead of being angry with them because they do faulty work? They can’t help their eyesight being poor, and surely they are doing the best they can. Why doesn’t he help them?”

“Aha!” said the older courtier. “I can answer that question for you. Finish your meal, boy, and I will show you something. I see you are just new here!”

He led the Littlest Courtier down a long passage into a beautifully furnished room, a small replica of the Throne Room, with magnificent chandeliers hanging from the ceiling, and cedar panelled walls. At the far end, framed by scarlet velvet drapes, was a large picture of a stately looking, white building, standing perpendicular against a deep blue sky. Even in the picture, it seemed to be glowing, it’s windows sparkling in the sunlight.

As the Littlest Courtier gasped in awe at such beauty, the older Courtier began to explain. “You asked why the King doesn’t do something to help the people of the Colony. Well, he has! Here you see a picture of a hospital, which the King built at great cost to himself, to provide a free remedy for the people’s defective eyesight which is hereditary. He knows they can’t help being born with that problem, but he is angry because they won’t take the remedy he has provided, and they continue to erect faulty buildings with no real foundations and so they fight and squabble over what they do. The beautiful land he gave them is littered with their failures and has become fetid with neglect. That is why the King is angry.”

“But,” asked the Littlest Courtier as he still stood gazing at the picture, “why won’t they take the remedy? I would have thought they all would be glad to.”

“They have a film over their eyes, which means that to them everything appears grey,” explained the other. “And their eye defect means too that they don’t see things properly at the same angle. You and I see a beautiful upright building here. To them, all of it looks grey and bent over – really ugly, and they don’t trust it. By contrast, they see all their structures as upright, and don’t realise they have no firm foundation.”

The Littlest Courtier found such folly hard to comprehend. “Perhaps they don’t know that the King has provided a remedy,” he ventured as they left the room.

“Oh but they do,” replied the older courtier. “The King sent out many proclamations. He even sent out a proclamation before the hospital was built, to tell the people what he planned. But very few have taken any notice of him, and he has left them free to choose. But they are dominated by Will Power, who acts as leader. So now you understand the King’s anger,” he ended, as they returned to the refectory.

It was several days before the Littlest Courtier was once again sent to the Throne Room with a report, and he sensed a heightened tension in the atmosphere. Daily reports from the Colony were full of worsening situations and fights among the people. Unexpected storms had devastated a large number of buildings, and corruption was rife as the people attempted to rebuild over their previous failures.

“They behave as if I don’t exist.” said the King sadly. “Who do they think gave them the Colony in the first place! Confidence in Will Power has led many astray.”

The tension in the Throne Room permeated the rest of the palace, and the Littlest Courtier was kept extremely busy with repeated calls for his services. “Here, boy, lend me a hand with this,” or “here, boy, take a message and be quick.” As he scurried about in the heightened activity, he wondered if it was all something involving the Colony. Was the King going to act? Had he finally lost patience?

In the Colony itself was also a sense of growing urgency, but from a very different angle. “I vote we get rid of this ugly misshapen hospital building altogether. It’s just an anachronism and stands in the way of progress,” declared Will Power, the self-important, swaggering leader of the Colony.

His supporters agreed, but when Will went home and told his wife, Hope, what he was going to do, she objected strongly. “You can’t do that,” she said. “I’ve heard of several people who have been there and come out much happier, saying how different life is now they can see properly, with the film removed from their eyes. You can’t take away people’s right to go there if they want to.”

“Nonsense,” stormed Will. “It’s all in their imagination. They’re brainwashed, and those are the people who want to interfere with our lifestyle, saying we don’t see properly and we have everything crooked; what audacity! What’s wrong with our lifestyle? My father lived this way and his family before him. And I intend to do the same.”

“But there is so much arguing and fighting, and people are getting killed,” objected Hope. “No one is very happy. How can this be a good way to live?”

“Bosh!” snorted Will. “Once we get rid of this monstrosity of a hospital, we can put something better on the site, and our problems will be solved with no one to interfere. Don’t you dare go anywhere near it,” he ordered.

Years of domination by Will had left Hope reluctant to argue with him, afraid of his violent temper. So she said no more as he stormed out of the house.

His supporters all agreed, “Will Power can do anything he wants.” But Will had come across a very big problem. Two days later he came home in an extremely bad temper.  “That hospital structure is proving harder to shift than I expected,” he fumed. “I don’t understand it. I thought it would be an easy pushover, but it isn’t.”

“Perhaps you should just leave it and build around it,” suggested Hope timidly.

This provoked a further storm of abuse from Will, so she said nothing more. But three days later, making sure that no one saw her, Hope went to look at the hospital building. It looked as grey and uninteresting as all the other buildings, and to her defective sight, it certainly was leaning over badly. But as she looked at it she began to wonder; if it was so crooked and misshapen as it seemed, why was it so hard to get rid of, when the other buildings had just tumbled down of their own accord?

She went to visit her friend Joy, who had been to the hospital. “Yes,” said Joy, “it’s the eye defect we were all born with, which makes the hospital look crooked and everything else straight. Actually, it’s the other way round. Once I availed myself of the remedy, everything has become different to me, and it is all so much brighter.” Hope said nothing, and Joy continued, “there are rumours too that the King is soon going to take action in the Colony, because of all the pollution and destruction over the years. He considers it is not a safe place to live anymore.”

Hope decided she would visit the hospital herself. She had nothing to lose, she reasoned, and there certainly was a sense of impending doom in the air. Whatever Will said to the contrary, something momentous was about to happen. She sensed it!

She was right!

The King summoned Michael, the Commander of his armies, to a meeting in the State Room. “The time has come,” he said as Michael stood at attention before him, an awe-inspiring tall figure in his deep blue uniform, his sword in a scabbard at his side.

“This Colony is no longer a fit place to live. The people are destroying themselves and everything in it,” the King stated. “As you know, I have been preparing another Colony. It is now ready. You have the names of those people whose sight has been restored and I am transporting them to a Colony even better than this one once was. You will organise an airlift for them and I will personally greet them on arrival.”

“Excuse me, Your Majesty,” said Michael. “But what about the others? Are you just going to leave them there to destroy themselves and everything else?”

The King shook his head sadly. “They had a choice, but they refused to take the remedy I provided for their eye defect. If I took them to a new Colony, they would ruin it in the same way in their blindness. What would be the point? They wanted to be left alone to live as they are now. I respect their wishes. Go ahead.”

The Aircraft of the King’s Flight was ready, a call had gone forth to everyone named on the list, and Michael stood waiting to receive them on board. The sun shone in a clear blue sky, and the magnificent silver aircraft emitted an iridescent glow as it streaked across the sky.

But to Will Power and the other benighted people of the Colony, it looked like just a very dark cloud preceded by a prolonged loud clap of thunder. “Another storm on the way,” they observed indifferently although rumours had been going around of transport to a better Colony which the King was preparing. Will scorned such fanciful talk. “Nothing wrong with what we have here,” he reiterated, and his supporters agreed as they continued working with him under his authority.

However, soon there was an awareness of people missing – people who had visited the hospital claimed a new, better sight and then wanted to improve the Colony. “We’re much better off without them, “declared Will, glad that he had forbidden Hope to visit the hospital.

But when he went home, incredibly, she had also gone, leaving only a half-finished meal on the kitchen table. Will Power, blustering, self-important, who could do anything and was always in control, was now left free to do as he pleased, but he was also a man left alone, a man without Hope!

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The Pick Up by Lydia Penn

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Part 1

The underground Map for

“Excuse me. Didn’t I see you at Pippy’s party last night?” The distinctive transatlantic voice broke into Anne’s thoughts, as she stood motionless on the crowded escalator. Such remarks were a common gambit which she and her friends had often encountered and usually ignored, during their student days in London.

Today however she turned in surprise and found herself looking into the smiling face of a tall good looking man behind her. She said nothing, but as the escalator reached street level, he fell into step beside her. “Stephen’s the name,” he said with a mischievous grin. “And all right, we didn’t meet at  Pippy’s party, but we did meet at John’s party near here six years ago. Remember?” Anne nodded, shivering in the cold November air, and pulled up her coat collar. He placed a firm hand on her arm and steered her through the scurrying crowd into a nearby cafe. “You look frozen,” he said. “A hot cup of coffee will do us both good.” They found a vacant table in the already crowded cafe, and he looked round impatiently for a waitress.

Anne studied him; he really hasn’t changed at all in six years, she thought. He’s still the same — self-assured, mischievous, impulsive and totally irrepressible. There had been an instant mutual attraction at that first meeting — the attraction of opposites. He was a backpacker American student from a comfortably off Boston family, easy-going, fun-loving, intent upon enjoying life to the full. She had been brought up in a frugal, middle-class English family, taught that life was a serious business and money was for saving, not spending.  She was reserved, cautious, and economical. His carefree attitude to life had both appalled and fascinated her.

“Two cappuccinos please.” Stephen’s voice broke into her thoughts as he placed the order.

Anne at once became practical. “I can’t stop for long. I’ve got a lot of Christmas shopping to do, and I must be home by three.”

“Of course,” he said agreeably, smiling at her. His next remark was not what she had expected. “By the way, you really shouldn’t wear those high heels when you go shopping. You caught a heel in something back there, and nearly tripped.”

Anne stared at him suspiciously as the coffee arrived. “You’ve been following me,” she accused. “How did you know where to find me?”

Stephen began to look mysterious. “Aha! I’ve learnt a lot about you over the last six years, and let’s just say I have my sources.“ Obviously enjoying himself, he continued, ”and what’s the point of spotting a pretty girl in London if you don’t follow her?”

Anne was not amused. “You always were quite impossible! And I’m not a girl anymore. I’m a married woman with two children.”

“Is that so,”  said Stephen with irritating casualness. “But still pretty. And I note you don’t mention the husband. I hope he measures up to expectations.” He raised a quizzical eyebrow.

Anne drank her coffee and said nothing. I will not be goaded, she determined. She went on the attack. “What are you doing here anyway? Why aren’t you at work?”

“Aha,” said Stephen with a broad grin. “Work! That’s exactly why I am here. I’ve just heard I got the big promotion I applied for, plus a bonus. So I took an hour off to go out and celebrate. You made a big mistake, my dear, when you turned me down six years ago, because you thought I’d never amount to much, and you couldn’t face marriage on a shoestring.” He waggled an admonitory finger at Anne and continued. “You’re now looking at a very successful man, my dear.” He gave an exaggerated smirk.

In spite of her mounting irritation, Anne couldn’t help laughing at his theatrics. But she quickly returned to practicalities. “I really must go. Mother can only baby sit till three, and I have a lot to do. It’s nearly eleven already.”

“Of course,” he agreed equably. “But I have a bigger celebration in mind. How about taking you out to dinner tonight?”

Anne glared at him. I always knew he was totally unreasonable, she thought, but what on earth does he expect me to say to that. Aloud she said firmly, “that’s quite impossible. You should know I couldn’t do that. You can’t be serious.”

“Nonsense,” said Stephen. “Of course you can. One dinner after all these years.” He finished his coffee. “Time you got away from domestic chores, my girl, and learnt to enjoy yourself again.”

“Impossible,” reiterated Anne, “and why this sudden idea for tonight anyway?”

“Why not tonight?” asked Stephen. “Before you have time to think up a lot of excuses. It’s not much fun for me to celebrate on my own, and I’m sure Mother could extend her baby sitting for the night.”

Anne was now really horrified. “Surely you’re not suggesting a hotel! I certainly couldn’t go as far as that!”

Stephen held up his hands in mock horror. “What a suggestion! And you a respectable married woman with two children. Tut! Tut!” He began to roar with laughter, while Anne continued to glare at him. “No, just dinner tonight, “ he said when he had stopped laughing. “But a hotel — what a delicious idea! Think of the fun we could have. We could keep going all night! Oh boy! Forget all the domestic chores. What an idea.” He rolled his eyes at Anne, who by now, in spite of her exasperation, was laughing helplessly.

She was beginning to weaken under his forceful persuasion, as she had known she would. She tried to check his exuberance. “All right,” she said. “Just dinner tonight, and only this once.”

But Stephen was now quite unstoppable. “A bottle of champaign, a ‘do not disturb’ notice on the door, what a romp we could have! Just like the old days — me chasing you round the room, and you with that cute little mole on your . . .”

He stopped abruptly, and looked to his right. Following his gaze Anne stopped laughing, horrified to see that a well dressed, middle aged woman at the next table, was unashamedly listening to their conversation. Blushing furiously, she got up. “All right,” she said hastily to Stephen again. “Just this once. You always did get your way. But dinner and nothing else.”

Stephen looked amused. “Whatever you say, my dear. You remember the kiosk at Victoria Station where we used to meet. I’ll meet you there at 6:30, and don’t be late.” As they left the table he gave an exaggerated leer and broad wink at the eavesdropping lady.

As Anne wandered along Regent St, enjoying the Christmas decorations and festive window displays, the excitement of an evening out began to grow on her. With uncharacteristic extravagance, she added a bottle of expensive perfume to her Christmas purchases. He’s sure to choose an outrageously expensive restaurant, and a good perfume will help to make up for my lack of designer clothes, she rationalised as she produced her credit card.

A cursory glance around as they entered the restaurant showed she had guessed correctly — expensive it certainly was. Once they were seated Stephen immediately ordered champagne. For the second time that day Anne studied him across the table. Yes, he hadn’t changed; he was still the same fun-loving, quite irresponsible Stephen she had met six years ago, completely exasperating at times — and she loved him dearly.

He smiled fondly at her. “Yes, I really did get that promotion, but we also have something else to celebrate don’t we.” He raised his glass and looked serious for a moment.

“To us, darling, and our five wonderful years of marriage.” The mischievous grin returned as he added, “and aren’t you glad that I wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer when you turned me down six years ago!”

As they drank, Anne’s mobile phone rang. After a brief conversation, she turned to Stephen. “That was Mother. The children are both asleep, but she couldn’t find Pippy’s dog biscuits.”

A waiter approaching the table wondered why they both suddenly broke into peals of laughter.

PART 2

Arnold Braithwaite had had a very good day! As he drove slowly home through the peak hour traffic, the usual delays and hold-ups did nothing to dispel his good humour. He had been commended by Head Office for the excellent sales performance of his showroom staff over the past month, and on top of that, his recommendation for Stephen Wallace to fill the vacant position of Assistant Manager had been approved.

A jovial, rotund,  middle-aged man who enjoyed a good joke and a glass of whisky, Arnold had taken an immediate liking to Stephen when he had joined the company two years previously. He was young, but what he lacked in experience, he made up for in enthusiasm; that American accent, and light-hearted manner, made him popular with both clients and staff, Arnold mused, as he pulled up at yet another set of lights. Good stable family man too, he thought, as he recalled the pride with which Stephen had shown him the photo of his wife and two children. Pretty young wife too.

His train of thought was abruptly broken by a loud honking from the car behind. He moved on slowly, only to be held up again at another set of lights a short while later. As he continued to review the events of the day, he began to chuckle as he recalled an amusing incident he had witnessed through his open office door — a conversation between Stephen and young Barker, a new employee. It had been quiet at that end of the showroom floor; two of the salesmen were out with clients, and another had gone to lunch. Barker, a thin, bespectacled, serious young man was meticulously inspecting a new car which had just been delivered, when Stephen had walked in.

“Such fun,” Arnold heard him say as he approached Brian Barker. “I saw this good looking blonde, so I followed her on to the escalator and took her for a cup of coffee. Persuaded her to have dinner with me tonight — maybe a hotel later. Oh, I had to do quite a bit of persuading, and there was this prune faced, miserable-looking old dame at the next table, listening to every word. She looked so shocked, and I gave her my best leer as we got up to go. Such fun!”

Arnold had a clear view of Barker’s face through his open door, and he too had been obviously shocked. “You mean,” he said in his precise slow voice,” that you picked up a woman in the street, took her to have coffee, and propositioned her for dinner and a hotel.” He sounded outraged. “What about your wife?”

“That’s OK,” said Stephen loudly. “She is my wife, and today is our fifth wedding anniversary.” He had walked away, roaring with laughter, while Barker stared after him open-mouthed.

Arnold laughed again as he recalled Barker’s startled expression. Yes, Stephen was an asset, he thought, as he drove slowly on. But maybe he had better get him to tone down his leg-pulling, or Barker would have a heart attack! But then what a wonderful change Stephen was after poor old Jenkins. The traffic was thinning out, and Arnold was able to increase speed as his thoughts turned to Jenkins, the previous assistant manager, who had taken early retirement. The last few years with him had become very difficult, with his continual time off for doctor’s visits, and his constant talk about his ulcers. His sales figures had slipped, and Arnold had begun to suspect that his frequent visits to the men’s room had more to do with the slim flask he carried in his pocket, than with getting water to take his tablets. Poor old dyspeptic Jenkins, a sharp contrast to his buxom wife who always appeared to be bursting out of clothes at least two sizes too small!

Well, thought Arnold, as he turned into his street, at least we gave him a good send-off. This reminded him of the larger flask and two glasses which he kept in his desk drawer — strictly for clients and emergencies of course! He turned the Mercedes into his own driveway, thinking contentedly of his comfortable armchair and a glass of whisky while he watched the six o’clock news.

 . . . . . .

The “prune faced, miserable-looking” eavesdropper had not had a good day!

It had started badly with the daily help arriving late, and then finding she had forgotten to pick up the groceries from Sainsburys. It was all very annoying, and when she was finally ready to leave for her Christmas shopping expedition, Jocelyn couldn’t find her comfortable walking shoes. Not wanting to delay any further, she had been forced to wear another pair which tended to hurt her bunions. The underground had been crowded, and so too were the department stores she visited. The bunions were beginning to hurt, so, relieved that she had at least got the grandchildren’s presents, she wandered into a nearby cafe for a welcome rest and a cup of tea.

The cafe was also crowded and noisy, but she found a seat and was checking her shopping list when she suddenly became aware of a loud man’s voice at the next table. Definitely American, she thought; they always talk so loudly. She looked across. He was facing a girl with shoulder-length blonde hair, and they appeared to be arguing. Not that she intended to listen, Jocelyn told herself, but, well, one couldn’t help hearing! The man was waving his arms and obviously trying to persuade the girl to do something. People were walking past between the tables, but in the breaks between them Jocelyn caught the words ‘dinner’ then ‘yes you can’. He was laughing and smirking, and as Jocelyn listened further, she caught such words as ‘hotel’ and ‘all night’, before they got up to leave with his hand firmly on her back.

Jocelyn had been so intrigued at the conversation that she hadn’t realised her eavesdropping had been noticed, until, as they left, the man had looked directly at her, winked and given her the most frightening leer. He looked sinister, she thought, and decided to stay where she was for a while in case he was waiting outside for her. She finished her tea, retrieved her shoes which she had surreptitiously kicked off under the table, collected her parcels, and cautiously left the cafe. The bunions were still painful, so she decided to leave the rest of the shopping for another day and took a taxi home.

Still a little shaken, she was relieved to reach the security of her Hampstead home where again she kicked off the offending shoes, made herself a large gin and tonic, and prepared to relax in the lounge, as she listened to the daily help vacuuming upstairs. She had just picked up her current library book when her mobile phone rang. It was lying on the coffee table where she had left it earlier in her haste to get out.

“Jocelyn dear,” cooed a familiar voice, “I’ve been trying to get you all morning. You hadn’t forgotten had you, that this afternoon is the sewing guild meeting where we make our final decisions for our table at the Christmas bazaar.”

Jocelyn had forgotten, but she wasn’t about to admit it to Paula Eade, president of the guild, as Paula continued, “so important that we are all there today. We must stop Beatrice Davey from submitting so many of those hideous toy animals she makes. They quite ruined the display last year. I’ll pick you up at 2:30. Bye,” and down went the phone.

The daily help appeared waving the missing shoes. “Found then under the bed,” she said cheerfully. Jocelyn put them on and reluctantly got up to make herself a sandwich, which she ate while sorting out her contributions for the Christmas bazaar stall.

By the time she and Paula reached the Community Hall where the meeting was held, the bickering had already begun. As the cold, damp hall gradually heated up, so did the arguments. Hilda Ramsay, a large angular woman with a loud rasping voice, was disagreeing with an equally determined Beatrice Davey over the number of soft toys she could display.

Paula stepped in diplomatically, trying not to shudder at the garish looking creatures. “Why don’t you display just three for a start,” she suggested. “Too many are bewildering, and people end up buying none. You can always add more as those sell.”

Beatrice reluctantly agreed, and selected three badly made purple and orange animals and put them aside. Paula turned her attention to Miss Pretty, a gnarled bent old lady who seemed to be part of the building. (‘Pretty old’ someone had quipped.) She regularly came year after year, always clutching the same unsaleable lace mats which she stated her grandmother had made. Each year like Miss Pretty, they were markedly more yellow, while their price was markedly higher! “Got to keep up with inflation,” insisted their owner.

At last the business part of the meeting was finished, all the contributions packed into boxes and everyone thankfully gathered round the long trestle table for tea, cakes and gossip.

“Don’t buy all your Christmas presents before the bazaar,” Paula admonished. “There are sure to be some really good gift ideas there.”

“I haven’t even started my shopping list yet,” confessed Nan Gorman, a genial, plump, middle-aged woman sitting next to Jocelyn.

It was Jocelyn’s opening, and she took it! “I went into the city this morning, and I had the most alarming experience,” she began. Satisfied that she now had full attention, she went on, careful not to mention her bunions, (Nan’s husband was an orthopaedic surgeon.) “My feet were aching so I slipped into this cafe — not the sort of place I would usually frequent of course.”

“Of course not, dear,” interjected Nan,

“And there was this awful looking American at the next table, talking loudly and waving his arms about,”

“Drunk, obviously,” interrupted Beatrice, “Beer, I suppose.”

“Disgraceful,” said Miss Pretty loudly, as she helped herself to a second piece of walnut cake.

“Drunk at that hour of the morning,” said Paula. “Are you sure he was American. Maybe he was Australian. Don’t they drink beer? Or he was maybe German — they drink beer.”

Jocelyn felt the conversation was getting away from her. “No,” she asserted firmly, “Maybe it was whiskey. He was definitely American. He talked like they do in the movies. Not like Humphrey Bogart, but one of those others. You know the sort I mean. I can’t think of the names at the moment. But it wasn’t that I was trying to listen of course.”

“Of course not, dear,” reiterated Nan.

“Who was he talking to?” asked Elaine Deveraux, a small birdlike woman with beady eyes and brightly dyed henna hair.

“Oh, there was a woman opposite him. Some sort of tart, I suppose, and he was making all sorts of improper suggestions about hotels for the night, and trying to persuade her.”

“Disgraceful,” said Miss Pretty again, as she endeavoured to scoop up the crumbs on her plate. Her teeth clanked.

“Sort of brassy blonde, I suppose,” said Paula, trying hard not to look at Elaine Deveraux’s hair. She viewed her empty teacup instead. “He must have been trying to procure her, and she was putting up the price.”

“Oh!” exclaimed Jocelyn suddenly.” I’ve just remembered. Before they left, he was talking about a mole.”

“A mole,” rasped Hilda. “That puts a different light on it. He was recruiting her as a spy. You know like Kim Philby.”

“But perhaps she wasn’t at the foreign office. He might have been a CIA agent,” objected Beatrice, still smarting from her disagreement with Hilda over her stuffed toys.

“Well she could have seduced someone who was,” argued Hilda. “What about the Profumo case. My husband has a cousin at Scotland Yard. He could check and see if the man has a record. What did he look like?”

“Oh, he had the most awful twisted face. And then when they got up to leave, he had his hand on her back, and he gave me the most frightful wink and leered at me. I was quite shaken up,” said Jocelyn.

“Disgraceful,” said Miss Pretty again loudly, as she took a second piece of chocolate cake.

“There are such awful types going about London now. All these foreigners walking round the city. Russians stabbing people with umbrellas,” said Beatrice. “They do all meet in cafes too.”

They each began to recount various experiences, and conversations became more general. But by the time she got home, fact and fiction had become so intertwined in Jocelyn’s mind that all logic and reason were lost. She was convinced she had overheard a matter of great national importance, and she must tell her husband at once so that he could take action.

As they settled comfortably that evening nursing their pre-dinner drinks, she began to talk while he was still fiddling with the remote control. “I had the most alarming experience today,” she stated. “I stopped to get a cup of tea while shopping and went into this most ghastly cafe where I wouldn’t normally go. It was full of foreigners, and there was this sinister-looking drunk man at the next table talking to a brassy looking tart and waving his arms about. He was trying to recruit her as a spy, and she kept saying no she couldn’t, till he put a lot of pressure on her. Then he had a firm hold on her and pulled her out. He had the most awful expression. Then when they went out, he leered at me and gave me the most hideous wink. I was really afraid and didn’t know what to do.”

She saw she now had her husband’s full attention and went on. “He was taking her to dinner and a hotel I heard him say. Isn’t that what spies do, Hilda Ramsay’s husband has a cousin who works at Scotland Yard, and she thought he could check if the man has a police record. But Beatrice Davey thought he might be CIA as he had an American accent. You must do something . . .”

She broke off as her husband emitted a strange choking sound and got to his feet. “Been slurping your drink again,” she reprimanded as he headed for the door.

Once in the kitchen with the door firmly closed and a tap running to drown the sound, Arnold Braithwaite gave way to the laughter he could no longer suppress. He recalled the conversation between Stephen and young Barker that morning. Such phrases as “prune faced miserable-looking old dame,” ran through his mind and as he coupled Stephen’s description of Jocelyn together with her description of Stephen, “sinister-looking drunk”, he burst into paroxysms of uncontrollable laughter. Stephen, he knew had a habit of making flamboyant gestures to illustrate a point, and would often deliberately contort his face for fun. He must have had quite a time that morning!

As Arnold replayed the whole scene in the cafe as he now imagined it, he burst into fresh paroxysms of laughter. He laughed till his sides ached, tears streamed down his face, and he could laugh no more. Exhausted, he sank into a chair and wiped his eyes as he began to think. He suddenly realised with regret that he would now have to take Stephen and Anne Wallace’s names off the guest list for pre-Christmas drinks next week. Pity, he thought, Anne Wallace was a looker judging by her photo, and he had looked forward to meeting her!

More soberly, he made his way slowly back to the lounge.


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Story of Jett!

Story of Jett!

Story of Jet

A few years ago I was the single mother of an 18 year old son, Jett. An engaging, eloquent and talented young man. And yes, defiant at times, typically disorganised and impulsive. Like most his age, he thought he knew it all, and mum knew nothing.

I had told him every time he went out that he wasn’t to catch public transport alone, and naturally he assured me he wouldn’t. And naturally, I believed him.

Late one Saturday afternoon he hopped a train from his friends place to go to a party the other side of Sydney, and fell asleep on the train, overshooting his station. One stop short of ‘end of the line’ three youths woke him saying ‘Mate this is the last station’. It was in fact, the second last station really nothing more than a remote platform 1 km from a main road. Jett stayed on the station not knowing what to do as there was no guard, no timetable and no one else around. Thinking that the guys who were kind enough to wake him might help him out, he followed them to the car park and found himself alone with a group of
15 youths all milling around.

‘Mum I thought I was gonna die’

As their attention turned to him, he realised he was in trouble and unable to get back to the platform, tried to be friendly. But he was scared. I asked him later, ‘How did you feel when you realised you were in trouble’. ‘Mum I thought I was gonna die’, he answered.

Train Line for Josephine Hill

Jett was beaten pretty badly and left for dead and to this day carries the scars by way of three metal plates in his jaw. As he lay there dazed and confused he could hear them laughing, he said they seemed far away, Jett in fact was losing consciousness.

It’s still not clear how he managed to get back to the platform and press the emergency button, but he did and 5 police cars arrived, as this particular station was a well known ‘hang’ to the police, and he was taken to hospital.

I’ll never forget the phone call, the one that every parent dreads. After the operation, the detectives wanted to interview Jett, and did for hours. The detectives were kind, but relentless in their questioning. When I asked them why, they told me they believed that this gang was responsible for a spate of attacks in the area and were desperate to identify them before someone was killed.

Carpark with Josephine Hill

This is something I’ll never forget, seeing his body bruised and battered and the myriad of emotions you feel as a parent, first shock and disbelief that it could happen to your child, and then the anger comes, the rage, that tight ball in the pit of your stomach, then the guilt. You blame yourself. Then the helplessness and worry.

What if it happens again?

I’d always worried when Jett went out, even to early teen sleepovers with parental supervision, you always do as a parent, regardless of their age. Jett is now 22 and to this day I still can’t go to sleep until I know my son is safe.

Since that night 4 years ago, the thought was always in the back of my mind……’How can I protect my son?


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Do You know I LOVE YOU?

Do You know I LOVE YOU?

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Charity Kamtaura Duburiya

by Charity Kamtaura Duburiya

It was in the weekdays on the 🌴sland of Nauru, both of us, my sister and I wearing our secondary school uniforms with buttoned white blouses, plain dark green skirts and short pants of black skin tights.

We were both happily cycling, riding and racing our bicycles alongside the footpath on the island road. On the 🌴sland there is a junction with the ‘run-about’ airstrip and my younger sister Mercedes and I took that odd road leading to the church. As we rode our bikes we could feel the heat of the sun soaring up high in the open blue sky on a midday, slightly burning and stinging on our arms and fleshly skins.

We couldn’t stop and hide under the coconut 🌴ree shades as we are already late for the Church Youth Choir practices. Mercedes suggested by saying & calling out loud to me, ‘sis we could park our bikes and give it a rest under the big tree ahead’, but I insisted that we should move on.

So we kept on riding and cycling our bicycles and it took us a few or couple of minutes to reach the church. When we got there in the church hall feels cool and nice so we began cycle around each other in our bikes to ease some of the heat trapped in our bodies and clothes while riding under the 🌴sland’s hot sun.

There were couple of youths cleaning the inside windows of the church’s van near the church hall and I happened to notice one of them, it was Fred and the others with him were Winson & Dolly. They were all there to attend the Church Youth Fellowship Choir practices as well as my sister and myself. I smiled at Fred as he turned to see who were in the church hall, when he realise that it was me he smiled and looked kind of bashful.

We, Fred and I, are kind of interested in each other and got a good love relationship with nothing sexual involved which I really liked compared to other relationships in the Church Youth Fellowship such as Dolly & Mitchell had kissing outside the church and an Elder of the Church witnessed on another previous Church Youth Choir practices that resulted in a shameful announcement to all christian attending that same day held on Sunday Service.

It took a month of gossiping around the church & alot of accusations which also lead to decrease in number of attendance within the Church Youth Fellowship but most sadly that shameful incident became a ‘stumbling block’, in other word that is commonly used by Christians and loss of faith in the church. When Fred and I see each other we get pretty shy & flirtatious too and having no sexual activity with each other kind of makes the relationship special & respectfully as Christian member of the Youth Fellowship.

Soon after Fred and I talked a bit about other youths who came to practice and who did not come and we kind of suspected that it was due to the shameful incident that caused others who did not come loose faith & accused the fellowship as false and committing fornication. The choir singing started sooner and late but lasted for an hour and a half as always. We, the remaining faithful youths said our routine ‘goodbyes’ and ‘see you tomorrows’ with encouragements of ‘God bless you’.

About past 4:00 pm my sister and I took our bikes which were parked outside in the hall and headed back home while the others got on the church van that was cleaned earlier on near the hall and were dropped off at home.

My relationship with Fred started out on me and seeing him for the first time in the back row of the wooden church seats. He sat there listening to Pastor Levi preaching about becoming a better person in Christ by doing or obeying the word of God and His 10 Commandments readings in the KJV Bible.

While I being late entered & saw Fred seated with his styled hair called rat-tail that is in elbow length and even worse chewing it in his mouth while his left hand holding the end of it. I became judgemental in the House of God, in the our church that is by doctrine ‘Be Born Again’. My thoughts began to even wonder, ‘how can someone attend church with disrespect of hairstyle and chewing it during a service?’

I sat myself down with along side my sister and mother in our usual spot at the front seat listening to the pastors’ preaching and all the while I still wonder about the person at the backseat. Shortly, the church service was over. After this unexpected & judgemental experience from a distance, I, most likely to say that my intellectual or my curiosity has killed the cat.

I began to asking his name and move about in befriending and hanging out with his female cousins in the church. I could doubtlessly say now that he got the best and in later life the beat out of me.

Eventually I did found out his English name and that it was Fred but his native name was terribly hard for me at first to pronounce even though I am a native too as it sounded like a name of a Chinese duck. I had practices on the pronounciation to no improvement and decided to just call him Fred for everythings’ sake.

I did try again to call him by his native name but it was pretty upsetting to him as it sounded worse than before and ended up sounding like some sort of a mix breed of German or Chinese duck. He on the other hand find my both names to be an ease as my English name is Cheryl and my native name Equed which means in Nauruan native language hospitable or give.

We got on well getting together in youth fellowships or church services just like two doves happy seen in motion flapping both wings in adoration. And so we were told by most family member’s opinion on us and also in a comparison to a saying ‘all in all’. In our adoration for one each other he would give me expensive gifts from overseas the likes of two crystal earrings that crystallizes under the island’s sun shining like diamonds and some monies but mostly he would rather take me in his mom’s car and driving around the island stopping at a chinese restaurant to eat.

I kind of enjoyed it. I mean I like being spoilt by this person I liked & he returned the same affection back with gifts and all. It felt like there is no beginning of our relationship neither momentarily & or timely but definitely imperishable.

Near the Church just opposite the nation’s National Airport building we were both sitting on one of the many towed up baggage trailers that I just looked at him & kind of asking him ‘the’ question and saying, ‘DO YOU KNOW I L❤VE YOU? He looked at me but wasn’t sure on what I just said as I can tell from the looks on his face. I repeatedly, told him again eyeing him this time, ‘Do You Know I L❤ve You??’ He smiled back at me then looked down at his feet not saying a word or anything, just smiling down.

Then we looked up and saw on the public road a couple of meters away & heading to the national airport a 3 wheeler motorbike passed by but it’s more likely a golf-motorbike from the model of it as it had a golf basket at the back of the driver’s seat. We stared at it as it zoomed by with its huge butted she driver steering its small driver’s wheel her head straight on the road ahead without noticing us nearby.

It happened to be a Saturday and no cars or the vehicles but this one strange bike and huge driver all alone on the road. Fred changing the subject at hand asked me if I wanted a ride on the same bike? He will be the driver & I will be his passenger riding in the golf-bag steel basket at the back of the bike with my legs hanging over & loose.

Suddenly, I looking ahead faced back at him in a blank stare astounded and trying to picture myself in the position he had imagine me in. Then looking back at the distancing bike on the road and its driver. Instantly I looked back at Fred and laughed back at him because I couldn’t imagine myself in the back basket with my legs hanging out and nearly my whole body in a helplessly squashed up posture.

He cheekily laughed back too. I asked him if he was joking with me. His cheekily smile down and I waited for a bit for him to answer back but that is all I got for an answer-his cheeky smile. His reaction that day made me kind of doubt him & put in awe if he had taken my words seriously.

In the following months things got more intense. On my sixteenth birthday I invite him and other youths including Winson & Dolly at the Boat Harbour for a swim & take-outs then eventually we would meet up with my parents. As they both, my dad & mom would like to meet him for the first time after hearing alot about him & me having a ‘boyfriend & girlfriend’ relationship.

Fred was kind of nervous as he knew my father from his previous job as a train driver with the Corporation delivering phosphate dirt to the cantilever belt machine which offloads the tonnes of dirt on ships bound for their destine country. I, on the other hand wouldn’t give a thought of anything but to get my parents to meet up with my boyfriend, pretty much eager to get the relationship known to my parents.

My mom has a lightest doubt on what is going on and I could see it on her face. Fred and I have 6 years gap in age and I would understand mom’s concern for this but ‘age doesn’t matters’ if you really like someone and I kind of believe in that saying. And Fred was a guy who is ‘young at heart’. When we’re together it’s seems that I am more mature than he is in any ways .

We enjoyed the swim at the Boat Harbour and had great take-outs at the chinese restaurant even though something caught my attention with Dolly having a seemingly flirty giggle & talk with Fred further away from the rest of us earlier at the harbour. Later in the evening we arrived at my aunt Baba’s house where my family & I resides and while Fred & I parked outside the house and sat comfortably in his mother’s car which she lend it to him for this occasion.

My parents are in the lounge area where they were watching Australian National Football League, the Eagles versus another favourite team that my dad idols.I got out of the car went over to mom and dad in the house. My dad was a bit startled when I told him that Fred is outside but insisted that my boyfriend should come inside the house and meet up with him and have a chat. Mom didn’t say a word but looked puzzled as before. I called out to Fred, he went out his mom’s car in a energized mood; getting out of his driver’s sit and shutting the door with much strength and causing me to wonder if he is alright.

Fred made his way to the doorway of the house and met my dad. My dad knew him instantly and nodded his head in acknowledgement and mom just went along with no expression of approval or disapproval, mostly observing Fred. It was a quick chat of how are you doing in our native language to, where you’re working now and also some comments on who is winning the football game on TV with an ending off, with ok we will see you again or tomorrow if you like to come back.

I wasn’t sure if it was a good meeting or not but all I know there and after that my mind is at peace with dad and mom and I don’t get to be asked again of who my boyfriend is anymore. Fred on the other hand felt at ease too. He had made himself know to my parents and I could guess that we were just glad about the ‘meet up’.

(To be cont….😊)


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