Skip to content

INVITATION

‘Ha! I see you!’

Daniel shouted, ran from the kitchen, jumped into the bushes and emerged a moment later with the child from Sulphur Bay.

The boy was dragged up to the restaurant area, rooted to the spot by threats from Daniel as he looked for the boss. The little prince stood there balefully, only his bright eyes defiant and alert. He was looking straight at me, a look from another time.

‘Daniel, what are you talking about?’

It was Michael, moving towards us, followed at a trot by Daniel. The boss was glad of the interruption. His wife’s recent religious conversion had him rattled.

‘But I saw him, Mr. Michael. I was there when…’

He caught my eye and stopped.

Daniel lowered his voice.

‘The Chief’s grandson has flown here to take him back.’

‘Daniel, that’s the most ridiculous thing I ever heard,’ Michael laughed, ‘that’s just not true.’

Well, how did he get here then? He must have walked all night long, boss. Sulphur Bay is twenty kilometers away. How did he come here, Mr. Michael? You tell me that.’

*

Mary and Eunice whittered together as they made Dogster’s bed.

‘Did you see him?’ Mary said to Eunice. ‘Did you? See that funny look in his eye? He made the earthquake. Him. That man. Ooooh, Look, there’s his underpants.’

Eunice looked up and grunted. She’d been strangely silent today; no amount of jollying along would get her to smile – she was inward, blank, to all intents and purposes completely without emotion. Inside Eunice, however, the dialogue was deafening, a howling torrent of words and incomplete phrases all rushing around in her head simultaneously. There were so many of them they cancelled each other out. Eunice remained silent, under an inner attack that only she could hear.

‘Do you think it’s true what Daniel said, Eunice? That he brought the guria?’

Eunice couldn’t make sense of any of it. Her routine was disturbed, she couldn’t concentrate. She should be doing one thing but now she was doing another. That gave space for the voices to come in, her live-in jumble of fellow travelers. Without her routine, a new task to perform every fifteen minutes she became bogged down on her internal chat lines. She would become easily distracted, feeble minded, mute, standing there wringing her hands, swaying absently, her eyelids at half mast, that gormless chin hanging on her chest, a thin line of drool hanging limp off her bottom lip. She was doing it now.

Mary chattered on regardless.

‘I saw Mrs. Michael and she was praying to the Lord God Jesus. All naked, Eunice. She’s fat.’

Her sister shook her head suddenly, as if to clear the voices from her brain. Her eyes opened wide and she sucked that line of spittle back into her mouth with a sharp intake of breath. She was so involved in whatever was going on inside her that she forgot to breathe out, stood there for a long still moment till her sister pinched her arm.

‘Oww!’ said Eunice and returned to the here and now. She rubbed her arm and stuck out her bottom lip. ‘That hurt.’

‘Mrs. Michael was praying, Eunice. I saw her through the window,’ Mary continued, ‘praying to Je-e-e-zahhz.’ She crossed herself. ‘I’m going to tell Father Lathaniel.’

Eunice’s lip curled. She hated her sister’s endless toadying to the priest. Bending down, she picked up Dogster’s underpants and held them to her nose, sniffed deeply then threw them on the bed.

‘He’s not so special,’ said Eunice and picked up the bucket and broom.

*

‘Daniel, calm down.’

He gasped and stepped back a pace.

Do I really need this madness, right now? What did I do to deserve all this today? Christ. Michael was getting irritated. He looked around at the debris, the ruined kitchen, his house in pieces. Is everybody crazy here today? Daniel’s behaving like a lunatic, my wife’s gone ga-ga, I’ve got these idiot tourists to contend with and now this peculiar child. Christ almighty.

Joshua looked up at me with two huge black eyes of purest guile, eyes that alternated between innocence and wisdom, eyes of ancient fire. I couldn’t look away. All the ambient noise seemed to fade away, receded into a hissing silence.

‘Don’t talk to him! Don’t look in his eyes!’ Daniel shrieked.

It was a magic place in the little boy’s eyes, a twinkling, evil wonderland. I was swallowed by those extraordinary eyes. As I looked they seemed to get bigger, pulling me in. There was a jungle in there, a forest of shining black leaves, danger.

Daniel howled, the boy looked away and the magic spell was broken. I fell back and gasped.

*

Mary and Eunice staggered over the lawn, each laden with the combined dirty sheets, pillowcases and towels from all four deserted rooms.

‘Mister Michael? Boss? What will we do with the washing?’

‘Put it down somewhere and we’ll work out what to do.’

Eunice began to do as she was told.

‘No, not on the muddy lawn, Eunice, spare me, take them somewhere else. I don’t care where. Out of sight.’

He beckoned to Mary.

‘I’ve got a very important job for you.’

She nodded gravely.

‘I want you to go down to Bethel and bring back all the men. Tell them there’s work to be done here. Do you understand?’

She nodded again, little black eyes twinkling at this sudden elevation to importance.

‘Eunice! Help Mary to get organized then go up the hill and find Mrs. Michael some clothes.’

Eunice pulled a face and sniffed.

‘Go on, off you go, girls! Quick smart!’

*

Daniel threw the boy off the property with altogether too much enthusiasm. The boy stood by the roadside, his mission in ruins, sadly looking back at the white man, stabbing one grubby toe into the dirt. A stone landed at his feet and broke his gaze, then another, and I guessed that crazy Daniel was living out another fear.

‘Daniel! That’s enough stone throwing. The kid’s gone. Time to get some work done for a change, we got a day tour to get moving here!’ shouted Michael.

Daniel dropped the rock and Josh darted behind a tree and out of sight. Daniel stamped away into the ruined kitchen, looking daggers over his shoulder. A dented frypan flew through the air and crashed against the trunk. The boy scuttled away with a whoop and Daniel allowed himself a bitter smile. He stared back out over the lawns at Dogster and his eyes narrowed.

That white man was in league with the Devil – and the Devil, he now knew, was John Frum.

*

Michael could see tourists massing.

‘Well, where’s this damn tour, then?

‘Right,’ he said with a sigh, ‘you coming on this bloody expedition?’

‘Nah… I have a date.’

I looked over at the gang. Michael got my gist. Irma bore down on us.

‘Are you in charge here?’

‘Ten minutes, my darling,’ he crooned, ‘ten minutes at the most. Things are a little topsy-turvy here today.’

He was a most accomplished liar. It is in the nature of the hospitality industry. Michael smiled so sweetly even Irma took him at his word. Anyway, he knew that the day tour culminated in a flight back to the main island. He would, if he played his cards right, never see this pack of fools again.

*

THE MISSION

%d bloggers like this: