فصل 07

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فصل 07

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Chapter seven

Unwelcome Newcomers

The atmosphere in the camp had become very tense. The divisions that I’d noticed when I got back from the Rice Run seemed to be getting worse.

People had separated into different groups. There was Bugs’s group - the carpenters and most of the gardeners. The first afternoon after the shark attack I found them all sitting in the centre of the clearing in a circle, smoking dope and chatting quietly. Then there were other, smaller groups. There were the people in my old fishing group and Keaty. I included myself in this group - but there was also Jed, and I included myself with him as well. Then there were the cooks. And finally there were Sal and Karl. Sal was trying extremely hard to get on with everyone, and Karl seemed to be in a world of his own after the shark incident. This, then, was the politics in the camp, and we all had to deal with the situation in our own way. If it sounds complicated, that’s because it was.


After work one afternoon, I walked over the hospital tent. It was actually the Swedes’ tent, but Sten was dead and Karl had started living on the beach, so I’d begun calling it the hospital tent. Jed had been looking after Christo there since I’d found him in the cave.

‘Back early today,’ said Jed, when I went into the tent. He sounded very tired and was sweating heavily.

‘I got hungry and needed a cigarette.’ I looked at Christo. ‘How is he?’

Jed rubbed his eyes. ‘He’s getting worse. He’s got a bad fever and he’s unconscious most of the time. When he’s awake he’s in a lot of pain. To tell you the truth, I’m getting seriously worried about him.’

I frowned. Christo looked OK to me. Apart from a single cut on his arm, his only wound was a large bruise on his stomach where the shark had smashed into him.

‘I mean,’ Jed continued, ‘that bruise should be getting better, shouldn’t it?’

I leant over to take a closer look at Christo’s stomach.

‘It’s blacker than it was. Not so purple. I think that means it’s healing.’

‘I’m not sure…’ Jed said in a worried voice.

‘Well, I’m going to get some food now and find Etienne and Francoise,’ I said.

‘OK. Leave me a cigarette will you? And come back later. Nobody comes in to see if I’m OK apart from you. I think they’re avoiding having to see Christo - pretending it hasn’t happened maybe.’

I threw him a packet of cigarettes. ‘Well, it’s not easy for anyone. Sten’s body is lying behind the longhouse and you can smell it through the walls.’

Jed looked at me sadly. ‘Well, we’re going to bury him tomorrow morning. By the waterfall.’

It was getting close to six o’clock when I reached the beach. I found Etienne and Keaty sitting on the sand, discussing Karl.

‘He’s gone completely mad,’ said Keaty.

‘No he hasn’t,’ said Etienne in an angry voice. ‘He’s in a state of shock. We should take him to Ko Pha-Ngan.’ Then he got up and started walking away.

I’d obviously arrived in the middle of something, and I wasn’t happy at all with the idea that my friends had been arguing.

‘Was Etienne being serious about Ko Pha-Ngan?’ I asked Keaty.

He nodded. ‘He’s been saying it all day. He’s says he’s going to discuss it with Sal.’

‘But he must know we can’t take Karl to Ko Pha-Ngan. What would we say? “Here’s a friend of ours who’s been attacked by a shark and had a nervous breakdown on our secret beach. See you…”?’

‘He thinks we could just take him there and leave him on a beach.’

‘That’s ridiculous. Even if he didn’t tell people about our beach, how would we know that he got looked after? They might just ignore him.’ I shook my head. ‘No, the best thing for Karl is for him to stay here.’

‘I’ve been telling Etienne that all day. But he wants to take Sten to Ko Pha-Ngan as well,’ said Keaty.

‘Sten? But he’s dead! What would be the point of…?’

‘His family. Etienne thinks we have to let them know what’s happened to their son.’

I smiled in disbelief. ‘Yeah, and meanwhile we’d definitely get discovered. It’s the worst idea I’ve ever heard.’

After all the discussion about Karl, I decided I ought to go and see him myself. Or that’s what I told Keaty. Really I was just interested in finding Francoise, whom I’d hardly seen over the past few days. Following the misunderstood kiss, I hadn’t wanted to give Etienne any reasons to be suspicious.

I found Francoise about four hundred metres away, sitting near Karl. When she saw me, she ran over to me, smiling.

‘Richard!’ she said. ‘Thank you!’

I paused. ‘… What for?’

‘For helping me when I was sick. You were so kind.’

‘Francoise, it was nothing.’

She smiled, then looked at me straight in the eyes and laughed. ‘You kissed me!’

‘I thought you were sleeping…’

‘I was. Etienne told me the next day.’

‘Oh… well… I hope you don’t mind… It was sort of complicated…’

‘Of course I do not mind! But why do you say it was complicated?’

‘Well… complicated is probably the wrong word… The kiss wasn’t…’ I stopped and then tried again. ‘… I’m not sure what Etienne told you, but I was kissing you because you were so ill, and then when I’d started it was hard to stop.’

‘Well, I expect Etienne thought it was… you know…’

‘A sexy kiss?’

‘Mmm.’ Francoise laughed again. Then she leant over and gave me a little kiss on the cheek. ‘Was it a sexy kiss?’

‘No,’ I replied, lying. ‘Of course not.’

‘So there is no problem. Not complicated.’

‘I’m glad you understand.’

‘Always,’ she said. ‘I always understand.’

For a moment we looked at each other. Then the moment was over, broken by Francoise as she turned to look at Karl.


The next day, at Sten’s funeral, we all circled the grave that had been dug near the waterfall. Sal said a few words, talking about Sten’s commitment to the camp and how much we’d all miss him. Then one of the cooks talked about how Sten always caught big fish which kept people’s stomachs full. Someone else told us how Sten was always ready to play football on Sunday and how fairly he played.

When we began filling the grave with earth, several people started crying. Bugs planted a wooden cross on the grave with Sten’s name on it.

As we all turned to go back to the camp, Sal stopped us.

‘Wait,’ she called out. ‘I don’t want anyone leaving yet. There’s something important I need to say, and I want everyone to hear it.’

People stopped, looking puzzled, and waited for Sal to continue.

‘OK. I’d like to start by asking everyone to sit down so you can all see me.’

We slowly sat down on the grass. Sal waited until we were all settled, then nodded. ‘I want to talk about the atmosphere in the camp. I’m going to talk about it because I’ve got no choice. I’m going to talk about it because no one else seems willing to do so.’

No one said anything.

‘The way I see things is like this,’ Sal went on. ‘We’ve had two disasters over the past week. First there was the food poisoning, and then we had the terrible tragedy with the shark. For these reasons, the atmosphere in the camp has been bad. It’s understandable - we’re all human. But it ends here! It ends with the burial of a friend, so that something positive will come out of his death.

‘Now, dates don’t mean much on the beach but I keep a calendar. And it may interest you to know that the date today is September the eleventh.’

As a matter of fact, it interested me a lot to hear that the date was September the eleventh, because it meant it was almost five months since I’d left England.

‘That means that our special beach festival is in three days’ time. As most of you know, the festival is our birthday and we celebrate it every year.’

As she said this, Sal looked rather sad. ‘To be honest, I haven’t been looking forward to this year’s festival much. Without Daffy, I don’t mind telling you that it will feel very strange. But after the trouble we’ve been through, particularly losing Sten, I now feel it’s exactly what we need. It will remind us what we are and why we’re here. As it’s our birthday, it will mark a fresh start.’

Sal paused for a moment, clearly lost in thought. Then her face hardened and she continued. ‘OK. So that’s it. I hope you all listened hard. Tomorrow we’ll start getting ready for the party.’

When we got back to the camp, I noticed that the mood had improved. I was half expecting people to sit down in their groups and begin analyzing the morning’s events. But within a few minutes, everyone had left for work and the clearing was empty.

It must have been after midday before I checked on Zeph and Sammy through the binoculars. Jed had gone back to the hospital tent to look after Christo, so I was on my own again. I got to our usual rock, sat down, and put the binoculars up to my face. Quickly, I looked along the beach. Nothing! Where were they?

‘Oh my God!’ I shouted, when I finally saw them. There, on a raft in the sea, sailing slowly towards our island, were Zeph, Sammy and the three Germans!

I raced back to the camp, wondering who I should tell about the raft first - Jed or Sal. I decided to go and find Jed.

I noticed the bad smell as soon as I climbed into the hospital tent. It was sweet and sour.

‘You get used to it,’ Jed said quickly. ‘In a couple of minutes you won’t smell a thing. Don’t go.’

I pulled up the neck of my T-shirt to cover my nose and mouth. ‘I wasn’t going to go.’

‘Not one person has come in all day. Can you believe it? Not one person.’ He turned to look at me and I frowned with concern when I saw his face. Although his suntan was still deep, his face looked grey as if his blood had lost its colour. ‘I’ve been listening to them out there since two o’clock. They’ve been playing football! None of them have been thinking about Christo!’

I nodded, although actually I was only half listening. He clearly needed to talk, but I had to tell him about the raft. Sammy and Zeph would arrive on our island before nightfall. At the earliest, that meant they could start the journey across the island tomorrow morning, and could reach the beach by tomorrow afternoon.

Christo moved and for a second his eyes opened. Jed wiped his forehead gently.

‘How long will he be like this?’ I asked.

‘Two days…’

‘Well that’s good. If Christo’s better in two days he can talk to Karl and…’

Jed shook his head. ‘No,’ he said quietly. ‘You don’t understand. Christo’s not getting better. In two days he’ll be dead.’

‘He’s dying? But… how do you know?’

Jed pulled back the sheet that covered Christo’s body. ‘Feel there,’ he said, pointing to Christo’s stomach.

The entire area of his stomach was almost completely black and as hard as a rock.

‘He’s been bleeding inside,’ said Jed. ‘Bleeding badly. I couldn’t be sure until last night.’

‘Who else knows?’

‘Just you and Sal… and Bugs too, probably. I talked to Sal today. She said that now we’ve started to get things back to normal, nobody must find out.’

Jed stroked Christo’s shoulder before pulling back the sheet. We sat in silence for a minute or two, watching his shallow breathing. It was strange that, after Jed had explained, it was obvious to me that he was dying. The smell I’d noticed as I’d entered the tent was the smell of death.

I suddenly remembered the raft and broke the silence.

‘Zeph and Sammy have built a raft. They’re on their way!’

Jed didn’t move. ‘If they get to the beach,’ he said, ‘they’ll see Christo die. Everything here will be destroyed.’ And that was all.

I left the tent and walked close to the longhouse entrance, past where Sal sat talking with Bugs, and continued along to the beach path. At the first corner I stopped, leaning against a tree, and lit a cigarette. Sal appeared almost at once.

‘Something’s happened,’ she said. ‘What is it?’

Before I could reply she said, ‘They’re on their way, aren’t they?’

‘Yes.’

‘Oh my God! When do you think they’ll get here?’

‘Sometime tomorrow afternoon, if they don’t get frightened by the dope guards,’ I answered. ‘They built a raft.’

‘Have you told anyone about this?’

‘Only Jed.’

‘OK, Richard. It looks like we have a slight problem here. But you don’t think they can possibly get here until tomorrow, do you?’

‘No.’

‘Then I’m going to think about this overnight. I’ll give you my decision on what we do about them in the morning.’

I put my head into the hospital tent before going to bed in the longhouse. Jed was fast asleep, but Christo was half awake. He even recognized me.

‘Richard,’ he whispered.

‘Yes,’ I whispered back. ‘How are you feeling?’

‘I feel very bad, Richard. Very bad.’

‘I know. But you’ll be better soon.’

‘Sten…’

‘You’ll see him in the morning.’

‘My chest…’

‘Close your eyes.’

‘Very bad…’

‘Shh now.’

He nodded and at last his eyes shut.

‘Have good dreams,’ I said, maybe too quietly for him to hear.

I left the tent door open when I left. I wanted to stop Jed breathing too much of that dying air.

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