فصل 09

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فصل 09

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Chapter nine

Escape!

I watched Sal from just inside the longhouse door. Everyone was standing in a big circle and she was in the middle, marching around and shouting out orders. The fishers had to catch extra fish for the party meal; Bugs and the carpenters had to build an eating area; the cooks had to cook seven whole chickens.

Watching Sal’s skilful organization, I wondered how she’d react if I explained to her what Jed had said. That, despite all our efforts to protect the beach, other people like Zeph and Sammy would come in the future. I wondered if the thought would frighten her as much as it frightened me.

When everyone had woken that morning in the longhouse, I’d pretended to be asleep. It didn’t take long for them all to leave, and I was able to sit up and have a cigarette.

By eight, the camp had been given their duties for the day’s preparations and everyone was busy working around the clearing. It was past eight-thirty when Sal appeared in the entrance to the longhouse.

‘You’re being missed,’ she said, walking up to me. ‘Francoise has asked me to make certain you join them as soon as you wake up.’

‘What about Jed?’ I asked quickly.

‘I haven’t seen him yet. But I’m sure he’d like to see you too.’ I noticed a slightly worried expression on her face. ‘There was something else I was hoping you might do, Richard. You see, I know it may feel as if, with our rafters gone, our troubles are over. But I’m afraid they aren’t. We still have the problem of the Swedes.’ She paused and touched her hair. ‘Now, if Christo dies during the festival, no one has to know. I think our real problem is-‘

‘Karl.’

‘Karl. That’s right. And I’m afraid you’ll have to take responsibility for him.’

‘Me?’

‘Yes, you’re quite right to look guilty.’

‘Guilty?’

‘If you hadn’t disturbed him, he’d have stayed on the beach all through today and tonight, and through next week as well I expect. Of course, we’d have had to deal with him at some point, but I was planning to leave the matter until after the festival. Because of what you did, we have to act now.’ She gestured in the direction of the clearing. ‘Take a look out there. You can see how important the celebrations are to everyone here. We must make sure they go well…’

With a shock, I realized what she was going to ask me to do.

‘Let me explain the problem, Richard. Karl’s wandering around like a madman, and he might suddenly appear and-‘

‘Sal,’ I interrupted. ‘I won’t do it.’

There was a short silence. I could sense that Sal was thinking fast. Eventually she crossed her arms. ‘You won’t do what, Richard?’

‘I won’t, Sal. I won’t do it.’

‘Do what?’

‘Don’t ask me, please…’

I looked at her carefully, wondering if I’d misunderstood her. But as my eyes moved to her face, she looked away, and I knew for certain I was right. She wanted me to find Karl and kill him!

‘I’m afraid I am asking you, Richard.’

I shook my head. ‘Sal, please…’

‘I’m going to leave the longhouse now. In half an hour I’ll come back and you will be gone. By tonight, all of our troubles will be behind us. The last month will be finished. We’ll never have to think about it ever again.’ She stood up. ‘The beach is my life, Richard, but it’s yours too. Don’t forget that.’

I nodded miserably.

‘Good.’ She returned the nod, turned around, and walked away.

Outside the longhouse, everyone was busy in the clearing. Most people were helping to prepare vegetables. The carpenters were in the middle, getting the eating area ready. All working and laughing. I easily managed to walk out of the jungle-side of the longhouse without being seen.

I thought of the caves after I’d looked for Karl around the waterfall. If I’d been thinking more clearly I would have checked the caves first. But it wouldn’t have made much difference. The boat had probably been gone for hours.

These days I can find comfort in the idea that my attack on Karl on the beach had cured him. I often picture him, trying to guess what he’s doing at this moment or that. I imagine him having a normal life in Sweden - skiing, eating, working in an office, drinking with friends in a bar.

But at the time my reaction wasn’t so simple. Part of me was relieved that I couldn’t now kill Karl. Most of me, however, was in shock. For the first few minutes, after realizing that Karl had taken the boat and escaped from our island, I couldn’t even climb out of the water on to the rocks. I couldn’t imagine how Sal would react to this development. What would happen when Karl arrived on Ko Pha-Ngan?

Eventually I managed to pull myself out of the water and sat on a rock. I didn’t move again until, a short while later, I saw someone surface near the underwater passage.

‘Richard?’ the head called over the sound of the waves. It was Etienne. ‘Are you here, Richard?’

I stood up and waved to him. He swam over and joined me on the rock. After at least half a minute, he began to speak.

‘Richard, I want to talk to you, but… I do not know…’

‘You don’t know what?’ I asked.

He took a deep breath. ‘I do not know if it is… safe.’

‘Safe?’

‘I think you… do things. You do things for Sal. Today you were looking for Karl…’

I felt sick and closed my eyes.

‘Is he dead now?’ Etienne asked.

Etienne might have continued speaking, asking what I’d done with Karl, but I can’t be sure because I wasn’t really listening. I was thinking about the food poisoning, Sten’s forgotten funeral, Christo dying in the death tent, Karl wandering around the beach, and the terrible shooting of the rafters. My mind was filling up with all these traumas and I was hit by a wave of sickness.

‘Etienne,’ I said, hearing my voice from far away. ‘Would you like to go home?’

He didn’t seem to reply for a long time. ‘You mean… the camp?’

‘Not the camp. I mean home. Leaving the beach. France for you and Francoise, England for me.’

I turned to face him and saw the expression of hope and fear on his face.

‘Don’t worry,’ I said. ‘Everything will be OK. We’re going to leave tonight.’

I wasn’t worried about the practicalities of leaving. It would have been easier if Karl hadn’t taken the boat, but we still had the raft. If that was gone, we’d swim. We were all much fitter than we had been and I was sure we could manage the swim to the next island again. We had water and we knew how to catch fish to eat. I had much more serious things on my mind - like who we’d take with us.

Francoise was the first person we had to talk to. We found her on the beach. Etienne stood in front of her, talking rapidly in French. After a few minutes Francoise looked over at me with wide eyes. Etienne said something urgent, and she answered. Then he nodded quickly in my direction, and that was that. I knew she’d agreed to leave the island with us.

It was a big relief. I’d been completely unable to predict how she’d react, and so had Etienne. But the other two names on our list were even more unpredictable - Jed and Keaty. Or my list, I should say, because Etienne didn’t want to take either of them. I could understand that - if we had only had Francoise to take, we could almost have left at once. But over the months of my beach life, Jed and Keaty had been my two best friends, and I couldn’t disappear without offering them the chance to come too.

Soon after Etienne had finished talking to Francoise, she came over to where I sat.

‘Is there a problem?’ I asked.

‘No,’ she said. ‘But, Richard, you do not think things can get better after the festival? Everyone says life will be better. You do not think, maybe we should stay? We can wait for a few more days, and then…’

‘The festival will change nothing, Francoise. Life will only get worse.’

‘Worse… worse than we have had?’

‘Yes.’

‘But you will not tell me why.’

‘I don’t think I can explain but I’m sure I’m right.’

‘We will never be able to come back,’ she said. ‘So sad…’

‘Perhaps,’ I replied, ‘if there was anything to come back to.’

She walked away and I went to find Keaty. I’d imagined that he would be the hardest to persuade. He’d lived on the beach for longer than all of us. But in fact he was the easiest. All I had to do was tell him that the boat had disappeared.

‘Oh my God! What’s Sal going to say? She’ll go mad! Jesus Christ!’

‘What’s wrong?’ I asked.

‘I was the one who tied the boat up,’ he said. He’d been to Ko Pha-Ngan in the boat with Bugs to buy things for the celebration meal. ‘First the dead squid, now losing the boat! She’ll kill me!’

‘Keaty…’

‘Does Sal know about the boat already?’

‘No.’

‘You promise?’

‘I promise. But she’ll find out soon.’

‘And then what will she do? I’ll have to…’

‘Leave?’

‘I’ll have to leave! Yes! Jesus! I should leave right now! I’ll take the boat… Oh, God, I can’t. I’m trapped here… trapped…'’No,’ I replied. ‘There might be another way.’

I was beginning to feel in control. Now I only had to find Jed, tell him about the plan, and wait for our chance to escape. I was feeling so good that I started singing as Keaty and I walked into the clearing. Then Keaty started singing too.

‘What are you doing?’ I whispered as I suddenly realized that people were looking at us. ‘Shut up! We’ve got to act normally. We don’t want anyone to find out about our plan. If Sal asks you to help with the preparations for the meal, just try to be calm.’

‘OK,’ Keaty whispered, and walked off to his tent, swinging his arms by his sides.

Etienne and Francoise were coping better, but they did have each other for support. They sat close to the kitchen hut, chatting and helping prepare the enormous catch of fish.

Sal came up to me almost as soon as I entered the clearing. ‘I’m glad to see you’re happier than this morning,’ she said.

‘I feel much better.’

‘Good… I assume that means that I shouldn’t worry about any unexpected problems tonight at the party.’

‘That’s right,’ I answered. ‘No problems. You can… forget about him.’

‘Forget?’ Sal said. ‘Forget about who?’

‘Karl.’

She gave me an odd look. ‘Who?’

‘Karl.’

‘Who’s Karl?’

‘Karl’s…’ I began, then I realized what she meant. ‘Nobody.’

‘I thought you were talking about someone here.’

‘No.’

‘Fine.’ Sal nodded. ‘Well, I’d better get back to work. Still lots to do.’

A few moments later she was standing in the middle of the clearing, talking to Bugs.

It was after four o’clock before I had a chance to get to the hospital tent to talk to Jed, and a chance to do something else as well.

At four, all the preparations for the evening were finished and Sal suggested a game of football down on the beach. This was excellent news. Keaty and I never joined in the football, so no one thought it was odd when we remained behind in the camp. We offered to stir the food in the cooking pots while the others were gone.

By ten past four the clearing was empty and I was putting large handfuls of dope into the pots.

‘The cooks will notice,’ said Keaty nervously. ‘It’s going to taste really strange.’

‘If they notice, I’ll just admit it was me. I’ll say it was for the atmosphere,’ I said. ‘If we don’t do this, the party will go on all night and we’ll never be able to escape. This way, after about an hour everyone will be too stoned to notice what we’re doing. Just make sure you don’t eat any of this. Only eat the chicken and rice. And make sure Etienne and Francoise do the same.’

When I walked into the hospital tent, the atmosphere was like in a church. The sort of atmosphere where you feel uncomfortable if you cough or move too quickly.

Amazingly, Christo was still breathing. Jed’s hair and beard were completely covered in blood and sweat. He didn’t look at me when I came into the tent. His eyes were fixed on Christo’s calm face.

‘Jed,’ I said gently. ‘There’s something we should talk about.’

‘You’re leaving,’ he said.

‘Yes!’

‘When?’

‘Tonight. When everyone’s asleep or stoned. Will you come?’

‘If Christo’s dead.’

‘And if he isn’t?’

‘I’ll stay.’

‘You understand that unless you come tonight, there’ll be no way off the island.’

‘Mmm.’

‘And the problem isn’t going to be more travellers coming here. Karl’s taken the boat. If he contacts his family or Sten and Christo’s families…’

‘The police will come.’

‘Yes. And you won’t be able to escape.’

‘I know.’

‘I want you to come. It makes no difference to Christo if you’re here or not. You know that too, don’t you? Most of his brain has already shut down.’

‘He isn’t dead until he stops breathing.’

‘OK…’ I thought hard for a couple of seconds. ‘So why don’t we stop him breathing? We could cover up his mouth. It would only take five minutes.’

‘No.’

‘You don’t have to do it. I’ll do it for you. You could hold his hand or something. It would be a nice way for him to die. Very peaceful and-‘

‘Listen, Richard,’ said Jed, looking at me for the first time. ‘Christo should be dead by tonight, so I should be able to come with you. Why don’t you go back to the others now? I don’t think Sal would like it if you were in here.’

‘But-‘

‘Come and check before you leave,’ he said, and turned back to Christo. I stayed for a minute, and then left the tent.

The rest of the camp had begun returning to the clearing. Singing, laughing, arm in arm. The party was going to start.

There were four circles in the middle of the clearing. First a ring of candles, then our plates, then all of us, then another circle of candles. It looked marvellous and very, very frightening. Orange faces in the candlelight and clouds of dope smoke. And a lot of noise. People weren’t talking, they were shouting. Sometimes screaming. Just telling jokes, asking for more food - but it sounded like screaming.

They were all drinking heavily. The cooks had made a drink from coconut milk. You make it like this: Take a green coconut, still up in the tree, and make a small cut in its base. Under the cut, hang a bowl to catch the milk. Then leave it for a few hours. When you come back, you’ll find that the milk has fermented, and that if you drink it you’ll get very drunk. A clever trick. It tastes OK - a bit sugary, but OK. I was surprised I’d never seen it done before.

I’d made us all sit together. That way I could make sure the others only ate the chicken and rice and didn’t get stoned or drunk.

After half an hour, at about quarter to nine, I went to see what was happening in the hospital tent. To my amazement, Jed was asleep.

‘Jed,’ I said, but he didn’t move. I said it louder, again with no response. I knew this was my chance. I quickly moved over to Christo’s head, pinched his nose and covered his mouth. A few minutes later I took my hands away, counted to 120, and crept back to the cool outdoors. And that was it. It really was as simple as that.

As I returned to the clearing, I saw that several people had started dancing. It was a nice moment. Watching the couples reminded me of the way things used to be on the beach. Sal was dancing with Bugs. She looked like a completely different person.

‘You do not recognize her,’ Gregorio said to me. While I’d been killing Christo, he’d sat down in my place so that he could chat to Keaty.

‘No.’

‘That’s because tonight is our birthday, and Sal will only get stoned once a year at this party. The rest of the year, her mind is always clear. We get stoned but she keeps her mind clear for us.’

‘She cares about the beach very much.’

‘Very much,’ Greg said. ‘Of course.’ He smiled and stood up. ‘I will get us some more food. You would like some?’

Both Keaty and I said no.

‘Just for me then,’ he said, and wandered off towards the cooking pots.

Ten o’clock. The dancing had stopped. Everyone was acting very strangely - stoned from the dope I’d put in the food and the joints they’d all been smoking.

‘It’s weird watching them when you’re not stoned,’ Keaty whispered to me. ‘They all look crazy.’

‘It can’t just be the dope,’ I said. ‘Even eating it, dope wouldn’t make them as stoned as that. It must be the coconut drink.’

‘Yes,’ said Etienne. ‘Really, I do not like this. When can we go?’

I checked my watch for the hundredth time. I’d thought we could leave at about two or three in the morning, when there’d be a bit of light creeping into the sky. But Etienne was right. I didn’t like the way things were going either, and we could probably set off while it was still dark.

‘In an hour,’ I said. ‘I think we might be able to leave in an hour.’

But at ten-thirty, things started to go wrong.

Bugs, who’d been sitting dreamily with Sal, drinking and smoking, suddenly jumped to his feet. His eyes were wide and there was an expression of terror on his face.

Everyone turned to look at him.

‘What was that noise?’

Gregorio laughed. ‘Can you hear noises, Bug?’

‘It was… a branch being pushed. It was somebody pushing through branches.’

Sal sat up on her, knees. ‘Are we all here?’ she said, looking round.

‘Somebody is definitely out there,’ Bugs said.

‘Maybe it’s Karl…’ someone suggested.

Several heads turned to me.

‘It isn’t Karl,’ I assured them.

‘Jed?’

‘Jed’s in the hospital tent.’

‘Well, if it isn’t Karl or Jed…’

‘Wait!’ someone shouted. ‘I heard something!… There!’

We all listened.

‘It’s nothing,’ Sal began to say ‘Will you all relax? It’s just the dope and coconut…’

‘It’s not,’ Bugs interrupted. ‘Everyone, stand up. I’m telling you - people are coming.’

‘People?’

And suddenly we were all rising to our feet, because we could all hear the noise. It was unmistakable. People, pushing through branches, walking on leaves, coming our way from the waterfall path!

‘Run!’ Sal shouted. ‘Everyone run! Now!’

Too late.

A figure came out of the trees within four metres of us. In seconds, more dope guards appeared by his side. They all had guns, pointing straight at us.

I turned to look around me. Everyone in the camp was staring at the guns, frozen in fright. I realized that escape was not an option now and that we were all going to get killed. As I turned back to the dope guards, I saw the boss point a finger at me. The next moment, one of his men dragged me out of the circle and forced me to the ground. Shocked, I realized I was going to get shot first!

First! If I had to get shot, then tenth, eleventh, twelfth - fine. But first. I couldn’t believe it.

‘Ah.’ The boss nodded. ‘You the boy always come to see us… Every day, ha? You like to come see us.’

I stared at him in terror. Then, to my surprise, he knelt beside me and touched my hair gently.

‘Funny boy in trees, every day. We like you too. Take some dope, ha? Some dope for your friends.’

‘Hurry up and kill me,’ I said bravely.

‘Kill you? Ah, funny boy… I no kill you now.’ He got up. ‘I no kill anyone now. I give you warning. You people here, that OK for me. One year, two year, three year, no problem ha?’

If he was waiting for a reply, none came. This seemed to make him angry. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a piece of paper. ‘You making maps!’ he screamed. ‘Maps bring new people! New people here! New people are danger for me! That is bad danger for your. Then he dropped the map on the ground and fired a shot into it. The shot missed but it was close enough to send the paper flying into the air. ‘So, my friends. You listen to my warning. Next time I will kill you all.’

He looked down at me on the ground, and then kicked me.

Hard. I tried to stand up but he hit me again. For a few seconds I was conscious, staring at his shoes. Then everything went black.


I didn’t know what was going on. Why wasn’t anyone helping me? If I’d been unconscious, as I guessed I had, then they’d had plenty of time to come over and help me. But no one had.

I finally managed to get on to my feet - and then I saw why no one had moved.

The dope guards had left us with a reminder, just in case we hadn’t listened to their warning. The bodies of the dead rafters. Bullets had done terrible things to them. All the bodies were covered in massive holes. Death had made them go stiff, and they were in strange positions.

I don’t see any need to describe them in detail. I’ve only described them as much as I have because it’s relevant to what happened next.

To have been faced with such a sight would have been bad at the best of times. Directly following the scene with the dope guards made it worse. But to go through all that while you were stoned and drunk - it would drive anyone crazy.

‘Right,’ Sal said eventually, and began to walk towards the pile of bodies. ‘I think we should get this cleaned up. It won’t take long if we all…’

The German guy was trapped beneath Zeph’s chest, and his arms were hooking the two of them together. Sal couldn’t make him move. We all watched in silence as she pulled uselessly at the German’s legs.

‘What a mess,’ Sal said, and gave another hard pull.

She fell backwards, twisting as she fell, and landed on Sammy’s body.

‘Clumsy,’ she exclaimed brightly.

Then she started screaming. It was a terrible sound. Bugs called her name and started crying. He ran over to the eating area and grabbed one of the cook’s knives. Then he went over to Sammy and started to attack him.

It began with kicking, which quickly became stabbing. In the chest, the arms, anywhere. Then he stood on Sammy’s body and began pulling at his neck. Or that’s what I thought he was doing. It wasn’t completely clear through the shadows and most of the view was blocked by Bugs’s back. I only saw what he’d done when he stood up. He’d cut Sammy’s head off. He’d cut if off, and was swinging it by the hair.

And suddenly someone else had a knife and was cutting the thin German girl’s stomach open. Then someone else joined them and started work on Zeph. Within seconds the bodies were covered with people attacking them.

Looking back, I know that we could have left at that moment. No one would have tried to stop us. But we didn’t move. We just stood and stared in horror as the rafters’ bodies were viciously attacked.

I don’t know how long it lasted. It could have been as long as half an hour. But at some point, I noticed that people had stopped and were sitting on the ground, exhausted.

I was watching Bugs when I heard Sal’s voice. ‘Wait on Chaweng for three days,’ she read in a cold voice. ‘If we haven’t come back by then it means we made it to the beach. See you there? Richard.’

It took some time for me to understand. Several seconds passed in which the words meant nothing to me. Then I realized that she was standing beside me, holding the map I’d drawn for Zeph and Sammy.

‘Richard?’ someone whispered. ‘Richard brought the people here?’

People came up, quietly surrounding me. Desperately, I began to search for a friendly face.

‘Etienne! Francoise!’ I shouted.

The others laughed.

‘Sal, please,’ I said, as I felt the first knife go into my leg. I’d been stabbed. I cried out and was stabbed again. A centimetre into the skin, this time my arm. I screamed and cried out, and then lost consciousness again.


I looked around and saw Jed standing beside me. And beside him, Keaty, Etienne and Francoise. The four of them carried fishing spears.

‘You all keep back!’ Jed shouted. He reached down, lifted my arm over his shoulders, and dragged me up. ‘Keep back!

And amazingly, they all did. They could easily have prevented us leaving if they’d wanted to, but they let us go. I don’t think it was because of Sal, who had closed her eyes and couldn’t seem to breathe. It was because they were tired. Their empty eyes told me that. Tired of everything.

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