Rebecca woke to a shop clap of thunder and groped for the traveling clock she kept on the bedside table. She appeared at its face and saw that it was 3:45. She knew instinctively that Adrian was not home.
She went through to the kitchen where she had left a plate in the oven. It was untouched. Adrian had never been this late before and whilst he frequently worked long into the evening he had always cold when he was going to be later than usual.
In the flat on the first floor they could just make out the traffic noises from the main road and Rebecca found that she was listening for the distinctive sound of a minibus stopping to let off passengers. She did not know whether they ran this late at night and sat down on the settee to wait. She also did not know whether to be angry or worried.
She decided that if he had been drinking she would give him the silent treatment, after throwing his dinner at him. But for the time being, she would just, and worry. At 4:30 her wait was over, through the constant patter of the rain she heard a minibus stopping. She went out onto the balcony to look down the lane. The lamp at the other end was out and so she could only just make out the figure of a man coming in her direction. Although she could not see his face she knew that it was Adrian. He was waving slightly, his briefcase held limply at his side. So he had been drinking! She would not allow her deep sense of relief to show.
She heard the metal security gate open and close with a bang and went to open the front door to the apartment. She waited behind the sliding grill gate for him to appear on the stairs. The stairwell light would not work but as soon as she saw him she knew there was something wrong. He looked desperately tired as if he had just gone 10 rounds with someone a great deal bigger than himself. The briefcase in his left hand was only just dangling from his fingers. His right arm was bent and the wrist held against his chest as though injured. His suit was creased and rumpled and they were mud stains on the knees and elbows and she could just make out that the sleeve was torn.
Her anger forgotten she slid open the gate and rushed down the steps to meet him. As she did he looked up towards her and, caught sight of the living room light. He stopped, leaning on the railing, keeping his eyes away from the light shining from the. She held his arm gently and tried to look into his face but he kept it away from her, his head down.
“Accident,” he said. “Bad accident out on the road.”
Whatever had happened this was not the place to discuss it. He was clearly exhausted. She tried to help him up the stairs into the flat but he pulled back weekly.
“Lights. Turn off the lights. Please, they hurt my eyes.”
He turned to look at her for the first time and in the darkness, she could only see that he looked totally washed out. Thinking that he was in the throes of a migraine she left him leaning against the railing and rushed up into the flat to turn the lights off, leaving only the kitchen light on. Then she helped him into the apartment. Once there she helped him to the sofa, put his feet up on the coffee table and pulled off his shoes, and loosened his tie. He still held his hand against his chest and she tried to pull it away to see the injury. He resisted her and a grimace of pain made her stop.
“You don’t want to see that,” he said, a strange smile on his lips. “Don’t be silly “she replied. “If you’re hurt I want to help you.”
He smiled that strange smile again and leaned back against the sofa, all the while keeping his wrist close to his chest.
Panic was beginning to surface. Whatever had happened to her husband he’d had a tremendous shock. She told him that she was going to call for an ambulance and moved toward the telephone. As she picked it up she was shocked a new at the shrill command to put it down. She froze, and turned to face him, unable to believe that he had spoken to her like that.
More calmly now, he told her to sit down and let him explain. She did as she was told, taking a seat across from him in a cane chair.
He began. “This place is so old, you know. I mean there were people living in this area centuries before the British had ever heard of it. People who could not lead a normal life. They were chased off the mainland and came here. And they waited. They knew it was only a matter of time before farmers would settle here.”
He paused and closed his eyes and she reached out to him.
“Please Adrian, let me call a doctor, you’ve had a bad experience, you might even be in shock you know,” she tried to reason with him.
She almost jumped back into her seat with fright. Adrian was instantly calm again and continued.
“Just think about it,” he said. “Here we are trying to scratch a living, running around day in and day out and what have we got to show for it.
Tonight it was all made clear to me although I tried to fight for all I was worth. Finally I understood, the old man told me all about it, afterward. He explained everything. I am his first Englishman you know, they left us in peace because they thought that a disappearance among the Europeans could cause trouble.”
“My God! What happened to you?” Rebecca almost screamed at him.
She was afraid for his sanity and of another outburst. In all the years they had known each other both before and after getting married Adrian had never raised his voice to her.
He slowly brought his hand away from his chest and she could see the blood stains on his shirt and jacket. He lowered his hand further and smiled to himself at her gasp of horror. The wrist had been torn open from the base of his hand for about 3 inches. The flesh had been torn off and bits of it hung in tatters.
Rebecca tore her eyes away from the mangled wrist, her mind telling her that with the wound like that he should’ve bled to death in minutes. She rose and steadily and he made no move to stop her moving away until she made for the light switch but it was too late. Adrian’s scream of rage and pain was drowned out by Rebecca’s scream of terror.
Adrian has thrown his arms up over his eyes to shield them from the light. He shouted at her to turn off the lights but she could do nothing but scream at the site before her. His face and hands were white, a dirty anaemic, fish belly white. The flesh surrounding his eyes was purple as if bruised and his lips were white.
Staggering up from the sofa he lurched towards her, one arm held before his face. Pushing herself away from him in revulsion she fell back against the light switch and as the room was plunged back into the darkness she screamed again. Very quickly it was cut off to a gasping gurgling, and then silence.
Adrian Chambers did not turn up for work the next day. His staff was experienced and they were not unduly worried. When he had not shown up by 1030 they called his phone number only to find that it was out of order. They went home that night telling themselves that if he did not turn up the next day they would call the police.
None of the neighbours who heard the commotion the night before, and who, in the custom of Chinese village folk, minded their own business, noticed that Rebecca Chambers did not make her usual trip to the market to buy fresh vegetables. They were not to know that she would never need them again.
Although if anyone happened to be looking over the balcony the following evening just before midnight they might have seen the couple walk slowly together, arm in arm, towards the main road where they waited patiently for a minibus to come along. And, if perchance they had been watching they might of noticed that it was a very old minibus that stopped, and that there was only one other passenger, an old Chinese gentleman, sitting right at the back.
(c) Copyright John Stewart Sloan 2020 – Not for Distribution