Strangers of the Past: Part IV
Posted on 06/07/2012
He could still picture the confusion in their dark-brown eyes, the tears welling up as he finally told them about the woman who he called wife from more than eight years ago. Apologizing to the children was one of the hardest things he’d ever had to do, asking for their forgiveness that he hadn’t told them much about Hannah. They’d sat by the stairs that night when he told Tierra the news…
John tightly closed his eyes, forcing himself to breathe. Telling himself that Hannah could still be alive, his heart fluttered painfully as his mind pictured her sweet face, a teasing glint dancing in her eyes. His ears twitched, longing to hear that low voice whispering her love for him. How he missed that woman terribly.
“John?” a voice that sounded equally low and prodding as Hannah’s interrupted his turmoil and he snapped his eyes up, heart stuck in his throat. Tampa’s worried eyes met his.
He blinked and glanced down, a pang of guilt overwhelming his nostalgic thoughts of Hannah.
Tampa placed a hand on his shoulder, understanding the look of turmoil in his eyes. “It’s time,” she said gently, helping him to his feet.
The two walked into a dimly-lit room where two men sat opposite two empty chairs. One of them who John recognized as Tampa’s husband, Marcus, gestured silently to the chairs. Both Tampa and John quietly took their seats. A second later, the other man stood and clicked a button that flipped off the lights.
John blinked as a projector light flashed onto the empty wall to his left. All four turned to face the makeshift projector screen that showed an island with iridescent blue waters and a bright green forest surrounding it. John swallowed hard, trying not to remember Martinique and Hannah’s bright smile.
“St. Lucia,” the unnamed man spoke, his voice low and gravely as if he’d been smoking for years. “A volcanic island that has been around for centuries. Home to approximately 1.8 million people, this island in the Caribbean is known for vibrant environment and amazing festivals.”
John shifted his gaze to Tampa who couldn’t stop gazing up at the beautiful pictures of the festivals, the smiling faces of St. Lucian residents and the luscious-looking fruit presented on the slideshow. He glanced over at Marcus who looked equally enthralled by the island’s sights. With a low grunt, John focused his attention back on the screen, hoping he hadn’t wasted his time agreeing to this idea.
“Among those people who call this island their home, there lurks a group that remains unidentified by the government… “ the man started to say, flipping to a picture that had both John and Tampa openly cringing. Tampa averted her gaze immediately and John’s brow furrowed deeply.
He turned to face the man. “What is the meaning of this?”
The man paused, glancing down at the scowling man opposite Marcus’ wife. “Meaning of what?”
Marcus cleared his throat to get John’s attention. “Just wait a little.”
“No,” John stood to his feet. “I thought I made it clear yesterday.” He glared down at Tampa. “I thought you told him.”
Tampa bit her bottom lip. “Just hold on, John. Please.”
“Your family is right,” the man spoke calmly, undeterred by John’s misplaced anger. “Before we head down to St. Lucia, I have to debrief you on a few things about the place.” He smiled patiently. “I wouldn’t want you to be vulnerable in an unknown place.”
John clenched his jaw at the man’s patronizing tone. “I’ve been to neighboring islands in the Caribbean,” he said in a hardened voice to match his irritation with this man. “Why do we have to search for my wife among a bunch of gang members?”
“He’s not saying that,” Marcus muttered. “John, we can’t just enter the country saying demanding for them to hand Hannah over. We have to acclimate ourselves in their culture, get them to trust us so that we can find her easier.”
“That’s if she’s even in St. Lucia. Why do you have to look among gang members like we’re crime fighters?” John snapped back, hating the idea of his loving wife becoming prey to violent men.
Both Marcus and his unnamed partner exchanged bewildered looks. “Who said anything about crime-fighting?” Marcus inquired, bemusement in his voice that had John’s jaw clenched tightly.
“St. Lucia is our first stop,” the unnamed man answered. “We’re going with the missionary team, working with their security and administration team. In turn, they’re offering to help us with the missing people in the local towns all over St. Lucia.” He then extended a hand with an easy smile on his shadowed face. “By the way, I’m Charles Hapta.”
John stared at the man’s hand before he hesitantly held out his own. “I figured that… Jonathan Holden.”
“Figured as much,” Hapta said, grinning openly now. He squeezed John’s hand firmly. “Nice to finally meet you, Mr. Holden.”
A week later and John found himself sitting across Hapta in the compact cubicle of a helicopter, among a few other passengers including Marcus. Tampa stayed behind by Marcus’ request, to take care of both their children and John’s. Also, he worried that if they found Hannah, her reaction at seeing her sister after such a long time could jeopardize their mission. Although John could’ve argued that his reaction would be just as catastrophic to whatever mission these two hardened cops were putting together.
Still he kept his criticism to himself, grateful for the chance to look for Hannah again. After returning home later that night to the questioning eyes of his children and the vivid pictures of St. Lucia, the hope of finding Hannah returned to him in full force. He found himself staying up later than usual, scanning through pictures of the vibrant island, reading up on its culture and reviving the language he and Hannah learned while living in Martinique. By the time Tampa called him the next morning, John himself asking about the earliest flight for St. Lucia with her husband and Mr. Hapta.
More than thrilled by his decision, Tampa didn’t waste any time convincing Marcus that the widower was ready for the trip to St. Lucia. In no time after the call, John waved to Tampa and the bleary-eyed, groggy children before stepping around the divider and handed over his passport and ticket to the flight hostess standing outside the door.
He gave his children one last look, feeling bad for carrying them from their beds to say goodbye but he hoped they understood what he had to do. His heart fluttered, glancing down at his youngest child that clung tightly to Tampa’s hand, inserting the other in his mouth. How old would he and Hannah’s child be if he was alive?
“Mr. Holden, right this way,” the hostess pointed to the open door behind him.
John peeled his eyes from watching his children and nodded, turning away hesitantly. The long walk down the ramp to the plane door was the longest walk he’d taken in a while, he could pick out his youngest child’s cry among the chatter of the airport. Swallowing the hardened lump in his throat, he continued forward and offered a wan smile to the beaming host waiting with a hand extended.
“Welcome to Southwest Airlines, sir.” The host stepped aside and John ducked inside to meet both Marcus and Hapta sitting inside.
A few hours later and John blinked against the light rays shining through the window as he tried to peer out into the vast blue ocean below. There was no land in sight.
“In a few minutes, you’ll see it,” Hapta answered easily, giving the anxious man a smile.
John nodded and turned to Marcus sitting next to him. The man lay back, his mouth propped open as he breathed in and out rhythmically. Tampa’s husband had been sleeping since the plane took off from Florida, their second flight almost five hours ago.
Though the plane had other passengers and Hapta sat in between a sleeping couple, the police officer peered around the snoring woman to openly stare at John. “So have you decided what you intend to do if you see her?”
John shifted his gaze to the inquisitive man. “What do you mean?” his brow furrowed in concern. He hadn’t planned that far.
“Well, it’s not a given that the island doctors we’re going to meet will know anything, but it’s worth a try.” He leaned back in his seat. “Think about it for the next hour… I have a feeling once you see her, it might be tougher then to decide.”
Left alone with his thoughts, John leaned back in his seat and stared out the window down at the blue sea. His heart skipped a beat as the realization dawned on him. He hadn’t expected to meet her right away, anticipating that his stay at St. Lucia would prove unfruitful. His brow furrowed deeper. Why did he feel as though his former prediction of missing Hannah at this island would prove untrue? What if he saw her immediately as they arrived?
A gentle nudge jarred John back to reality and the man swiped at his mouth, opening his eyes to see Marcus smirking down at him. “We’re here.”
From the intercom, a gentle voice informed the passengers now rustling in their seats of their arrival. “On behalf of American Airlines, welcome to St. Lucia. We are now in Hewannora International Airport in Vieux Fort, one of St. Lucia’s largest towns. The weather is 86 degrees Fahrenheit and partially cloudy. Expect the weather to remain beautiful.”
“I can’t wait to scuba dive!” the woman beside Hapta gushed over his shoulder at her equally-beaming husband. Hapta stepped around them and came to stand by Marcus who was tugging his suitcase from the overhead hamper.
John stretched his stiff back and looked up at Hapta, raising a brow at the man’s expectant gaze.
“Had enough time to think about it?” the police officer asked.
“Think about whatever it is after we get off the plane,” Marcus mumbled, pushing another suitcase into Hapta.
John stepped around them to walk down the aisle where his own suitcase was stored.
As the three stoic men stepped off the plane among the excited tourists, they were greeted by a group of St. Lucian residents near the airport’s entrance.
A strong but warm gust of air suddenly swept under John’s feet, stroking his arms and the stunned man felt himself quickly getting reacquainted with the island’s breeze. Taking in a breath of the salty air, a wistful smile lifted the corners of his mouth as he scanned the airport bounded by the dark mountains behind.
By his side, Marcus and Hapta caught notice of his nostalgic expression and shared a smile, knowing they’d made the right decision in convincing him to come with them.
A woman extended a coral, cone-shaped, long-stemmed flower to John and the three men blinked at the strange flower, except John’s eyes filled up instantly. The three men continued inside the airport, a boisterous hallway filled with tourists and residents alike.
Marcus pointed to the flower in John’s hand, having noticed his brother-in-law’s expression. “What flower is this?”
“Ginger Lily, a local flower,” Hapta said matter-of-factly.
“It was one of Hannah’s favorites,” John said simultaneously and the two officers shared another look over John’s head as the man pressed his nose against the petals of the strange flower.
Ameya smiled to herself as she bent over a bed of herbs, plucking a handful and placing them in the basket pressed in the crook of her arm. Her eyes scanned the perfectly green plants, her fingers stroking each petal before she cradled a plant and gently pulled it from the earth. A gentle warm breeze swept around her, tugging at the hem of her shirt. Except once the air passed by, the tension behind her didn’t.
With a soft chuckle, she peered over her shoulder and smiled lovingly at the child holding onto her shirt with the other hand near his mouth. His piercing slate-colored eyes blinked at her, causing her heart to ache at his sorrowful expression.
“Tomas…” Wiping her free hand on her dark linen pants, she tugged at his arm until the young boy’s thumb slipped from his mouth. Clucking her tongue, she pulled him onto her leg and kissed his soft, warm cheek. “Ti mamay…” She gently asked if the child was hungry to which he nodded, leaning against her shoulder.
Giving him another kiss on his brow, Ameya stroked his downy hair and rubbed her thumb along his temple. “Where did you go play?”
The boy ducked his head shyly, not wanting to answer her.
Ameya twisted her lips and peeked down at him as he nestled close to her. Shifting her legs so that she could sit a few steps from her carefully-groomed herbs, she placed the half-full basket of herbs beside her and focused her attention on the mute child.
“Tomas? Ou byen?” Her brow furrowed at his warm temperature but before she could prod further, a voice over the small mole hill called out her name.
Straining to look behind the tall reeds of grass and two bent palm ferns, Ameya answered back. “Isit!” Her hand gently stroked the quiet boy resting in her arms, her eyes watching for the person calling for her to emerge from behind the trees.
“Ameya, te vini!” A lanky, dark-skinned man clad in a simple white shirt and pants gestured her forward.
With one look at the boy in her arms, Ameya nodded at the man who walked over to her side. Handing Tomas to the man who positioned the boy onto his back, Ameya bent to pick up her basket. “Mèsi!” she called her thanks and sprinted with her basket to the truck sitting at the bottom of the hill.
With one glance at her dear son being cradled by Frances, her housemate, Ameya put the car on drive and maneuvered the car along the bumpy terrain to the narrow street. Up ahead, she zoomed past the sign stating Hewannora International Airport was 10 miles further. Most times she ignored the sign, having passed it often on her way to work but her work now awaited her at the coastal airport.
Signaling Ameya stepped on the accelerator and made a left turn onto a wider street full of cars. With a quick glance at the blinking clock on her dashboard, she held back her sigh of impatience and trucked forward to make it for her next assignment with the newest band of tourists that had just arrived from Florida.