Strangers of the Past: Part V
Posted on 07/08/2012
Ameya gestured over to a boy standing near some of the weary tourists and bent to speak into his ear once he walked over. She placed her hand on his shoulder and grinned down at him as he beamed up at her. Then she looked at the tourists now curiously looking at her. “Bonjour!” she said cheerily, approaching them. “My name is Ameya and I am from the Sunrise Tours here in St. Lucia.” She squeezed the boy’s shoulder. “And this here is Filip, my good friend. He will be my assistant today.”
She quickly scanned the crowd, noting that they were all wearing similar t-shirts supplied by Sunrise Tours, the company she’d worked in for many years. Counting up to twenty tourists, Ameya could feel her wallet literarily dance in her pocket, thankful for the opportunity. “It is my great pleasure to introduce you to our home.” Ameya swept her arm behind her to the mountains beyond the airport and grinned for good measure. “I am very happy to welcome you here.”
“Merci beaucoup,” an older Caucasian couple clad in Hawaiian print bottoms echoed together, grinning now at their tour guide’s cheerful disposition.
Her eyes twinkled as she regarded them with an equally-bright smile. “De rien. It is my pleasure.” Then she turned to her little helper and gestured to the van parked beside her truck. “Filip, please help me lead our new friends to the car, s’il vous plait.”
“Oui!” the boy chirped happily and Ameya smirked to herself. Any of these children were willing to help, with a little nudge. She mentally counted off a few notes of the money in her pocket as she ushered the tourists behind Filip who had reached for a woman’s hand and tugged her toward the van.
The airport at this time was normally busy but as Ameya glanced around to check for any stragglers, the main entrance lobby was noticeably quiet and empty. She merely shrugged once she’d seen no Sunrise t-shirts and made her way toward the car.
Marcus and Jonathan stood by the front entrance waiting for Hapta to secure them a car. The two brothers-in-law sat in silence, taking in the scene before them. Cars shuffled forward, around a grove of trees and many tourists and residents alike bustled to and from the airport entrance.
Jonathan wondered to himself how he could find his wife in this sea of faces and felt his heart drop in despair. What if Hapta was right and Hannah wasn’t here? He tamped down a sigh of frustration and leaned against the back of the bench.
The movement caused Marcus to shift his watchful gaze from the ongoing traffic to his friend’s desolate expression. He managed a sympathetic smile. “Don’t worry, John, we’ll find her,” he offered the same words he’d given to his frazzled wife before they left for the airport.
“I hope so,” Jonathan replied, head lowered to his hands covering the handle of his suitcase. They’d only packed for two weeks, a short time considering the island was the size of an over-populated city. Holding back another sigh, he pushed the hair from his eyes.
Marcus glanced over his shoulder just in time to see Hapta ambling over to them, dangling a key in his hand and sporting a triumphant grin. He stood to his feet. “You act as if you just won a Mercedes.”
“Close,” his partner muttered, eying Jonathan’s bowed frame before turning back to Marcus. “Range Rover.”
Marcus raised a brow.
Hapta rolled his eyes. “The terrain calls for it. Come, let’s go find it.” He reached for his duffel bag and slung the heavy load over his shoulders. Without waiting for Jonathan to respond, he led the way to the parking lot.
As the two officers strolled ahead of Jonathan, Marcus glanced back once before sighing. “Maybe we shouldn’t have brought him… What if he gets disappointed?”
“Maybe you’re right… It doesn’t matter now. He’s here,” Hapta answered easily, strolling down the parking lot and scanning each aisle for the desired utility vehicle.
“Hmm, I just hope we find her here…” Marcus slowed to a stop and gaped ahead of him. “Are you kidding me?”
Hapta peered over at him, forced to stop in his tracks. “Hmm, what?” He scratched his head in confusion.
Jonathan slowed to a stop also and peered over their heads at the vehicle in front of them. “That’s the Range Rover?” He swallowed a snorting laugh and lifted his eyes from the brightly-painted vehicle that looked like it had been submerged in a sea of mud. The tires were still caked with thick dirt.
Marcus narrowed his eyes and studied the vehicle, chuckling aloud as they took in the chipped paint and the faded sticker on the windshield. “Sunrise Tours?” He peered over to Hapta who approached the driver’s seat of the truck. “Is this it…” he paused when Hapta inserted the key and the door clicked open. The three men looked at each other and then Marcus and Jonathan burst into laughter at Hapta’s expense.
“This isn’t what I had in mind…” Hapta muttered, peering inside the truck.
“You don’t say…” Marcus cleared his throat when Jonathan shook his head and opened the back door. The men looked inside.
Jonathan then ducked his head and pulled out a small bag. The other two merely watched him as he glanced inside. “What is it?” Marcus asked his brother-in-law when Jonathan stuck his hand inside.
When the quieter man pulled out a pair of kiddie socks, they all burst out laughing, Hapta joining in this time.
Thirty minutes later, Ameya giggled as Filip taught the elated tourists one of their folk songs. She swayed her head to their awkward following of the song and joined in, all the while with her eyes on the road.
As they wove through the afternoon traffic, Ameya began planning for their day of fun before she would return home to Tomas. She grinned to herself, already thinking of stopping at one of the tourists’ hotspots to buy a gift for her son when she felt someone tap her on the shoulder. Peering over her shoulder, she gave one of the older women a smile. “Oui, Madame?”
“Do you have any brochures for your island, dear?” the woman with a bright wide smile and crinkles at her eyes said in a pleasantly hoarse voice, warming Ameya’s heart.
Ameya managed an apologetic smile, already picturing her tote bag that she’d left with the truck back in the airport. “Oh non, I left it in my truck but tomorrow when I come to pick you at the hotel, I will bring it for you… Sorry for that, Madame.”
The woman chuckled gently and patted Ameya’s shoulder. “It’s okay, dearie.” She leaned back in her chair and lifted her wrinkled hands to clap along with Filip’s enthusiastic singing.
The younger woman behind the wheel glanced at the rearview mirror with a wistful smile, feeling a pang of pain in her chest as she watched the older women laugh gently with their male companions. For them at this age to still have love with someone was beautiful. She caught one of their curious gazes and grinned wider before breaking eye contact to focus on the road ahead.
Thankfully she looked just in time to avoid rear-ending the truck that swerved in front of her just as they moved to the exit. Ameya grimaced when she had to slam her foot on the brakes and heard the exclamations from her guests behind her. “Je suis desole!!” she called out, easing her foot off the brakes once the truck picked up speed in front of her. “Tourists…” she muttered and then blinked at the back end of the truck.
A part of the colorful truck was caked with splatters and smudges of dirt, the tires coated with mud. She frowned to herself, wondering what other Sunrise tour guide would drive so poorly and not care for their vehicle that represented the beauty and heart of their island.
As she shook her head and watched the truck swerve to the right and off the highway, an image of her speeding down a rocky road full of muddy water from the heavy rain last night flashed in her mind. Gasping, she slammed again on the brakes as she immediately recalled the license plate of the truck. “C’est ma truck!” she exclaimed, peering over her shoulder at the tail-lights of the truck.
Jonathan scowled over at Hapta in the driver’s seat while gripping the edge of his seat. Marcus glared at his friend while holding onto the handle above the window. “Geez, Hapta, could you slow down?”
“This truck sucks,” Hapta gritted his teeth, glancing down quickly at the speedometer. “It’s not my fault.”
“Sure… You should’ve let me drive,” Marcus mumbled begrudgingly, struggling to find a comfortable position in the bumpy seat. “Ugh. Who lied and told you this was a new Range Rover?”
“I never said it was new.”
The two men snorted in displeasure as Hapta maneuvered the beat-up truck down the bumpy terrain. “Do you even know where we’re going?” Jonathan finally spoke, his voice unusually calm that both men glanced over at him. He shrugged. “We didn’t get a map back there.”
Hapta snapped his glare to Marcus. “I thought you were getting that.”
Marcus raised a brow. “When did you ask me?”
Jonathan sighed heavily and leaned back in his seat, focusing his attention on the wall of trees flashing by them as Hapta sped forward, arguing openly with Marcus. Despite the bumpy ride, his heart had finally settled for a little bit. The anticipation of possibly meeting his wife here was momentarily forgotten, especially since these two clowns had no idea how to find their way in this island and although there was not much time to waste, Jonathan was grateful for the delay. At least for now, he’d have some time to prepare his heart… in case he met Hannah again.
A sharp bleating sound of a car horn caught Jonathan’s attention but the two men continued their bickering, barely noticing the urgent sound. The man in the back seat turned around and raised a brow at the van advancing forward, sticking to their tail. He narrowed his eyes to pick out the driver through the tinted glass but couldn’t see anything. “Hey guys…”
“If I’m responsible for the car, you are responsible for the map,” Hapta griped. “How hard is that?”
Marcus snorted. “What a fine choice you made, by the way.”
“Guys!” Jonathan snapped loudly and the men paused in their arguing. “Pull over.”
Hapta glowered at the man giving him orders. He was in charge. “Why?”
“Someone’s on our tail, flagging us down.”
Marcus laughed sardonically as Hapta pressed on the brakes and the car squeaked loudly. “Probably the car is on fire and we didn’t realize it.”
“Shut up,” Hapta muttered, pulling the car to the side of the road. He glanced at the rear view mirror as the van labeled Sunrise Tours pulled behind him. “What in the world?”
“Maybe we’re switching cars… Thank God.” Marcus glared at him and unbuckled his seatbelt.
Jonathan shook his head and leaned back in the seat. What an eventful few hours to tell the kids about, even if he didn’t find Hannah here.
Hapta pulled off his seatbelt and peered through the side mirror, just as the van’s door swung open and the driver jumped down from the car. “I hope they didn’t think I stole the car…” Hapta muttered.
The three men waited in the car, listening to the footsteps rushing forward. Then Hapta opened his mouth to address the van driver with a cap covering her head. “Excuse me, what is the problem?”
“You took my truck,” the woman with the hat shadowing her face accused the man in the driver’s seat.
Jonathan leaned back against the chair, arms now folded and his lips curled in amusement, hearing this civilian woman gripe impatiently at Mr. Control Hapta.
Hapta chuckled. “There’s a mistake. I got this truck from the airport—”
“Where I left it!” she snapped impatiently. “Who are you?”
Marcus leaned forward to address the woman and frowned at her pursed lips. “Excuse me, Mademoiselle, we mean no harm. We are only tourists here and this was the car given to us.”
The woman’s lips curled in a sardonic smile. “Did you even check inside before you decided to take my truck?” She then sighed heavily. “I have elder tourists with me and I have to get them to their hotel. Follow me there and we will settle this then.” She stepped away from the car and stormed back to the van, leaving the two seasoned officers stunned speechless.
“What the heck was that?” Hapta muttered a few minutes later as he drove slowly behind the Sunrise van down a narrow street.
Marcus shook his head. “That was… more than weird.” Something inside nagged him ever since that woman stepped up to the car but he couldn’t place it. “It felt like my wife was scolding me.”
Jonathan smirked to himself, imagining his sister-in-law scowling up at the burly officer as her husband. “Where are we going?”
“Didn’t you hear her?” Hapta mumbled. “We’re to follow her to the hotel and discuss our terrible behavior there.” He clucked his tongue in annoyance. “Who does she think she is?”
“Maybe the owner of the car,” Jonathan replied easily, stifling a yawn.
Marcus shook his head. “No way…” he muttered to himself even as the van in front of him slowed down and then signaled to the right. “There’s no way…” He could picture his fiery Tampa glaring at him, her curved lips pursed tightly when she was annoyed and he would grab her chin teasingly and tug at it until she smiled.
“No way, what?” Hapta groused as he signaled to the right and followed her behind a row of large trees onto a road of gravel. Before them was a sweeping driveway with a lit fountain and a large sprawling mansion.
“It can’t be…” Marcus already unbuckled his seatbelt once again as the van expertly curved around the fountain to the front veranda under the archway. Hapta parked the car behind her and Marcus pushed open the door, ignoring Hapta’s protests. He had to see her face.
The woman, clad in a simple light-blue t-shirt and flowery shorts, stepped out of the van and moved around to help the elderly tourists out of the car. “Bienvenue à la Skyway Inn, my friends.” She swept an arm behind her to the grand entrance of the establishment and grinned as her guests oohed and aahed over the delicate crowning on the walls and the archway.
Hapta frowned at Marcus hovering behind the van as he and Jonathan stepped out of the truck. “What is the matter with him?”
Jonathan peered over to his brother-in-law and shook his head. “Beats me.” He shoved his hands in his pockets and sighed. “Really though, Hapta, why didn’t you check first? This is wasting our time.”
“Trust me, I’m mad about this more than you.” Hapta folded his arms and waited by the truck for the woman to approach them.
As Ameya led the gushing tourists to the front door where a few of the hotel bellboys walked over to greet them, she couldn’t ignore the man standing by her van. Struggling not to glare at him for trying to intimidate her with his presence, she merely grinned at her guests and walked up the steps with the older woman who had spoken with her earlier. “Madame, I will have your brochure and much more tomorrow on our first tour.”
The woman grinned back and reached for Ameya’s hand, cupping it with hers. “No trouble, dear. And please call me Miss Shirley. Madame makes me look too old.” Her bright-blue eyes danced happily and Ameya couldn’t help but giggle along with her. “Have a good night dear.” She paused to look over at the men standing by the truck before smiling gently. “Be careful…”
Ameya nodded, knowing what Miss Shirley had seen behind her. “I will. Bonne nuit.” She curled her fingers to hold onto the tingling warmth of the woman’s touch. Once the door closed behind the woman and the bellboys ushered to the van to collect the bags, she turned to Filip who stood by the van door. She noticed he was glaring at the man standing behind her.
With a smile, she walked over to Filip and whispered in his ear for him to help the bellboys with the bags and get some dinner at the hotel before she could drop him off at his mother’s house. Then squaring her shoulders as the boy hesitantly shuffled into the hotel, she turned around to face the man with a clenched jaw.
“Now, please tell me why you have taken my truck…” she said in a stern voice as if she was addressing one of Tomas’ delinquent classmates.
The man merely glanced over his shoulder and gestured to his companions.
She narrowed her eyes at him from under her cap, watching the men trudge over to his side. Ameya barely paid any attention to the tall newcomer that she hadn’t noticed was in the car with them. It didn’t matter who they were. All she cared was that they had stolen her truck. “Give me back my truck.”
“No can do, Lady… I mean mademoiselle,” the driver of the truck answered from behind the man that stood near her van. “We received the keys to the truck and I paid money for it.”
Ameya gritted her teeth. “I don’t care whether you paid a million francs or dollars for it. This is my car.”
Marcus swallowed hard as the irritation strengthened her tone and his suspicions. He stepped around Hapta who was content on waging war with her and grabbed Jonathan’s sleeve.
Jonathan peeled his eyes from the woman to his brother-in-law, frowning at the alarmed look on his face. “What’s wrong?” he asked in a low voice, not wanting to vex the woman further.
“Hannah…” Marcus mumbled lowly, his face lowered.
The sound of his wife’s name forced through Marcus’ lips caused his heart to skip a beat. “What?” he muttered, not sure he’d heard Marcus or his wishful thinking.
“Hannah…” Marcus forced out again, gripping Jonathan’s arm now. He then jerked his head in the direction of the woman with the cap covering her head and widened his eyes to drive his point home. His own heart was beating so fast, it was so loud in his own ears. He couldn’t believe it.
Jonathan peeked from the corner of his eye at the woman now standing closer to Hapta, both talking over each other about Hapta’s low morals for stealing a car. What was Marcus talking about? He narrowed his eyes to look past the woman’s shaded face in the dimming light around them as the sun had already fallen behind the mountains, leaving only dark shadows cast on their faces.
“It’s her!” Marcus whispered fiercely and released Jonathan’s arm to walk back around Hapta toward the lady. “Pardon me, Mademoiselle… but,” he didn’t wait for her to react and with a swift move; he reached for the hat and pulled it off her head.
Ameya choked on her gasp as the man jerked at the cap and her hair loosened from the bun, falling over her face. “Are you crazy!?” she snapped angrily, pushing at the tendrils of hair to glare at the three men now gaping back at her. “What is the matter with you?!”
Marcus staggered back a step or two as he gawked at the identical face of his wife glowering murderously at him with her hair splayed about her round face. He couldn’t believe it, his tongue heavy in his mouth to keep from apologizing. His fingers squeezed the cap in his hands.
“Oh my God…” Hapta muttered, staring at the similar face of his partner’s wife in front of them.
Jonathan couldn’t move. Couldn’t breathe as he gaped down at the stormy face of a woman he thought he would never see again. Hannah… he felt his heart stir painfully as it had eight years ago.