Ameya watched with a gentle smile as the craggy old man bowed over the cot under a bay window and tucked the sleeping boy under the thin cotton sheet. The man’s once furrowed brow softened as he gazed silently at the child resting peacefully and he reached over with crooked fingers to smoothen the boy’s reckless curls.
She sighed softly and turned her eyes to study the man’s worn-down but cozy house. A slightly-open window allowed a wave of fresh breeze to push the dank, fishy smell to the corners. Torn, saggy fishing nets hung from hooks anchored around the room, a pair of boots caked with mud from a week ago were tucked in the corner. She smiled, noticing the curtains she’d purchased for him almost a year ago, although now they were covered in cobwebs and dust. At least he’d kept them, even if he paid no mind of its existence.
Besides the makeshift bed on which her son now snuggled under the covers, there was only three chairs and a small square poker table as furniture. His fishing gear occupied and overwhelmed the small shack where he lived. She remembered the many times she’d begged him to let her redecorate, to make it more cozy. True to his grumpy nature, Jonas merely grunted to reject her request and trudged down the hill to his real home… the sea and his rickety fishing boat.
Just as she was about to inspect the tablecloth she’d sewed many years ago for him, Jonas cleared his throat circumspectly and Ameya glanced over her shoulder at him.
He raised a wispy, gray brow at her. “Late you will be if you dilly here,” he said gruffly, knowing she was dragging her feet to leave her son with him.
Ameya grinned, turning around to face him. She crossed her arms over her chest. “Are you trying to get rid of me?” she asked, her own brows cocked inquisitively.
Jonas cleared his throat and glanced back down at a sleeping Tomas. The corner of his lips twitched and his wrinkled brow smoothening again thus warming Ameya’s heart all over again. These two were all she considered as family and her heart ached at the thought that Jonas was becoming too old to keep up with her growing son.
“Have you been by to see Neville?” she asked softly, Jonas promptly scowling at her unwarranted question.
“Why do I need to see him for? I am healthy enough.” He waved his skinny, dark arm.
Ameya refrained from rolling her eyes. “Just a simple checkup. At this age, many things could be happening inside you. Just do one to be sure you are healthy all through.”
He narrowed his eyes at her in suspicion. “You are making noise like a doctor again…” he said in a low tone.
She shrugged, unfazed by his intended accusation. “Maybe I was in my former life,” she threw back without much thought and immediately bit her tongue at her careless words. Jonas’ eyes narrowed further.
Clamping her mouth closed, Ameya averted her gaze to her sleeping son. There was no point in dwelling on a past she could not remember. Who cared if she was something more than just a mother and a herbalist by night, tour guide by day?
Then Ameya gasped suddenly. The tourists! She’d forgotten all about her promise to the dear woman to personally show them the sights. “I have to go,” she said quickly, reaching for her purse that was slung over the chair. “I will be back for him by 7.” She stood to her feet and hastened for the door.
“What has happened?” Old Man Jonas shuffled to the door behind her.
With one quick glance at her child, she regarded Jonas. “Don’t worry. I will be back at 7. Don’t eat dinner. I’ll bring some food.”
He wrinkled his nose, annoyed by her presumption that he couldn’t help himself with food. Still he didn’t say a word and just held the door, watching Ameya bound down the hill to the mainland. Shaking his head, Jonas waited until her head disappeared under the hill before he closed the door and turned to watch over his adopted ward until the distracted mother returned.
Marcus watched, biting the insides of his cheek to keep from laughing as Jonathan and Hapta played the staring game across the table from each other. All around them, the bustle of the restaurant grew louder as residents and tourists alike ushered in for lunch at the Old Plantation Yard eatery.
Tucked in a corner encompassed by tall trees that swayed with the island breeze, the inside of this eatery was decorated with mismatched charm, collecting different treasures and artifacts from the people that worked and ate there. Tables were covered with colorful plaid cotton; the tables were arranged in front of a platform situated at one end of the restaurant. The same plaid cotton hung on the walls and random ledges around the room, and random centerpieces sat on every table. Soft folk music was playing today when the three men finally convinced Chief Francis to go with them for lunch; the spot had been the police chief’s recommendation.
As Chief Francis still sore from his injury quietly excused himself to call a friend, the three men remained quiet even though there was a small war brewing in them. Well, for Jonathan and Hapta. As for Marcus, he was content to sit back and watch the drama unfold.
“If only I had some popcorn right now…”
Hapta smirked, not shifting his glare from Jonathan’s face. “Relax. It’ll work out.”
Jonathan sneered in response. “Must you lie in every situation?”
Hapta blinked innocently. “What are you talking about?”
“Are you kidding me right now?” Jonathan shot back incredulously, still reeling from Hapta’s underhanded move. “Who is writing a book? Me?”
“Well, it’s a good idea. Your entire life story could be a novel—” Hapta leaned back when Jonathan suddenly shot his hand and swiped in front of his face. “Whoa!”
Marcus grabbed Jonathan’s fist and held his brother-in-law back before he lunged at Hapta. He glanced from the corner of his eye, noting that some of the patrons were now regarding them with strange looks. “Take it easy,” he said calmly. “We will deal with him at the hotel.” He waited until Jonathan slowly returned to his seat before releasing his hand.
Hapta scowled. “Oh come on. What other excuse would you have come up with to get her to see us?”
Jonathan clenched his jaw tightly. Marcus rolled his eyes. “How do you plan on following up with this story? With another lie?” he asked his partner.
“Sure, why not?” Hapta answered easily. “He’s a writer, we’re helping him do research for it.”
“I can’t believe this…” Jonathan muttered, folding his arms to keep from swinging again at Hapta who was now grinning foolishly. “When Chief Francis comes back, I’m telling him the truth.”
Both Marcus and Hapta turned sharply to him at the same time. “What will you tell him?” Marcus asked, his voice hinting with concern.
Jonathan frowned at his brother-in-law. “You want me to lie too?”
“Yes,” Hapta replied without hesitation.
Marcus sighed at the same time. “Don’t think of it that way… All I know is that we can’t very well tell him that she’s your wife and you’re coming to take her home.” He shook his head, imagining the fiery woman that had single-handedly put them in jail. “For some reason, I don’t think she’ll be too keen about that piece of information.”
Jonathan swallowed hard, thinking of the woman who stared at him with blank eyes. He glanced down at the bare table. “I don’t want to lie… It won’t help anything.”
“It won’t hurt either,” Hapta reasoned. “Look, let’s just say we’re doing research. What’s the big deal?” he leaned forward this time and spoke firmly. “No one will question you as a new writer working on a great love story.”
This time Jonathan and Marcus looked sharply at him. Hapta grinned and rambled on. “You’re writing your life story. About a man whose wife is missing, who goes with friends to an island to find her. For all they know, it’s a fiction novel with travel incorporated… For you, it’s documenting a mission to bring your wife home.”
Silence on the table was engulfed by the raucous noise around them as the three men mulled over Hapta’s proposition. It was a stretch of the truth, something both Marcus and Jonathan were not comfortable with, but it would be the perfect opportunity to get close enough to Ameya.
Jonathan sighed with resignation and looked up to Hapta’s expectant gaze and Marcus’ curious one. Swallowing hard, he nodded. “Fine… Let’s do it.”
Hapta grinned from ear to ear. “Great!” Marcus merely nodded and clapped Jonathan on the shoulder. Just then, two men approached the table, one of them bowed stiffly at the waist and the other towering over him, guiding him back to the table. They chatted openly as they approached the table.
Chief Francis shifted his attention to the three men looking up at them curiously. “Warren, these are the three men I spoke with you about,” he said in English so that they would understand. “Gentlemen, this is Warren Jean-King from Sunrise Tours. He is the owner of the business.”
The men exchanged welcoming smiles before Hapta stood to his feet to shake the man’s hand. “A pleasure to meet you, Monsieur Jean-King. I am Charles Hapta, and these are my colleagues.”
The tall man with narrow shoulders grinned widely, revealing a wide gap in his front, porcelain-white teeth. “Good to meet you,” he said as they shook hands firmly. He glanced over at the other two men now standing. “Now I hear you are in need of an experienced tour guide to help you with your research?” He asked.
Chief Francis chuckled. “Warren does not like to waste time… I am sure he already has someone in mind.”
Warren nodded affirmatively. “I have a good impression of who I want to refer to you gentlemen. He is a man from the area that has—”
“Actually,” Hapta interrupted with a smile. “My colleagues and I had the privilege of meeting a guide from your company.” He paused to look over at Jonathan before turning back to Warren. “I have heard many good things about her excellent work ethic and knowledge of the island.”
“Her?” Warren asked, tilting his head curiously.
“Yes.” He turned to Chief Francis who stared at him with raised brows. “The guide who escorted us to your prison almost a week ago?”
The two men exchanged quizzical looks before Chief Francis faced Hapta again. “Ameya?”
Warren chuckled incredulously. “You want Ameya de Jonas to be your tour guide?”
Jonathan frowned at their open amusement. “Is it impossible to get her?”
Chief Francis and Warren exchanged knowing smiles and then Warren from Sunrise Tours shook his head. “It’s not hard to get her as a tour guide… it’s just that…” He hesitated.
“It’s just what?” Marcus spoke, curious as to why both men looked equally surprised and amused by their request.
“Well,” Chief Francis replied. “She’s a bit hard to deal with…”
“Understatement of the year, Chief,” Warren chortled aloud. He faced all three men. “Ameya de Jonas is not only the most outspoken of my tour guides, she’s the most difficult.” He grinned as if it was the funniest thing he’d ever said. “She’s often forgetful and mercurial about her responsibilities.”
Chief Francis laughed aloud. “When she’s not being the vigilante of the town, she’s either selling herbs to the residents or staying at home to take care of her young son.” He and Warren snickered together, not noticing all three men were now gaping openly at them.
Jonathan suddenly couldn’t breathe. She was a mother?