“Bitch,” I said.
She pulled back the mosquito net, there was the rustle of some garment or other falling to the floor, then she slipped into bed beside me.
“That’s nice,” she said and added, in die same tone of voice, “Colonel Alberto wants to be off at the crack of dawn. Sister Maria Teresa and I have strict instructions from Hannah to be at the airstrip not later than seven-thirty. He seems to think we’ll be safer with him.”
“You suit yourself.”
“You’re a good pilot, Neil Mallory, according to Hannah, the best he’s ever known.” Her lips brushed my cheek. “But you don’t know much about women.”
I wasn’t going to argue with her, not then, with the kind of need burning inside that could not be borne for long. As I pulled her to me, I felt the nipples blossom on her breasts, cool against my bare skin.
The excitement she aroused in me, the awareness, was quite extraordinary. But there was more to it than diat. I lay there holding her, waiting for some sort of sign that might come or might not – the whole world waited. And hi that timeless moment I knew, out of some strange foreknowledge, that what-ever happened during the rest of my life, I’d never know any-thing better than this. That whatever followed would always have the savour of anti-climax, just like Hannah.
She kissed me hard, mouth opening and the whole world came alive as lightning flickered across the sky and it started to rain again.
The Tree of Life
I awakened to sunlight streaming through the window, the mos-quito net fluttering in the slight breeze. I was quite alone, at least as far as the bed went, but when I pushed myself up on one elbow I discovered Juca on the other side of the net placing a tray on the table,
“Breakfast, Senhor Mallory.”
“What time is it?”
He consulted a large, silver, pocket watch gravely. “Eight o’clock exactly, senhor. The senhorita told me you wished to be awakened at this time.”
“I see – and when was this?”
“About an hour ago, senhor, when she was leaving for the airstrip with the good Sister. Will diat be all, senhor?”
I nodded and he withdrew. I poured myself a coffee and went to the window. They’d be well on the way to Landro by now. Strange the sense of personal loss and yet, in a way, it was almost as if I was prepared for it. I didn’t feel like any breakfast after that, but dressed quickly, had another cup of coffee and went about my business.
There were several calls to make before going out to the air-strip so I caught a cab in front of the hotel. First of all there was the mail, then some dynamo parts for one of the mining agents at Landro and Figueiredo had asked me to pick up a case of imported London gin.
It was close to half past nine when I finally arrived at the airstrip. A de Haviland Rapide was parked by the tower and seemed to be taking up all the ground staff’s attention. The Bristol was still under cover. I opened the doors and the cab driver followed me in with the crate of gin.
Joanna Martin was sitting in the pilot’s cockpit reading a book. She looked up and smiled brightly. “What kept you?”
I couldn’t think what to say for a moment, so great was my astonishment. I was only certain of one thing – that I had never been so pleased to see anyone. She knew it, I think, for the face softened for a moment.
“What happened?” I said.
“I decided to fly with you, that’s all. I thought it would be more fun.”
“And what did Hannah have to say to that?”
“Oh, he wasn’t too pleased.” She pushed herself up out of the cockpit, swung her legs over the edge and dropped into my arms. “On the other hand, he did have rather a bad hangover.”
The cab driver had returned with the mail sack which he dropped on the ground beside the case of gin. He waited, mouth open in admiration and I paid him off and sent him on his way.