Lena’s parents, bent and bespectacled, one suffering from high blood pressure and the other from arthritis, came to stay for a week about ten days later, and were overjoyed to find Tishy so well.
Gavin wrote a short, cool thank you letter from Buenos Aires to Lena and Dereck and no more was heard from him. Lena’s excitement at going to Punta del Este was most contagious and very soon even Dereck began to look forward to their holiday, despite his misgivings. He unearthed a map of Uruguay so that Juli could have some idea of where they were going and she studied it carefully, following the gentle coastline to the point where Punta del Este was situated, dividing the Atlantic ocean from the mouth of the River Plate.
As planned, they spent two nights at the Carlies. Marion, looking rested and clear-eyed after her holidays in the Cordoba Hills, was almost her old self and no mention was made either of Peter or of Joanie Trale. Rita and Quique had gone to spend the month of February on the family farm and Juli hoped she would have time to visit them on her return journey. Buenos Aires had a strangely empty Sunday air about it and the heat and damp were daunting.
“I see Victorica celebrated its hundredth anniversary yesterday,” Arthur said with interest at dinner.
“There were about eight thousand guests at the asado, bar-b-que, the municipality gave,” Dereck said.
“Imagine preparing for that number of people!” Lena interposed, remembering the asado they had had the day after Christmas and all the work it had entailed.
“A hundred years is a mere nothing for you of course, Juli,” Arthur smiled. “With your thousand odd years of history, but it’s a lot for us.”
“Victorica has now reached the status of being an antique,” Pamela said.
“Town’s don’t become antiques, nit-wit,” Tony remarked scathingly.
“I was only joking,” Pamela defended herself irritably as Arthur turned to Dereck and asked:
“Did you read what Rouco wrote in La Prensa last month?”
Dereck shook his head and Arthur took out his wallet, extracted a couple of carefully folded newspaper cuttings and handed them to him.
Dereck read the first and said scornfully, “He’s mad! International consensus indeed!” before continuing to read the second cutting. “What incredible articles!” he exclaimed at last. “What the hell do you think it means?”
“May I read them?” Juli asked and Arthur handed her the cuttings.
The first was published in January 1982. As she read them an icy finger seemed to slide down her spine. This man was talking of war, could it be possible? She remembered Gavin’s remark during his first tea at Los Alamos in December and shivered.
“Can it be possible that they can’t come to some arrangement about the Falkland Islands?” she asked, handing the cuttings to Lena.
“The Argentines want a fixed date as of when their sovereignty over the Islands will be recognized,” Tony said. “But the British are stringing them along with vague promises and empty assurances.”
“The Islanders will never agree to being Argentine citizens,” Marion observed. “Even the poorest shepherd there lives at a level which many middle class families don’t have here. Joanie was telling me, she went there on a trip last year with her husband.”
“But there are only about one thousand and eight hundred inhabitants, aren’t there?” Lena asked.
“A comprehensive school in England has more pupils than that!” Juli exclaimed.
“It’s the oil which counts,” Tony said.
“And the position of the Islands from a security point of view, don’t forget the Russians…”
“Of course, if the Islands are used as a fort …”
“But there isn’t even a runway capable of handling big ‘planes, and what sort of defence are eighty men any way? Apparently that’s all there are in the garrison there.”
“Gavin said when he arrived that someone in France had told him some time ago that there would be trouble between England and Argentina in connection with the Falklands, do you remember?” Juli remarked.
“Did, he now?” Arthur said with interest. “That would corroborate the feeling I have that all this business is being carefully orchestrated. Britain and the USA want to turn the Islands into a fortress, but that will cost them a sum of money the British taxpayer will certainly refuse to pay …”
“But it is the Argentines who are talking about war …”
“President Galtieri’s term as head of the Army finishes at the end of this year. I expect he’d like to go down in history as the President who won back the Malvinas/Falkland Islands for Argentina. He must be a very easy target for those trained in the art of politics; he’s no politician remember, only an army general.”
“I don’t understand what you’re trying to say Arthur,” Marion exclaimed.
“Britain’s delaying tactics, American ambivalence, the fact that the one hundred and fifty years deadline for the whole legal process to be resolved is looming, it’s next year in fact, and the desire for a very expensive fortress in the South Atlantic is in play Marion. Added to that the wish to know exactly how all the new arms function in combat, plus Galtieri’s ambition. He’s a very ambitious man, his rise to the top has been phenomenal! All these facts conspire towards, to my mind, a possible confrontation of some sort.”
“I don’t agree Arthur. I think all this noise and sabre-rattling is because of the social and economic chaos the country is in. Look at the devaluation of the peso in the last few months! Galtieri is using the usual Argentine method of screaming abuse at the British and threatening to take the Islands by force, as insinuated by Rouco there,” he pointed at the cuttings lying on the table, “In order to take the people’s minds off the diminishing value of their wages. The negotiations will just drag on and on to my mind,” Dereck declared.
“We’ll see,” Arthur smiled. “I hope you’re right. A war between Argentina and Great Britain would be enormously painful for all us Anglo-Argentines.”
Juli stared at him and felt the word ‘war’ ricochet inside her brain.
“But it’s not possible that two countries which are anti-communist should go to war,” Lena cried. “It sounds crazy to me. If they’re afraid of the Russians in the south then they should work together, surely?”
“The British consider the Argentines a bunch of semi-literate, half Indians. Not even really human,” Tony said.
“Come now Tony, don’t be so radical,” Dereck remonstrated.
“I am a radical.”
“Are you? Well, well, thinking of going into politics?”
“First I want to get my degree as a lawyer, then I shall see. At the moment politics are rather a stagnant proposition here.”
“Dangerous too,” Marion said.
Sitting in the Aeoparque airport with their hand luggage at her feet and Tishy on her lap, Juli thought over all that had been said the night before at dinner, as well as the fact that Dino had received his draft papers and had already been incorporated into the army as a conscript in the province of Corrientes. Did that mean that there was a possibility that he might have to fight? Against Britain? And his father was a British citizen! Would he be deported? Or Interned? She shook her head, unable to comprehend clearly the effects of any sort of armed conflict between the two countries.
The flight from Buenos Aires to Las Lagunas near Punta del Este took thirty minutes and they were served drinks and savouries. Marina ate all hers and most of Tishy’s. Toffy slept. Lena, sitting by the window, stared down at the Uruguayan coastline with an absorbed expression. The ‘plane was full and Juli wondered a little, considering the fact that Argentina was going through such hard times economically.
When she mentioned it to Lena the latter laughed and said, “Holidays are sacred. Nearly everyone goes on holiday, even the most humble. They go to visit their families in the interior, the rich go to Punta or to Buzios in Brazil or to any of the seaside resorts on the Argentine coast. We always used to go to Neuquén, but the more popular resorts are Mar del Plata, Villa Gessell and Chapadmalal, plus heaps more besides. I am glad we are going to get to know Punta, everyone always says it’s lovely.”
Dereck was waiting for them, delighted that everything had gone according to plan.
“Great,” he cried, kissing his family warmly and bustling them all out of the airport and into the car. “Veronica and Gunther left this morning. The house is very nice too; neighbours not on top of us so it’ll be peaceful.”
Juli gazed out of the car windows, surprised to find herself enveloped in what seemed to be an entirely European atmosphere. Gentle hills unfolded themselves towards the horizon, a lake glimmered in the morning sunshine beyond the confines of the small neat airport. She breathed in the tangy freshness of the sea air. Underfoot the ground had seemed to have a different effect, as if the pull of gravity were not so great.
“How different it is,” she said. “I find it hard to believe.”
“More like some place in Europe, eh?” Dereck said.
“It’s wonderful,” Lena breathed.
They sped along the well paved highway which followed the coast, and the distant conglomeration of high-rise buildings on the split of land reaching out into the sea grew steadily clearer. Within a wide bay a small, green, apparently uninhabited island afforded protection and the blue-grey waters were dotted with the white sails of small sailing boats. As they approached Punta del Este, open fields and grasslands gave way to tall fir tree and eucalyptus woods. Cottages and chalets could be seen in amongst the trees, but there seemed to be very few private enclosed gardens.
Soon enormous blocks of apartment buildings facing the bay lined the left hand side of the highway, while on the right, fir trees and bushes grew out of the sand above the beach.
“What miles of beach,” Juli exclaimed. “It’s incredible.”
“This is the ‘mansa’ or ‘tame’ beach,” Dereck explained. “Because the waves are so small. On the other side, which faces the ocean proper, the waves are huge.” He glanced at his watch. “It’s still early, we’ll drive over quickly so that you can all see what Punta del Este is really famous for.”
He cut across the spit of land through the woods and along the winding brick-dust roads. Beautiful chalets with emerald lawns spilling down to the unfenced roadside nestled elegantly between the tall tree trunks of the fir trees, their grey-green foliage meeting high above the red tiles and brown thatch roofs.
Coming out onto another highway which was separated from the beach by a belt of enormous bushes, Dereck parked the car and they all piled out and began to walk single file along a sandy path which wound its way between the bushes. The thunder of waves filled the vibrant air, a fresh south wind ran its fingers through their hair, the sun was hot but not aggressively so. They reached the last of the bushes and came face to face with the Atlantic ocean. To the left the wide sandy beach reached in an uninterrupted sweep far into the blue distance, to the right it came to an end at the foot of the rocky spit on which the town was built. Before them the great waves broke steadily on the shore, racing up the slight slope and rushing back once more, creating a strangely, yet not quite, rhythmic beat.
The apartment buildings, chalets, hotels and pine woods behind them appeared to lose their solidity and only the fine golden sand and the pounding waves seemed to have any reality. Even the people and tents and sunshades spread along the beach made little impression in that aeons-old meeting of the elements.
“Isn’t it lovely?” Lena cried. “I’m so glad we came.”
They drove back slowly through the town. Holiday makers thronged the sidewalks and streets making driving a slow process. Dereck drove to the very point where a few hardy fishermen standing on the rocks cast patiently into the waves. There were few shops and no high-rise buildings in this, the older part of the town and fewer people. From there they visited the port which was quite small and crammed with yachts of every size and shape, rocking gently in the mild swell of the waters. Here the boating people, who thought only of winds and tides, sails and regattas, were notably different from those who thronged the main street or swam and sunbathed on the beaches. Juli watched the forest of masts crossing and criss-crossing continuously as the boats swayed back and forth, and was filled with delight. It was all so lovely despite the crowds, so incredibly unspoilt. How good to have come here, to get to know the multiple facets of South America.
“The Uruguayans must be very different to the Argentines,” she thought. “Despite the fact that Dereck says that Punta is more or less owned by the Argentines.”
Dereck drove back along the highway beside the ‘mansa’ beaches, turned in after a little while and drove through the pine woods for three blocks until he finally drew up in front of a white washed chalet with shuttered windows and a corrugated iron roof. The sunlight filtered through the canopy of leaves high above, casting lilac shadows on the pinkish surface of the road which curved enticingly away to the right beyond the house. In the few moments after he cut the motor of the car the luminous silence enveloped them peacefully, until a neighbour’s dog began to bark in the distance.
They spent the afternoon unpacking, making the beds and re-arranging the furniture a little, in order to set the Birnham style. Juli slept with Marina and Tishy. Toffy, in his carry cot, with his parents.
The Playa Brava, or wild beach, was too far away to hear the steady crash of the waves. The sigh of the wind in the tree tops, the subtle perfume of the pine leaves and the ever-changing play of light and shadow about the house were lovely enough to fill their hearts with harmony and peace.
As soon as she was free Juli and the children explored the garden which consisted of lawn and a few flowering bushes, and then walked down to the beach where the two little girls were soon building sand castles and paddling in the warm salty water which slapped little wavelets onto the wet sand. Tishy painstakingly collected a large selection of shells which they carried back to the house in their white hats.
“Isn’t the sea BIG?” Marina remarked. “”I like this beach better. I like the island out there and all the sailing boats. I didn’t like the big waves on the other beach.”
A couple of days later, however, they drove over to the Playa Brava in order to enjoy the breakers. The water seemed much colder. The waves were very big but playful, although the undertow was strong and a little frightening. Juli abandoned herself to them with unabashed delight, diving into them, flinging herself at them, opposing them, and being knocked down and tumbled over and over in their froth and foam.
Later, lying on the hot sand, lulled by their constant muted thunder she watched their ever changing, ever similar movements as they rose translucently, broke, curled over and creamed down with a flourish of foam and a thunderous roar. On and on, day in day out for thousands and thousands of years. The thought was daunting.
A group of young people set up a net and began to play hand ball. Juli sat up to watch them and then, with Lena’s permission, she walked over to join the little crowd that had gathered calling out encouragement amid much laughter and jokes. A young man came to stand beside her and said cautiously “Juli?”
Juli swung round and found herself face to face with Rita’s twin brother.
“Fernando,” she exclaimed. “What a surprise! Are you all here?”
“No. I am staying with my girl-friend Dora and her family. Rita told me you were coming to Punta del Este so I have been looking out for you. Is your house near here?”
“No, the Birnhams have rented a house on the other side, we just came over for the morning.”
“There’s Dora coming now.”
Fernando waved to a slim girl walking towards them along the beach. She shook back her long black hair as she kissed Juli on the cheek, her smile a white flash in her deeply tanned face.
“Are you allowed any freedom? Fernando asked in Spanish.
Juli laughed. “I don’t know.”
“We always meet up with all our friends in the evenings and decide what we want to do. Would you like to come with us tonight?”
“I’d love to!” Juli said, her eyes sparkling.
They walked across the sand to where Lena was sitting. Toffy in the shade of the parasol slept peacefully in his carry cot. Marina and Tishy were a little way off building a sand castle with Dereck. Juli introduced Fernando and Dora to Lena explaining that Fernando was Rita’s twin brother.
“Would it be alright if Juli came to spend the evening with us once Marina and Tishy have gone to bed, “Fernando asked.
Dereck who had sauntered over to join them replied at once, “Well, we may want to go out ourselves.”
Toffy had his last meal between ten thirty and eleven which meant that Lena was never free much before midnight. At his unexpected words, Juli looked at Dereck with amazement. Lena seeing her expression and guessing her thoughts correctly said, “Of course, Juli is here to help me, but we don’t have anything planned for this evening. So long as you don’t expect to be free every evening Juli, that will be alright.
“Great, thanks a ton,” Juli said, trying to infuse the necessary amount of warmth into her tone for Lena to feel she was adequately grateful. “How shall we manage then Fernando?”
“We’ll come and fetch you,” he replied seriously. “Please tell me your address.”
Dereck, grudgingly, gave him the address and the directions on how to find the house which Fernando noted down carefully in a little note book. Marina, who had run over full of curiosity, said, “Can I go with Juli?”
“That’s all we needed!” Dereck grunted. “If there’s a fuss tonight …”
“Oh, Dereck, Juli has the right to go out with friends of her own age,” Lena said briskly. “I think it’s very nice that you have found friends, Juli.”
“Just remember, though,” Dereck grumbled, after Fernando and Dora had said good bye and walked away. “That although we are on holiday, you are not.”
Juli felt a rush of indignation flash through her. Trying to keep her tone mild she retorted, “I understand that even the humblest servant in Argentina is entitled to a day and a half free a week.”
“Oh, for goodness sake. Let’s not let this grow out of all proportion,” Lena snapped. “I’ve said you may go out with your friends tonight Juli and I’ve asked you to please not take it is as a matter of course for every night, that’s all. Now then, let’s have our picnic and not talk about the matter anymore.”
That evening Fernando and Dora appeared punctually at nine. Juli, wearing white jeans and a pink cotton shirt, a warm cardigan knotted loosely round her shoulders, kissed Lena goodbye, waved briefly to Dereck and left with the back door key in her hand bag.
“No problems?” Fernando asked.
Juli shrugged cheerfully. “On an estancia there are no options so there is no conflict either,” she said. “It stands to reason. I don’t think it had occurred to them that I might meet friends here.”
They climbed into the waiting jeep and fifteen minutes later they had joined the crowds thronging the main street. Fernando introduced her to their group of friends and from then on the evening was a gay whirl of merriment, talking, walking, eating and laughing. Juli felt warmly accepted and included despite not being fluent in Spanish which filled her with appreciation and well being, it was as if she had known them all for years! At about one in the morning they all went down to the beach, settled themselves on the damp sand and sang. The surf boiled up the sloping beach towards them and receded with a rushing whisper into the darkness while the waves thundered their eternal melody as accompaniment.
At last, glancing at her watch, Juli motioned to Fernando that she should be going.
“Will you be coming over to the Bravo tomorrow?” Fernando asked.
“I doubt it.”
“If we don’t see you, we’ll come by tomorrow evening if you like,” Dora said.
“I won’t be able to go out tomorrow again,” Juli said.
“But why, once the children are asleep?”
“It’s my job to look after them, day and night.”
“Twenty four hours a day!”
“Uh huhh. But it’s not so bad and I’m very well paid. I just don’t want to create any problems. We all get on fine just now, so I don’t want to rock the boat by saying I want to go out again tomorrow, O.K.?”
“Sure,” Fernando grinned. “Maybe we’ll drop round for a chat, or will that upset them too?”
“Oh no. Fine, that’s great,” Juli assented happily. Once outside the cottage she kissed them quickly goodbye and made her way indoors. She found Tishy asleep in her bed. Gently she picked the little girl up and potted her before putting her back in her own bed. After potting Marina she fell into bed too tired almost to get into her pyjamas. The next morning seemed to arrive very quickly.
“Well, did you enjoy yourself?” Dereck asked as he helped himself to more marmalade at the breakfast table.
“What did you do?”
“We had a coffee at Kentucky’s …”
“Kentucky’s? Wasn’t it crowded?”
“No fun when it’s so full.”
“I enjoyed it, then we ate ice-cream and later we went down to the beach and sang.”
“Hello,” said Lena appearing with Toffy in her arms. “Did you enjoy yourself?”
“Tremendously, thank you.”
“I heard you come in,” Dereck said. “It was well after three.”
“Was it?” Juli said vaguely, refusing to be drawn
Once the chores had been done Juli took the little girls down to the beach and Dereck went to play golf. Lena decided to stay at home as she had got very sunburned the day before. After a while Juli felt an irresistible urge to walk and springing to her feet she cried, “Let’s go and see if those people fishing have caught anything.”
Delighted the children scampered along the beach ahead of her. When they reached the small wooden wharf where several men were fishing they inspected the catch and Marina asked one of the fishermen a number of questions until Juli felt she had asked enough and suggested an ice cream. Full of enthusiasm the children caught Juli’s hands and bounced up and down beside her as they waited for a lull in the traffic before crossing the road. There was a small open air shopping mall a little way to the left where a leafy creeper shaded a couple of little tables and several chairs. Juli deposited the children and told them not to move and to keep her chair free for her. At the entrance of the Ice-Cream parlour she paid for all she planned to buy and then joined the people waiting to be served. All at once she felt a tingling sensation running up and down her spine and all over her scalp, at the same time, she remembered later, the sensation of having been recognized. Turning abruptly she found herself looking straight into Peter Carlie’s eyes.
“Peter!” she whispered, staring at him, dumbfounded. Everything about her receded, fading away, only Peter’s eyes had any reality.
But was she mistaken?
He was wearing a grubby denim overall, he was clean shaven, his hair was very short and almost black. Behind him two Argentine men were talking volubly about Buenos Aires.
“Señorita, which flavours do you desire?”
The attendant’s voice, raised and patient, repeated the question. The young man beside her said in Spanish, “It’s your turn to order.”
Juli gave her head a tiny shake, trying to understand, trying to put order into the tumble of impressions in her mind and to calm the hammering of her heart.
“Two vanillas and one chocolate and strawberry,” she managed to murmur.
“How was that,” asked the attendant, holding out his hand for the ticket she held. She gave it to him and repeated her order. The young man behind her was attended to at that moment by another attendant. Swinging round she said again in English, “I thought you were in Brazil.”
He looked at her broodingly as if making up his mind what to do. “Who are those for?” he asked at last in Spanish as the attendant handed him his order.
“Marina and Tishy,” she nodded towards the girls waiting for her outside. “We must talk,” she said softly. “Listen. We’re at Bus stop 21. Meet me there at eleven tonight.”
He was still looking towards the two little girls as she spoke. He turned and said in Spanish, “I do not understand what you are saying, Señorita. I lament it very much.” With that he turned and left the Ice Cream parlour without a backward glance.
Juli resisted the urge to run after him, to shake him and force him to speak to her in English and to admit his identity. She walked out and sat down in the chair the girls were guarding for her, handing them their ice creams.
“Who was that man you were talking to?” Marina asked.
“Just a workman,” Juli relied absently.
“Will you tell us a story on the way back?”
“If you like.”
The ice creams demolished and the cones munched appreciatively, they returned to the beach and walked back slowly. It was very hot and the air had become still and heavy, with an effort Juli spun a tale out of her imagination. Dolphins, seagulls, storms, islands, lighthouses, sand and thundering waves revolved around two children in a boat … alone … filling Marina and Tishy’s hearts with agitation, thrills, and even a little fear. As they neared the cottage they saw their father’s car parked on the road in front of it. Delighted, they scampered through the dappled shadows to greet him. Juli followed slowly, listening to the sparrows chirping arrogantly and thinking about the young man, asking herself for the hundredth time if she had been mistaken.
Toffy was asleep and Lena, looking rested and cheerful, welcomed her two little daughters warmly. Juli, her mind still completely taken up with her encounter that morning, laid the table and took the children to wash and change. At lunch she sat in silence eating her helping of stew absently and taking no part in the conversation.
“You’re very quiet,” Dereck remarked suddenly. “Are you feeling all right?”
Juli looked at him contemplatively, wondering whether to tell him or not. Finally, unaware of the long pause, she said, “I’m fine.”
Lena looked at her intently and said, “I expect you got a touch of the sun too, I felt this morning I just couldn’t face the beach and you were out for hours. Perhaps you should lie down with the children a while after lunch. One can sometimes have too much of this strong sea air.”
“Late nights more like it,” Dereck grunted.
“Oh Dereck, don’t be so stuffy dear. Remember you’ve got to keep a young outlook for when Marina and Tishy are Juli’s age!”
“God forbid!” Dereck groaned, laughing.
Juli rose and began to collect the plates thinking, “Could I have been mistaken? Is it possible for someone to look so like someone else? To have the same eyes …? But his hair was black … perhaps it was dyed … anyone can dye their hair … but he never answered my questions, he only spoke to me in Spanish as if he didn’t understand a word I said … but he recognized me, that’s why I looked at him. I had that feeling … will he be there tonight? How will I be able to get away without Lena and Dereck knowing?”
“At all events,” Lena said. “Have a little lie down now, Juli. I’m sure you’ll feel much better after that.”
“What would they say if I told them?” Juli wondered , as she looked vaguely at Lena, not noticing her concerned expression but aware that some sort of answer was expected of her.
“Actually I’m fine,” she said. “I’ll wash up now.”
She carried the plates into the kitchen, washed up, mopped the counter and ran a damp floor cloth over the tiles. She wandered back to the living room where Dereck was reading and Lena was lying on the sofa snoozing. Marina and Tishy were on their beds supposedly resting, but she could hear their piping voices. Aware that Dereck was eyeing her overtly and feeling restless and nervous, she went to the bedroom to quieten the children, after which they fell asleep, tired from their long walk that morning.
She sat on her bed and looked at the window. The shutters were partially closed and she was glad to note that it would be quite easy to leave by way of the window because the fly netting opened inwards in order to be able to shut the shutters.
“If he had not recognized me he would have been just one more of the people buying ice creams,” she thought. “I wouldn’t have looked at him. What is he doing in Punta del Este? Does he know that Fernando is here? Will he come to the bus stop?”
And if it had not been him? What if, understanding English, the man decided to come, perhaps accompanied by others, and take her off somewhere in the woods and rape her or drug her and cart her off to Brazil as a white slave destined to work in a brothel, her life wrecked before it had even started. Was she crazy? Should she go and tell Dereck, or perhaps Lena? If Fernando and Dora came, should she tell them? But if it was Peter, and she was convinced it was, he would at once make himself known if he came that evening. At the bus stop she would be quite safe. If the man came then she would take a bus and go into town and find Fernando and Dora and ask them to take her home, or any of the crowd of young people she had met last night, several had cars or motorbikes. Nothing bad would happen. The bus stop was a safe place, there were always people either queuing or nearby. There was no need to tell anyone.
She yawned mightily and lay back on her bed with relief, having come to her decision, and within seconds she was fast asleep.
Fernando and Dora came just after nine. Juli ran out to welcome them
“Won’t your jailers let you out tonight?” Fernando asked.
“No way,” Juli grinned. “You should have seen their faces just now when I came out.”
“Did they say anything?” Dora giggled.
“No, but they will when I go back.”
“Are the children asleep?”
“I took the kids for another long walk this afternoon so they dropped off at once.. Isn’t it hot?”
“We’re in for a huge storm from the looks of it,” Fernando affirmed. “The clouds are piling up in the south. Juli we can’t stay, Dora’s parents have guests and we said we’d help put. When the weather settles come over to the Brava beach, we’ll fetch you.”
“I have to look after …”
“Bring them too.”
“That’s an idea. Great, I’ll ask Lena when she’s in a really good mood.”
“If the weather’s nice we’ll come tomorrow at about ten thirty. We won’t come if it’s cold and cloudy, O.K.?” Fernando said as he started up the engine of the jeep.
“Right. ‘Bye for now.”
They drove off and, as she stood waving, she thought, “I’ll tell them tomorrow about Peter. I’ll bet he doesn’t know that Fernando is here.” Before entering the house Juli placed a plastic chair under her bedroom window to make getting in and out easier.
“Storm’s brewing,” Dereck was saying when she returned to the living room. “The barometer is incredibly low.” He never went away for any length of time without his barometer.
“I think I heard thunder,” Juli said.
“Well a day of rain, or anyway clouds, will come as a respite after this heat,” Lena said fanning herself with a magazine.
After a while Juli rose, bade them goodnight and went to her bedroom. It was ten thirty, half an hour to go. She went to the bathroom and washed her teeth, then she potted the two little girls and tried out her torch for which she had just bought new batteries. It worked beautifully. She flashed it on and off several times before placing it in her bag together with the chocolate she had also bought that afternoon. Bournville’s Fruit and Nut. Marvellous to find her favourite chocolate imported and for sale in all the sweet shops. Argentina made its own chocolate and protected its sale by not permitting importation.
At ten to eleven she opened the fly netting silently and then the shutters and scrambled down onto the waiting chair. Everything was enormously still and dark, not a leaf stirred, not a bird chirped. Only the myriad little night insects sang their lullabies while the fireflies weaved to and fro in the deeper shadows under the trees. She closed the shutters across and ran to the gate leading onto the street, glad she had remembered to buy fresh batteries for her torch.
Her heart beating like a frightened little bird in a cage, she walked down the middle of the unlit road. The stillness gave the impression that all nature was holding its breath. In the distance someone’s T.V spilled its trivial noises into the night. Juli hurried. Would he be there? Had it or had it not been Peter? How long would she wait? And, for the hundredth time … why was he in Uruguay when two months ago he had been doing so well in Brazil?
A flash of lightening and then a rumble of thunder filled the darkness and silence for a moment, making her heart thud. The bus stop was deserted. Anxiously she stood in the strong comforting light of the street lamp watching the cars flashing past. Buses drew up and disgorged passengers or drove past without stopping, but there was no sign of Peter.
Could she have been mistaken? Had it not been Peter after all? A car slowed down and then backed. Juli felt herself grow weak with excitement, until the driver, a middle aged man with lascivious black eyes offered to take her for a ride. Startled, Juli shook her head and stepped away quickly, visions of white slavery and brothels filling her mind. The man remained a few minutes before driving slowly on, waiting perhaps for her to change her mind. She felt suddenly fearful and silly, standing there at eleven twenty for someone who would probably never come. She must have been mistaken. The poor man whom she had taken for Peter must have thought she was mad this morning, babbling away in English to him all the time. What a fool! But … for the umpteenth time she looked at her watch: eleven twenty-five.
“Well I’ll go,” she thought, aware suddenly of the frequency of the flashes of lightening and ever closer claps of thunder. “I look like a prostitute, standing here.”
A great sense of disillusion swept through her as she looked to her left and then to her right along the deserted sidewalk. Nothing. A bus drove up and she waited for it to leave just in case. Several young couples jumped off and sauntered away laughing and chatting. Automatically she glanced to her right and felt herself gripped by such a powerful emotion she had to catch hold of the pole of the bus stop to steady herself, for there, walking quietly along the sidewalk towards her was the young man to whom she had spoken that morning. So she had been right, it had been Peter after all!
Quite suddenly a blinding flash of lightening split the sky, followed immediately by a terrifying crash of thunder. All the street lights went out as the first fierce gusts of wind hurled themselves against the land, striking like a merciless invisible fist