The Colombian Sojourn – Chapter 21

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Lake Laguna De Tota and Sagamoso

It was late, about 10:00 when he surfaced from his room. Clarita had been drinking hot, milky coffee and dunking stale bread in it. She looked up and smiled at him.

“Morning, sleepy-head.”

“Twelve hours, for goodness’ sake. Why didn’t you wake me?”

“Because you must have needed it. Do you want some coffee?”

“Yes please.”

“I’ll put a pan on to boil up some milk. The bread’s a bit stale, but you can have it toasted with jelly.”

“Thanks. What’s jelly?”

She showed him the glass jar.

“Oh, you mean jam.”

“What do you want to do today?” she asked as she poured milk in the pan.

“Where’s the nearest town. There are a couple of things I need to get.”

“Sagamoso I guess. What do you need?” she asked, putting the bread under the grill and pouring the warm milk into a mug

Edge took the coffee off her, “Thanks. Well for a starter I need a new strop for my razor, I guess I can get that in a barber’s. Got any sugar?”

She put a box of sugar lumps on the table, “Your teeth I suppose. Well, we could always do with some bread and milk, and whatever you want to eat tonight.”

“I’ll cook the evening meal,” he said.

She looked doubtful.

“Actually, I’m a pretty good cook.”

“Of course, you are. You just had to be, didn’t you?”

Edge looked puzzled, “I don’t follow you.”

Clarita looked at him with her head on one side, “You make everything you do seem so easy.”

“Like nearly killing you in a car? Like getting poisoned? Like getting shot? I have a friend back in the Regiment. Now he really does make everything so easy. He could get a woman to sleep with him just by batting his eyes at her.”

“Do you talk to your friends about when things are bad?” she asked, “You know on the second day we met, you told me about that horrible thing that happened in Bosnia and your lover being murdered? Do you talk to your friends about it?”

Edge looked aghast at her, “Of course not, they would think I’m cracking up.”

“But are you? Why do you tell me? Am I not your friend?”

“Of course, you are, but you’re different?”

“Why? Is it because I’m a woman?”

“It’s not that. It’s because you’re not one of our tight-knit teams where we all depend on one-another. You are a real friend; a true friend and I’ve said that right from when I got to know you. If you were one of the blades, the last thing you’d want to hear is me gibbering on about terrible things that have happened to me. They would say I’m a self-obsessed prick.”

“Just another day in macho city. Bury your feelings. Deny the past. You will succeed up to a point but one day, Edge, those feelings will rear up and bury you.”

Edge looked at her, surprised at her strength of feelings about it, “Why do you care, Clarita?”

She threw up her hands in exasperation, “Because I’m your friend, because I lay on your bed last night and held you until your nightmares stopped. Because… Oh, fuck you Edge!”

Edge looked down, almost guiltily, or was he ashamed?

“I was having a nightmare? What about?”

“About a woman? Somebody called Jozica, lying dead on a road. You were begging someone to move her. I have never known anybody in as much anguish as you were.”

“And you got into bed with me?”

“Yes, to calm you down. You were distraught. You were sobbing in your sleep and it was terrible.”

“Thank you, Clarita. Thank you for caring about me. I had no idea I had nightmares like that and I feel ashamed.”

“There is nothing to feel ashamed about. Has your wife ever mentioned it?”

“No. But I know she hates my job. That’s why I live in the mess at Hereford, to keep my two lives separate. Whatever I do Operationally, she never questions me, which at first, I found rather surprising, but now I know it’s her way of coping as well. My job crossed over once.”

He paused to put some jam on the toast and to taste the milky coffee which was delicious.

“I was on Strip Duty one Christmas, so I couldn’t go home. Moira was really pissed off with me, although I wasn’t due to be on duty, but it happened because of the flu epidemic that swept the country.”

“What is Strip Duty? She asked him, staring intently at his face.

“Part of the Regiment is on permanent call to deal with any terrorist incidents in the UK. This Christmas, it was actually Christmas eve, an airline was hijacked and landed down in Cornwall. We knew there were three hijackers on board and we went down to Cornwall. I was feeling pretty shit, because I had the flu, but we stormed the aircraft. Two of the hijackers were shot and one was killed. Because by then, I was really sick, they dropped me off at my house in Devon.

“My clothes were the black boiler suit and body armour I had on during the storming of the aircraft and they stank of gunfire residue and the pungent smell of the flash bangs. I was feeling so bad I went to bed and the following morning I got up for something to eat. Moira was watching a news report of the hijack and the body of the dead hijacker being unloaded from the aircraft. She looked at me and she had dumped my suit, body armour and boots outside, like she didn’t want them in the house. I’ll never forget that look of horror and contempt because my work life had crossed into my home life.”

“But someone has to do it,” she said sadly.

“But as long as it wasn’t me. She couldn’t pretend anymore.”

Rivera couldn’t help but think that Edge’s wife was a little silly, but she kept the thought to herself, “So what are we doing today, apart from shopping?”

“I need to go for a walk to build my strength back up, read a book and cook a meal, then hunker down by the fire.”

They were ready about an hour before lunch and they headed off towards Sagamoso, Edge driving at a much more sedate pace. He had learned his lessons and the limitations of the Ford GT. The small city was north of the lake and it took around an hour to get there. Edge parked by the cathedral, on a vibrant square surrounded by palm trees. Rivera told him she would meet him back at the car at 14:00 and Edge suspected she was phoning her work to keep on top of things.

He visited the cathedral then went and looked round the shops, finding a book shop where he made a purchase. At a barber he managed to buy an old razor strop, which would be fine once he had oiled it. Back at the car, Edge bought an ice cream and sat on the hood to eat it. At 14:00 he purchased another one and hoped Rivera would pitch up before it melted. At bang on two pm she came back to the car carrying a bag.

“Clothes shopping? He asked and gave her the ice cream.

“Never you mind and thank you for the helado.”

“We’ll need to stop at that supermarket we saw on the way in, for the dinner stuff.”

It was shut for lunch.

“Shut for bloody lunch,” Edge fumed, “It’s a bloody supermarket.”

They went into a bar to wait and Edge had a small beer while she had a coffee. Edge noticed with amusement that the male clientele in the bar approved of her tight t-shirt under her jacket

“Buenas tetas,” one of the men at the bar remarked to his companion in a quiet voice that could be heard at the other end of the bar. Rivera’s mouth was set in a line of annoyance.

“That’s what I’ve had to put up with my whole life. Not that I’m smart. Not that I work hard, just that I have nice tits!”

“I hadn’t really noticed,” Edge said with a smile.

She stared at him and chuckled, “You asshole, Edge.”

The supermarket doors opened and the two of them stood up. The tit man watched her go to walk out, then stop and walk up to him. She opened her jacket and looked down.

“Son bastante agradables y son míos.”

“You’re very naughty,” Edge told her as he picked up a basket at the door of the supermarket, “He was paying you a clumsy compliment.”

“My breasts are not for general discussion,” she said rather huffily.

She squeezed his arse at the butchery counter. He purchased two pieces of veal, thick bacon, then lemons, dried mushrooms, large onions, eggs and capers.

“Do we have any light olive oil?”

“No.” she told him, so he bought a bottle and some rice and a packet of chicken stock cubes. He picked up two bottles of wine, red and white and they went to the checkout.

“Can you really cook this, Edge?”

He looked at her in a pitying way, “Of course not. While you were shopping, I got on the blower to Raymond Blanc. He’s flying in tonight to rustle us up something.”

They drove back to the lodge on the lake and took the provisions out of the car. After he had put the food away and the meat in the fridge, they had a cup of coffee. Edge gave her the book he had bought in Sagamoso.

“La Vida de Pi. The life of Pi?”

“Yes. Read it and you can’t fail to be moved.”

The cover of the book showed a small lifeboat with a child on board, a dark blue segment of sea with fish and other creatures, dominated by the head of a huge tiger. She read the blurb on the back cover, translating the Spanish.

“After the tragic sinking of a cargo ship, one solitary lifeboat remains bobbing on the wild, blue Pacific. The only survivors from the wreck are a sixteen-year-old boy named Pi, a hyena, a zebra (with a broken leg), a female orang-utan and a 204-kilogram Royal Bengal tiger.”

She looked quizzically at Edge.

“They are metaphors,” he told her, “Open your mind and heart. If you don’t cry at least once, you’re an android.”

“Thank you, Mark. This is for you,” she said, giving him the package, she had bought in the city.

“Oooh, just what I need. A new dress.”

He looked inside the bag. Inside there was a medium sized Winsor &Newton, 300 gramme watercolour pad, a Winsor &Newton 24 pan set of water colour paints, a selection of pencils of different hardness and a pouch of Rowney, sable hair paintbrushes. Edge looked at her, not knowing what to say.

“You said you did watercolour painting, but you had left your stuff back in the UK. So, there you are.”

Edge stood up, walked up to her and hugged her tightly to him. He nuzzled her hair with his head.

“That is a lovely gift. Thank you, Clarita, you are so very kind.”

She turned to face him and caressed his cheek. His cold, grey eyes were soft, gentle and thoughtful. When he looked at her like that, it was like he was looking into her soul.

“Paint something this afternoon.”

“Jack, I want you to draw me like one of your French girls,” he said with a mischievous laugh.

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“The film Titanic, Kate, (all of a sudden my clothes fell off) Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio?”

“Nope. Never seen it.”

“Pity.  It’s crap.”

Edge took his new toys outside and onto the veranda and came back in for a large glass of water and a beer. She watched him through her bedroom window, facing the lake and sketching it, a cigarette jammed in his mouth. She decided to cut him some slack, he was relaxing and that is precisely what the Doc wanted him to do.

But he better not try and kiss me, smelling like an ashtray.

Do you think he would?

You never know, but she knew that he wouldn’t.

Your wife must be one hell of a fuck. Edge.

She picked up the book, settled with her feet up on the sofa and started to read.

My suffering left me sad and gloomy…

Edge was completely immersed in his painting of the mountains, lake and forest. He didn’t have a drawing board, so he transferred the drawing straight onto the pad, then wet the paper for the wash of the sky. It was deep blue at high altitude, lightening to a gentle greenish blue above the lake. The sky was cloudless so he started the wash with ultramarine, mixing the lightening paint with cerulean blue and hookers green.

All thoughts of a walk were gone, just Edge and the overwhelming outdoors and transposing those colours etched into his memory onto paper. Rivera was transported to the different world, made up of words to vividly describe a French colony in India and a boy who was named after a swimming pool. She opened the bottle of white wine he had put to chill in the fridge, thought of offering him a glass, but he had beer. They were two miniscule specs of life, living another reality through the media of words and paint.

It was nearly seven pm when Edge was putting the finishing touches to the trees in the foreground and Pi, his family and the zoo animals were on the Tsimtsum heading for a new life in Canada. Edge finished his second cigarette slowly and waited for the thick paper sheet to dry. It had buckled, as he expected, but he was pleased with the final result. He cleaned the brushes in the now murky water, packed them and the paintbox up, threw away the cigarette and took them inside. It was getting cold out on the veranda and inside she had lit the fire. He placed them down and went to wash his hands and clean his teeth.

When he came back out, he started to prepare the veal while onions sweated in a casserole dish. He added the meat, lemons, capers and dry mushrooms in the dish. The dish was topped up with chicken stock and the rice put on to soak. She watched him, a true renaissance man, and felt happy, contented and safe. To her, this is what being married must feel like, apart from missing the obvious component she craved so much.

Edge carefully removed the painting and showed her.

“That is absolutely beautiful. When you said you could paint, I had no idea.”

“You take it. It’s to say thank you. You see how the paper has buckled? It’s called cockling. To flatten it out, just turn it painting side down on some hardboard, wet it with a sponge and hold it in place with brown, gummed paper. When it’s dry it will be flat.”

“I’ll do that and frame it. Would you like a glass of wine?”

“While the veal cooks, yes please.”

It was dark by the time the meal was ready. She stuck to the white wine, he opened the red, which he jokingly described as light of character, skittish and a trifle impertinent. Afterwards when they lounged on the sofa, Clarita marvelled at the difference of this Edge, compared with the Edge who had walked out of the jungle. It was only when he leaned against her and she felt the pistol in the small of his back, that she had to confront who they really were and why they were there.

After dinner, Edge started to read the Great Gatsby, while she read about the typhoon and the boy, assorted animals and Richard Parker in the lifeboat. Edge started to yawn around nine-fifty pm, apologised and made for his bed. She stayed up a little longer, reading about the death of the zebra. For some reason this profoundly affected her and she went to bed, a mix of emotions. She lay in the bed, staring up at the darkness and her stomach cramped slightly.

She thought about Edge. He was not in any sense of the imagination a handsome man, but that battered face could conjure every emotion in her, fear, love, happiness, laughter and sadness. She turned over to sleep.

It’s a good job I’m not in the middle of my cycle, Edge, because I otherwise would fuck your brains out.

© Blown Periphery 2022