Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000040_00014]Nate and Tony walked into the warehouse just as Caleb pulled the tarp off a stack of boxes that were clear at the back and let out a whoop. “Santiago! Take a look at this!”
Santiago hurried over and whistled. “We got a whole liquor store here. Rum, whiskey, vodka, you name it.” Then his voice grew excited. “I don’t believe it. A whole case of Macallan.”
“What is that?” Caleb asked, pulling down a case of tequila. “Scotch?”
“Not just Scotch,” Santiago replied, taking a bottle out and cradling it. “The best Scotch.”
“Scotch is disgusting,” Tamara said. “But I’m all about vodka and I see a case of Stoli. Get it down for me, Caleb.”
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“There’s mixers too,” Jordynn added. “Cranberry juice, pineapple juice.”
“You know what I’m thinking?” Caleb said. “I’m thinking we get some chairs and go outside and have a little party. I’ve got a Bluetooth speaker and my phone is charged. Who’s in?”
Tamara and Jordynn both brightened at the idea. “I found the most delicious pink bikini this morning,” Tamara said. “And I have some suntan lotion in my bag.”
“A beach party. I like it. Did you see any men’s bathing suits when you were looking through the clothes?” Caleb asked.
“Sure we did,” Tamara said, exchanging a wicked smile with Jordynn. She walked over to an open box, rummaged through it, and held up a speedo bathing suit. “It’s just your size.”
“Wicked, a budgie smuggler,” Caleb said, taking it from her and holding it up. “Is there one for Santiago?”
“In your dreams, limey,” Santiago said.
Caleb lowered the suit and put on a fake, resigned expression. “Santiago. Amigo. I thought we went over this last night. Limeys are what you call the wankers from Britain. I’m an Australian, and therefore an ozzie.”
“I think I’ll go with wanker. It fits you better.” Caleb made a face and the women laughed.
A few minutes later Caleb and Santiago were out on the runway, bathing suits on, music playing. Caleb poured himself some tequila and toasted Santiago. “You know, mate, I’m thinking this isn’t going to be so bad after all,” he said. “What you said earlier made sense. That was probably something political we saw on the telly. Someone’s always having a revolution down here. I mean, one of them showed riot police. Why would you need riot police if everybody was getting sick? It just doesn’t make sense.”
“You don’t have to convince me,” Santiago replied, taking a sip of his Scotch and savoring the taste. “This is always what happens. Some little thing happens and everyone overreacts.”
“Well, I’m not getting worked up over it anymore.” Caleb leaned back in his chair, enjoying the sun on his broad chest. “From here on out it’s just the oddest vacation I’ve ever been on. A good story to share with my mates back home.”
The door opened a few minutes later and the women emerged. Caleb sat up and did a double take when he saw the sling bikini Tamara was wearing that left very little to the imagination. He whistled loudly and Tamara added some extra shimmy to her hips as she walked over to him. “Someone check the map,” Caleb said. “Did we crash land in Africa or heaven?”
Tamara sat on his lap and ran her long nails down the side of his face. “Play your cards right and it could be heaven.”
“Do you like it?” Jordynn asked Santiago as she approached him. She had on a red boy-shorts bikini that sparkled slightly in the light, but his attention had been caught by Tamara. He tore his attention away from her and looked at Jordynn.
Que linda,” he said appreciatively, rising from his chair and taking her hand. “Here, have a seat. I got you a chair.”
“Are you sure you like it? I can find another one.”
“No, no. It’s perfect. Trust me. Here, let me pour you a drink.”
♦          ♦          ♦          ♦
Jenna came out of the warehouse a while later, her rifle slung over her shoulder. Tony and Nate had brought chairs out and were sitting in the shade up against the side of the warehouse. When Jenna saw Caleb and the rest drinking and listening to music her jaw tightened and she strode across the runway toward them.
“I wouldn’t want to be them right now,” Tony said. “She looks like she’s ready to tear some new assholes.”
Jenna hit the button and shut off the speaker.
“Hey,” Tamara cried. “Why’d you do that?”
“What the hell’s the matter with you people?” Jenna demanded. “You’re sitting out here in the open, drinking, blaring music. You women don’t even have your rifles! What are you going to do when those men show up again and start shooting, flash them your boobs?”
When she said that, Tony turned to Nate with a deadpan and said, “I honestly think that would work on me.”
“Are you all mental?” Jenna continued. “Have you forgotten where we are and what’s happening?”
“Relax, Jenna,” Caleb said. “We’re just trying to have a bit of fun.”
“Fun? Really? You think this is a vacation? You could get shot out here.”
“Maha’s up there on watch. If anyone comes, we’ll get inside.”
“Yeah, Maha’s on watch. And what about in a couple of hours when he needs someone to spell him? Are you going to take your turn or will you be too drunk?”
Caleb finished his drink, burped and said, “I might be.” This set off more laughter and Jenna’s face darkened further.
“Fine. Laugh all you want. I hope they show up and shoot all of you. The world needs fewer idiots anyway.” She stormed off while they laughed. Caleb turned the music back on.
Jenna stopped at the door and looked down at Tony and Nate. Tony had a glass of water in his hand and she fixed on it. “Are you getting drunk too? Isn’t anybody taking this seriously?”
“It’s only water.” Tony held the glass up to her but she refused it.
“You should have your rifles with you all the time.”
“Okay. We’ll go get them.”
“How’s Omisha doing?” Nate asked her.
Jenna shook her head. “Still not talking. But I got her to eat something.” She opened the door. “I’m going up on the roof to spell Maha. Can I count on one of you taking your watch in a few hours?” They nodded and she left.
“That woman’s pretty intense,” Tony said. “I think I’m scared of her. Just a little, though.”
“She’s right, though. Those guys could come back at any time. They shouldn’t be sitting out there like that. They’re just asking for trouble.” Tamara and Caleb were dancing, Tamara perilously close to falling out of her bikini. Jordynn was sitting on Santiago’s lap and they were kissing.
“Why are we sitting here watching them?” Tony asked. “Are we pervs?”
Nate got up. “You’re right. I’m going to go check on Omisha.”
“I think I’ll just sit here and watch the show for a while longer. Bring my gun when you come back, will you?”
Nate found Omisha sitting on the couch. There was no one else in the room. He went and sat down beside her, careful not to sit too close. He didn’t say anything. There didn’t seem to be anything he could say.
Suddenly Omisha raised her face. She met his eye for a moment before turning away. She said something, but so low he couldn’t hear her.
“What was that?”
“I should have obeyed my parents. I should have married Deenan.”
“I thought you were going to, after the show is over.”
“No. I only said that for the cameras.” Her long black hair hung down around her face. She looked so small and vulnerable that it made Nate ache inside. “The truth is that I ran away to America to avoid marrying him.”
“That doesn’t sound so bad. If you don’t want to marry someone you shouldn’t have to.”
She met his eye briefly, then looked away again. “You say that because you are not Indian. You do not understand.”
“Help me understand.”
“The match would be very good for both our families. Deenan is a dentist and very successful. He comes from a good family and they were kind enough not to demand too much of a dowry from my parents. My parents worked very hard to arrange this match. I should be grateful to them. They did their duty. I should have done mine.”
Nate’s heart went out to her. Her voice sounded so small, so torn. “Why didn’t you marry him?”
“No. I can’t tell you. You will think I am a very ungrateful, foolish child.”
Unable to help himself, Nate reached out and brushed some of her hair back so he could see her face. She flinched slightly, but did not move away. “I assure you I won’t think that.”
In a small voice she said, “He had bad breath. Very bad. There, now you know and you can hate me.”
“Omisha, I don’t hate you. I think that if you chose not to marry him you must have had good reasons.”
She turned her head to the side and looked into his eyes again. Hers were very soft and dark. “I did not notice his breath while the arrangements were being made. Of course, I only met him a few times and always surrounded by members of both our families. But only two weeks before we were to marry we were allowed to speak alone together, to get to know each other. We had chaperones, of course, but they stayed back to give us a chance to speak privately. He leaned close to tell me something – I can’t remember what it was – and when he spoke he breathed on me. It was truly horrid. He kept talking but I couldn’t seem to hear him. All I could think was that he was a dentist and a dentist should not have a mouth that smells like that.” She brushed a tear from her eye. “You see why I am so angry at myself? How could I throw everything away over such a little thing?”
Nate thought about her words for a minute, then he said, “Are you sure his breath was the only reason? Are you sure there wasn’t something else?”
She gave him a startled look. “What other reason could there be?”
“I don’t know. Only you know that.”
She was silent for a long time. Then, timidly, she said, “Perhaps there is more. I think now that maybe his breath was only an excuse, that I was looking for any excuse I could find.”
“So you were doubting the marriage all along.”
She nodded. “It was the two years I attended the university in California that changed me. If I hadn’t done that, I would have remained obedient and married him anyway. But when I was there I met this boy in one of my classes. We did not date. We never touched. But we spoke often after class and we arranged to take another class together when that one was finished. At the end of the semester my parents called and said they had found me a husband, that I must return home at once. I obeyed, but I could not stop thinking about that boy.” She met Nate’s gaze. “I want to feel that way again. I knew the first time I met Deenan that he would never make me feel that way.” More tears slid down her face. “What have I done?”
Nate took her hand and held it in both of his. “Don’t cry, Omisha. You haven’t done anything wrong.”
She pulled her hand away and wrapped her arms around herself. “You speak like an American. Your people have no sense of the duty that we feel toward our parents and our families. I have shamed my father and mother and now I have lost them forever.” She began crying harder.
Nate wanted desperately to put his arms around her, to comfort her, but he was afraid she would pull away. “I’m sure your parents love you and they will forgive you in time.”
She raised her tear-stained face. “No, they won’t. They can’t. They’re dead, I’m sure of it.”
“What? You can’t know that.”
She gestured toward the TV. “I turned it on and watched the news. They showed pictures from around the world. Some were of Kolkata, where I am from. The dead…they were everywhere.” She shook with her sobs and then Nate did put his arms around her, pulling her in close to him. She resisted at first, then gave in, pressing her face against his chest and giving in to her tears.
While she cried, Nate stroked her hair and tried to hold down the sudden surge of new fears that welled up inside him.
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