Safe with Me

Fiction

Story by Lee Su Min

Chapter 1

The train glided through the surface of the railways without any signs of wear and tear. The momentum of the ride put me to sleep intermittently.

I moved a little, so that Sally could rest her little head on my shoulder to sleep. Sally falls asleep whenever I was on the train with her. Whenever she was asleep, I would take out my reading material and gobble up the news and plan for what to do tomorrow.

We have been on the run for the past twelve hours, and so far, we have been successful. I knew that if I did not contact him again, he would never be able to find me. Michael would take Sally away from me again if he saw her.

Chapter 2

Sally was my only daughter and she was only three. Her face was that of mine, but the rest of her features resembled that of her father. I knew straight away why he wanted her, the moment she was born.

On the day at the hospital, Michael invited his family, consisting of his father and two brothers to visit me, ostensibly to congratulate us but, his purpose was to take a picture of them with Sally alone without me. He said that he wanted to show them his pride. But he also took some pictures of his family with her at the cot, which was totally unnecessary. Why couldn’t he have waited?

I mean, the child was barely a day’s old.

I had not objected. I couldn’t have. I had no power to do so. I was weak and limp, lying on the hospital bed, having exhausted all of my brutal force and living energy into pushing Sally out of my womb. They said that I was using my neck to push, not my hip. But in the end, I got her out.

It took me altogether eighteen hours, what seemed to be a lifetime. After the entire exercise, I had forgotten how I became pregnant, and how I came to the hospital. The hospital bed where I was lying seemed to be my home, and the surrounding tubes and scenery seemed to be so much a part of my existence. The nurses who came by to attend to me were my family now and the only people I knew. Of course, Dr Jack Stevens as well.

Before I gave birth, Dr Jack told me that I was mildly anemic, and prone to giddy spells if I were not careful. I must avoid yin foods at all costs. At the time, I merely nodded in agreement. I couldn’t have said anything to the contrary. He was the one with the medical degree, of course anything he said must be correct. Then he prescribed me with some iron liquid called “Floradix”. I drank it faithfully every morning with my breakfast with the cup of coffee which I needed so much to kick start the day. In fact, I needed another two cups of the beverage to restart the rest of the day at a four-hour interval. No harm done. I was told by the coffee manufacturers.

Before I could finish my reading material, Sally woke up and she looked at me. I knew it was time I ordered some food for the both of us. From now, I was not alone, my timetable would have to revolve around Sally. I would do whenever I was prompted. But most of the time my mind was occupied on how to run away from Michael, or rather how to stop thinking of him.

To run away from someone, first of all you must stop thinking of him.

Chapter 3

Lunch consisted of a piece of fish fillet, and a bowl of creamy mushroom soup, on top of a bread bun. I relished at the pure creamy butter and I ate up the entire fish. You couldn’t say that I was not a greedy person. It was greed that made me marry Michael. Michael was a rich publisher. He owned seventy-six percent of the Real Gossip Times. I saw his financial portfolio before I decided to pursue him. That was despite the gossip in his own newspaper publication that he was suing his ex-partner for a libel. I made myself known as a good accountant to help him balance his financial sheets, as I marketed myself up as a candidate for matrimony. Michael did not take long to pick up the cue. We hit on like a house on fire. News of our marriage was splashed on his own media which made it altogether unnecessary for us to announce it on the Instagram.

Yes, many people recognized me since then. I needed only to walk into a café before a waiter would come up to greet me as “Mrs. Leong”. In the beginning I liked that, but not when after Michael hit me that night.

I could not say with any amount of certainty who precipitated the fight. It could have been either one of us. But fact was that Michael used violence on me. Nobody had hit me in my entire life. Not even when I had thrown Benny my brother’s favourite toy onto the floor. Our father died when he was seven years old. But that was not the main purpose of my talking to you now. I wanted to talk about Michael. I wanted you to help me run away from Michael now. I didn’t ever want to have anything to do with Michael. I wanted him to cease to exist.

No use talking about it without any firm actions. I picked up the lunch tray and called for the train service. The waitress came and looked puzzled as to why I was so impatient. There was still two pieces of prawns left on the plate. She looked at me, and before she realized that there was anything amiss, I quickly picked up the cup of coffee and said, “Sorry I still want the coffee,” and then I allowed her to decide if she wanted to remove the tray.

Chapter 4

Three more stops, and then we would reach Blue Lake. The Lake District has a quaint hotel for long-term stay, I read it in the newspapers. They were all standard size suites one room with a kitchenette and a bathroom and a living room with internet supply. I needed the internet all the time. I needed to know if Michael knew of my whereabouts, so that I could decide if I should stay on at any location.

The most difficult part of this exercise is not to allow Michael to read my mind. We have been married for three years now and shared a child together. It was hard not to allow him to read me. Of course, I have changed my mobile number.

I have changed my mobile twice. And now, I couldn’t even recall my current number. Sally was still too young to own one. In the first place, she won’t know how to use it either. That made everything the more difficult. I could never allow Sally out of my sight.

Sally celebrated her third birthday with me alone this year. I picked her up from the preschool and we went straight to board the train, carrying with us a suitcase that contained two sets of clothes each and our daily necessities. I had also packed some pain killers in case I got those unbearable headaches again.

Luckily the train master waited for me even though I was late. A little surprised, but I thought nothing of it. I had paid for a first-class ticket for an adult and a child, and they were not inexpensive. That must have been part of the service of a first-class ticket.

And then I also got the car attendant to help me with putting up my luggage on the overhead compartment. My luggage was the type with casters, and you could use one hand to push it around. I had trouble hiding it from Michael as his suspicion would be aroused if he saw me with a new luggage. I didn’t want to use an old one as they were all stacked in his study, and if I started packing, I would have to go into his study. Michael spent most of his time in his study. I was often called into his study to give him his meals. He ate at irregular hours and we didn’t eat together at the dining table like most families did. And after Sally arrived, we stopped sitting at the dining table altogether.

No, our relationship was not estranged. It was just that we both wanted Sally and Michael started to become possessive over her. I had to take Sally away from him before it got worse.

Chapter 5

After some coffee I felt much better. Rejuvenated, I got up and took Sally a walk down the aisle, and finally ended up at the lavatory. It was locked, so we had to return to our seats. The train came to a halt suddenly, and after all the lights in the cabin had been turned on, only then did I realize that it was approaching nightfall. The weather was cold, and Sally snuggled up my chest under my coat to get some warmth.

I asked for some warm milk, which was a little unusual. But nonetheless the car attendant complied. Customer service was still the call of the day. She came back within five minutes, and I scooped away all the froth on the top of the glass before I gave it to Sally. Sally could only finish half, so that I drank the other half. Returning the glass without emptying it would be rude since I specifically asked for it, a dish not on the menu.

“Could you let me know when the lavatory is empty again?” I asked the car attendant politely. She smiled and gave a loud yes, clearly it was part of her duty to do so. And so, I became bored again. I knew that there was nothing productive to do at the moment, until we reach Blue Lake.

Unless Michael was on the train with us.

Chapter 6

The train started to move again. I liked it whenever the train moved from a standstill to a higher speed. The gradual acceleration made me feel that I was going ahead, moving onto something greater, although I had no idea what my higher calling would be. I always felt that I was too good for Michael. Michael was only rich, but he has many character flaws that made him a trash.

No, I wasn’t more educated, nor that I was better looking. It was just that after meeting Dr Jack, I became discontent. Dr Jack Stevens was a married man, so that the prospect of changing partners would be too troublesome and inconvenient – imagine having to file for two sets of divorce papers. In any case, Dr Jack never paid enough attention to me to warrant a serious consideration.

But that I have out-grown Michael. Especially since after Sally was born. You could say that the purpose was achieved. The idea of matrimony was to produce an offspring. Once a child is born, we would have fulfilled our duty to our parents. We came into this world to procreate. We lived our lives as happily as we could and should by all means be happy unless prevented from doing so.

But that Sally’s appearance had caused me to reconsider Michael. For the first time I saw him as an outsider, an alien. Now Sally was part of me, Michael was only there to help me make Sally. He was no longer important now. I told myself I wanted Sally only and Michael’s presence only intruded into the space so sacredly shared by me with my child. And of course, Dr Jack was part of this new world since he helped me in the whole process of delivering Sally.

No, Dr Jack was not an issue. He was not part of the equation. There was no change of heart, I did not fall in love with Dr Jack. No external factors had come in. It was just Michael, Sally and me. You could say that between Michael and Sally, I had chosen Sally.

Yes, I had forgotten to ask Sally if she wanted her father. It was careless of me not to check first before I brought her out of the house with the suitcase last night.

The train was still moving at a steady momentum.

I couldn’t help thinking of the past ….

Chapter 7

It was not until I reached Blue Lake that I realised that I had started thinking of Michael again. Over the night, I had systematically erased all conversations with him, and I had started talking to the receptionist at the hotel. I made a switch and started talking to Daisy, the girl who helped me book the room at the hotel. She said that I could check in early as the guests for the room I had reserved was vacated early in the morning and if I was there after 10:00 a.m. the chambermaids would have cleaned up the room already.

Finally, I saw the Garden Bells Lodge in front of me. It was somewhat milky. Yes, milky, that was the way I would describe it. The building was neither white nor grey. If you said that it was white, it was coated with stains that made it looked greyish. But that you couldn’t call it grey either. I decided that it was not necessary to determine the colour of the wall before I checked in.

“Hello, are you Daisy?” I asked.

“No. And may I know if you are booked for a room?” the girl at the counter was not rude, but rather detached.

I decided not to take issue with her.

“I was told that I could check in early,” I said.

“What room number did she give you?” the girl asked. By now I could see that she had blue fingernails.

“No, she didn’t give me any room number,” I replied obediently.

“Then I am afraid you have to wait,” she said, showing her blue fingernails once more.

“How long would that be?” I became worried. Sally had to have a place to rest.

“Maybe, one, two hours,” she was most unconcerned.

“Oh, I will wait.” I dare not quarrel with her. I had come this far, and I didn’t have another place to go to.

“Alright then, put your name here, be careful of the ink, it smudges,” she handed me a pen reluctantly.

It looked like I was unwelcomed. Maybe she had too many guests. Was this a holiday season? I had almost forgotten that today was the twenty-second of December, nearing Christmas. There weren’t any Christmas carols in the background to remind me either.

I deliberately omitted to write Leong in Sally’s surname column and checked her in as the “accompanying child under twelve”. Then I handed the girl back my form after filling out the rest of the details. I waited for her response gingerly.

She nodded her head but did not say a word.

I didn’t know what that meant so I went away to sit at one of the lounge chairs, bringing Sally and the suitcase with me. I was getting very tired after the long journey.

Half an hour later, another girl came to us and handed me a large key engraved with the number 507.

“Is it on the fifth floor?” I asked.

“You’ll see,” this other girl was equally unresponsive.

I knew that I was in an uncharted territory so that I refrained from any form of compliant. Hugging Sally and lugging my suitcase, I took the lift up with this girl. But I couldn’t help asking,

“Are you Daisy?”

“No,” came the reply. Not a word was said about Daisy.

She could have told me where Daisy was!

I needed to talk to Daisy! I had been speaking with Daisy all this while!

After several steps, we reached the corridor. We walked past several doors and we found ourselves right in front of room 507.

This girl promptly handed me the key and started to walk away without another word. I became quite frustrated with her service but nonetheless I opened the door myself and proceeded to walk in.

The first thing I did was to see if anyone else was inside.

And then quickly I locked the door and drew the curtains apart to let the natural light shine in.

Sally was already very tired.

“Mummy, can I sleep now?”

“Of course, you can.” I went to the bed and pulled down the bed cover.

And then I saw a note.

Chapter 8

Welcome to the Garden Bells Lodge” it read.

My mood with the poor service attitude was uplifted immediately. And I quickly started to unpack, when actually I had carried with me very little belongings.

After the excitement of running away had worn off, I became deflated, and I wanted to be alone to plan my next move. Luckily Sally climbed into the sheets quickly and left me alone.

Sally was not a difficult child. I was the one who was difficult when I was a little girl – my mother had told me that.

No, I did not tell Sally that I had left her father. No one knew.

I took out my laptop, the only useful possession that I have, and I tried to log into the job search market. I was told that I could find a job easily from the internet. Instead I was redirected to a page that sold pre-loved items and contained luxurious holiday packages. I was a stupid woman that became a stupid wife. They said that stupidity has no cure. Whatever made me believe that my marriage with Michael Leong will last forever?

I tried to send one more message and when it wasn't delivered I checked the name of the sender again and was sure that it was correct. I remembered that I had booked a room with internet service. Why was it not working now? Someone must have been at the backend intercepting all my outgoing messages. But who could it be? Who would want to do a wicked thing like that?

Frustrated, I left my laptop alone for a while and then I went to the bathroom to wash my hands again. Although I had not been out of the room since I last washed my hands, I washed my hands whenever I was agitated. I watched the smooth running of the tap water as I placed my clean hands under it. The water was cold and it woke me up. At home the water was always lukewarm. And then I realised that the hotel had not provided me with handwash gel. Reluctantly I removed the wrapping paper for the bar of soap and I told myself not to be a nuisance to the hotel concierge, so that I refrained from calling for a bottle of the soap gel.

Satisfied with my level of hygiene I went back to the bedroom. I watched the television for a while then I got really bored. Because I didn't want to wake up Sally I muted the volume. Images without sound was most unconvincing. I went back to my laptop again.

I couldn't help thinking of Michael. What would he do when he found out that we were gone? We had left the house for more than nineteen hours by now. We boarded the train from Northland at 6:25 p.m. and we arrived here at Blue Lake to check in. Now it was almost 1:00 p.m.

Oh yes, it was time for dinner. Sally would wake up very soon and she would want to eat. I have not prepared anything for her. She usually ate spaghetti and minced meat. I picked up the room menu and tried to see if they offered it. The menu was hastily prepared to encourage guests to eat at the restaurants. Disappointed, I went in to the toilet to wash my hands again.

For the first time I looked at Sally carefully, as though I was an outsider. She has thin lips, a feature that her father has. And her face is sharp, whereas my face was square. It was good that she looked like her father, for this refuted any notion that Sally was not Michael's child, and that I was a faithful wife. What really mattered was that I was a good mother. Perhaps I should tell you now, before I forgot what it was that decisively made me walk out on Michael. Yes you were right. I saw a woman’s photograph in his wallet. At the time I was unsure if it were left there carelessly with disregard to my discovery, or was it done to show me. I did not confront Michael about this.

Chapter 9

People did things because it was good for them, out of sheer compulsion, not because they wanted to harm you. I told myself and decided that no one was intercepting my emails and that there was a strong possibility that the hotel was experiencing a down time. I should just ignore it and watch some television.

But then I heard Michael talking to me:

You should take a rest and let someone else look after Sally,” Michael said.

And I replied:

No one can look after her as well as me,”

And then Michael again: “Look! No one wants to deprive you of Sally!

And I replied:

I don’t want anyone to go near Sally,

Michael said: “You are too exhausted, you haven’t slept in three days,”

No, I can’t sleep when Sally is awake,” I answered.

The conversation went on. I tried to stop it by going into the toilet to powder my face. I managed to find my makeup pouch without too much trouble, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that I had packed two colours of the lipstick.

Sally was awake, staring at me from the bed in a sitting position. I gave her a wry smile, and I plucked up the courage to tell her that Mummy would be looking after her from now on without Daddy.

If Sally was too young to understand what that meant, she was not too young to comprehend that I had taken her away from her usual familiar surroundings. She looked at me, and she blinked a few times and moved her lips.

I knew that she was unhappy.

Chapter 10 

This morning before I went down, I put on two necklaces – one for protection and the other for blessings. The one for protection I wore it behind my back, in case someone attacked me from behind. And the one for blessings I put it right in front for those who wished me well. I had predicted that I might get into trouble with the hotel today. They were still reluctant to reveal where Daisy was.

Chapter 11

I was used to coming out from the shower in my under garments. My new set of clothes I usually left it on the bed in the bedroom. Sally was too young to know that I was not fully clothed. In any case, it was between mother and daughter, so it was alright.

During my shower I thought I heard some noises. Sally was asleep when I went into the shower, and the television was off. When I came out, I heard a knock on the door. I ignored it again, this time thinking that it was some noises from the corridor or the sound of the neighbour having a loud conversation. I certainly didn’t invite anybody in, neither did I order room service, so, the visitor couldn’t have been looking for me. But the noise persisted, it became distinct and more urgent. I realized by now that I had to attend to it. I put on my bathrobe and went to the door as for all you know it could have been the elusive Daisy.

It was the greatest mistake of my life. For when I opened the door, I saw a man, dressed in a full suit, with a tie to compliment the seriousness of his mission.

“You are Sally’s mother?” he asked.

I could not deny it. Sally was my daughter, my only child. My existence would have been meaningless if I did not give birth to Sally.

“May I know what you want?” I asked, before I volunteered any information.

“I come from Kramer and Walker the solicitors’ office acting for Michael Leong your husband. I was told that his little girl by the name of Sally Leong is in your care now. May I come in and take a look?”

Before I could deny entry, he stormed in, pushing me aside. Behind him was a woman also in her early thirties. She looked just as smart as he was.

Wait! Do you have any documentation to prove that you come from Michael Leong?” I asked.

The man was ready. He handed me a letter with a signature on it. It was Michael’s signature.

But I couldn't hand over Sally, not when I have come so far, not when I could not be sure that this wasn't just a hoax. In any case, even if he came from Michael, I would not let get go of Sally.

He went straight to the bed, where Sally was lying. Sally was awake. she had no idea what was going on. And if she had not acquired the skill to recognise faces by now, she certainly knew that this was a stranger.

“Wooooo …. ” Sally started crying. I rushed to the bed where the man was standing. He was quicker than I. He picked up Sally, and by this time his accomplice was also inside the room. She blocked me from going nearer.

Wait! You can't just take my daughter!!! I shouted.

My protest was completely ignored.

Help! I wanted to call housekeeper. They have been serving me they would know how to help me. Between the two of them they got Sally in his arms and they headed for the door. Help! Help!

I shouted but no one heard me. And I doubted if anyone wanted to intervene. This was a quiet hotel on the south in a remote part of the country. I was driven to calling for divine intervention now. But Jesus was too far away, I had to go into serious prayer before I could summon the angels to drop by. I shouted again,

“HELP!” “HELP!” “HELP!”

It was as though even the hotel had planned it. The two of them walked swiftly along the corridor and went straight into the lift. The lift was waiting for them with the door wide open. I tried to get into the lift with them, but the man pushed me out, Sally was crying, no one was at the lift lobby to witness this abduction. I tried to jar the lift door open, but the man pushed me away. And then the lift door closed in on me. I was outside, and Sally was inside.

I looked at the lift panel, the number descending slowly to number 1.

Chapter 12

They had left. The two kidnappers had left with my daughter. I sat on the floor, my body in a kneeling position, with only my bathrobe covering my body, shaking with the chilled air from the airconditioning. Under the dim corridor lights I had only my shadow by my side. And even then, it was too faint to make a clear silhouette. For the first time, I wished that Michael was around. He would know what to do under such a situation. He won’t let Sally disappear and in the first place, wasn’t he actually the one who asked these two guys to kidnap Sally?!

They were from Michael’s side. So that if I wanted Sally back, I could look for Michael. Not all is lost.

There were too many questions lodging in my head now. My life had been turned upside down. I was no longer myself, I needed Sally in order to call myself a mother. I needed Sally to put a schedule to my activities. Sally would let me know when I should eat, when I should sleep, and when I should have the television on or not. Sally would …. Oh my God! SALLY! WHERE ARE YOU???

Chapter 13

It took me quite a while to realise that I must get hold of my handphone now. I have to call Michael! I have to inform him of this disaster! Never mind who sent these two guys here. Fact was that they took Sally. They should rightfully be called kidnappers!

Yes, my daughter was kidnapped!

Under ordinary circumstances I must call the police. But I was on the run, I was a fugitive, I was running away from the watchful eye of my husband. It didn’t make sense for me to contact him now. My phone call to him now would be exactly what he was waiting for. I could imagine him sitting by the desk on his lounge chair picking up the phone and saying,

“Hello, dear Charlotte, how can I help you?”

But that was not what he said. Instead, when I rang Michael, the first thing he said was,

“Tell me where you are, I can pick you up,”

I hesitated to give him the answer.

And then I hung up the phone on him. I was too distressed and too confused to say anything now. All I wanted was to cry. Why did I ever open the door? Didn’t they teach you in school that you should never open the door to strangers?

I sat by the edge of the bed, and I slowly began to take off the bathrobe to change into my clothes, the set that I lay out on the bed earlier on. And then I went back into the bathroom to look at myself in the mirror. I had no makeup on. After the shock I looked horrid. But I no longer had the inclination to apply any makeup on my face to spruce myself up. What was there to do? Who was I trying to impress?

Oh yes, I needed to see the hotel concierge. To ask them who came up to my room just now. I did not remember telling anyone that I came here. So, who let out the secret? Why wasn’t I informed before they came up?

I went out of my room, down the corridor where my child was forcibly taken away from me, and I managed to step into the lift this time. No one else was inside. I saw the numbers descending from five to four, then it stopped at three.

The door opened and a man in a blue striped shirt walked in. He looked at me, and then he gave me a queer look. I had nothing to say to him. And then he said, almost reluctantly,

“Is this intentional?”

“Intentional what?” I asked.

“Your blouse is completely unbuttoned, is this some kind of a new fashion?”

Quickly I put my hands on my chest, and then I tried to laugh it off,

“Sorry, sir, I ….. I ….” and then I broke down.

The man was startled, he tried to calm me down by saying,

“Madam, I am indeed very sorry. I don’t mean to insult you, I was just curious, if you don’t mind, we could go somewhere for a coffee.”

This was not on the agenda, but that since the offer came, and as I had no one else to turn to, I had better take it up. I need someone to talk to. I need someone to tell me what to do.

Chapter 14

In life you might knew who your friends were, but you never knew who your enemies were. They were always lurking in the corner, wondering when they could attack you. I was almost certain that this man in the lift was here to harass me. Nonetheless I followed him out of the lift and into the lounge lobby and walked towards the coffee house.

I waited for the man to begin.

“Let me introduce myself. I am a lawyer and I have a practice at Pleasant Valley Street. Over the years I have come to a certain lifestyle that I come to enjoy. And if you would allow me, I could make you a part of this comfortable existence.”

My mind was blank. I merely encountered him at the lift, he had no business to demand my time and attention talking rubbish. What has his lifestyle got to do with me?

In the first place, wasn’t I planning on going to the concierge? Immediately I stood up to walk away. He grabbed hold of me, his grip strong and powerful.

I melted back into the chair again.

“What do you want from me?” I had no idea what he was getting at.

“I am telling you that I can help you,” this man said.

“And let me reintroduce myself, my name is James, and I am a solicitor,”

“James as in James Bond? So, you are a spy,” I tried to make fun of him.

But he was not offended.

“I heard what happened earlier on in the evening at the corridor,” James revealed.

“Then why didn’t you help me???” I became angry.

“I had a guest in my room at the time, and I was discussing something very important,” James explained.

“More urgent that intervening to help a woman in need? My child was being kidnapped!” I began to confront James.

“Solicitors are not in the habit of doing heroism, imagine what would have happened if I stood in the way …. I would end up with a bruise leg and a broken arm,”

“I have to go,” I had no patience for this man. I was not about to engage a solicitor. What I really needed was the police, although I have not yet established that it was Michael that authorised the kidnapping. And if it were Michael, then it couldn’t even have been kidnapping since he was the father.

“What do you want from me?” I asked him a second time.

I summoned up the courage to walk away at this time, I was going to the concierge, I needed to identify the two kidnappers. The hotel must have a CCTV recording of what happens in their premises.

When I arrived at the front desk, before I could explain my purpose, the girl asked me,

“Who are you going to vote for?”

The sentence triggered a raw nerve in me.

I replied, “Definitely not Michael. Period.”

“Huh? You mean there is another candidate?” “I thought it was just Biden and Trump?!” The girl looked appalled she was the one with the blue fingernails who checked me in.

I was in no mood to enter into any conversation on politics, so I merely gave her the bottom line by saying,

“Listen, I came here to ask you if you have any footage of the corridor outside my room number 507, two persons came into my room and kidnapped my daughter earlier on in the evening,”

“Kidnapped?!!!” the girl opened her mouth wide.

“Yes, I need an image of the kidnappers in order to show it to the police,”

“Would you like me to call the police for you now?” at once the girl asked.

“No, I don’t think that helps,” I still remembered that I was on the run.

“Then let me try and find the evidence for you, if indeed we do have the CCTV recording,”

I thanked the girl profusely before turning away.

James was still patiently waiting for me at the coffee house. For when I went back there again later actually to have coffee, he was still sitting at the same table. He stood up the minute I walked in to attract my attention.

I didn’t want to offend him again, so I joined him, this time on purpose.

“Glad to have you back again,” the man was elated.

I knew that he needed to conclude his speech, probably rehearsed several times whilst I was away.

“You have no idea how much work is involved in an abduction, …. ”

James went on and on, until his handphone started ringing.

I had no idea who was on the other side of the line.

Chapter 15

Whereas the image I had of Daisy was bright and chirpy the real Daisy was not what I expected her to be. Her face was gaunt, with sunken eyes, she stared at me without as much as a blink. The best way that I could describe her was that she was another version of Mrs Danvers in the classic novel “Rebecca”.

“I understand that you were looking for me,” she began.

“Yes, that was yesterday. But today things have changed somewhat, I need your help in another matter now, no, two matters,” I wasted no time in making my requests.

“Certainly, madam,” although she was somewhat unfriendly Daisy was solicitous. That was to be expected of a hotel standard.

“My daughter was kidnapped earlier on this evening, at about 7 to 7:30 p.m.” by now I could pinpoint the time.

“I assume you want me to make a report for you, this is part of our hotel service. We can also engage a bodyguard for you in case you are worried about your own safety as well,” she volunteered.

“No, I can assure you that it’s not me they want,” I said.

“Then the other matter?” Daisy was efficient.

“I met a man who claimed that he was a solicitor,” I saw that James was not anywhere around before I mentioned this, “and I would like you to verify for me if this was indeed true,” I continued.

“That is simple, we have all our guest declare their profession before they checked in, but however madam, I am not here at liberty to disclose their information, due to confidentiality,” Daisy lowered her voice.

But I added, in order to convince her,

“He wanted me to engage him, so I need to be sure that he is what he claimed to be,”

“Doesn’t he have a name card or something of the kind?” the woman was smart.

At this time, I knew that I had to look for James again. And this time I might have to knock on every single room on the third floor before I could locate him.

Chapter 16

Like a phantom in the opera, James appeared at the lift lobby just as I was about to go down to the coffee house for breakfast.

The usual table, the usual man, James.

“Slept well last night?” he began.

“I want your name card,” the first things I said. I remembered Daisy’s advice.

“There you go,” James handed me a card. It read:

James Baker, Barrister and/or Solicitor, Baker and Associates, 70 Pleasant Valley Street, Brisbane Qld 4512, Australia.

I took a few minutes before I could compose myself. This was one big step forward, engaging a solicitor. I knew that I had come this far and there was no way in which I could turn back now. For now, James was the only available friendly soul in the vicinity. Of course, I still had Daisy, whom I was connected to since I left Northland.

“I can’t afford to pay you,” I said. Money was always the uppermost concern.

“You can pay me after you have gotten the maintenance, monies which I would fight for you. I know that your husband is a rich man.” James did not mince his words.

The waitress who had been standing by waiting to pour me the coffee came up,

“Want some sugar and milk Madam?” holding a jug she offered.

“Er, no, yes, no, ok ….,”, I allowed her to pour some milk into the brown liquid.

“Fine. The affidavit will be ready for you to sign by tomorrow morning. I will see you here as usual,” James picked up the bill and said, “Let me.”

And then swiftly he got out of the chair and before I could see which direction he was heading, he disappeared out of my sight.

Chapter 17

I was almost hundred percent sure that Michael was the one who authorised the abduction of Sally. His signature on the paper was clear evidence of it. No one could have forged his cursive hand. I told myself that I should ring Michael himself to confirm that Sally was indeed with him. But that I was prevented from doing so by my own fear. Fear that if I should call him, he would find out my whereabouts. I was not used to lying, least of all to Michael. Several times I wanted to pick up the phone, and several times I put it down again instead of dialling the number. I know that my utmost priority now would be to file for custody.

But I am filing for custody based on the assumption that care and control lay with the father. Could it have been possible that Sally was being held up by the kidnappers?

Chapter 18

I walked up to the woman who had a hair clip in the shape of a fish pinned on her hair. You could see the bones of the fish in ivory white if you stared closer.

“Good morning, have you found the CCTV?” I demanded.

Daisy was concerned. She quickly logged off from her computer, squibbed something, and walked out from behind the front desk to come closer to talk to me. Surprised, I backed off a little.

“Listen, I have someone who could help you in your predicament,” she said, holding out a note in her hand.

I took a look at the note, it was written, Sau Pompeo, No. 3 Butterfly Street, Blue Lake, Brisbane City, Australia.

“Who is this? And where is this place?” I almost called her Mrs Danvers.

“This is a fortune teller. He is pretty accurate; he can tell you how you are doing and give you some tips on where to get what you want. Meaning he could guide you on how to go about securing your goals. No one comes to Blue Lake without dropping by his abode, it is just ten minutes’ drive from here. You could walk if you want, perhaps half hour,”

“You mean to say that he can help me locate the whereabouts of Sally?”

“Yes, something like that, he can make predictions with eighty percent accuracy,” Mrs Danvers, no, Daisy said.

“I guess instead of making a police report, this is preferable,” I said.

“Or would you want to call your husband first,” Daisy was becoming more involved.

“Yes, I rang him last night, he asked me where I was, but he did not tell me that Sally was with him,”

“So, there is a possibility that the persons who took your daughter might have been someone else,” Daisy carried on.

“They had a note with Michael’s signature,” I said.

“Did you read the note carefully?” Daisy doubted.

“It was on the letterhead of his publishing firm, no one but his staff could have gotten hold of such a piece of paper, they are very strict there,” I murmured.

“Then you had better see Sau. He would be able to tell you if the abductors were indeed ordered by your husband,”

“Without any concrete evidence?” I queried.

“His methods of astrology are very sharp, you would be surprised,” Daisy said. By now I could see how many bones the fish on her hair pin had.

I merely said thank you before I rushed out of the hotel to hail a taxi, forgetting to drop by concierge to request for one.

 

Chapter 19

The road to the fortune teller’s abode was lined with pebbles, and as I walked out of the taxi, my feet stepped on a puddle of mud which ruined my Ferragamo shoes. I at once regretted coming here. But curiosity took the better part of me. I arrived at the half-open iron gate.

Without much effort, I pushed the gate wide open and walked in.

Two faded pictures of a man and a woman hung high up on the wall greeted every visitor. I shivered a little, it was obvious that the two characters on the wall had already departed from this world. I looked around and found a three-seater sofa to sit on. I hesitated and walked around a little until I heard a man’s voice,

“I don’t believe you!” he said.

And then I heard another voice, this one more muffled.

The two voices were talking to each other, at regular exchange, one more urgent then the other. The calmer voice seemed to be in control of the situation.

I decided that the voices would take some time to conclude their conversation, so that I sat down on the sofa, taking the place on the right. No one else was with me in the abode.

I knew why it was called an abode, the entire house consisted of only the sofa, a tinted glass wall with a broken door, and a large clock without a second hand. I checked that it told the correct time.

And then after five minutes I looked at the clock again and was satisfied that the longer hand had moved.

There seemed nothing to do except to wait for the man inside the door to come out.

“No, I don’t believe you!” Again, he said, the urgent voice.

“I am telling you that she is two-timing you,” now I could hear the other calmer voice.

“If you don’t believe me, I challenge you to go and ask her,” the voice became louder, I heard.

How long are they going to be at this? I was getting impatient. I looked at my watch, and then at the wall clock, their time synchronising.

Just as I was thinking of giving up, a man stormed out of the door. He was a large man in a loose shirt wearing shorts with a pair of sneakers two sizes too large. I only saw this sort of attire at the wet market.

He hardly looked at me, I think he did not notice me. I saw him disappeared into the main road out of the abode, with the man who was inside coming after him saying,

“Hey! You have not paid me!”

I looked at this other man, and I said, “Is it my turn now?”

The man looked at me, surprised that I was there.

“Yes, of course, where are you from?” followed by,

“Come in, sit down here on this chair,” the man ordered. He looked just as uncouth as the earlier man who stormed out.

For reason, I felt obliged to sit down.

Then the man, I called him the fortune teller, sat down in front of me. Behind him I could see a few Buddhist relics, I shivered a little, even though there was no air-conditioning.

The fortune teller clapped his hands and ordered, “Come out now!”, presumably talking to some spirits present in the atmosphere. I felt uneasy and queer, as I knew that he was communicating with some unknown forces. I looked around, there was no one else in sight.

Then he began, “Tell me your name,”

Automatically I gave him my name, he asked me how to write it in Chinese, and I told him.

The next thing he asked was my date of birth. This also I told him.

“What time was it on the twenty-first?” he wanted to be precise.

“I can’t say,” I said.

“You don’t know?” he asked.

“No, yes, I know,” I replied.

“Then you must tell me, otherwise I can’t read your chart accurately,” he explained.

“Alright, it is at 8:46 a.m.,” I was proud that I knew the exact hour.

He wrote the details on a calendar pad in front of him. All these while he consulted with a book, I could see that it was well read as several pages were coming off the binding, some of the corners of the book cover was torn. I waited for an answer. He was supposed to read my fate.

“2006 and 2007 were the worst years of your life,” he pronounced without as much as a pause, as though he was running on a railway track, he continued,

“… and that you are now in the midst of a rising upward trend of a four-year cycle … you could use this time to consolidate your strengths – ”

Before he could finish, I interrupted, “What happens after four years?”

He looked at me, and then buried his head in the pages,

“Don’t worry you still have four years,” and then he added,

“Four years is a long time.”

I became a little worried and I looked worried.

“Well, not to worry, you will meet some eminent person in the month of January … just look out for him,” he offered his advice.

I was stunned for a while, then I confessed,

“Yes, you are right about the 2006 and 2007, they were indeed the darkest days of my life, how did you know?” I had forgotten that he was a fortune teller. Reading my fate was supposed to be his job.

The man became rather proud of himself, and he continued to press me,

“Do you have any children?”

“Yes,” I was now more open.

“You have a daughter,” he said.

“How did you know?” I kept forgetting that he could read my situation.

“And you are now looking for her ….,” the man continued. By now I could study his face, he had very bad complexion. And his eyes were too close to each other.

“Listen, I came here to find out if you could help me find my daughter,” I suddenly realised that since he was so accurate in reading my fate, he would be able to tell me where Sally was.

“No, I am afraid not. I am not the lost-and-found department. I can only tell you about the past, I can’t predict the future for you. All I may do is to give you some pointers,”

“Ok, got it. Thanks!” I tried to sound as cheerful as I could. My purpose here was not accomplished.

And then without warning he suddenly stood up,

“Time’s up,” he said.

“Huh?” I was surprised, I was beginning to enjoy the session. It was fun, having someone tell you things he knew about you without having met you before. And darn accurate too.

“This is my name card, come back another time,”

“Do I have to pay you?” I asked. Everything must have a consideration.

“It’s up to you, pay me according to your conscience” he lamented.

I dished out a hundred dollar note from my wallet, and I placed it on the table, beside his paper weight – a large porcelain butterfly. And then reluctantly I got up from the chair and I walked towards the door. I turned the doorknob and I walked out of the abode, passed the sofa, passed the two dried potted plants standing by the entrance.

I was surprised that the fortune teller did not come after me.

Chapter 20

I spent the rest of the day walking aimlessly digesting the information I got from the fortune teller. How could he be so accurate? And who is this eminent guy that will appear in January? Finally, as I could not gain any headway, I went back to my hotel room, determined to confront Michael.

“Is Sally with you?” I asked without wasting time.

“Where are you now?” was his answer.

“Did you send someone to take Sally away?” I wanted my answer.

“Tell me where you are first, then I will tell you the rest of the story,” he said.

“Ok, I am done with you,” I was still determined to stay away from Michael.

I hung up on him again, this time more resolute for a divorce.

By now I was hundred percent sure that Sally was with Michael.

 

Chapter 21

James took out his pen from his breast pocket when he handed me the document, prepared to file for custody of Sally. I glanced at the pages whilst he flipped at the document page after page, a gesture to demonstrate that I had read its contents. And then at the end of it, I wrote my signature down as legibly as I could.

My mind drifted to the past and I began to recall once again why I had left Michael. Over the years Michael and I had accumulated a number of enemies, jointly and severally. I had decided to leave Michael the minute I saw that photograph in his wallet. No conclusion could be drawn except that he was having an affair with the pretty face. The fact that she looked much younger than I did nothing but to aggravate the jealousy I felt.

But that I couldn’t care less. My concern was Sally. Michael could have the floozy for all I cared. This only strengthened my resolve to take Sally away from him.

As though reading my thoughts, James caught hold of my hand, and he said,

“I know it’s hard for you, Mrs Leong, but I am sure that you would be able to obtain custody of your child, not to mention care and control. The courts lean in favour of the mother, as the child has a natural bond with the biological mother,” he concluded.

I let him speak, the words not fully sunken in, and I sat on the chair sipping more coffee. Coffee seemed to be the only liquid that I am taking nowadays.

“Listen, I am free tonight, would you like to go to the movies with me? There are quite a few good films showing at the theatres,” he suddenly changed the topic.

I looked at James blankly, wondering why I should go out with him. I had already signed the affidavit, he ought to leave me alone now.

James was a rather chubby man in his late thirties, which most would say was in his prime. His dressing was not too ostentatious, but anyone could see that he has a certain amount of money. But I was not at all interested in him. He seemed more like a boring solicitor to me.

“I don’t think I want to go to the movies. I am tired and I want to rest early tonight. Perhaps another time.” I dare not reject him outright. He was going to fight custody for me.

And then I left the man at the dining table to finish up the large chunk of steak he ordered for himself.

Chapter 22

The minute I arrived at the hotel front desk, Daisy said to me,

“This hotel doesn't see or hear anything,”

Before I could respond, the woman said,

“How was the movie last night?”

How did she know? So, James had asked her to place the booking for the seats.

“I did not go to the movies with James,” I retorted.

“But that you slept with him,” Daisy said.

“Who told you?!” I was shocked beyond believe!

So, both James and Daisy had set me up. They had known each other and in communication all the while.

I began to distrust James.

Chapter 23

Without Sally by my side, I was scared of dying alone. Day after day I asked if I would want to go back to Michael. I tried to console myself by saying at least she was not with the kidnappers. And then I started to trace the sequence of events.

How did the kidnappers get in touch with Michael? Did they come from him, or were they from an independent source whom Michael paid subsequently to secure her return? I drank coffee the entire night thinking of the possibilities.

James was by my side all the while. He was a chain smoker and he waited for me to fall asleep every night before he left to go back to his own room.

He simply concluded that my malady was loneliness, for which the only cure was to go to bed with him.

Of course, I complied. If I were to commit adultery, Michael would have to divorce me, in order to save his face. James also reassured me that even if I had committed adultery it did not make me unfit to be a mother. It only made me a bad wife. And then he quoted from some precedents.

Chapter 24

I found a stock of rose outside by the side of the door this morning. James was scheduled to arrive any minute so it couldn’t have come from him. It didn’t make sense as he could hand me the rose personally, that would have made the impact greater.

Could it have come from Michael?

So far there are only these two men in my life. Dr Jack Stevens had been dismissed a long time ago since the day I left the hospital. I had not been talking to him.

I brought the flower in and put it in one of the drinking glasses the hotel provided and added sufficient water. Then I brought the glass to the windowsill for the sunlight. The afternoon shines in from this side of my room.

And then I sat down by the chair and waited.

Now that I have had a sexual relationship with someone other than Michael, I have broken the sacred vow of a one-man-one-woman law imposed by the church. Even if Michael did not know about it, I have become a sinner an adulteress in the Bible. I could not forgive myself. That was not what I had anticipated. It was Michael who broke the law, he was the one who was having a pretty face in his wallet. He was the one who started the infidelity in the first place, I merely followed his call.

I felt wretched.

The door opened, by now James had obtained another key card from the hotel to come in by himself – he said this was just in case I fainted in the bath or something like that.

“I brought you some books,” he said, “You may want to stay in for the next few weeks, I have registered the Garden Bells Lodge as your place of residence for the other side to serve err … Michael’s affidavit on you.”

“Will he name you as the third party?” this was my main concern.

“Silly! Why would he know about us? It just happened last night!” James looked unusually cheerful.

I was a nervous wreck by now, my life has been taken over by James, as he seemed to be telling me what to do now. What did he want out of all these? I started to think. Does he want marriage? Oh yes, I remembered now, in the beginning, his opening statement was that he wanted to make me a part of his comfortable existence …

“A simple diamond ring will do …,” I found myself saying this.

“Huh? Ring? Oh yes, the wedding ring and engagement ring from your husband belongs to you, it is your property, we are fighting for maintenance as well as a lump sum payment, you could use the price of this hotel stay as a basis of calculation … in fact … I think a more expensive standard should be applied …. And also, you need a car and a chauffeur …,”

I could not be bothered about this anymore. All I wanted to know was whether Sally has had her spaghetti and whether she missed her mother. The most important thing now was to prevent the pretty face from getting acquainted with Sally.

Surely Sally would know who her mother was!

I thought about it and then I allowed James to hug me before going down to chance on Daisy again.

Chapter 25

“Madam, err, Mrs Leong, or can I call you Charlotte?” as I arrived at the lobby on the first floor, Daisy came up to me, just before I was going to the coffee house for dinner.

Calling me by my name she seems to know that I am filing for divorce? Yes! Very soon I will no longer be Mrs Leong!

“You can call me Charlotte directly,” I tried not to show my annoyance.

“I think I owe you a duty to inform you,” she began, “but that is provided that you do not get alarm and take unnecessary actions.

“Of course, you can tell me,” she could have just gone straight to the point.

“Have you read it in the newspapers?” she began.

I have been on the run, so I could not have been reading the news. And in any case, from three years ago since Sally arrived, I hardly bothered with any current affairs.

“There was a very unfortunate event at this hotel just before you checked in,”

“You mean the Garden Bells Lodge?” I began to get interested, even though I was still sleepy. I haven’t had my coffee yet.

“Yes, this hotel. A young woman died in the premises; she was murdered by her husband. It seemed that she had an affair. The police came, and they arrested her husband …,” Daisy tried to sound as detached as she could making the facts sound like fiction.

“Continue,” this time I ordered her.

“Your room, Ma’am, ….,”

“What about my room?” I got impatient, why couldn’t this woman talk to me without addressing me first.

And then …. OMG!!!

“Yes, you got it right,” Daisy was relieved that she need not elaborate further on the details.

“Have you cleaned the room properly?” I was beginning to raise my voice.

“Yes, of course. It is part of our duty to make sure that every room is thoroughly sanitised before we allowed our next guest to check in ….,” the woman swore.

No wonder they refused to let me in! No wonder they took so long! No wonder the girls at the front desk were so uncooperative!

Things were beginning to make sense now!

THE ROSE! The stock of rose! It was for the deceased woman.

James did not put the rose at the front door, neither did it come from Michael. Michael did not know where I was!

Before Daisy could finished, I rushed to the lift, the lift was open, I stormed in and pressed the lift panel to order it to the fifth floor. I wanted to retrieve the rose and throw it away somewhere as fast as I could. It was a gift meant for the woman who died in the room!

Especially since it was not accompanied with a note.

By the time I arrived on the fifth floor, James was at the door waiting to go down.

I pushed him aside and walked straight to the room.

But when I walked in, there was no rose! I thought I had put it in the drinking glass. I went to the bathroom, the glass was where it should be, on the vanity counter.

“Are you alright?” James stood behind me and asked.

“Oh, no, oh, I was just …. Did you see any rose?” I needed to establish that I was not hallucinating.

“No such thing. If you like, I could get one from the gift shop downstairs, I am sure that they must sell this kind of token,” was what he said.

Ok, I am not seeing things. I told myself. “You must be strong Charlotte.” I repeated several times.

I needed to sleep …. I needed to carry on …. I needed tomorrow to fight Michael. My relationship with Michael was no longer just irretrievably broken down but dangerously hanging.

As I lay in bed tonight, I saw several ballerinas dancing in front of me, and I fell asleep with the sound of Swan Lake fading away. The television was on for me to wake up to the 9 o’clock news tomorrow morning.

Chapter 26

This morning I woke up at 2:00 p.m. remembering the fortune teller’s mention of the eminent person who was due to appear in my life in January.

My breakfast that was supposed to come via room service was left outside my front door.

It was James who brought the breakfast tray in for me.

“I know that you are mad at me,” he said the moment he saw me.

“Yes, I am. I am mad at you for following me, for what happened to me,” I said.

“Hey! What did I do wrong?” James defended himself.

“I should not file for divorce,” I said,

“I could lose Sally, if I lose the case,” I was less sure of myself now. I hadn’t seen Sally for a week.

“Ok, if you want to go back to your husband, I am all for it,” the man said.

“But how could you say such a thing?!” I began to yell at him.

James had forgotten entirely about the fact that he slept with me!

Or was I imagining things? Did I sleep with James?

Wait! Daisy had said that this hotel had witnessed a murder, no, this room 507 specifically. Was my mind talking to the dead?

Or did the fortune teller follow me home and that he was talking to me?

No, no one was talking to me.

I was talking to myself.

I was talking to myself since the day I left Northland with Sally.

How stupid I was!

Northland was my home! Immediately I went to the desk by the window, took out the papers from the file which James had prepared for divorce, and I asked,

“Have you filed this?”

“To be honest, I have not. I was waiting for you to change your mind,” James told me plainly.

“Your husband still cares about you,” he continued. “

Oh yeah, who told you? He told you himself?” I became angry.

“No, Charlotte, I could see that. He rang me to tell me to persuade you to go home,” James confessed.

I knew it. So, James and Daisy and now Michael had been in collusion now. They had set me up to this. The only consideration was that James got to sleep with me, and that Daisy got a guest to cleanse the spirits left by the dead woman in her hotel room 507.

I went to the desk, picked up the divorce file, and I began to tear at the papers.

“Destroying evidence per se is clever, but destroying inconsequential papers showed that of an angry mind,” James said.

“So, you knew that you were not filing for divorce all the while?!” I was more than angry.

“Yes, your husband had sent me here to watch over you,” the man finally told me the truth.

“I hate you! I hate all of you!!” I shouted.

And then I collapsed and broke down once more.

 

Chapter 27

“Why did you throw my rose away?” I heard.

“No, I didn’t,” meekly I replied.

“Why did you kill me?” again the voice said, the woman heavy on my body.

I tried to push her away, but that she was strong, her hand strangling my neck.

“I didn’t kill anybody!” I shouted. But no one heard me.

“Get away!” I shouted again.

“Help me! Are you there Michael?” I shouted but it came out a whisper.

“Michael! Michael? Michael!” I couldn’t even open my eyes.

And then suddenly the grip on my neck loosened.

I knew that it was gone when I finally opened my eyes.

No one was in the room with me.

I sat up on the bed, taking a while to realise that it was just a dream, and then I picked up my handphone to go down to look for Daisy.

Thank God Daisy was at the front desk. She seemed to be available most of the time these days.

“Daisy! I need your help!”

The woman looked up at me, she seemed unable to comprehend why I was so flustered.

“Mrs Leong, can I help you?”

“Your room is haunted! The woman was still there!!” I demanded.

“You mean Dolly?” Daisy asked.

“Yes, Dolly! I don’t know her name, but she came just now,” I implored, still fresh from the experience.

“I can assure you that the paramedics have taken her away,” Daisy said, she was firm, “I saw it with my own eyes,”

“But she was in my room!” I exclaimed.

“Ma’am, you are imagining things,” at once she replied.

“Listen, I know that it’s good that you have to protect your hotel image,”

“Ok, if you want proof, I can give you a picture of the dead woman,”

“I didn’t see her face just now,”

“Then I thought you just said that she was in your room?”

“No, it was her spirit … yes, it was, … she left the moment I woke up,” I had to explain myself again.

“Then that’s it, it is confirmed, Dolly was dead. If she could appear in a spirit form then she can no longer be alive,” and then Daisy continued.

“Wait here. Let me show you a photograph of her,” Daisy said, she was helpful.

Daisy did not take time to open her drawer, she fished out something from the pile of notes, and then she showed me a newspaper cutting.

“Look at this! Did the presence look something like that?” She asked, with a tone of certainty.

I peeped at the newspapers. And I jumped.

It was she! It was the pretty face!

And then I carried on, reading the headlines, “A woman in her early thirties has been found dead in the Garden Bells Lodge hotel, believed to be murdered by her husband as a result of her having an affair, although the fact of an affair has not yet been established by the authorities, but for now the man has confessed to the crime. They have no children.”

I knew the truth now.

Michael was having an affair with Dolly, and when her husband found out the truth, he murdered her.

So, she deserved it! I was elated. And I almost wanted to tell Daisy about this.

Seeing my mood changed, Daisy asked,

“Are you alright?” “You look like you know the dead woman?”

“No, err … I don’t know her … she just looked familiar,”

Of course, I couldn’t tell Daisy that she was the reason why I had left Northland Michael.

“Could I take a copy of this news cutting?” I wanted to keep this as a souvenir, this is evidence of my triumph.

“But why?” Daisy was reluctant. And at once, she snatched the news cutting from me, and put it back in her drawer again, before locking it up and saying,

“Madam, I think your solicitor-friend is waiting for you at the coffee house.

I took the hint, disappointed as I was, I knew I could not quarrel with her. She has been the one that I was talking to since I left Michael.

“You can call me Charlotte from now on,” I said, and then I turned and walked away, not really wanting to meet James now.

Chapter 28

The pretty face is dead now, I found myself asking if I should go back to Michael. I had not confronted him, and he had not confessed. No one mentioned the affair. And did I leave Michael because I wanted to take him away from Sally?

All this while, I had forgotten an important fact – that I have slept with James.

So that now things have become pretty complicated.

I have no qualms about going back to Michael, now that someone else has taken revenge for me. Dolly’s husband had killed the woman who stole my husband from me. And Michael need never know about my one-night stand with James, or was it two nights?

Oh my God!

How many times have I slept with James?

At this juncture I knew straight away what I needed to do.

Immediately I went to the coffee house, expecting James to be at the same usual table.

James was nowhere to be found.

Instead, Michael was sitting at the table that James and I were having our meals.

Beside him was my dearest daughter Sally.

Chapter 29

We were the author of our own fate. Life cannot be effected in a way that was entirely mathematical, although we were often persuaded by the situations we found ourselves in.

“Mummy!” Sally cried.

I rushed forward, grabbed the little girl with my open arms, and I shouted,

“Sally! Where have you been?” and then,

“Mummy missed you!”

“No need to be so emotional,” Michael said quietly.

“Can I have Sally back?”

“Sally has never left you, we, have never left you,” was Michael’s voice.

Slowly and systematically, Charlotte deleted the voice in her head, and with deliberation she locked the voice out of her head and shut it out of her mind, until the voice no longer existed in her realm of things.

It was Dr Jack Stevens’ voice.

If Charlotte was in obfuscation she no longer was.

As for now, for sure she knew that Sally was safe with her.

Chapter 30

The weather was cold as it was January, still Christmas. Dr Jack Stevens parked his car by the roadside at the lamp in Northland.

From there he could see that the lights in the room was still lit, the occupants were not asleep. He took a look at his watch, it was exactly 10:00 p.m.

“For one more day,” he said to himself.

Dr Jack Stevens knew that he could no longer talk to Charlotte. For she had gone back to her husband, her rightful man. The woman in Michael’s wallet was inserted by him to cause a rift between the husband and his wife.

He watched Charlotte from his car until he saw that she had turned off the lights and went to sleep. The only voice that Dr Jack Stevens heard was, “you fight like there is no tomorrow, let Charlotte be.”

And then he went back into his car and drove off into the streets of darkness to wait for sunrise again.

Hope you enjoyed the story you've just read. More of my short stories could be found on http://lee-sumin.com