Merger By Matrimony

By: Cathy Williams



‘He’s from England. Of course he’s going to come here speaking English.’ There was a lazy, affectionate familiarity to their debate, as though they’d been down this road a thousand times before but were nevertheless more than happy to tread along it once again, through sheer habit if nothing else. ‘Apologies for this child of mine,’ her father said in impeccable English. ‘She can be very well behaved when she puts her mind to it.’

Derek Wilson was staring at her with a mixture of alarm and fascination. It was a reaction to which she’d grown accustomed over time. Nearly every outsider who set foot on the compound regarded her in the same manner, as if, however bowled over they were by her looks, they still suspected that she might target the next blow-dart in their direction.

‘What do you want?’

‘Social niceties, darling? Remember?’

‘It’s taken me for ever to track you down.’

The man glanced between the two of them, and her father obligingly capitulated, ‘Perhaps we should discuss this somewhere more comfortable. Get some refreshment for you…you must be done in after your trek to get here.’

‘That would be super.’

Destiny could feel his eyes on her as the three of them strode through the school house, attracting curious looks from the pupils in disarray as they gathered their scant books and bags together to go home. The noise was a babble of tribal Spanish, a beautiful, musical sound that seemed very appropriate to the beautiful, coffee-complexioned children with their straight black hair and expressive black eyes.

It was why she’d always stood out, of course. Not just her height, but her colouring. Fair-skinned, choppy sun-streaked fair hair, green eyes. And of course, in the depths of Panama, a white face was always a novelty.

‘In case you hadn’t guessed, this is our local school,’ her father was saying, much to her astonishment. Playing the tour guide had never been one of his chosen pastimes. He’d always left that to her mother, whose death five years previously was still enough to make her feel choked up. ‘We have a fairly static number of pupils. Of course, as you might expect, some are more reliable than others, and a great deal depends on the weather. You would be surprised how the weather can wreak havoc with day-today life over here.’

Derek Wilson’s head was swivelling left to right in an attempt to absorb everything around him.

‘Just to the right of the school house we have some medical facilities. All very basic, you understand, but we’ve always lacked the finance to really do what should be done.’

This was her father’s pet topic. Money, or rather the lack of it, to fund the medical facilities. He was a researcher and a gifted doctor and had a complete blind eye to anyone who couldn’t see that money should be no object when it came to questions of health.

They’d reached the little outer room that served as an office for her father, and he settled the man in a chair then bustled to the stunted and rusting fridge in the corner of the room so that he could extract a jug of juice. A small breeze fluttered through the two large, open windows which were opposite one another so as to maximise air draft, and Derek Wilson attempted to ventilate himself by flapping his shirt at the collar.

Poor man, Destiny thought with a twinge of sympathy. For whatever reason, he’d probably left behind a family in England and all mod cons so that he could tramp halfway across the world to Panama, still a mysterious and unfathomable land virtually behind God’s back, and deliver a message to her.

What message?

She felt a little stirring of unease.

Her father handed her a glass of highly sweetened fruit juice, and she attempted to catch his eye for a non-verbal explanation of what was going on, but he was in a strange mood. Nervous, she thought, but trying hard not to show it.

Why?

Another flutter of apprehension trickled along her spine, defying her attempts to laugh it off. ‘Well.’ Derek cleared his throat and looked in her direction. ‘Very nice place you have here…’

‘We think so.’ She narrowed her eyes on him.

‘Brave of you to live here, if you don’t mind me saying…’

She shot a look at her father, who was staring abstractedly through the window and providing absolutely no help whatsoever.

‘Nothing brave about it, Mr Wilson. Panama is one of the most beautiful countries in the world. Every day there’s something new and wonderful to see and the people are very gentle and charming. So you needn’t be scared of being captured and tortured or chopped up into little loin steaks and eaten.’

‘I never imagined that for a moment…’ he protested, and this time when he looked at her his eyes were shrewd and speculative.

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