THE WATERMARK (part1 of 3)
Here he was, Thomas Drew, about to start his new life! He looked down as the plane banked over the blue sea, turning to come in to land at Faro Airport. And as it turned and leaned over the land Thomas could see a series of blue pleasing shapes between the blocks of houses, which he suddenly realized were swimming pools...
The few times he had flown, had been when he and Julie had gone on package holidays, always to Torremolinos, always in the same hotel, always with Julie's sister, Rose and her husband Phil. He'd never once got the feeling of adventure. They'd spent most of the time by the swimming pool, and at night they would drink themselves silly with a crowd of Brits, who also went there every year.
But now he had the feeling of an adventure! He also felt very nervous; he was doing something he wasn't sure about. He was trying to get it into his head: he was going to be a teacher of English!
Carl, his best friend since school, had said there would be a job for him – starting Monday. He had also reassured him, as only Carl could, that it would be easy – he just had to teach from the book. And after all it was his language, not theirs. And what better background could he have; fifteen years in a library; well! But the thought of standing up in front of a class... him a teacher...? But,he kept telling himself he just must.
When he and Carl had met at school, aged eleven, they had been unlikely friends – very different characters. While Carl had been outspoken, out-going (full of himself, some said), Thomas had been quiet, shy. Carl was good at sports, which Thomas hated. Physically, Thomas was shorter and broader, while Carl was tall and slim. Their friendship could not have thrived, had it not been for the one thing that had always bound them; their love of books.
They both had been great readers with similar taste. They would read stuff and pass it to each other. First it had been the adventure stuff; the Famous Five, and Sherlock Holmes stories, and such like, but later, it had been those modern classics popular with coming-of-age teenagers; titles such as: Lord of the Flies, Catcher in the Rye, To kill a Mocking Bird.
Carl, at school, had been full of pranks and forever in trouble with the teachers. Which made him very popular with the wilder kids, and he soon became the leader of a gang, and because Thomas was Carl's friend, he was tolerated, though some of the gang treated him like a trail of slime, and would have crushed him, if he hadn't been Carl's 'catch fart,' as they called him.
As teenagers they had dreamed about being famous writers; well, Thomas probable more than Carl. Carl had all sorts of wild dreams; he wanted to do and be everything – so many dreams, so many lives, so many places to go, adventures to have, women to love, to write, to act, to paint, and maybe, a pop star! He imagined himself having a Byronic-troubadour existence, which he had lifted direct from the pages of books!
Sometimes he and Carl would go for walks on the Yorkshire Moors. They would take a picnic and their books and paper, and play poets in rapture! Carl would take his guitar. And they would sing and drink cider. They would talk of all the stories they would write... making up their plots while they roamed the carpeted, purpled with heather, swelling hills. How they laughed and squirmed over the details; the glee, the horror, the adventure, as if it were all at that very moment happening to them.
Their dreams matured with their friendship, and it was agreed they would, in fact, each write a great book. Though neither of them had at that time produced very much. They both wrote bits and pieces, which they would read to each other. Carl had managed only to write a few song lyrics, poems, and short stories. While Thomas, had started a few big books, but even now, after all those years, he had only succeeded in writing twelve chapters of a novel – which he had with him – based on his father's World War Two experiences. His father had seen the worst of it, and had been stationed in France after the liberation. He had died when Thomas was ten.
After school it seemed Carl ripped up life's rule book, which he thought didn't apply to him, anyway. To Carl, life should be like sitting in an open cockpit of a fighter plane – whoosh!
Thomas found a job in the local library, while Carl took a little better paid job in a warehouse. Thomas was quite satisfied with working with all those books, and thought it a good start for a would-be writer. Carl liked the money he earned, but couldn't stick the work. He began chopping and changing between a bunch of wack-jobs. At weekends they would go out, get quite drunk, and try to pick up girls.
When they were around twenty years old, Carl suddenly announced he was going hitch-hiking around Europe. A few weeks later, he just gave up his job and took off. Thomas thought he would be gone a few months and would be back when the money ran out. Then Carl wrote to say he'd settled in Rome, working as an English teacher. The next year he was teaching in Greece, then it was somewhere else, and this continued. Now ten years later he was teaching in Lagos, on the Algarve.
At first, Thomas had missed his friend badly; he wasn't very good at making friends. He would sometimes go out with people from work, but it wasn't as much fun as with his only real friend...
Carl came home rarely, full of crazy stories. He'd stay for a couple of weeks, and then be off again. He had never been the family type; he came from a large family, with four older brothers who bullied him rotten, and whom he was happier away from. He had become, what he called himself: a bird of passage!
When he was home he would continually urge Thomas to quit his job and join him. Although, Thomas thought about it, and sometimes told people he would be going soon, he never did. 'What had Sally Owing – a girl he worked with at the library – said to him after he had talked for so long about joining Carl, yet, never had? 'You're too Bovine, Thomas! You will never leave!'
To Thomas it seemed like too big a step; he had grown up, as an only-child, and was still living with his mother. Plus, maybe he was a little afraid; he thought Carl was the type of person who didn't think about the consequences of his actions; the type who got an idea and went for it, with little forethought or planning, and that had always made him nervous.
When Thomas was twenty five, and while out one night at a disco, he had met a girl called Julie. She became his first real girlfriend. Within a year they were married; she'd told him she was pregnant – the wedding was three weeks later! But she didn't have the child – she said she'd lost it!
Carl, the next time he came home, and after a night out together, had accused her of tricking Thomas into marriage; he called her a snare, said it to her face! What a showdown that had been – they argued like thorns. He couldn't now remember what had sparked it off. But Julie, after that, refused to see Carl ever again. She had called Thomas weak, for not standing up for her.
Thomas had found it easier to pretend he wouldn't see Carl again. 'If he doesn't respect your wife why would you want to see him?' Thomas lied to Julie, just to keep the peace. Whenever Carl came home on one of his infrequent visits, Thomas would tell her he was going out with people from work. And he never told Carl that he wasn't supposed to be seeing him.
Then out the blue, and all at once, a lot of things happened to Thomas. After four years his marriage ended, with Julie having an affair with a jerk called Norman. Then the next year he lost his job, when the Library made him redundant.
Depressed and lonely, Thomas moved back with his mum. But after about a year, desperate for a change, he wrote and asked Carl, if there were still a chance of taking him up on his belated offers.
What did he have to lose? Here he was thirty years old, unemployed, divorced, and living with his mum. He felt he had wasted enough time. He had his redundancy money; he would go to Portugal, be back with his old mate, live the life of a writer, and finish his book.
So here he now was! And if it all went wrong, he could simply return; though, the idea of failing and retuning sent a cold shiver down his spine. He had rather talked up his move to all the people back home – the big break and all that....
As he stepped out the customs' area, there was Carl waiting for him. He looked different. They hadn't seen each other since Carl's last visit, about two years earlier. He looked leaner, suntanned. His blonde hair was long and sun bleached. He wore cut-down denim shorts, a white thin cotton shirt, and brown leather sandals.
It was hot and Thomas felt over-dressed in his grey slacks, and dark suit jacket.
They shook hands smiling, and Carl told him he had borrowed a car from a friend of a friend and he had to get it back, but they would be able to relax and get something to eat and drink when they got to Lagos.
Carl drove the brown Renault Four, while telling Thomas about Lagos, the job, and the house in which he would be staying.
Lagos is a small beautiful seaside town, with great beaches, though, invaded with tourists in the summer. The job wasn't so well paid, but you could live from working a five-hour day, and three day week, and you could always pick up some private lessons, or even ask for work more hours.
He told him, he and a group of people – a little crazy but nice – had just rented a large house right in the main square, and Thomas would have the best room at the top of the house, with the patio right outside his door.
Thomas told him a little more about what had happened with Julie....
Then a thought suddenly occurred to Thomas. 'I didn't know you drove Carl!'
'I don't!' he laughed.
Thomas laughed, too, but felt nervous, What if the Police should stop them? It was typical of Carl. He wondered what a friend of a friend meant.... He forced himself not to think about it.
Instead, Thomas spoke about being nervous about the job, but Carl reassured him it would be no trouble.
'They know you are coming, and I told the headteacher you've done a bit of teaching in Britain; they are short staffed, so wont want to see any qualifications. You only have to follow the curriculum from the book; a piece of pie – really!'
They drove into Lagos. Thomas was impressed by the size of the great stretch of curving beach beyond the sand dunes, and the towering dramatic cliffs he could see on the other side of a little harbour, complete with colourful little bobbing fishing boats.
Carl parked the car on the main road, then they walked – Carl carrying one of the two bags for Thomas – into a busy main square, which was lined with the tables of cafés and restaurants, and strewed with stalls selling cheap jewellery, paintings, and other tourist stuff. They went down a small side-street and into a small bar called 'Lost Nights'.
The bar was dark and cool, and empty, but for a middle aged guy – small, going grey at the sides. He was sitting behind the bar looking vacantly out the window smoking a cigarette.
'Hi Carl!' he said in an Australian accent when they came in, 'How'd you do?'
'Yeah, no problem.' Carl gave him the car keys. 'This is Thomas, Casey.' They shook hands.
'Hi Thomas! So you made it. Coffee or something stronger?'
'I'll have a beer, Casey,' said Carl.
'Me too,' said Thomas.
They put down the bags, and sat around for about half an hour filling in Thomas on the day to day life of Lagos. Then they left and went back across the main square to a small house door squeezed between a café and a shop with t-shirts on racks outside.
Carl opened the door with a key and gave it to Thomas, saying, 'This is yours!' They went inside, and along a dark passageway with doors to the left and right, then up a flight of stairs and into a kitchen area, with more doors to other rooms, one of which was Carl's. Carl pointed everything out to Thomas, explained the the cooking arrangements, showed him the toilet and shower, then they continued up another flight of curving stairs, and stepped outside on to a Patio, from which there was a skyline view of down town Lagos.
On the patio there was a long wooden table with white plastic chairs, and a window and door to a small room, which Carl pushed open, and they entered.
Inside was a low double bed with a blue quilt, a chest of draws, a small table and chair. Carl put down the bag on the bed, and said he'd get a couple of beers. They sat chatting and drinking on the Patio in the sunshine.
Then voices could be heard below, and two faces appeared from the stairs.
'Hi!' they echoed each other, when they saw Carl and Thomas.
'Guys, this is Thomas, and Thomas this is Greg and Kent,' said Carl. 'They are a kind of Canadian double act, who really don't know how funny they are!'
'Watch it, Teach,' said Greg, 'remember we still owe you money!'
'You see what I mean.' said Carl. They all laughed, and they both shook hands with Thomas.
Greg and Kent were very young; around twenty or so, fresh faced, with great mops of dark curly hair. They had brought beers up with them, and they took chairs around the table. Carl explained to Thomas that they both worked at the most popular bar in town: Hot Rats, which, like most of the bars in Lagos, was where crazy things happened, and it was the workers job to encourage it to happen, with outrageous drink-like-fish games. And Hot Rats even employed people to throw pails of water down from a gantry in the rafters to keep the frenzied tourists cool.
'But we're behind the bar,' said Kent, we're not your common aquarians!
'No, we're your common alcoholics!' Greg said.
'So, what's new?' Carl asked them.
'Well,' said Greg in a playful announcer's voice, 'It's thirsty Thursday again! And we all know what that means....!'
Carl explained to Thomas, that Maggie, an American, and a real lush, who had a room off the kitchen, worked six nights a week in a restaurant, and her only night off was Thursday. When she would hit the town, drank herself paralytic, then the next day would awake to find herself in strange places, and/or in weird situations, and unable to remember anything from the night before! People would have to tell her the outlandish details of her night's escapades and adventures. Several items of her underwear were, at this very moment, on display in a couple of the bars!
Thomas laughed at some of the following narrated antics she had got up to! This was really going to be an adventure, he thought! Nothing like this ever happened back home.
More people began arriving on the patio. Thomas was introduced to an array of men and women of different nationalities; some were from the house, but others were friends of the house, or Carl. One woman in particular, introduced as, Amanda, caught Thomas' attention. She was very beautiful. She had a prominent forehead, dark hair, incredible brown eyes, she was tall, slim, with, a heavy tan. She told him she painted, and had a couple of rooms on the ground floor.
Someone went out and bought more wine and beer. And Kent lit a small round barbecue, and filled it with sardines. They ate them with chunks of bread. Then Greg and Kent went off to work. It began to get dark, but no cooler.
Thomas was regularly refusing the spliffs being spun on the table. Carl, years ago, on one of his visits, had tried to talk Thomas into trying it, but he didn't like the idea of losing control. He noticed Carl smoked more than he drank.
Everyone talked and talked, and laughed, and Thomas, was sometimes lost in the conversation, unable to follow some of the themes. It became very loud and animated! At one moment a guy called Ron got down on the floor as if he were about to do some press-ups, but then did a strange slow motion imitation of a lizard – complete with hissing and shooting tongue that sent everyone into hysterics!
As the evening wore on the table thinned out to a smaller group, who were obviously Carl's more intimate friends. The talk became less chaotic, and more interesting. Thomas was surprised and transfixed by the conversations of Carl and his friends, though a lot of it went over his head. They would one minute be talking knowledgeably about such topics as The Volga Vikings...? and the next minute about the Delphi Oracle.
Carl, to Thomas' amazement talked for what must have been an hour or more about Quantum Physics. He talked of Dancing Wu Li Masters, neutrinos, probability patterns, and the Uncertainty Principal – it sounded like mysticism! He couldn't figure out how Carl knew so much about it all. In the occasional letters he'd had from Carl, no interest in this kind of stuff had been remotely mentioned; not the slightest hint of it. And he also noticed Carl now used strange expressions all the time: 'I burn to do this, and I grok that.' Thomas wondered where all that had come from....
As the night progressed to early morning, Thomas began to feel very tired, and rather drunk. He said his good-nights and went into his small room, fumbled out of his clothes and lay on the bed listening to the conversation, until he heard someone suggested they all go to some place to hear some Fado. Then it was quiet, accept for the sound of music coming over the roof from the main square. Thomas drifted into sleep.
He was awoken a few hours later by gales of laughter coming from the rooms downstairs. He could hear the voices of several people. There would be moments of silence, followed by squirting sniggers, then shrieks of subversive merriment, and laughter that leapt like leopards. Thomas listened till it went quiet again, and he could sleep further.
He awoke once more with the urge to go to toilet. The house was quiet, so he got up pulled on his trousers and made his way down the stairs to the kitchen.
There, to his utter shock, lay a blonde girl on the couch, out cold, naked except for a very small pair of pink panties, with her hands and feet trust up with layers of brown duck-tape. And what a mess someone had made of her...! There were all kinds of ornaments, ashtrays, candlesticks, and such, heavily taped to parts of her body, giving her a half robot look! And the whole of her milky white body had been illustrated with graffiti and childish drawings!
They had given her a clown's face with lipstick. On her large breasts were drawn squadrons of Second World War aeroplanes involved in a dog-fight! Intricately drawn, in coloured pens: front views of on-coming Spitfires; propellers spinning, spiting red tracer bullets before them. Planes with swastikas spiralling down in flames off the curve of her breasts!
Thomas was aghast, and didn't know how to react, he was embarrassed by her nakedness, he wanted to go back to his room, but the pressure on his bladder forced him into the toilet.
By the time he came out he had decided he would free her – he couldn't just leave her like that! He bent over her and began trying to pull the tape from her hands, but was getting nowhere. He looked around the kitchen and saw a large knife on one of the worktops. He took it up and tried getting the blade behind the tape to cut through it without hurting her. But it was difficult because of all the stuff taped to her. As he was pulling at the tape the clown's face suddenly came to life, the eyes sprang open, saw the knife in the hand of a stranger -- a semi-naked stranger – and began to scream like a burning soprano, which deafened Thomas and made him jump back!
He tried to calm her. But her panic stricken eyes saw only him and the knife. She struggled frantically, but unable to move she screamed ever louder for her life, she thought she was about to lose!
Suddenly, the doors to the kitchen began to burst open and there was Carl, Greg, and Kent, standing in their boxer shorts, and from the stairs below came the guy called Ron, followed by Amanda wearing a very short red satin wrap.
As Carl took in the situation, he removed the knife from Thomas' hand, while Amanda ran to Maggie's side – for that was who the weeping girl was. Greg and Kent had looked at each other, and burst into uncontrolled laughter. Thomas was shaking. Carl was trying to tell, the now sobbing Maggie, that Thomas was the new lodger. Thomas began apologizing, telling her he had meant her no harm; he was only trying to cut her free. It took a long time to calm her down, and get her loose.