The little girl needed hardly any prompting to settle down to sleep. Sinclair fed her from tins and made her a bed of sorts, a bizarre quilt consisting mainly of remnants of her own wardrobe which had dried on the rocks in the afternoon sun.
Lourens and Sinclair spoke in whispers until they were sure the child was asleep and even then they kept their voices low, matching the soft cadence of the waves on the shore.
Lourens was dog tired himself, barely able to keep awake, but the arrival of the child had reinvigorated Jamie in a way that no assortment of pills could ever have done. Her own aches and pains had retreated into irrelevance, smothered by a mothering instinct so obvious and powerful that it made Lourens smile.
“It’s absolutely incredible,” Sinclair said for the umpteenth time.
Lourens put another piece of the house on the fire, a part of the door frame, and nodded in agreement.
“What on earth can be so terrible that you forget your own name,” she whispered, more to herself than to him.
“Maybe she hasn’t forgotten; maybe she just doesn’t want to tell us yet,” he said.
It was Sinclair’s turn to nod because the words sounded wise. She looked up at the stars, at the track of the Milky Way, and then out over the black sea.
“Do you really suppose she came from a yacht?” she asked again.
“I don’t know, but what else could it possibly be. It just worries me that there may be others out there, her parents, absolutely frantic, if they’ve survived.”
“We can look in the morning, on the way to the camp,” Sinclair said.
Lourens nodded again; it was easy to say, easy to agree but he couldn’t think, not clearly. His head was beginning to swim from lack of sleep and physical exhaustion. He lay back and rested his head on a rock. It wasn’t comfortable but that didn’t matter.
“Are you sure you’re happy to keep the first watch?” he asked.
“Of course, I’m fine, I had a sleep this afternoon,” she said. She felt guilty as she said it, looking down at him and knowing what he’d been through.
“Wake me if you have to; don’t hesitate, just wake me for anything,” he said softly.
She nodded but Lourens didn’t see that because he’d already closed his eyes. In a few moments he was snoring.
Left to herself, Sinclair’s thoughts immediately turned to Jumbo. She chided herself for imagining him out there in the dark, well beyond the firelight, crouching on his huge haunches, watching her.
They’d talked about him, not at length or in detail because they didn’t want to frighten the girl, but enough for Sinclair to know what Hinkle had told Lourens.
She’d told him what she’d seen, or thought she’d seen, when she was in the sea, and he just shook his head. He said he was sure she’d imagined it, that it had probably been a trick of the light or a speck in her eye coupled with her own exhaustion.
“I don’t think he’s anywhere near here, I’m sure he’s hanging around the construction camp; he has to eat, he’s not a ghost,” Lourens had said.
“Why didn’t you see him there then?” she’d asked.
He’d shrugged and said she shouldn’t worry about Jumbo; that he wasn’t worried. It was sensible to be cautious but there was no point in getting freaked out about it.
She’d thought about him wrestling with a crocodile and all the dead elephants and she’d believed him.
They’d argued about elephants. It was the first and only argument they’d had. It began as a debate over supper one night about the need for culling. She’d lost her temper when Lourens had told her he’d shot so many elephants he couldn’t remember the number.
“If you don’t like it, come up with a better solution. An elephant is a big animal, they eat everything, strip the bush bare, and it’s not just them that suffers in the end,” he’d said.
She knew all the arguments, she knew he was probably right; she’d read countless papers on the subject, and she’d been cross with herself for ranting and getting so emotional. When she’d calmed down she’d also realised she was being unfair to him. It was his job, he wasn’t boasting, and it was obvious it was something he hated doing. In the end she’d apologised.
She looked down at him snoring softly on his uncomfortable bed of shells and smiled, wondering what his wife must be like and whether they loved each other.
Curled up on the other side of the fire, the little girl turned in her sleep and made a soft whimpering noise. Sinclair stood up, but she didn’t immediately go to the girl, waiting instead to see whether she would settle down again, praying that she did. She needs to sleep, Sinclair told herself, the longer the better.
She lay down too eventually, much later, close to Lourens, and stared up at the stars. After a while she realised that one of them was moving and that it must be a satellite, perhaps the same one that had beamed down pictures of the approaching storm. She watched its incremental progress across the night sky and thought how fast it must really be going, crossing whole countries in a matter of minutes, round and round the earth in sublime geometrical detachment.
She didn’t mean to fall asleep, she didn’t think she ever would, but she did and she woke in a panic, sitting up abruptly, flooded with guilt, immediately looking to see whether Lourens was still beside her.
“Shush,” he whispered.
The fire had died away completely and he was practically invisible in the moonless night.
“What time is it?” she asked.
“About four thirty,” he said.
“I must have dozed off,” she said, stating the obvious.
She looked over her shoulder to check that the girl was still there, still asleep. All she could see was a dark bundle.
“She keeps making funny little noises,” Lourens said.
“So do you, you snore,” Jamie said.
“That makes two of us.”
They talked quietly, almost in whispers, for the next hour, first about inconsequential things, then about their plans for the day and about the girl, endlessly speculating about who she was and where she’d come from. As they did, the world around them gradually grew lighter.
Lourens was the first to see the ship. It was far out on the horizon, little more than a tiny smudge on the edge of the vast, dark blue canvass of the sea. They continued staring at it, discussing what kind of ship it might be. Lourens told her that Abadabra must be well away from the regular shipping lanes so it was probably a tramp steamer headed for Madagascar. She said she hoped it was a cruise liner, headed their way with a hot bath, dry fluffy towels and a manicurist.
She’d barely finished speaking when Lourens pointed out the light, a tiny pinprick in line with the ship. As they watched the light grew progressively brighter, detaching itself from the horizon.
“I think it must be a helicopter,” Laurens said, standing up.
“Do you think it’s for us?” she said, standing up beside him, dusting the seat of her pants.
“I hope so,” he said.
Within a few minutes they could hear the thump of the rotors, confirming what Lourens had guessed. The helicopter came straight towards them and then swept low overhead before turning and hovering, moving this way and that as the pilot tried to select a suitable place to land. It was obviously military, unlike any helicopter Lourens had seen before. There was a red star on the side and he wondered whether it was Russian or Chinese. The pilot finally selected a spot about a hundred metres inland, quite close to where the toilet bowl now stood in robust and isolated splendour, and set the machine down.
The noise of the helicopter woke the girl. She disentangled herself from the makeshift bedclothes and came scampering over to grab Sinclair’s hand. Sinclair picked her up and beamed reassuringly.
Two men in white uniforms got out of the helicopter and came briskly over the coral.
As they got closer it was obvious they were Chinese. One was carrying a large bag.
“No, I’m Lourens, this is Doctor Sinclair,” Lourens said, gesturing towards Jamie.
The man nodded his head up and down, unembarrassed by his mistake.
He shook hands with them both.
“Please to meet you. Doctor Chien from Chinese Navy, Fu Zhou,” he said, pointing at the ship on the horizon. “I see you beaten up by the cyclone, no joke.”
Sinclair grinned, she couldn’t help it. “Definitely no joke,” she said.
“We here to assist, compliment of Captain Kuang.”
Chien explained in his faltering English that the Seychelles government had put out a request for any ships in the vicinity of Abadabra to come to their assistance. He seemed to be fully briefed on the situation. He told them their supply ship was en route to the island and would arrive in five days, on Thursday. He knew about the construction camp too, that it was still intact and was stocked with provisions. It became obvious as he spoke that the helicopter had not come to take them back to the Fu Zhou; Chien was here to check up on them, to give what help he could, and that was all.
He was surprised about the little girl. She had not been mentioned in his briefing and he asked whether she was their daughter. When Laurens explained how he’d found her alone in the middle of the island and that she wasn’t able to tell them anything, Chien said something in Chinese, obviously an expression of astonishment.
“You are South African, Mr Loren? We have been to South Africa, Cape Town,” he said proudly.
He examined the girl first while Laurens and Sinclair looked on. He prodded and poked, took her pulse, listened to her heart, looked down her throat and into her eyes and ears and finally said she seemed to be in perfect health. He shook his head as he said it as though he couldn’t believe it.
Chien examined Sinclair next and dressed her ankle in a tight plaster brace. He confirmed that it was just a sprain and that it should be fine in a few days provided she rested it. He was concerned about her cuts and scrapes and those on Lourens and insisted on giving them both a tetanus injection. He told them that he would leave a first aid kit and told them which ointments to apply.
“So what the plan?” he said when he’d finished. “We take you to construction camp, check it out?”
“That would be great,” Lourens said. He asked whether they could have a few moments to gather their things.
“Sure, no problem,” Chien said, “but not too much, not much room. We leave the toilet, OK?”