18. Hate a Sunny Day

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Next morning found me thirsty and with a headache.

I stood beside Chris Creek and looked up at the sky, hoping for clouds heavy with the promise of fresh water. But the few, white wisps up there didn't look like rain. More like the portents of yet another hot day.

"Don't look as if you hate a sunny day."

The unexpected words almost made me jump. I turned and faced Bruna. "Hey. Good morning. You've just scared the shit out of me."

She grinned. "Sorry, didn't want to. But you looked so worried right now, it was funny."

"No, it's not."

"Not funny?"

I shook my head. "We need some fresh water. Urgently."

"Hmm, just had some." She gestured at the listless, stagnant liquid called Chris Pond.

"Sure," I said. "You can stomach that. I can't."

"Maybe you could go for a trip, inland, searching for some fresher fare. I'm sure Farid would come along with you." She eyed me, head tilted to one side. Even though her face was still pale, she looked healthier and stronger than the day before.

I didn't want to discuss him with her. "Are there any pandan left?" I looked at the shrubs around us, seeing Farid, still asleep in his usual spot.

"Try upriver," she said and walked off towards him.

I did as she had suggested and searched the shrubs upriver from the camp. The only fruits I found were small, hard, and unripe.

I chewed one of them when I saw Nita. She came up from the shore, walking quickly but clumsily on her bare feet and panting heavily.

"Have you seen Yves?" she asked.

"No, only Bruna."

"I can't find him. When I woke up this morning, he wasn't there. I thought he might have gone for a swim. He likes to do that." She gestured downhill. "So I went down to the beach, but I didn't find him." Her gaze darted through the shrubs around us.

"Relax." I placed my hand on her arm in an effort to calm her. "He'll be back. Maybe he's just hunting birds, like Chris did, yesterday. He's a man, and they love to play hunters and providers." 

He should have told us, though, before leaving. 

"I don't think he's the hunting kind," she said. "He's so gentle, you know, and he loves animals."

"Let's ask the others."

We found Chris and Farid talking by the pond. 

They hadn't seen Yves either.

Bruna joined us. "What happened?" she asked. "You all look so worried."

"Yves is missing," Chris replied.

"I thought he's gone off hunting, without telling anyone." I eyed Chris, but he didn't react, so I continued. "But Nita doesn't think he'd do that."

"Still, men need some space, at times," Bruna said. "He'll show up again."

"I'll go looking for him," I said. My last search had been a disaster, but Nita deserved some action. "Who's joining me?"

We really should stick to the rule of not wandering the place alone.

"I'll come," Nita volunteered.

I shook my head. "I don't think you should, without shoes."

She glanced down at her bare feet. When she looked up, she bit her lip, and a tear ran down her cheek.

"I'll come," Chris nodded at me. Gray stubble and his pale, steely eyes made him look like a wolf.

I looked at Farid, hoping he'd join us. But his gaze flicked between Bruna and Nita.


~~~


Chris and I first went inland and climbed the south hill, the flat one. From its top, the island looked like always, an oasis of green and brown in an endless wasteland of every shade of blue. There wasn't any sign of Yves.

From the hill, we descended to the south shore, where Chris had caught the birds the day before. He thought that Yves might try his luck there.

But there was no sign of the man. We did find some pandan, though, and we eagerly sucked the liquid from their tough flesh.

Then we toured the west and north shores and finally made our way down along the rocky eastern beach.

We were almost back when Chris suggested stopping for a break. I felt weak from hunger and thirst and didn't mind.

We sat on the rocks along the coastline.

Scratching his stubble, he studied the water, looking more wolfish than ever. His lips were drawn into a thin line.

When he turned his eyes on me, I felt naked and exposed.

No, it wasn't him who had done it, who had let Pamela and the body disappear—and maybe Yves, too. Was he?

Would the others hear me if I screamed now?

"Do you remember when we talked about terrorists, yesterday?" he asked.

I nodded, still uneasy under his inquisitive gaze.

"First, we find a body." He held up a thumb. "The next day it's gone. Then, Pamela disappears." He added a finger to his count. "Now, it's Yves." Another finger joined the toll.

"Yes?" I hesitated, wondering what he was aiming at. "Yes, it's strange. But what does this have to do with terrorists?"

He took a long breath, and then he raised his pale eyebrows. "What if one of the terrorists survived? What if he or she is with us now?"

"I see what you mean," I said. "And who..." I eyed the dry skin on his hands. The bird's blood that had covered them yesterday was gone, washed off. "... who would that be?"

"That," he said, "is a good question." He picked up a stone and threw it into the water. It disappeared into the gentle waves without leaving a trace. "I really don't know, and I don't want to accuse anyone without solid proof. Do you have any ideas?"

I shook my head while thinking of the scars on Farid's back. "But it doesn't make sense. If there were a terrorist among us, why would he... or she... do anything to Pamela or Yves? And what about that body? Why make it disappear?"

"More good questions," he said. "Maybe these people knew something. Or the terrorist was hiding his or her traces. Maybe that body was another one of the terrorists."

Would that make sense? And if it did, who would be that terrorist?

"Anyway," he said, "you should be careful. Keep your eyes open."

This sounded familiar. Farid had warned me to be careful, too.

At least Chris didn't seem to suspect me. Or maybe he did, and this was just a ruse, a play, to draw me out.

Or did he try to put me on the wrong track? One leading away from him?

He picked up another stone and threw it after the first one. "Let's go back."

We got up and walked around the last headland before the bay we had landed when we found the piece of cloth—a red fabric with brownish stains.

Chris picked it up, wordlessly. It was part of a sleeve, torn off at one end. The sleeve of a red shirt—like the one that Yves was wearing. And the stains looked like dried blood.


———

A/N: This is dedicated to all the vegetarians among you. I hope this chapter was more palatable than the last one!

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