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CHAPTER 7

  • "It's not your business, papa!"
  • "It is. It is, if you are my daughter."
  • "I have a right to choose my friends."
  • "And you choose a bad apple, a very bad one."
  • "I've told you papa. It must be someone else!"
  • John quietly listened to this conversation as he stood close by Mina's shop. She was clearly arguing with her father whom he didn't yet know. But about what, he also had no idea. Before the man could reply to his daughter's last statement, a child kicked a beer can not too far away, the noise loud and sudden. The can hit the shop and skittered away on rebound, putting a stop to their conversation.
  • John who was also distracted by the sound was taken a little unawares when he saw someone brush angrily past him. The person was a man clearly in his middle age with the look of a local trader. He was coming from the shop and John had no doubt that it was Mina's father. He took one last glance at the man's quickly receding figure before stepping into the store.
  • Mina was busy arranging bottles with an angry expression on her face, but on sighting him, she beamed radiantly.
  • "Hello John. You're welcome. Come in! How are you?"
  • "I'm fine Mina. You seem busy."
  • "Oh I'll finish in a minute. Come to see me?"
  • "Yes... um... not exactly, but I overheard your conversation, so I'm here to see if everything's OK."
  • "Oh it's just my father. He can be stubborn sometimes. He said he sees you with Nico's men, so you must be one of them, but I told him it's not true."
  • She was still wearing a smile, that lovely smile that reminded John of a bright sun on a cold day, but when she didn't hear a response from her friend, she glanced back at him only to find him staring at her, his face devoid of expression.
  • "He's right," John finally managed.
  • Just like it first came, Mina's smiles extinguished in a flash and the bottle in her hand dropped back into the rack.
  • "What!" She stood stunned and astonished.
  • John got up and walked toward her, but she shrank from him, her face a model of hate and disgust. He raised both hands to show that he meant no harm, but she shrank farther away. From the corner of his eye, he could see that her hand had closed around the slender neck of a beer bottle. He stopped.
  • "Please Mina, I just want to tell you something important."
  • She said nothing, so he continued walking towards her, one slow step at a time. Getting close enough, but not too close to be in danger, he leaned forward and whispered into her ear. Quickly, the look on her face changed from disgust to wonder and she gasped in disbelief. Pulling back her head, she looked at him fully.
  • "Really?", she asked.
  • "Yeah. And please, for our sakes, don't tell anyone. Not even your father."
  • "Okay, but..."
  • "No buts. Let's not even talk about it ever again."
  • "Okay," she sighed resignedly and shrugged.
  • John returned to his seat and took a beer from her rack. As he opened and drank, Mina glanced at him from time to time, her face still showing signs of surprise. She was clearly thinking of and trying her best to take in what he had just told her.
  • **
  • On his return to the villa, John found the entire place very quiet and perhaps empty. It was a little strange because there was always a ruffian or two around, but this time, both within and outside the walls, there was no one in sight. He stepped into the living room and found one of the ruffians watching TV. The man almost jumped off the couch as he noticed John's entry, probably thinking it was Nico. But on realizing his mistake, he settled for a slight bow and relaxed back into the couch.
  • "Where's everyone?", John asked, taking a seat on the couch opposite.
  • "They're out, señor."
  • "Out where?"
  • "I have no idea."
  • "They left only you behind?"
  • "Si señor."
  • "Isn't that too risky? And you're not even at the gate."
  • The man smiled, exposing unevenly broken teeth.
  • "No problem here, señor. Nobody dare to come in even if it's empty."
  • That said, he returned to watching the TV. John stared at him, trying to understand the full implication of his words. He knew that the townspeople were afraid of Nico and his gang and the police were either too scared or in Nico's pockets or perhaps both, but the manner in which the ruffian said the words made them sound pregnant with more meaning than John thought he could currently imagine. Yet, he didn't ask for a full explanation from the ruffian. Like Nico said, he would learn with time.
  • It was hours later before Nico and the others returned. John was still in the sitting room when the gang leader entered with such speed and angry facial expression that both occupants were startled. He didn't utter a word, he just breezed past them and disappeared behind a curtain.
  • John watched as he stormed off, wondering what may have upset him, but the other man did not have such patience or courage. As soon as Nico was out of sight, he quickly made his way out of the sitting room as fast as his legs could carry him. From what he had seen so far of Nico's behavior, John thought it a good idea to follow the man's example and leave at once. He didn't want to push his luck too far and end up on the wrong side of Nico, not when he was this angry.
  • He strolled leisurely out of the room, scanning the area for James. He soon found him engaged in a discussion with some men in a far corner of the villa. Not wanting to interrupt the meeting, John turned to walk away, but James had sighted him and was now coming towards him.
  • "Hey, thunder brother," he hailed at John while lighting a cigarette.
  • "Hey yourself. How's it going? Been busy?"
  • "Ohh yeah. Super busy. Looked for you everywhere before we left. Where've you been hiding?"
  • "Nowhere in particular," John shrugged. "Just strolled around a little. Came back to find the place empty."
  • "Yeah, we were all out for work," James murmured with a faraway look in his eyes as he puffed lazily at his cigarette.
  • "What work exactly?"
  • "Nico didn't tell you?"
  • "No. Was he sup..."
  • "He may tell you soon enough. All I can say is... things didn't go as planned."
  • "Not a surprise. He seemed angry enough to set the entire mansion on fire."
  • "Oh yeah. Take my advice... stay away from the volcano while it's still spewing smoke."
  • "Got it."
  • They walked together in silence for a while, one puffing restlessly away at his cigarette, the other calm and thoughtful.
  • "Hey, let's stroll out," James suddenly declared.
  • John made no objection. He simply joined his friend and they stepped out of the villa together.
  • "Hmmmm," James was inhaling the cool air with his eyes closed. "One thing about this town, Johnny, it's got great air."
  • "Yeah, perfectly true. Cool and relaxing. I always go out at every opportunity."
  • "Where you from Johnny?", James suddenly asked.
  • "Well, me... I'm not from around here. I'm..."
  • "I'm from around here," James cut him off. "Cool place this Quarker. Born here, grew up here, but I hate the people. They fucking lack guts."
  • "How so?"
  • "They're laid back, man. They just live, work, eat... eat, live, work. They hate real action. And when you show them some real action, they hate you. Fucking cowards!"
  • He spat in disgust and threw away his unfinished cigarette. John just continued walking silently beside him. He didn't know the people well enough and he was not one to give opinions based on partial knowledge.
  • "Where you come from, Johnny, are they strong people?"
  • "They are, to an extent. Depends on what you call strong."
  • "Do they rough it up sometimes? Disturb the peace, get what they want and fuck the laid backs to hell?"
  • "Yeah, they do... sometimes."
  • "Lucky you, man," James muttered beneath his breath.
  • "So you've got family here, I suppose?"
  • "Yeah some cowardly folks just around the corner somewhere there. They don't wanna clap eyes on me and I don't wanna see them either, but one day, I'm gonna prove myself and they all gonna respect me."
  • "And how do you propose to do that?"
  • "Just wait and see, Johnny. Just wait and see."
  • They were now approaching Mina's shop, but John had no intention of introducing her to his new friend. He was still thinking of how to avoid such a meeting when James solved the problem for him.
  • "Gotta blaze, man. Take care."
  • As abruptly as he had joined him so did James leave him, crossing the road and disappearing into an alley. John was glad to be rid of him, not because he hated his presence, but mainly because he didn't want such a swift-tongued personality anywhere near his beloved Mina whom he had no doubt was in her shop. He could hear her soft voice singing beautifully as he approached. He stopped to listen for a while before stepping in. Mina actually had earphones on and was singing merrily in a language he had no doubt was German. She noticed him immediately.
  • "John!", she hailed, beaming luxuriantly.
  • "Hey Mina," John returned her smile. "Enjoying yourself?"
  • "Oh yes. Es ist mein Geburtstag!"
  • "Uhh... and that means?"
  • "Oh don't mind me," she giggled. "I mean, today it is my birthday!"
  • "Oh Wow! That's wonderful. I had no idea or I would have brought a gift. For now, I'll just say Happy Birthday, Mina!"
  • "Thank you! Have a beer. Let's celebrate! Kannst du tanzen?"
  • "Uh?"
  • "Wurdest du mit mir tanzen?"
  • John just stared at her in open mouthed confusion. He had no idea what she was saying and for the life of him, he couldn't guess. He thought the word 'tanzen' sounded familiar, but he was lost as to its meaning. She seemed to be enjoying his confusion as she moved her hips from side to side in time with the music, putting on a good show for her astounded friend who was still seated. Giggling merrily, she sashayed over to him and grabbed his free hand. He quickly dropped his beer and pulled himself to his feet. She dragged him to the centre of the small shop and held both his hands, still dancing softly and looking into his eyes.
  • "I should teach you German," she whispered with a smile.
  • "And I'll he happy to learn."
  • Giggling again, she suddenly twirled round in front of him like an expert ballerina, his fingers holding hers high above her head. After a few more twirls that seemed to take more and more of John's breath away, she landed in his arms and looked up at him. Her face was flushed from exertion, but still covered in smiles. She looked into his eyes, capturing all his attention. John could think of nothing else other than the beautiful woman in his arms. This close, he could smell her perfume and he was enchanted. Slowly, as if by rote, his head inched closer to hers. He could feel her heart beating faster than normal, but he was far too lost in the moment to bother about anything else. He leaned further, closer, his lips parting in the process and slowly, her eyes lidded over as she parted her own lips to accept his.