Authors: Tom Pow
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is for Delia Huddy
and for my family,
Julie, Cameron and Jenny
I'd like to thank all those responsible for the expert advice I received in the writing of
Dr. Philip Clayton answered with his usual clarity a number of medical questions I had. Alastair Reid and Professor Mike Gonzalez helped me immeasurably with matters linguistic and cultural. Together with Professor W. George Lovell and Leslie Clark, Alastair and Mike have shared their deep knowledge of Latin America with me over the years. Individually and collectively they have enlarged my sense of the possible.
I began writing
while in Cuba thanks to a Scottish Arts Council Writer's Bursary. I wish to acknowledge that here and also to thank Glasgow University Crichton Campus for granting me time away from work.
I am grateful to Harriet Wilson and Delia Huddy for their enthusiasm for
in its initial stages. I wish to thank my editor, Lucy Walker, for the sensitivity of her work on the novel and my agent, Jenny Brown, for her unfailing support.
Delia Huddy showed concern for
even when facing the hospital operation from which she never recovered. This novel is for her, and, as ever, with love and gratitude, for my familyâJulie, Cameron, and Jenny.
Dumfries, Feb 2006
In the high sierras
Where juniper fills the air
Or in the deep green forest
Where the water's at its coolestâthere
And around each blue fringe
Of this, our island home,
You cannot help but hear
The bones of the dead ask
As if in prayer
What have you done
With our gifts? The wind
Thickens in the south. Clear your throatâ
It is time you prepared an answer.
His father came on, paused briefly at the top of the stairs, as he would have been told to do, and acknowledged the studio audience's applause. He did so with a cursory nod of the headâhe was not a pop star, after allâand then came down the stairs to join Callaghan, the host. To this part at least, Martin knew, he would have given a lot of thought, and he took the stairs lightly and quicklyâa man of energy and action.
He shook hands with Callaghan, eased himself onto the black leather chair, and checked the lay of his jacket. Martin leaned back on his bed and pressed the volume control of his small bracketed TV up a couple of notches.
“Well, Tony, as we said in our intro there, it is an amazing storyâor perhaps
would be the better description.”
“Yes, it is. It sometimes seems like a dream now.”
“Or a nightmare, more like?”
“Indeed, a nightmare. An absolute nightmare.” Martin saw his father recognize the mistake he had made and his quickness in rectifying it. They had to get the category right after allâfile under
“Well, Tony, just to take you back to the island of Santa Clara for a moment and to remind us all what you went through, here's the photograph of you and the other hostages that was syndicated around the world.”
A large projection showed a handful of glum westerners in shorts and T-shirts in a forest setting. Two men, one heavily bearded, and a woman stood behind a boy squatting between another woman and a girl. The girl's grimace could almost be mistaken for a smile.
“You can see in your faces the torment you were going through. And that was whatâa week or so after your capture?”
“Yes, that was after a week. It's hard to look at that now, you know, to see how worn down we all look, yet there were still another three weeks to go before we were freed.”
“And living all that time not knowing whether you'd ever get out alive?”
“Exactly. A month doesn't sound like a long timeâbut in those circumstances it felt likeÂ â¦ wellÂ â¦ forever.”
For Martin, the shock of the picture still lay mostly in seeing himself there in the jungle, squatting beside Louise. If it was a dream to him, the clearest part of it was that: their thighs touchingâa small nakedness, this, but one that stood for all the strange intimacies they had shared.
As for his father, the man in the picture was closer to the one he knewâor had knownâthan the man on television with his elegant black suit, the polished black loafers, and the clean-shaven face. The open-necked white shirt Martin recognized as another gesture to the kind of man his father was: successful, but still very much an individual.
It was a small concession, but an important one, for it gave Martin the only link between this man and the father he had known: the bearded, always dishevelled father, who was beginning to sigh into middle age, who found teaching less of a satisfaction and more of a drudge; whose war with the headmaster over his wearing of sandals to work had become less a point of principle and more a distraction from the fact that, the sandals apart, he found less and less to engage his passions.
The screen cleared.
“As I said, Tony, that picture was in newspapers around the world, but what made your story such a drama for us all was the televised plea by your younger son, Nick.”
His father was nodding. “Yes, of course, we knew nothing about it, butâ”
“If you can bear to watch it one more timeâ¦”
Martin grimaced as, on the large projection screen, his thirteen-year-old brother appeared wearing a football shirt before a battery of cameras and microphones. They missed out the part where the MP had spoken of the unusualness of this “event,” while stressing that the family, and Nick in particular, wanted to do anything it could to advance the safe release of the hostages.
“I don't know,” Nick began hesitantly, his eyes on the paper before him, as the Spanish subtitles ran along the bottom of the screenâ
“No sÃ© si recibirÃ¡s este mensaje, peroâ¦”
â“I don't know if you'll get this message, but if you do, please set my family, and the other family, free unharmed. You've made your point, and my family have never done anything wrong, so please, they don't deserve to suffer any more, and if they can see this at all”âand here his face lifted; a boy's face bathed in light and tearsâ“Love you, Mum, Dad, Martin, and I miss you so much. Come home safelyâ¦” His uncle Ralph's arm came around him then and Nick slumped forward, burying his face in his hands.
It was some performance, thought Martin, even seeing it for the umpteenth time. He could be sure that downstairs his mother would be wiping the tears from her eyes and cuddling Nick against her on the sofa.
Martin's father had dipped his chin into his chest, in an act of gathering himself before the next question.
“You must be very proud of your son, Tony.”
His father lifted his head. “Yes, very. Of both of them.”
Oh, hurray, thought Martin.
“Yes, of course, the whole experience must have been a terrible one for your older son, Martin. How's he doing?”
“He's doing just fine. I think, after all that time living so close together, he's enjoying finding his own space again.”
“Of course, no matter what happens to them, âown space' at that age is important, isn't it?”
“Seems to be, yes.”
“I mean, our son treats us like meals on wheels and the closest he gets to the wilderness is a mooch around the park with his mates.”
It was the light part of the interview: both men were smiling and the audience laughed. So what, if Martin had been skated over? He knew there were barbs to come and he worried for his father, now looking so relaxed, so like a real celebrity on Callaghan's
Saturday Night Talk Show.
“Now, Tony, the diary. You don't take any prisoners yourself.” Callaghan smiled, liking the line.
His father frowned. “I wouldn't put it like that. I just think that if you are going to do something like this, there's no point if you're not going to be honest.”
“Even about your wife. You
a brave man, Tony.”
“Yes, wellâ¦” said his father, pausing to choose his words. “I happen to think my wife is a very brave woman too. She was just as determined that the truth be told as I was.”
“Agreed, Tony, agreed. But just on that point, is the diary word for word as you wrote it? I mean, it must have been written in very trying circumstances, yet there's no end of detail in it.”
“That's true, and obviously, for publication, parts of it have had to be worked up and clarified for the readerâwhile remaining true to the experience.”
“I see,” said Callaghan with a twinkle in his eyes. “Tony, the diary's been a great success, hasn't it?”
“Well, Iâ¦,” and his father smiled faintly.
“Oh, don't be so modest. Wherever it's been serialized, newspaper and magazine sales have rocketed. And it's been translated into Lord knows how many languages.”
“Six, so far,” said his father. It was a brief flare of pride; forgivable if you knew that this was a writer who'd waited most of his adult life to be published. But it was a miscalculation Martin knew his father would pay for.
“Six, begorra! And there's talk of it being turned into a book and a film. Who do you see playing yourself? George Clooney?”
His father didn't rise to that one, thankfully, only smiled out of politeness.
“I think it just happens to be a story people can identify with. You know, ordinary people in an extraordinary situation.”
“Nightmare, as you say, nightmare.”
Callaghan had said it twice, as far as Martin could tell, to let the word settle, to act as a brake on all that had gone before. Because now, with the smell of blood in the air, he was smiling sympathetically.
“Tony, if we may,” and he paused, as if the next words were hard to find, “just touch on the rather public falling out between you and the Deschamps family.â¦”
“Of course, but can I say now that nothing saddens me more than this, after all we went through together?”
“I'm sure we all”âCallaghan swept an arm round the audienceâ“understand that. Nevertheless, what do you say to their accusations that you are profiteering from their misery? I mean, you
making a profit, aren't you? Six translations and counting, as you said yourself.”