Authors: Lucinda Riley
Tags: #Historical, #Contemporary, #Romance
He was in love with her.
His relief when he walked into the lobby the next morning, and Lidia was sitting behind the reception desk as usual was palpable. He had to restrain himself from running over and putting his arms round her.
‘Lidia, you’re back! Are you … all right?’
‘Yes, Harry.’ Her eyes seemed darker than usual, her demeanour somehow dimmed, but she added: ‘I am all right.’
He studied her. ‘Are you sure?’
‘Good,’ he answered. ‘I’m glad.’ And, not wanting to leave her but unsure what else to say, he wandered off.
Harry paced his room, unable to settle. He had felt fine before Lidia had gone AWOL. But the intensity of the panic he had felt when she wasn’t there had frightened him. How could he love a woman he hardly knew?
Unable to stay in his room, he walked across the veranda and strolled down towards the river. He lit a cigarette and thought of Sebastian, now probably well on his way across the sea; he wished he had been well enough to travel with him. Even if he had ‘fallen in love’, the turmoil he was feeling about Lidia was pointless. He was a captain in the British Army, a hereditary peer of the British realm, heir to a vast country estate …
Harry threw the remainder of his cigarette viciously into the river. It caught in the detritus of tangled weeds that constantly floated past. Maybe the dengue fever had affected his brain – or perhaps the time in Changi. The first woman to come along and give him any form of comfort, and he was lost.
He went back up to the hotel and marched determinedly into the lobby. He would book a passage on the next boat home. He caught sight of Lidia at the reception desk and manfully tried to ignore her. But out of the corner of his eye, he saw her take a handkerchief from her small basket and dab her eyes. Immediately, he weakened and turned back towards her.
As he reached her, he leant forward and said quietly, ‘Lidia, what is wrong?’
She shook her head, too choked to speak.
‘What is it? What’s happened?’
‘Please, Harry,’ she said with a note of panic. ‘Leave me. I do not want to draw attention. Madame would not be happy to see me behind reception like this.’
‘I understand. I will go away, but only if you promise to meet me outside the hotel in your lunch break. I’ll be at the end of the road, by the small food stall on the corner.’
She looked up at him. ‘Oh, Harry, Madame –’
‘I’ll make sure we’re not seen. Say yes and I’ll leave you be.’
‘If it mean you go away now, I meet you by the stall at noon.’
‘Deal,’ he smiled, and walked away, completely forgetting the reason he had come into the lobby in the first place.
Lidia was waiting for him on the corner as arranged, glancing nervously from side to side.
‘I know place we can go.’ She beckoned him to follow her and walked smartly away along the busy road. After a couple of minutes, she turned into a narrow alley, packed with barrows selling all manner of food. She walked halfway along it then indicated a rough wooden bench, sheltered from the sun by a ragged parasol.
‘You want something to eat?’ asked Lidia.
The smell of drains mingling with sizzling, indeterminate meat in the airless alley made Harry feel nauseous. ‘I think I’ll just take a beer if there is one, thank you.’
‘Of course.’ Lidia spoke in fast Thai to the vendor and a beer and a glass of water appeared in front of them.
Harry tried to concentrate on Lidia, rather than the stifling, claustrophobic atmosphere. He felt sweat breaking out on his forehead, opened his beer and took a hefty swig from it.
‘So, Lidia, can you tell me why you were crying this morning?’
Lidia looked at him, her eyes full of sadness. ‘Oh Harry, I have very difficult problem at home.’
‘Lidia, having seen countless men die right in front of me, I really can handle most things.’
‘Okay, Harry, I will tell you,’ Lidia sighed. ‘My mother, she is getting married.’
‘And this is a bad thing?’
Lidia’s eyes filled with tears. ‘Yes. Because … he is Japanese general.’
‘I see.’ Harry now understood just how bad this was.
‘They met during Occupation here. But she did not tell me because she understand how I will feel. Now he is back in Japan. And wishes her to go there – with
Harry was silent for a moment. Then he nodded. ‘You are right. This is a really big problem.’
‘How could she do this?’ Lidia whispered. ‘She is traitor!’ She spat the words. ‘How can she do this when my father, he die trying to free Thailand from Japanese?’
‘They put him in prison one year ago, when they found he was publishing underground newspaper. Just before end of war, six months ago, we hear they shoot him.’
Harry instinctively reached a hand across the wooden table and rested it on Lidia’s. It felt so tiny, so fragile under his grasp. ‘Lidia, I am so terribly sorry.’
She wiped the tears roughly from her cheeks. ‘Thank you. Now worst thing is, I cannot believe my mother ever love my father. How can she?’
‘I am sure she did, Lidia,’ Harry tried to rationalize, ‘but there are a lot of reasons why people do what they do, when they need to. You have many brothers and sisters and, from what you tell me, little money. Is this general rich?’
‘Oh yes, very. He is powerful too and live in big house in Japan. My mother is very beautiful. Every man fall in love with her,’ Lidia sighed. ‘But you are right. She want her children to have new life, good life, better than she can have here as a widow. This is how she explain it to me. She tell me she does not love him, but must do right thing for future.’
‘And what will you do?’ he asked, hardly able to bear the answer.
‘She want me to go with her. She say Japan not enemy, that Occupation peaceful and only political agreement.’ Lidia shook her head. ‘But they
my father because they worry he cause trouble and unrest. How can I go to this place?’
‘I don’t know, Lidia, I really don’t,’ Harry said. ‘May I ask how old you are?’
‘I am seventeen, eighteen in six weeks.’
‘Then you are a few weeks away from being an adult, who can make her own decisions. Must you go?’
‘Harry, if I do not, I may never see my mother or my brothers and sisters again.’ Lidia fiddled with her glass, distraught. ‘I have lost my father. How can I lose them too?’
Harry shook his head. ‘You are in an impossible situation.’ He took a swig of his beer. ‘But you are almost an adult now, not a child. You must think of
life and what you want.’
‘But my mother, she is saying I must go to Japan. I cannot disobey her.’
‘Lidia, everything is not just about family.’
Her amber eyes burnt with passion. ‘Harry, you are wrong. Here in Thailand,
is about family. You must obey your parents.’
‘Even when you are an adult?’
Lidia was crying freely now. ‘Yes.’
‘I really am awfully sorry. Seems I’m upsetting you more.’ Harry rooted in his trouser pocket for a handkerchief and passed it to her.
‘No, you are not. It is good to talk.’ She blew her nose loudly. ‘Madame say too I should not go. That I have good job at hotel and will progress.’
Harry thanked God for Giselle. ‘Remember, this war has changed all the rules, for everyone, and things are not what they were. You must try to forgive your mother, she is only doing what she thinks is best. But what she wants for herself and your younger brothers and sisters may not be appropriate for you. Do you have any other relatives here in Thailand?’
‘Yes. My father’s family, they come from an island, many miles away.’ The cloud suddenly lifted from Lidia’s face and she smiled. ‘It is very beautiful; I went there many times as a child. It is known as Elephant Island and it floats in the sea like a jewel.’
‘So you would not be alone in this country?’
‘And you have a way of earning money here.’
‘Yes.’ She looked up at him. ‘You think I should stay behind?’
‘Only you can make that decision, Lidia. But there is no reason, if you decided to stay here, why you can’t visit your mother and brothers and sisters often.’
‘But it is so far away, Harry, many thousands of miles, and cold.’ Lidia shuddered. ‘I hate the cold.’
Harry wondered what Lidia would make of Norfolk in midwinter. ‘It is simple,’ he said, draining his beer bottle. ‘You must decide what
Lidia looked into the distance and gave a sigh. ‘I want …’ then she crumpled, ‘not to make this decision.’
‘No. But you must. When does your mother leave for Japan?’
‘In ten days. The general has booked passage for her and my brothers and sisters. And me,’ she added, frowning.
‘Well then, why don’t you let the dust settle for a few days, as we say in England, which means; get over the shock and take your time to think?’
Lidia offered him a wan smile. ‘You are right. Thank you, Harry. What is the time?’
‘I am afraid my watch was blown up in my kitbag four years ago and I haven’t got round to replacing it,’ he admitted.
Lidia stood up. ‘Well, I’m sure it time for me to go back to work.
Kop khun ka
‘What does that mean?’
‘It means “thank you”, for everything. You help me, really.’ She gave him a smile and hurried away towards the hotel.
The next time Harry saw Lidia was in the lobby that afternoon. She looked more composed as she handed him a telegram. It was from Olivia, telling him all was well at Wharton Park, and they hoped he would soon be fit enough to make the journey home.
‘It is from your family in England?’ Lidia asked.
‘Yes,’ he nodded.
Harry returned to his room, telegram in hand, and berated himself for lying to her.
The doctor came to see him the following morning, and pronounced him well enough to travel. Harry knew it would be best to leave as soon as possible; return to reality and cease fantasising about a life and a woman that could never be his.
He telexed Sebastian’s office and asked them to book him the next available passage home.
When he was trying to settle for his afternoon nap, there was a soft tap on his door.
It was Lidia. His face lit up at the sight of her.
‘So sorry to disturb you, Harry, but I come to tell you I go away for this weekend. And I do not want you to worry for me. It is
special New Year Thai celebration. In your country, you would call it water festival.’
Harry’s heart sank. ‘How long are you going for?’
‘Three days. I think about what you say to me and I decide I will spend
with my father’s parents in Koh Chang.’
‘When do you leave?’ Harry felt agitated. His time here was running out.
‘Early tomorrow morning. It is long journey and will take me whole day to get there.’
‘Can I come with you?’
She looked at him, surprised.
‘Sorry, Lidia.’ Harry was embarrassed by his forward behaviour. ‘I’m sure the last thing you want is me tagging along beside you. It’s just I’ve seen so little of the Thai countryside. Please, forget I even said it. It would be too much of an imposition.’
Her amber eyes were thoughtful. ‘Ah, Harry, you are lonely without your family, yes?’ She did not give him time to reply, before adding, ‘
is all about family and welcoming people into it.’ She gave a sudden, wide smile of decision. ‘I think my grandparents very happy to welcome brave British soldier who help fight Japanese. Yes,’ she nodded, ‘you come with me.’
‘Really?’ Harry was overwhelmed.
‘Yes,’ nodded Lidia. ‘Then I can show you the beautiful island of my father’s birth. It will be present from me to say thank you for helping me decide what to do.’
‘You have decided?’ he asked.
‘As you say, I am adult. And I cannot go to Japan and live with people who murder my father and many others. I stay here. In country I love.’
Harry’s own lips broke into a wide smile. ‘I am glad you’ve made your decision, Lidia. And, personally, I think it’s the right one.’
‘I will miss my brothers and sisters, but even for them, I cannot do this. One day,’ she added, ‘when I make great life and money here in Bangkok, I can bring them back, if they wish to come. So, we meet on corner by food stall tomorrow at six o’ clock in morning? Then we will take tuk-tuk to the station.’
‘Six o’clock tomorrow morning,’ Harry agreed.
‘Oh, and I must tell you, Koh Chang not like this.’ Lidia swept her arms around the room. ‘No electricity, no tap, but good sea.’
‘That is not a problem for me, Lidia.’ After Changi, Harry could cope with most conditions.
‘I must go now,’ said Lidia. ‘I see you tomorrow at six.’
Harry went to let Giselle know he would not be playing in the bar for the following three nights.
‘May I enquire where you are going?’
‘Yes, I thought I should see a little of the country before I leave.’
‘Of course,’ she agreed, ‘and I have heard Koh Chang is rather beautiful, although I have never been there myself.’
Harry’s expression told Giselle everything she needed to know.
‘I will return on Monday.’
‘Captain Crawford? Harry?’ She stopped him.
‘Lidia is a lovely girl. And she has a very difficult time. I am very fond of her and hope she will be with me here for many years to come. Do not hurt her, will you?’
‘Of course not.’ Harry was indignant.
Enjoy getting wet,’ she smiled, and walked back into her office.
Lidia was waiting for him at the appointed meeting place. She hailed a tuk-tuk and they set off. The sun was still rising and Bangkok was quiet, which meant Harry was able to enjoy the city, with its miscellany of colonial architecture, wooden shacks and Thai-style houses. He only wished he’d had the physical stamina to explore more of it.
They arrived at the railway station, which was a hive of activity. Ancient trains stood in sidings, covered in rust produced by many years of unrelenting rain in the monsoon season. Lidia bought their tickets, refusing to take money from Harry, and walked down the platforms until she found the right train. They climbed into an already packed carriage and chattering locals stared at Harry in fascination as he and Lidia made their way down the narrow aisle to a free bench.