12: Force majeure

Nothing was going the way Blake wanted, expected or even hoped. Nothing in Vanuatu had, from the faux ‘home’ they rented in Port Vila, through Toby’s duplicity, to her once sharp reading of people becoming a blurred fog. Every move and decision was the wrong one, anger had replaced rationality and she couldn’t seem to stop or help herself.

Blake didn’t realise her effect on others anymore and she she didn’t see the threat until it was too late.

Neri had eventually persuaded her father to talk with the outsider in an attempt to calm nerves and allay fears. He agreed with a grunt, sodden beady eyes hiding his own intentions for the meet. A chance to let bygones be bygones, or so Neri and Jack thought.

They walked up the hill to Pisiv’s hut that morning. It overlooked the village on a stepped dirt rise, so he could survey his kingdom each morning and night. Jack and Neri led, Blake followed hand in hand with Madison. She had to clear her head, still drowsy with insomnia, if only to calm her child, knowing her temper affected her so easily, not realising how infectious it was to everyone else as well.

The villagers nodded and smiled as they passed. Jack and Neri smiled back, but the captain wondered if the unease he felt could be his own guilty hand in events, or a foreboding of something else. There was no laughter in the village air for once. The men swung their machetes as usual, but their stares lacked warmth and their smiles seemed fixed. A few of them followed the quartet up the hill, loitering behind at casual distance.

Jean and Louis were squatting making shapes in the earth with their machetes either side of the hut doorway. Neri had grown up and with and apart from them. They nodded to bid entrance. Inside, Pisiv sat crosslegged on the floor, tracing more Ni-Van shapes in the earth with a stick. Massif and Charles were leaning against the wall behind him. Massif was the silent bull whose face Blake had spat in the previous evening. He stared and her as she walked in and sat on the floor before Pisiv. Neri and Madison stood against the wall to her side, while Jack hung back by the doorway, knowing any interjection he could contribute would only inflame his potential father-in-law further.

Blake began to speak and Neri translated as she would do for Pisiv’s words.

“It’s been a difficult time for me,” said Blake. “I know I offended you, I insulted you and I’m sorry. But I need your help. I came here to find my husband, her father.” She nodded to Madison. “And I’m still going to do that, I need you to…”

Pisiv grunted, cutting her short. “What you need, what you want is of no concern anymore.”

Massif moved slowly around the hut behind them, until he was standing next to Madison.

“We’re a kind people, this is a kind land, but we’re not weak like you think we are. We’re not going to let you take our home from us.”

Blake shook her head. “I’m not here to take anything from you. Look, Toby may have bought your land, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to lose it.”

It takes a lot to change a mind once set, when a seed has been planted so potent that facts, sense or words can’t halt its growth. Once Pisiv, in his fear, had perceived the foreigners as thieves, had convinced his fellow islanders of that myth, it was more than his life’s worth to backtrack.

“This is our island,” he said. “You are not welcome here and you’re not going to take anything from here, not even your husband, her father.”

Blake could feel her anger return. Screw diplomacy. This stupid small man had taken Toby’s money, her money, and possibly his life too, their life together. Now, he sat in smug arrogance, laying down the law that he broke himself. This was not going to stand.

“We haven’t stolen anything from you. I can read, so can any court, even in Vanuatu. So let’s break this down in real simple terms. If you don’t tell me where my husband is I’ll take your home apart finding him myself.”

Bad move. Never show anger, that used to be Blake’s mantra. Even worse when it didn’t have any desired effect. Pisiv wasn’t scared. Instead he smiled, a cruel rictus that showed an upper hand.

“You think its not going to happen,” he said. “But it already is.”

Massif placed his hand on the blonde crown of Madison’s head and gently raised his machete to her neck.


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