18: Truth be told

People lied all the time, but it was just as much to themselves as others. Farah always found it strange others didn’t see that. Wise years, even with less frequent company, had taught Farah how to tell.

It was not nerves that gave a liar away, but smugness. A liar enjoyed the thrill of their duplicity, the joy of getting one over on someone, so it was often the smirk that told the real truth. Farah didn’t react when he was told a lie, didn’t shout it down, expose the charlatan, he merely felt sorry for them, for he knew such deceit wounded themselves far more than the supposed victim.

Their happiness hid a greater sadness inside. He saw that in Pisiv’s pleasure in the tales he spun around the village, such leers a mask over more profound weakness. What did a liar truly create except a world full of lies? What life was that?

Death would be the greatest moment of truth in all our lies, Farah believed, for although every man would grow old and weak with blurred eyes and brain, those that showered their lives with vain untruths and false glories, when stripped down to their kernel, learn the horror of seeing themselves for the venal braggart they truly were, understanding what they had lost in life.

Whereas those that had attempted to live an honest, open life, no matter how much they were beaten and besmirched, when stripped down to their seed could still be as strong and decent and true as when they were young. They would still lose their muscles and eyes, their body as weak as the liars and cheats, but they could die smiling knowing who they were, because they were glad of what they were not.

The angel and her mother slept on a spare mat in Farah’s hut, exhaustion overcoming them soon after the meal. He had already decided he would not question them as to events, the child being too young, the mother’s blank eyes either too cold to reveal the truth or too dulled by shock. Either way, Farah’s answers as to whatever had happened that day must come from those he knew.

Neri could’ve exploited her tragic past as a brickbat defence to manipulate any who dared criticise, but she hadn’t become her father. Farah hoped he’d helped with that. The girl’s smile was a genuine one, free from smirking false pride, despite the jeers that haunted her back. She hadn’t become her enemy, never succumbed to snide games or petty bragging of a greater life, so she walked clean, just as his own sons could stand tall and honest as he.

So it was with Jack and Neri he sat to find that whatever, having bid his sons to leave them be, finish their chores and rest in preparation for the next day.

“Let’s start with that,” said Farah, pointing to the rucksack and rifle that Jack had carefully kept well away from the spit of firelight.

“Her husband’s, and I honestly don’t know why,” said Jack. “He was here to buy the land, so maybe he thought it would come in handy.”

Farah nodded. “He tried to buy this farm,” he said. “Didn’t seem to understand that no-one owns this land really. I only live and care it. Anyway, what are riches when I already have everything I need?” He looked across at the ground where he had buried his wife so many moons ago and where flowers now grew. “As good as.”

“My father thinks the woman is going to steal the island from him,” said Neri.

“She said some things to scare him, and he reacted,” said Jack. “Badly.”

“She was angry and scared,” said Neri. “She thought her husband had ran away. But now, maybe dead. In the hallowed ground.”

Farah sighed and shook his head. “It was never hallowed ground. And it’s not Pisiv’s island. The island is no-ones. And everyones.” But he could understood the events, imagine the panic, sprouting from the lies that Pisiv could plant after so many years of easy practice.

Farah stared into the dwindling fire, before deciding. “I can help,” he said. “Tomorrow I will go down to the village. Perhaps there will be some who will listen, who still remember who I am. Tomorrow we can get your boat back and you can leave.” He nodded to the incendiary bag and gun. “Taking that with you.”

“But what about the reason why we came,” said Neri. “She’ll still want her husband. Even if he’s dead. In the hallowed ground.”

“Is he?” Farah looked at Jack.

The captain shrugged. “Maybe. Most likely. Likely it was just what she was told in Port Vila, but never believed. He fell off the hill.”

Farah nodded. “Then she can get whatever is there back too.” He stood and nodded at the moon as was his tradition before bed. Jack and Neri stood with him to bid goodnight. They would stay under the stars that night.

Jack touched Neri’s arm. Gentle but firm. He had a case to make. “We could just leave,” he said. “Take the boat ourselves and go.”

Neri looked at her love and felt the alien pang of anger rise within. She shook her head. “We can’t leave them,” she said.

“We don’t owe these people anything,” said Jack. “And there are other islands, other…”

Her fist shot out and smacked his jaw. For a small woman she had a hell of a right hook.

“No,” she said. “We brought them here. This is our fault. They are our responsibility. That child… No.”

Jack rubbed his jaw and nodded. He knew when to back down again. That night they slept apart under the stars.



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