By Derek Haines
Derek Haines on Createspace
Copyright © 2010 by Derek Haines
Chapter 1 Dying Time
Chapter 2 Teremun
Chapter 3 Charles
Chapter 4 Hidayah
Chapter 5 Dulwich
Chapter 6 Secrets
Chapter 7 War’s End
Chapter 8 Oxford
Chapter 9 Hamal
Chapter 10 The Book
Chapter 11 Service
Chapter 12 Weston-Super-Mare
Chapter 13 Roland
Chapter 14 Paris
Chapter 15 Robert’s War
Chapter 16 Over The Border
Chapter 17 The Prey
Chapter 18 The London Years
Chapter 19 Palestine
Chapter 20 The Green Line
Chapter 21 Fariq’s Fall
Chapter 22 The Cold Desk
Chapter 23 Sifal
Chapter 24 Over And Out
Chapter 25 Decisions
Chapter 26 Slowly, Slowly.
Chapter 27 To The Grave
About the Author
This book is a work of fiction. A fictional story about a man who was my friend. As a child and a young teenager he would tell me stories. Mysterious tales of far off lands and people. Singing mysterious songs in mysterious languages. At the time, I had not heard of the word enigma, but now I know my friend Louis was exactly that.
Louis never lied to me. Only telling me what he wanted to tell me, but somehow always managing to slide around a part of a story that would have possibly necessitated at least a white lie. At around eleven years old, I clearly remember asking him with a child’s innocence if he had ever killed anyone. He replied that the subject of death should never be discussed by people who did not drink brandy.
At thirteen, I tried my first brandy. Louis laughed and laughed as I choked and spluttered on my first ever small mouthful. It tasted vile, and burnt my lips, tongue mouth and throat. Not one to give in easily, I tried again some weeks later, finding that very small sips rolled around my mouth until enough saliva developed to be able to swallow helped. I still choked from time to time. And Louis laughed roundly every time.
He never did answer my question directly, but did show me his 1929 Smith & Wesson .38 though.
With his horse tail flapping from side to side to keep the flies at bay, Louis and I passed many, many afternoons together. For a young innocent country boy, he was my only route to the wonders of the world outside my little country town.
He taught me how to imagine.
It is now nearly forty years since my dear friend died. The right time to tell his story from the corridors of my imagination. So Louis is not forgotten.
There was a crooked man, and he walked a crooked mile.
He found a crooked sixpence against a crooked stile.
He bought a crooked cat, which caught a crooked mouse,
And they all lived together in a little crooked house.
Antiseptic, bleach, fresh paint, bandages, chemicals and death. In an intensive care ward it is worse. Cleaner. More antiseptic. More death. Catheters pushed painfully into collapsed veins in the back of dying hands. Tubes, machines, oscilloscopes, beeps, monitors, syringes, nurses with false smiles, giving false hope.
For an old man, there was little hope of leaving. Being catheterised, wired, tubed, needled, monitored, tired and unable to move from his uncomfortable death bed, he knew his time had come. He just had to wait patiently.
His face did not look like the face of a dying man. His portly physique puffed his face just enough to avoid wrinkles. His bald head shining as it always had. His hair, in a ring from ear to ear at the back of his head was still dark, even if touched with a little grey now. His thick black moustache was still black and thick though. He wondered how long it had been since he had trimmed it. Every three days was his routine. He didn’t have a mirror to check if it needed trimming. An olive complexion hides age well. Although covered by a sheet and light blanket, his pot belly stomach was very noticeable. He had never tried to lose his belly. It was a sign of wealth and well being for him.
Unlike other patients in this intensive care ward, he looked very alive. No outward signs of imminent death. No sign of a wrinkling, grey skin or loss of consciousness. His dark brown eyes still held their ability to stare, interrogate, scare and befriend. His smile did not work, but then again, it never really had since his childhood. It was his heart that was letting him down. Until two days ago, it had worked as it always had. Overtime. Keeping his portly frame alive and well as he pushed it to its limit. As he had always done. One sharp pain in his chest, and a rapid loss of consciousness signalled his impending demise.
His wife and neighbour had acted quickly and called an ambulance that also reacted quickly. Thinking now that it probably would have been better if no one had acted so quickly. What was the point in prolonging the inevitable? He knew he would not survive, and the time he had been given was only useful to think, remember and file his life in his mind before it was wiped clean by death.
With the time to contemplate, one’s looming demise gives the opportunity to cleanse yourself. Admit to wrongs and guilt. Make a death bed statement. Solve the secrets for the living. Answer the questions they have been too afraid to ask. Ask for a priest and admit your sins. Tell the people you love that you love them. Forgive the ones who have wronged you.
He wasn’t sure he should or could do any of these things. His secrets were for the grave, and had been paid well to ensure they were. But he wondered about the secrets he wasn’t paid to keep. Should he tell those close to him who he was, and wasn’t? Did he even know all the answers himself? Should he tell his wife who he really was? The name she had married was only one of his names. And did he really know who he was himself anyway?
Too many years had passed to remember in detail.
And what of the secrets that had been kept from him? Too late now to discover the truth. He resigned himself to dying without answers. It didn’t really matter anyway. Who would care?
He remembered that he had always liked to believe he was born in 1899. There was never any certificate to prove or disprove it. He was never sure of the day and month, but in his own mind he had made his birthday the first of April when he was in his teens but didn’t know at the time that this was a foolish day to choose.
He wondered what his wife had given the hospital. What certificates or passports or ID papers? Who did they think he was? His ability to speak was just starting to desert him, so he thought it would be too difficult to ask a nurse and start a long conversation. He was comforted though after having seen his chart when the nurses took his temperature and blood pressure. The name was correct at least. It was name that was born in England in 1902. Not Cairo in 1904.
When he arrived in 1962, he had tried to ensure all his records matched his immigrant identity and hoped that his employers had done the same. But he knew there was no guarantee. Not that it really mattered now. He was dying. He thought about his grave stone. 1902 - 1973. So he would die at seventy-one years old in a place a long way from his past.
The past. He knew who his father was. But had never met him. He didn’t know who his real mother was. He only knew his adopted mother. He tried to remember the last time he had seen her. It was during the first war, so it must have been around 1916 in Cairo. He tried to picture her face. As hard as he tried, he couldn’t anymore.
He tried to remember his friends. There were many, many people he had known through his life, but few he could call friends. Few of them were alive anyway. It was easier to recall his enemies. Of these there were many and probably still very much alive. He counted his luck that he had made it to his death bed without any finding him. At least his death would be natural.
His mind moved back to when he had first arrived here. That first night. Remembering how terrified he was. How he couldn’t sleep that first night without the assurance of a revolver under his pillow. He had always fallen asleep with the comforting metallic smell of his revolver near his nostrils. There were no weapons now. No enemies to fear, hopefully. It was the first night of his new life in May of 1962. New identity. New country. New lies. New reasons to live out his life. New people to convince.
Secrets. It now seemed they were so easy to keep. Not long until they were buried with him. He thought of his wife. Coming daily and sitting quietly with him for two hours exactly. She was always one for routines.
Were there any secrets she should know? That he had killed, stolen, betrayed and lied for most of his life? No. His books? Maybe. Father? No. Mother? Maybe. He felt she deserved something more for her loyalty, respect and discretion.
Maybe tomorrow he decided. For now he felt very tired.
Teremun Fuad Pasha was too young to ponder mysteries. His dark hair curled slightly with a little humidity and his face broke into a smile in an instant. He was more round than tall but still managed to be athletic when expending his abundant energy, even though his short legs seemed to have to work double time to create the same pace as his young friends. Above all, his large bright brown eyes gave an impression of knowledge beyond his years. That look some children have of having been here before.
He had his mother, Hidayah, and she looked after him well. There was little if any family resemblance. She was tall and elegant with unusual grey-green eyes that contrasted with her habit of wearing red lipstick. Her hair was long and dark, but more brown than black. Her face was long with higher cheekbones than most Egyptian women. She didn’t walk. She floated, such was her elegance.
His early years passed as they do for any child. Without care. Terenum couldn’t judge at five years old how fortunate he was. It was not for him to question how his mother fed, clothed, educated and sheltered him in Cairo when much of the population lived in poverty or to know how fortunate he was to live in Zamalek, the northern quarter of an island in the Nile, a stone’s throw from Cairo centre. Under Khedive Ismail the Island was called Jardin des Plantes, because of its great collection of exotic plants shipped from all over the world. Their house was not large, but very comfortable with living quarters for two maids. He was also yet to discover that his name, Teremun, carried the meaning of ‘Loved by his Father’. All these discoveries were for the future.
Education had started very early. With private tutors he was fluent in both English and Arabic. Needing both as his mother spoke only English with him, and his maids and nannies, Arabic. Singing was one of his favourite activities, and at six years old he knew songs by heart in Turkish, French, German and Farsi. He didn’t understand all of the words to his songs, but it clearly signalled his natural ability to learn languages. This ability was to shape his life.
It was not strange for Teremun to be educated at home as he had known no other way. He liked most of his tutors. Except his German teacher. He was a man in his sixties and suffering from the effects of too much alcohol. Teremun accepted his lesson each week, but thought his teacher smelt very bad. When he told his mother, she told him to either use a handkerchief or hold his breath for an hour. He decided the handkerchief was the best solution. In time he would ask his mother why he didn’t go to school as some of his friends did. But he accepted, as he always would, the word of his mother. She told him he was special.
It was an ideal life for a young boy. Protected from the day to day life in Egypt under British rule. Young and innocent as we all should be at this age. For Teremun he would stay secure in his protective cocoon until he reached his twelfth birthday. Within days of his birthday, his childhood was to end, and abruptly.
“Where am I going Mother?”
“I told you before Teremun, you are going to England.”
“But do I have to go? Can you come with me?”
“No Teremun. I must stay here. You’re going to a wonderful school in England. You are very lucky. Not many young boys from Cairo can go to school in England.”
For Teremun, the word England was of course familiar, but at twelve it was difficult for him to understand that is was so far away from Cairo. There was no way of preparing himself for the cultural chasm he was about to experience. Hidayah had performed her task to perfection in raising Teremun to the age of twelve as he was highly intelligent and his education had placed him years ahead of his peers.
Teremun tried to hold the tears that welled up in his eyes. Although successful in not crying, the tears still managed to escape and fall gently on his little olive cheeks. His mother had the same problem. She wiped them away as quickly as they developed. While Teremun fretted over his imminent move to England, Hidayah wondered what her future was now that she had finished her task of raising this young boy.
“It’s still two months before you leave Teremun. We will have time to prepare for your journey and see all your friends before you leave. You need to be brave. You are becoming a man.”
She had wanted to tell him that he would have a new name. However, she decided to deliver the news piece by piece, as she believed Teremun needed time to digest each piece of information about his new life. She would tell him closer to his departure about Charles.
The letter advising of Teremun’s education is England had arrived two weeks before from the office of the Sultan. His travel documents and tickets of passage were enclosed, which were issued under the name of Charles Albert de Villiers. With the war now two years old, Hidayah did not find a change of identity for her boy surprising as it would help him in his new home. England.
Hidayah had waited some days before telling Teremun of the news. She was unsure if she was more afraid for him, or for her own future and was still waiting for advice of what her future held. She had been given the responsibility of raising Teremun seven days following his birth but had not been informed of any details regarding his mother or father, but as her appointment was originally made by the Khedive she knew Teremun was somehow of regal blood. Whose, she didn’t know. For Teremun, she had invented a father for him. Ismail. A brave soldier who died serving Abbas II Hilmi, the Khedive of Egypt and Sudan in the war in Sudan. Inventing her love for Ismail to reassure Teremun, and in turn had reassured herself. In the time since Teremun had been born, war had been the norm. From the war in the Sudan, British rule and the start of the war in Europe, Hidayah struggled to remember living her own life without war. Now twenty-nine and unmarried with her sole purpose in life about to leave. She thought about her own childhood as an orphan. The feeling of loneliness she had not felt for the last twelve years was about to return.
Now she waited for news of her future from the Sultan’s office, her employer.
The documents she received contained a little information about Teremun’s new school. Dulwich College in London. The information she received said it was a boarding school for boys aged between ten and eighteen. It was clear he was being prepared for a university education in England. She was proud of her role in raising Teremun, but worried as to when she may see him after he left for England. She never would.
“Teremun, you are a very lucky boy to be going to school in London. Do you know how lucky you are?” Hidayah asked Teremun in a manner of trying to reassure him. She continued without his answering. “Life in London will be different to here in Cairo. You will learn to become English. And to help you, I have a surprise for you!” she smiled.
Teremun only answered with his eyes.
“When you go to school in England, you will have a beautiful English name to use. Charles. Do you like that name? He was a very brave king,” she said without knowing if it was true.
“What’s wrong with my name?” Teremun naturally asked.
“Oh, it will be your name always. A name you should always be proud of. But in London, it is a very unusual name, and it might be difficult for English boys to remember. I am sure it will help you get along with all the other boys. But you will always be Teremun in Egypt. You will just use Charles when you are in London,” Hidayah explained. “But many things change, and you know we have talked about the war. It will make it easier if you have an English name.”
Teremun knew there was no choice and was well used to being obedient. However, he was scared about his new future as it was so far and he would be alone. But he did like the name Charles.
“Can I start using my new name now mother?” he asked. “ I think I like the name Charles.”
The reality of his new life would not be fully grasped by Teremun until he completed his voyage and arrived in London. Until then, using his imagination to try and develop his plans in his mind. Would England be like the pictures he was so familiar with in his reading books? Would there be maypoles? Fayres? Black Plague? Would he have to wear gloves and a top hat? Would he meet the King? Or a princess? There were to many questions for him to answer.
Hidayah counted the days until her Teremun was due to leave. Wishing the days were longer. She also waited impatiently for news of her future. None arrived. For both of them, it was time that had to pass before anything became clear. It was as if they were both waiting for a dream to finish, before moving on with their lives. Hidayah hoped her new life would not be a nightmare.
Neither Teremun nor Hidayah had been to an English Gentleman’s store before. She hadn’t even known there was such a store in Cairo. On arriving and presenting her letter of introduction, they were treated like royalty by true English gentlemen dressed in immaculate suits with starched white collars. She thought she caught her own reflection in one man’s shining shoes before being seated at a small table and served tea while Teremun was measured for his fitting. It was a surprise to learn that his school uniforms for Dulwich College would be tailored in Cairo and his entire traveling wardrobe would be ready before his departure. As would a letter for the Dulwich College Master informing him of the name of the tailor in London who would be responsible for Charles Albert de Villiers’ habiliments while in England.
After one and a half hours of measuring, noting, comparing and calculating Hidayah was presented with her receipt to present in thirty days to collect Teremun’s habiliments and travel baggage. As his departure was a little over two months away yet, it was in good time.
It was July in Cairo. Hot. Normal. Hidayah wondered how Teremun would live through his first winter in Europe. Would he see snow for the first time in his life? As she hadn’t, and wished she had. Would his new clothes be warm enough? She worried for Teremun as any mother would. But she wasn’t his mother. She trembled, and then again, at the thought of one day having to tell the truth to Teremun. Whatever that truth really was.
Hidayah wanted her last weeks with Teremun to be happy ones. Not only for Teremun, but for herself. Happy memories they could both take with them to their uncertain futures. Each day she tried to plan a small adventure or festivity. Days full of Cairo’s history to give Teremun a sense of his roots and his belonging. Memories and history to save in his mind during his stay in England. Days full of mosques, bazaars, museums, the citadel, Old Cairo, churches, tombs, the pyramids and children’s parties and games. Their busy days kept their minds clear of the coming change in their lives. It was only in the late evening that Hidayah’s mind would contemplate what was ahead. At least Teremun’s immediate future was planned, unlike hers. As each day passed without news of her destiny, her late evenings became more difficult.
Four weeks before Teremun’s due date for departure on 2nd September, a letter arrived from the office of the Sultan. Due to the dangers posed by German warships to passenger ships in the Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic Ocean, Teremun would now leave for England from Port Said aboard a Royal Navy battleship. The HMS Jupiter was returning to England for a re-fit after serving with the Suez Canal Fleet. It was considered a much safer way to travel by the Sultan’s office. He would travel in the company of Mr. A. M. Huntsmith, a diplomatic attaché also returning the London. Mr. Huntsmith would be responsible for accompanying Teremun to his new school in London after they docked in Plymouth. His new travel documents were enclosed. He would leave in the company of Mr. Huntsmith on the evening of the 17th August from Cairo for the eighty mile overnight road journey to Port Said. As the sailing dates for the Royal Navy were never disclosed, he would board the HMS Jupiter after Mr. Huntsmith was advised in Port Said. No other details were given.
The tears welled in Hidayah’s eyes, but held them back as best she could. Breathing deeply, admonishing herself for her weakness. She had to be strong now, not only for herself, but for Teremun. And also in the eyes of her employer. It would not place her in good stead if she was seen to be weak as a paid servant of the Sultan. She must be prepared for her next assignment. If, or whenever it arrived. Also readying herself to tell Teremun of the new arrangements the following day.
It was 2nd August. Two weeks.
Hidayah left Teremun with his nanny in the morning. This was not unusual, as Hidayah often went to the bazaar in the morning to buy food. But this morning she was shopping for something special. A gift to give Teremun when she had to tell him of his new travel arrangements. Teremun had been quite excited at the prospect of sailing on a famous P&O liner. They were considered luxurious. What would he now think? Traveling with 600 sailors aboard an active war vessel. Knowing in her heart that it was a wise decision, but still fearing for her young boy on a warship. She had raised a boy who would now have to become a man on his own.
Her gift would take one day to be prepared, so she delayed telling Teremun.
The next morning she collected her gift for Teremun. Hoping he would understand her reasons. It was a leather bound book in jet black. Five inches wide and eight inches tall and containing two hundred and fifty blank pages of creamy white paper that smelled of clay when first opened. On the front cover, in gold lettering it read:
طلب العلم من المهد الى اللح
(Seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave)
On the first page she wrote in her own hand,
“If a wind blows, ride it!
My wonderful child.”
There was no more she could say.
After lunch she asked Teremun to join her in the garden. It was a sunny, warm summer’s day in Cairo, but under the shade of the vine trellis it was pleasant and the slight breeze added its cooling effect. Wondering to herself if she could change the situation. Could she ask for her son to stay? For both of them they had, and were leading an idyllic life while amidst others suffering the horrors of a country and world at war. Wanting to wish away the coming weeks and stay with Teremun until he reached manhood.
“What is that Mother?” broke her day dream as Teremun could wait no longer and curiosity was getting the better of his manners.
“Oh Teremun, it is a very special gift. And yes, it is for you,” she said as she handed it to him. “It is for your future.”
Teremun, as he always did with gifts, unwrapped it very carefully as not to tear the silvery paper or break the ribbon. He carefully unknotted the ribbon and laid it on the table in front of him before starting on the paper. He had a good idea it was a book from when his mother had handed it to him but held his reaction until he had fully opened the package.
“Oh, it is so beautiful Mother!” he exclaimed looking at the gold lettering reflecting from the rich blackness of the leather. Understanding the proverb and thinking it was extremely apt for his new adventure. He opened the book’s first page and saw his mother’s handwritten note. Then read it carefully and understood that his mother was wishing him good luck on his voyage and to be optimistic about his new life in England. Turning the next page, and the next. Expecting the book to start. The next page was blank too. He looked towards his mother without asking.
“It is your book Teremun. It is for you to write your history. Day by day, week by week, month by month and year by year. When I see you next, you will be able to show me your history. And your adventures.”
Teremun continued to turn the creamy blank pages of his book. With each page he turned, the reality of his unknown future started to crystallise in his young mind for the first time. The feelings of uncertainty he had never felt in his life before. The realisation that in a few short days his childhood would abruptly end and he would be alone. Feeling as if he was falling from a cliff and with each page he turned, spiralling further and further into an unending abyss. His fear began to well in the back of his throat, almost choking him. Continuing to turn the pages as he waited for the pain in his throat to subside. Seconds passed like years until he felt that his throat would allow him to speak.
“I will tell you everything in this book Mother. It is beautiful,” was all Teremun could say before his throat started to tighten yet again.
Teremun and Hidayah sat under the vines in silence as they both felt their minds fill with the fear, trepidation, anxiety and uncertainty that was now only days away from reality. The silence between them filled with the silent screams of panic. No words were needed as they both waited for the tightening in their chests and throats to subside. Teremun waiting for courage to replace his fear. Hidayah waiting for time alone to cry.
Mr. Huntsmith arrived promptly at seven pm with an army driver to collect Teremun. A tall man of slight frame with an awkward posture and looked around sixty years old. He seemed to Hidayah to have been broken and repaired many times. His head was fixed at a slight tilt. He was a gentleman however, and his comportment gave Hidayah a feeling of confidence that he would take his responsibility for Teremun very seriously. It had taken her by surprise though when Mr. Huntsmith had arrived and announced that he was there to collect Master Charles de Villiers.
Long goodbyes are extremely painful. With Mr. Huntsmith’s business like approach to the matter at hand, some of the pain would be neutralised with efficiency. Teremun’s belongings were packed in the Peerless truck which would transport him to Port Said. Neither Teremun or Hidayah had seen such a machine. With its large canvas roof covering a long wooden carriage and the driver sitting in a cabin at the front. Teremun marvelled at the two large lights at the front and the strange noise and smell that was coming from under a metal covered front nose.
“Are you ready young Charles?” Mr Huntsmith asked in a manner that was more an order than a question.
“Yes Sir,” he replied with all the courage he could muster.
Teremun and Hidayah hugged and she kissed him on both cheeks. Before they had time to think, Teremun was helped up into the back of the truck by Mr. Huntsmith who followed immediately. Within a few seconds the Peerless truck was moving away from Hidayah. She waved towards the truck, but could not see Teremun. She waited until the vehicle was lost to her sight. Then started to weep uncontrollably.
Teremun was too excited and bewildered to cry. Enveloped by smells he had never experienced. Mechanical, military, masculine. Sitting quietly as his body filled with the vibration from the truck and the road. Feeling his insides wobbling like jelly and swallowing hard to quell a sudden feeling of nausea. He swallowed hard again, and again. When he tasted the bile in the back his throat, he swallowed even harder. He grit his teeth, turned his toes inside his shoes and clenched his fists in his efforts to quell his nausea. Then looking at Mr. Huntsmith and trying to copy his calm pose, rocking gently with and not against the motion of the vehicle and the wooden plank on which they sat. With each minute that passed, so did his nausea. He started to notice the lights of Cairo being eaten by the darkness that they were entering. When the last light of Cairo disappeared, his stomach started to slowly return to normal. Except for the remaining butterflies.
“Have you been to England before, Sir?” Teremun nervously stumbled in an attempt to quell his apprehension.
“Well, it’s been a long time young Charles. I left nearly ten years ago and I’m returning for my retirement.”
“What did you do Sir?
“Oh I’ve been working for the government. Not very interesting I’m afraid.”
“Will you live in London?”
“Not far from London. In Surrey. My family live there. Do you know Surrey at all?”
“No Sir. I’ve never been anywhere except Cairo Sir.”
“Well, I’m sure you will like London. Your school is not far from Surrey, so I’m sure you will get there and discover what a wonderful place it is.”
“How long does it take to get to London Sir?”
“Well, let me see,” Mr. Huntsmith started while holding a finger to his chin, lifting his eyes and adjusting his expression to thoughtful state. “We will arrive in Port Said later tonight and tomorrow we may discover when our ship is leaving. It should be in the next few days I believe. When we leave port it takes about twelve days or so to reach Plymouth. From there we’ll take the train to London. So, let’s see. Probably about three weeks from today.”
“Thank you Sir,” was all Teremun could manage to say in response.
A silence fell as it does with strangers as they both wondered what was to be said next. For Teremun, he was unsure how he should act in the company of an elderly gentleman. Alan Huntsmith wondered what he should say to the young boy he was charged with. His last official assignment. To deliver his charge to the care of the Master of Dulwich College safely. His assignment notes were brief, however there was enough information to know that Charles Albert de Villiers was a diplomatic package and as such his retirement would not begin until he had successfully completed his last official task.
Alan Huntsmith placed a blanket over Charles as he fell asleep against the corner of the truck. His head leaning on his luggage. It would take four hours to arrive in Port Said. Time to contemplate his time in Egypt and Sudan. Time to try and clear his mind of the horrors he had witnessed, the enemies he had made, the friends he had lost, and plan for his lonely retirement. Wherever it would be. He would have to wait until after his de-briefing to find out where he would be sent. And who he would be. There had been many identities to match his many assignments. An attaché, a civil servant, an intelligence officer among other titles. He knew his real profession was that of a spy. But that word was never ever used by his employers, colleagues, nor himself. Only his enemies.
Charles woke as the truck pulled to a halt in front of a row of Army barracks. It was a little after one am, and the evening was moonless and dark. He could smell salt in the air. As he cleared his head, he heard Mr. Huntsmith jump down from the truck and start talking to someone. He couldn’t see them as they were standing alongside the truck hidden by the canvas top of the truck. The men were discussing which barracks they would use. Huntsmith returned to the rear of the truck.
“Right-O Charles. We have a place to sleep. Are you ready?
“Yes Sir,” Charles wearily replied.
With that, Huntsmith helped Charles with his bags and then helped him down from the truck. The door to their barracks was immediately alongside the truck. There were six bunk beds. Three on each side of the small room. A candle burned in one corner and flickered as they entered the room. The room smelt of stale male sweat. An odour that would become normal to both in the coming weeks.
Morning arrived early as it always does in the military. The noise of men, vehicles, horses, ships and orders woke Charles at five-thirty. Mr. Huntsmith was already dressing.
“Good Morning to you young Charles,” Huntsmith smiled. “Breakfast?”
“Yes Sir,” Charles mumbled as he struggled from his bed and waited for his balance to be returned for the new day. It took a little longer than normal today.
HMS Jupiter was a battleship. Battleships do not look pretty. Charles could not believe how big it was. How many guns sprouted from her deck. He ate his breakfast of bread and weak tea and continued to look in awe at the ship through the open window. It looked like an iron monster. It had two towering masts and two enormous funnels belching smoke and steam. All in a colourless grey that had the look of an old kitchen stove. At four hundred feet long, its size was overwhelming. Its side was embellished with ladders, wires, ropes, handles, life boats and chains. Men worked on the deck and masts and resembled ants in comparison to the size of the vessel. Charles ate slowly as he absorbed the enormity of the ship, and the thought of traveling aboard such an evil looking monster. Alan Huntsmith had normally traveled P&O passenger liners and was not looking forward to his voyage either. He knew they had nearly two weeks of discomfort to look forward to.
After breakfast, Huntsmith suggested a walk to Charles to help clear their bodies from the fatigue of the truck ride from Cairo and the late night arrival. They walked along the harbour dwarfed by the enormity of the fleet docked along the wharves. From time to time, Huntsmith had to shepherd Charles to avoid being overrun by soldiers, sailors, horses, carts, trucks and labourers. The port was bustling with the urgencies of war. As a large ambulance arrived and was about to disgorge its ugly cargo of wounded, dismembered and maimed bodies onto a hospital ship, Huntsmith again decided to shepherd Charles on a new course towards a small stand of shack-like shops selling their wares of fruit, bread, writing paper, used books, fake antiquities and whores. The heat of the day was starting to rise from the cement and sand as the sun started its work of baking all beneath it.
“Do you have everything you need for your voyage Charles?”
“I believe so Sir.”
“Do you have writing paper for letters?”
“Just a minute then.”
Huntsmith disappeared into the shop as Charles waited outside. Standing close to the window so as not to be in the way of passing men, and also to have the security of keeping Mr. Huntsmith, who was talking to the shopkeeper inside, in his view. After a few minutes, Huntsmith returned with a paper sack and handed it to Charles.
“There you are young man. Letters for you to write.”
“Thank you very much Sir,” Charles politely replied before looking inside at the contents of the sack.
Sheets of almost white paper were wrapped in a brown paper band. It looked like almost one hundred sheets to Charles. Also in the sack was a pen fashioned with hieroglyphics on its stem and a bronze coloured nib. There was also a small bottle of ink. It looked like it was black, but Charles was not sure as he had not removed it from the sack. It might have been dark blue he thought. Looking at the paper and thinking how beautiful the paper was in his blank book his mother had given him. He thought about his mother for the first time since last evening. His thoughts were broken by Mr. Huntsmith starting off to continue their walk. Charles followed.
They arrived back at their barracks shortly before lunch. Time to wash the morning sweat from their faces and hands. There was a letter waiting on Mr. Huntsmith’s bedside table. It was the order for Huntsmith and Charles to embark the HMS Jupiter that evening 18th August at 18.00 hours. The order did not state when they would sail. Huntsmith was not looking forward to the voyage, but thought at least they did not have to wait around for days in the heat of Port Said. The sooner the voyage started, the sooner it would be over. Huntsmith told Charles over lunch of the news. Charles readied himself for the next stage of his long voyage. From childhood.
If the exterior of the HMS Jupiter was uninvitingly ugly, its bowels were worse. Two small bunks embedded into the hull towards the stern of the vessel would be the quarters for Huntsmith and Charles. For Charles there was enough room to lie straight. For Huntsmith, it was an awkward squeeze for his lanky body. He could feel the ribs of metal below his inadequate kapok mattress. When they boarded, they were guided to their quarters by Sub-Lieutenant Middleton. It felt as if they were climbing down to a bottomless pit as they wound their way down ladders, narrow metal corridors, railings and narrow grated metal walk ways. All the time bypassing sailors working at all levels of the ship. To Charles, it resembled what an ant nest must look like deep underground. After tossing their belongings into their respective bunks, they were shown to the small galley, only a mere 15 feet away, that would be there only other authorised area on the voyage. In between was a small door to the shared and rudimentary toilet facilities.
Charles was still awe struck by the immensity of the HMS Jupiter, while Huntsmith was beginning to dread the long voyage locked in the bowels of a floating tin can. He wished he had travelled P&O, more dangerous or not. The heat inside the ship became almost unbearable as the next morning matured towards noon. The small port hole that allowed air into their confined area was inadequate for equatorial heat. It took Huntsmith a lot of arguing with Sub-Lieutenant Middleton to allow him and Charles to ascend to the deck during the afternoon for some fresh air. With the ship docked, no air moved through the ship. Huntsmith argued that they were passengers, not prisoners. Middleton finally relented after consulting his commanding officer. As they needed to be accompanied, Sub-Lieutenant Middleton needed to assign a midshipman which took a few hours to organise. They were finally allowed one hour on deck. Until the ship sailed, they would be allowed one hour both morning and afternoon. Once the ship sailed, they would both be confined to quarters for their own safety.
Following their one hour on deck the following morning they returned to their quarters and Middleton informed them that the Jupiter would be sailing at noon. Barring the unforeseen circumstances or new orders they should arrive in Plymouth in thirteen days.
Luckily for them, there were no new orders or unforeseen circumstances except for a two bouts of sea sickness for Charles in rough weather. They disembarked onto Plymouth dock on 2nd October 1916.
Huntsmith decided to book a hotel room for two nights before departing for London. He was exhausted from the voyage, and although Charles did not complain, he knew Charles was also, and would benefit from a short rest, fresh air and decent food before the last stage of his journey. He arranged for a telegram to be sent to the Master of Dulwich College, advising him of Charles’ expected arrival on 5th October and sent another to his commander at the Secret Service Bureau advising his arrival for de-briefing on 6th October. He was very impatient to finally retire. His years with the Royal Navy and Admiralty had been wonderful years, but since being transferred to the new Secret Service Bureau following its creation in 1909 in association with the War Office, he had enjoyed his work less but was happy he had survived his sometimes unpleasant tasks of the past years. He realised he and Charles had something in common. Apprehension.
Dulwich College was truly Edwardian regardless of the fact that George V had been on the throne since 1910. It was an institution with its roots in Empire, religion, academia and discipline. For Charles, his first days were traumatic. Adjusting to a strict regime designed to instil discipline and self-reliance in very young boys. When he cried, he made sure it was when his face was hidden deeply in his pillow at night. He was developing his ability to keep his emotions in check and hide his true feelings from the world around him. The Master of Dulwich, Mr. George Smith knew who Charles Albert de Villiers was. He understood the responsibility he had been entrusted with. As an link operative for the Secret Service Bureau, he knew how important the education of Charles was to his government. He would have a special interest in ensuring Charles’ stay at Dulwich was successful. A matter of six years, before the responsibility moved to Oxford.
Hidayah woke the morning after Teremun’s departure. She had slept fitfully and her eyes felt the after effects of a night’s crying. Red, sore and puffed. Her tears had stopped, but her sadness remained as an empty sensation in the pit of her stomach. Breathing deeply as she rose from her bed to start her first day without Teremun. Looking in her mirror, her long hair showed the signs of a night of tossing and turning and fighting with a pillow that would not surrender and offer comfort. Tangled and twisted with clumps pointing at unnatural angles. She took her hair brush and started work on repairing the damage the night had done. Brushing in slow determined strokes in time with her breathing, concentrating on nothing except regaining her composure for the coming day.
Finally, after washing and dressing, she tied her hair in a bun as she always did, and took one last deep breath. Ready to start her day.
The house maids, Hana and Ni'mah had started their day as normal, but with clearly fewer smiles and less enthusiasm. Breakfast was ready for Hidayah as usual, and Hana and Ni'mah had already started on their cleaning and tidying duties. Without Teremun creating work for them, there was less to do. Hana went upstairs to attend to Hidayah’s bedroom. Apart from the normal daily pleasantries of greeting each other for the new morning, there was little talk. All three were lost in their thoughts.
At ten o’clock the door bell rang. Hana answered the door. It was Abdul-Majid Ali. Hana knew he was from the Sultan’s office and immediately invited him in to wait for Hidayah. She also knew that his arrival may bring news of the future for herself and Ni’mah. After making him comfortable in the modest salon she went to inform Hidayah.
“Good Morning Sir,” she greeted him in English.
“Good Morning Madam Al-Fayyoumi,” he responded in equally good English. “We have much to discuss this morning.”
“Yes, I understand,” she replied politely. “Would you like tea before we begin?”
“Thank you, that is very kind,” he answered.
Before Hidayah had beckoned Hana, Ni’mah was already preparing the tea.
Hidayah and Abdul-Majid Ali politely discussed the weather while tea was being prepared. Both wanted to get to the subject of the meeting as soon as possible, but good manners and protocol demanded that it must wait until the tea had been served and the weather had been fully discussed.
“Milk or lemon Mr. Ali?
“Lemon thank you.
The awaited topic of conversation waited while the cups of tea were stirred and teaspoons duly placed on the saucers beside the cups.
“You have served the Sultan well Madam Al-Fayyoumi,” Ali remarked.
“Thank you Sir,”
“The Sultan understands the difficulty of the departure of young Teremun. But I am sure you will understand, everyone must move on now.”
“Yes Sir, I understand,” Hidayah obediently replied.
“You understand well the Sultan’s commitment to helping orphans within the Sultanate. The tradition of giving opportunity to these children. As was given to you Madam Al-Fayyoumi by the Khedive. Do you wish to continue in this service Madam?
“Yes I do Sir,” was Hidayah’s only possible response.
“Very well. You will remain here with your maids and we will arrange for one or possible two orphans to be placed in your care. Probably within the next four weeks.”
“Thank you Sir. We will all look forward to this very much. Thank you.”
Hana and Ni'mah were supposed to be otherwise occupied, but were extremely pleased with the news they heard with their ears to the door of the salon. Their English was not good, but good enough to understand they would keep their jobs. They scurried away so as not to be caught in the act if their guest left abruptly.
“Mr Ali, may I ask you a question?
“May I maintain contact with Teremun? To write him letters from time to time.”
“I do not see any reason why not Madam.”
“Thank you Sir. That will bring me great happiness.”
With a short discussion about the difficulties the war was bringing to supplies in stores in Cairo and the weather yet again, the meeting was concluded. Both happy with the outcome.
The kindness of Abdul-Majid Ali to allow Hidayah to keep in contact with Teremun would not be of any consequence. Before Hidayah could write her first letter to Teremun, she would be dead.
Even though the house was not grand, it felt empty to Hidayah, Hana and Ni'mah. They all tried to go about their daily routines as usual, but without Teremun, there was a void. A week after Teremun’s departure, Hidayah decided that a complete spring clean of the house was called for, even if it wasn’t spring. Thinking it would help them keep occupied, and at the same time prepare the house for its new guest or guests. She decided to allocate the tasks each had to do, and although the lists for Hana and Ni'mah were long, she ensured she had a list of tasks for herself. Hana was responsible for the bedrooms and halls, Ni’mah for the kitchen and laundry and Hidayah selected the salon and dining room.
They started with gusto, cleaning, rearranging furniture, scrubbing floors and walls, disposing of rubbish, sweeping, polishing and tidying. Helping each other with some of the heavier tasks such as moving furniture or changing curtains. Hana was particularly meticulous about using a spider brush to clean the upper walls and ceilings. Ni’mah looked the other way and put all her energy into sweeping, scrubbing and polishing floors. From time to time, they all came across small items that reminded them of Teremun, but with the thought in mind that he was very lucky to have to opportunity of an English education, they tried not to be unhappy. In the salon Hidayah came across some books she used to read aloud to Teremun when he was younger. She found a special place in the bookcase, and hoped she could use them again soon.
In the top drawer of the side board in the dining room, she found a small folder jammed and hidden at the back of the drawer. Inside were a handful of drawings Teremun had done when he was four or five. These were very special for Hidayah, so she re-tied the orange ribbon to close the folder and decided she would keep them in her bedroom. She placed it at the end of the dining table to take when she had finished.
It was nearly four-thirty when Hana found Hidayah in the dining room and said that she and Ni’mah were going to the market to get some lime so they could white wash the laundry and also some polish for the furniture. Hidayah knew it was a little excuse for a break, a walk and a giggle for Hana and Ni’mah, but she also knew that they had been working very hard the last few days. She didn’t mind at all.
Hearing them giggling before they had even closed the front door.
Hidayah continued her work. Polishing all the cutlery and the small number of crystal glasses they had. Then looking around to see what else needed her attention. Everything seemed to have been done. The room sparkled. Glancing up as she was about to pick up the folder of drawings, she noticed that the small chandelier was covered in dust. It really spoilt the rest of the work she had done. Then hurrying off to find Ni’mah’s spider brush. When she returned, she found it was inadequate as the dust was not loose, so it would need to be wiped with a cloth. It was greasy from the candle residue and smoke. She went away again to fetch some liquid and a cleaning cloth. Standing on the dining table, she was able to reach most of the glass crystals of the chandelier and was very pleased with her efforts, even if her arms were aching from such exertion above her head. Her ankles were sore from standing on tip toes trying to reach the upper parts.
At the very top of the chandelier was a brass housing that held the cable from the ceiling. It was just out of her reach, so she placed a chair on the table to give herself a little more height.
Hana and Ni'mah returned from the market just after five-thirty. They were still giggling when they opened the front door. Carrying the lime and polish plus some bread they had bought for the next day, they went straight into the kitchen to store their purchases. Ni’mah put the kettle on the stove in readiness for making tea after their walk. Hana started making her normal preparations for dinner. In a way she was enjoying cooking for Hidayah and Ni’mah. Without Teremun to think of, she could cook more flavoursome meals. She planned to cook Moussaqa'a tonight. Sliced eggplants, lightly grilled with sliced onions, green peppers and jalapenos. Covered with a red sauce made of tomato paste and spices. She knew it was one of Hidayah’s favourites.
After having their tea, both started their preparations in earnest for the Moussaqa'a. The eggplant had to be sliced and salted and left to drain for at least forty-five minutes before they could start preparing the rest of the recipe. It was just after six-thirty that Ni’mah went looking for Hidayah to tell her what was planned for dinner. She started with the salon and then headed towards the dining room. A small rivulet of blood near the door stunned her mid-step. She moved ahead slowly, before screaming as she had never screamed in her life.
It would be some time before Teremun understood why his mother did not write in reply to his letters.
Publication Date: 11-09-2010
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