WRIT LARGE: Ch 13, Part 2
Of All Things Lost
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We are quiet for the rest of the journey, not wishing to disturb Gabin. When we pull up outside the DHL office, I gently nudge him awake and he blinks, and peers out of the window as if he can’t remember how he came to be sitting inside a people carrier with me. I ask if he is okay to walk or whether he would like me to carry him, and he holds out his arms for me to pick him up. Olivia and I say goodbye, wishing everyone a safe flight, and Leann an enjoyable hen party.
“I can’t wait to see the pirate pictures,” says Olivia.
I carry Gabin to the medical centre, a sleek modern building, which is conveniently only a couple of minutes’ walk along from the DHL office, and arrange to meet them once I have dealt with my delayed package.
There is a queue inside the DHL waiting room, which fortunately is air conditioned. Two locals are speaking to each other in irate tones, their cheeks pink and flustered, the woman fanning her face with a folded sheet of paper, which I’m guessing is her delivery confirmation. I am not sure whether I should be grateful or not that my parcel is not alone in being delayed.
When it is my turn to finally speak with an assistant, I am advised that the van carrying my package has been hijacked. I ask the assistant to confirm if she means hijacked as in the van has somehow been captured by unsavoury criminals, or whether it is simply off the radar, as the information was divulged in an expressionless tone of voice as if she were reading from an autocue, and I understand how meaning often gets lost in translation. She assures me that she means taken by unsavoury criminals and off the radar, and that the police are confident they will recover the stolen vehicle with all the packages still intact.
My confidence is even less inspired when she hands me an insurance claim form to fill in to recover the cost of my goods should they not be recovered.
Outside, Olivia and Gabin are leaving the medical centre as I approach the entrance. Gabin still looks pale, but Olivia is smiling so my mood is lifted a little. I ask if everything is okay.
“I’ll explain on the way back to the resort,” says Olivia. She glances at the parking lot and says, “Is that the Sprinter we arrived in?”
I follow her gaze to find that the chauffeur-driven vehicle taking the travellers to the airport has indeed been sent back to collect us. We climb aboard, taking the table seats so that we can converse without glancing over our shoulders at one another.
“So, what’s happening with your package?” Gabin has taken the window seat beside me with Olivia sitting opposite us. I tell her about the hijacked DHL van, and she raises her eyebrows.
“What kind of top-secret stuff did you order, that the entire van has been hijacked? You’re not a smuggler pretending to be a famous author, are you?”
I laugh and say that although the package was supposed to be kept a secret, it’s nothing illegal. I explain about the signet ring and the welcome pack for Leann, and that although Leann is blissfully unaware of the loss of the gift, I’ll be disappointed if I’m not able to present it to her at the writer’s retreat.
She chews a nail and thinks about it. “Do you want me to spend some time this afternoon trying to source an alternative signet ring? I know it won’t be the same, but at least you’ll have something to give to Leann as a welcome gift.”
It’s most kind of Olivia and I tell her I appreciate the offer, but the ring was chosen specifically with Leann in mind and that, if the missing van doesn’t materialise in time, I’ll contact Boucheron.
“Flowers then. Should we order flowers to be delivered to the retreat for her?”
I accept her offer of ordering flowers. Then, I ask about our main man, Gabin, and the doctor’s diagnosis.
“He thinks he has a mild stomach bug. We have some medicine.” She removes a small bottle of pale pink liquid from her bag and reads the instructions label.
“One spoonful, three times a day after food.”
She unscrews the lid, sniffs the medicine and grimaces, quickly replacing it with a smile when she realises that Gabin is watching.
“Smells like doughnuts,” she says.
I ask Gabin if he is feeling a little better now and he shrugs.
“The doctor also suggested he might be a little homesick,” Olivia keeps her voice low.
I nod. That would explain the impression I had earlier that the child seemed a little off kilter. I ask him if he is missing home and if he thinks that is what is making him feel sick.
He looks at me and swallows. “It is maman’s birthday today,” he says, his eyes moist. “Grand-père promised we would be home in time for her birthday.”
Olivia’s eyes are wide. I hug the boy close to my side and raise my eyebrows at her to enquire whether she was aware of this. She shakes her head in response.
“I’ll speak to Bernard later,” she murmurs. “Meanwhile, why don’t we go shopping later and buy her a birthday present?”
Her face is eager, but the boy says, “Okay,” with little enthusiasm.
“What would you like to get her?”
The boy shrugs and remains unresponsive, his head resting against my chest, but Olivia is undeterred. “Would she like a pretty bracelet? Or earrings?” she continues. “Or should we get her something touristy from Genting? What would you normally give your mum for her birthday?”
“I usually make something.”
I ask Olivia if she has any idea what we could do to help Gabin create a birthday present for his mother from a distance; I’m careful not to mention aloud that we are so far away, as the boy is clearly distressed enough.
“Getting a gift to her today isn’t an issue,” says Olivia, waving her phone in the air. “We can FaceTime her later so that she can see it. We just need to decide what the gift should be. What did you give her last year?” she asks Gabin.
“A cake,” he says, straightening. “We made her a chocolate cake with candles that wouldn’t blow out. We had to put the candles in some water when we wanted to eat the cake.”
“Okay, a cake,” she says, thoughtful. “We could always buy some ice cream or that chocolate drink that Tuah gave us when we arrived, and send her some selfies.”
I can almost see the thoughts racing around inside her head.
“How about if we buy a birthday balloon for the apartment and we all sing ‘Happy Birthday’ when we call her later?”
The boy is looking a little brighter, but I still don’t think that he’s entirely convinced. Peering out of the window, I spot the sign for the Awana Skyway, and remember that we were going to take the cable car back to the resort. I ask the driver to drop us off at the Skyway station.
“What are you thinking?” Olivia asks. I suggest that we can take lots of pictures of Gabin in the cable car that Olivia can send across to his mother before the video call. She claps her hands. “A Skyway photo shoot! What do you think, Gabin?”
The boy nods and smiles. “Can I get ice cream?”
“We’ll all get ice cream,” says Olivia.
The Sprinter drops us off outside the cable car station, and Gabin appears to have some colour back in his cheeks as he watches the glass-bottomed cars pulling away and gliding upwards towards the clouds. We purchase our ice creams – chocolate chip cookie dough for Olivia, strawberry cheesecake for Gabin, and butterscotch for me – and wait in line for the car to take us back to the resort.
Five minutes later, we are floating up the side of the mountain, the rainforest dropping away beneath us. The view is breath-taking, if a little frightening, as the glass bottom reveals the distance between our feet and the ground below. Gabin appears to have no such fear as he lays himself across the bottom of the floor, forehead pressed to the glass.
“Quick,” says Olivia, holding out her ice cream for me to take. “I need to get a picture.” She unlocks her phone and tells Gabin to smile which he does, the ice cream held out in front of him.
“Stand up,” she says, “and press your hands against the glass as if you’re trying to escape.”
The boy leans against the window and opens his eyes and mouth wide as if he is in shock. As he does so, the cable car is suddenly surrounded by wispy clouds, giving the image an ethereal look.
“Now, raise your leg as if you’re climbing into the clouds,” says Olivia.
The boy does so, grinning for the photograph, ice cream still in his hand. I suggest that Gabin should stand on the seat and Olivia take a picture from the floor so that it looks as though the boy is flying. After this, as we climb higher and the jungle below us drops even further away, Olivia takes more pictures of Gabin laying on the glass bottom.
When we can see the resort coming into view in the distance, the clouds giving it the appearance of a fairy-tale castle in the sky, the boy eats his ice cream before it melts. But I can tell that Olivia still isn’t satisfied. She rummages around inside her bag and produces a pink lipstick. At my quizzical expression, she says, “We need one last Happy Birthday picture.” She removes the lid, twists the lipstick as far as it will go, and writes in large pink capital letters on the window facing the resort: HAPPY BIRTHDAY MAMAN! In the top left-hand corner above the words, she draws a balloon, and in the bottom right corner a large heart.
“There,” she says. “Gabin, you stand beneath it, and when I say go, yell, ‘Happy birthday’.”
The boy kneels in front of the window, raises his ice cream and grins at us, looking happier than he has done since we met in the lobby.
“Ready, steady, go!” says Olivia, hitting the black record button on her phone.
“Happy birthday, maman!” squeals Gabin.
“Perfect,” she says, turning to me as we slow for the approach. “Did you get some pictures for your wife?”
I close my eyes for a second. In all the excitement, I’d completely forgotten to take pictures for Ann, the camera still around my neck.
“We’ll just have to go again then,” says Olivia.
Gabin swallows the last of his ice cream cone and says, “You can share my pictures.”
Aww, I loved this chapter! This chapter showed how big the narrator's and Olivia's hearts were in making the boy's day better. I loved that they helped him come up with a handmade gift for his mother's birthday.