Chapter 3 & 4
Rickie looked down at the young woman in front of him, then over to the wide-eyed girl a few steps away. The girl was clutching the bamboo flute so hard he was afraid it would snap in two. He smiled at her reassuringly, then switched his attention back to the waitress.
She was small, about 163 cm compared to his 180 cm, with her sable hair neatly tied up in a bun. He waited for her to look up at him, which she eventually did.
Small, delicate features. Warm eyes the colour of hot chocolate. A sprinkling of freckles dotting a slightly upturned nose. Full, unadorned mouth with a slight overbite. This was the quick impression Rickie got before the waitress stepped back and gestured for the girl to stand behind her. Before she quickly lowered her head again, her hands clasped in front of her.
“I apologise if you were bothered by the music,” she spoke in a low tone, “It won’t happen again. I’m very sorry.” She braced her shoulders as if preparing to ward off a blow. Rickie raised his eyebrows at the defensive gesture.
“Actually, I was enjoying the sound, especially since it blended so well with the nighttime noises from the rainforest. Where did you learn to play the seruling?” At the gentle, almost soothing timbre of his voice, Meaghan raised her head again.
He looked like something out of a romance movie. Dark skin, shaggy, sun-bleached dark blonde hair over a pair of cool blue eyes the colour of a cloudless sky, a single diamond winking from his right ear. Broad shoulders were encased in an opened-collared white tuxedo shirt; the bow tie peeked out of the breast pocket as if absentmindedly stuffed there. Knife-pleated black pants and shiny black shoes completed the look of a cultured, high society male. Meaghan gulped nervously and rotated slightly to see her sister smile shyly at the stranger.
“It was my grandma’s,” Tina said, “but I’ve never had lessons or anything. I just like to play it.” And, surprisingly, she stepped around Meaghan and offered it to him.
Rickie cradled it carefully and examined the instrument. The finger holes were worn to a faint concave shape, the beak showing wear around the mouth. Still, it looked as if it was a finely-crafted, if old, piece. He handed it back to the young girl.
“You play it very well,” he said, “Thank you for letting me look at it.”
At that moment, Meaghan stepped up and took Tina’s other hand.
“We will be going, sir. Sorry to have troubled you.” And before Rickie could ask her anything more, she slipped away towards the main building of the resort complex, towing the girl behind. He watched them for a minute, his mood strangely lifted, then turned back to the soiree, where strains of classical music indicated that the meal was over. Walking towards the stairs, he glanced over his shoulder, but the pair had already disappeared into the shadows.
Rickie stifled a yawn as he read the news at the dining room table, waiting for breakfast. For some reason, he was unable to sleep last night. The brief interaction with the pair by the pool seemed to be pushed to the forefront of his mind.Every time he closed his eyes, he heard the haunting notes of a flute juxtaposed with the high-pitched cries of bats, and saw a pair of chocolate eyes.
‘Eh,’ he thought, ‘it’s not like I’ll ever see them again.’ They were many kilometres away; he was now at the family villa outside the city of Kuching. If he walked to the dining room windows, there would be a view of nothing but the bright blues of the South China Sea, not the cool green darkness and teeming wildlife of Gunung Mulu.
As his father was wheeled into the room, Rickie stood and walked to his father’s side. The stroke that had robbed him of his mobility was evidenced by the noticeable thinness of his left limbs; nevertheless his blue eyes, passed down to his son, still brimmed with intelligence.
“Selamat pagi, Father.How are you?” Rickie said as he leaned down to hug the older man.
“I’m not quite ready for squash, son, but soon”, he smiled his lopsided grin. It never failed to give Rickie a pang when he saw his once-active father reduced to this existence, but the fact that his father maintained a positive attitude and was still on this earth was a source of wonder as well.
As his father’s assistant JoAnne placed a napkin on the senior Ahmad’s lap and adjusted his plate, Rickie walked back to his place, and sat down. Immediately, the staff brought his typical breakfast of nasi lemak, with its fragrant rice, spicy sambal, and eggs. He looked at his father and his much simpler fare: scrambled eggs. Rickie thanked the staff as they placed a basket of piping hot puri bread and a carafe of western-style coffee between them.
“I can’t see what’s wrong with having a little kick in my food”, grumbled his dad as JoAnne poured cups for all three of them and sat down next to him. After a short period of eating, he looked up at his son.
“How are things at the office?”
“Current output of our primary fields is at 85% of maximum. We should have no problems fulfilling our current orders. On the distribution side, several of our roads were damaged in the storms last March, and repairs should take another month or so to complete.” Rickie took a sip of his coffee, already feeling more awake and ready to face the world.
“Ever since PETRONAS gave us the FLNG contract, I’ve realized that our interests may be coming under international scrutiny,” the elder Ahmad said, “so we need to make sure that the completion of Compliant Tower # 3 offshore is completed with a minimum of errors.” He wiped his mouth on a snowy damask napkin, and fixed his eyes on his son.
“Now for more important information. How was the party last night? Meet any potential fiancées?” Rickie focused on his father, a protest forming on his lips. At twenty-nine, he hardly felt like settling down; In fact, he had hoped to return back to his agent position until it became clear that his father would never fully recover from his stroke.
He prepared his denial, but surprised himself by saying, “I met someone interesting by the pool”.