The next morning, the reunited trio checked out of the unburnt hostel and headed over to Sevilla’s main bus station, aiming one more time to buy tickets without showing their passports.
Una tarea optimista at first but
with no air-con
30 degree heat
a queue of ten propped up behind
it soon sank into pale farce, Joanna trying to put a new plaster on Sila’s leaking arm wound as he said ‘too young to do passport’ to the ticket guy, and Søren picking at the dry blood scabs, whispering something in old Danish.
The final result, no tickets
and watery coffee in the bus terminal café.
‘Really, really don’t want to drive,’ started Sila, scratching his plaster, eyes on the Debordian hole in the station wall.
‘No car,’ replied Joanna, taking her coffee cup back from Søren.
‘… … … …’ in raw Danish.
‘It’s my drink.’
‘… … … … …’
‘You’ve already had half.’
‘… … … …’
‘That’s my finger.’
‘… … … … …’
Sila told them both to stop in Danish, pulled out his phone and stared at the blank screen. Then the hole in the bus terminal wall again. A local was bending down, placing a toy sledgehammer like a bouquet of aware that you’re dead lilies.
‘Still no car,’ said Joanna again, taking a sip from her cup and then pushing it back to the demon child poking her waist.
‘Don’t think we have much choice.’
‘Just hope my license hasn’t expired.’
‘How long has it been since you used it?’
‘Twenty? A hundred? What is an eon?’
Sila nodded, looking at the red cartoon on Søren’s t-shirt, the white parts stained purplish blue.
‘Car,’ she said in moors at night English.
They traipsed out through the big hole in the station wall, the anarchists’ wall, and, after searching online, found a place two hundred metres down the road that would rent them a car.
Sila did most of the talking, in his own version of Spanish, which occasionally intersected with what the rental guy was saying, and, when it came time to show his license, he shined up the plastic as much as he could before handing it over. The man serving did a double take, perhaps cos of the photo, then replied with a brusque, si, no problem.
‘Guess it’s still valid,’ said Sila as he pulled the Skoda out onto the winding roads of Sevilla, going the wrong way five times before finally coming across a road wider than an ostrich’s neck and following it all the way out of the city.
The route running to the Portuguese border was surrounded by green desert, or dirt with occasional grassy bits, which was strangely calming for all of them
except the blonde demon child who
was 100% inscrutable.
The three of them passed the time by not talking, which suited Joanna fine as she was busy inside her own head, calculating plane ticket prices, planning surprise ditchings in service station toilets, trying to remember what happened at the end of The Book And The Sword, and it wasn’t bad for Sila either as it gave him time to trial more sentences in Danish.
‘Do you know how to speak Portuguese?’ he asked the girl [in weak Danish].
‘Portuguese?’ she mumbled back.
‘It is another language.’
‘Do you want to learn some?’
‘Okay.’ He looked up another phrase in the dictionary, started to say it, forgot the second part, re-looked and then tried it again. ‘Do you know about other countries in the world?’
‘Great. Which ones?’
‘Sverige. Norge. Holstein. Sachsen. Pommern.’
‘Any modern ones?’
‘Not France or Finland?’
Joanna came back from her own thoughts and congratulated him on a fascinating conversation.
‘At least she’s talking.’
‘Yes. No. No. Yes. No.’
‘How do you know what we’re saying?’
‘Short answers means yes or no.’
‘Not all of them were short. She said some country names too.’
‘Yes, made-up ones.’
Sila leaned back towards Søren and told her to ignore the big bad Chinese woman, she was just being negative cos she was too lazy to learn Danish herself.
‘You know she didn’t understand any of that,’ responded Joanna, wiping a speck of dirt off the windscreen.
‘It was for you.’
‘She doesn’t even know what Chinese is, as a concept, a country. She knows Denmark and the surrounding area. That’s her globe.’
‘Ha, so confident.’ Sila looked at Søren through the windscreen mirror and switched back to basic Danish. ‘Do you know where China is?’
‘It’s a big country. Your mummy comes from there.’
The child demon looked at both parents then put her right hand gently on top of Joanna’s, using her fingertips to caress her phone.
‘Why is she always touching me?’
‘She’s just discovered where her mummy comes from.’
‘I told you, I’m not its mummy. And you’re not its daddy. It does not have parents.’
‘Wah, we’re back to it again, not she?’
‘After everything that happened last night? Our heroic rescue…’
‘Suicidal kidnap, more like.’
‘Don’t kwa jeung. We’re carrying a time bomb here, not a human. And definitely not a daughter.’
‘Okay,’ said Sila, gesturing at Søren’s hand. ‘Tell her that.’
‘No, I don’t need to tell it anything. We just need to work out a way to reverse your mistake from last night and find a new carer, before it turns on us.’ Joanna tried to lift the girl’s hand away from her phone, but it wouldn’t budge. ‘Sila, get her off.’
‘My wrist…she’s twisting it.’
‘Okay, relax.’ Sila spoke directly to the girl through the windscreen mirror, pulling her away with his free hand. ‘Mummy gets angry when she doesn’t get her way.’
‘She was trying to break my hand.’
‘Ah, she’s a she again now?’
‘… … … … … …’
‘That’s what you said.’
‘… … … …’
‘She’s breaking my hand. She’s twisting it.’
‘… … … … … …’
‘Hide in Cantonese all you want, you still said it.’
Joanna breathed out hard, angry, enervated, like Omar Epps after the yo dat cracker bitch scene in Slaughter Daughter 4, and looked out of the window.
She couldn’t read the words, but there was a sign with a service station logo on it, coming up in either 1 metre or 1 mile.
‘We’ve still got crisps.’
‘Okay, you’re the boss.’
‘I’m the adult.’
‘… … … …’
600 metres later, Sila pulled off the desert highway and into the car park of a service station called Almodóvar Chicken.
Joanna got out of the car and double checked the name, shaking her head, then looked around.
It was impressive
in an apocalyptic kind of way
the whole landscape pure dirt, pure El Indio, the only building visible the one loitering behind, a big block of brutalism and wide glass named after a Spanish sleaze, notorious for two films where a neurotic woman gets raped by a bald nut in an animal costume.
If Yute Long were here, she would’ve told him those thoughts, but he wasn’t, Sila was and
after staring at the windows and the lack of people inside for three minutes straight
she turned and told him anyway.
Inside Almodóvar Chicken were four customers, all standing inanimate round counter-tops, various snacks with Spanish names, ill-looking hot dogs, and at least a dozen plastic tables free for Joanna to sit down at and read some more Gum Yong.
Sila stayed outside, next to the car, doing a half-assed form of stretching while staring at a barren landscape nicked from Zargoz.
Is he actually looking at something, she wondered, taking a break from The Book And The Sword, or is he planning a 7th birthday party?
Probably the latter
and with what money?
She took out her phone and checked the e-mail confirming her ticket from Lisboa to Hong Kong.
In two days, she’d be gone, alone,
which meant the thing would either kill Sila outright or drag him halfway across the world to her flat in Lai King.
Would it know where she’d gone?
It had followed them from Denmark to Barcelona so
but it wouldn’t be able to fly, not without a passport.
The two of them, the pair of lunatic Quixotes, could go via Russia
or the Middle East
get the girl to bite her way through border control
but they’d still have to show ID to someone armed at some point.
‘It’s pretty drab in here.’
Joanna looked up and saw Sila with his Matjaž hoodie, taking the seat opposite. Above his head, on the wall behind, a picture of a smug chicken dressed like a matador.
‘What you reading?’
Joanna flashed him the cover of the book.
‘Still the same one?’
‘There are 12 books in the series.’
‘How did you ditch it?’
Joanna looked at the car outside, at the demon with its face attached to the window, the other window, the one looking out onto the desert plains.
‘Ah, back to the impersonal. I see. Well, I told her I was gonna buy a drink.’
‘And she accepted it?’
‘Strangely, yeah. She did. I tried enticing her in, coffee, coffee in Danish and English, but completely no interest.’
‘Maybe she’s growing tired of us.’
‘The excitement of our aswang escape has faded and she’s bored again. Looking for new victims. Maybe there’s someone here who could-…’
‘Fuck off, we’re not victims, we’re her parents.’
‘… … … … … …’
‘With a responsibility to keep her safe.’
Joanna stared at his face. It was the same one he’d worn every time he’d yapped on and on about cabinets. The same one the matador chicken had on the poster behind him.
‘No, don’t forget. I’m serious. I actually came in here to talk about this, resolve things and-…fuck it, I’ll just say it blunt. With one caveat. Yes, it is related to her, our daughter…our surrogate daughter…the thing I’m about to say. And no, I’m not doing this blind, I mean, we’ve been through a lot the last few months, a lot of weirdness, good and bad…mostly bad…and I haven’t forgotten how this all started, what you did on that hill and…’
‘This is not blunt.’
‘…how you tried to-…okay, fine. Blunt. I think we should get married.’
‘Not for me or you, but…no?’
‘I don’t want to marry you.’
‘Would you like me to say it slower?’
‘Jezus fucking-…I just said, it’s not for me or you, I don’t particularly want to marry you either, you’re-…we don’t even like each other half the time, it’s just convenience, circumstances…but we have a responsibility. However it happened, for whatever reason, Søren has fallen into our lap and it’s our job to take care of her. And, no, it wasn’t a mistake last night, if you’re thinking of saying that again. That aswang was deranged, trying to do some weird blood transfusion, but we saved her, and she knows that on…’
‘It was a mistake. A big one.’
‘…some level. No, not a mistake, heroics.’
‘But still not unsalvageable. What we need to do is find a way to ditch her somewhere around here. Best idea I’ve had so far is to trick her out of the car and drive off. If we can get to Lisboa airport before she…’
‘What? Ditch her in the desert?’
‘It’s one option.’
‘Leave her in the sun to die?’
‘Possible? Fuck…do you even have a heart?’
Joanna looked out of the window, towards the back seat of the car, but it was empty.
‘Or maybe we won’t have to.’
Sila glared at her, perplexed, then finally glanced outside when she didn’t break scene. ‘Fuck, where is she?’ He looked frantically around the service station, at the novelty chicken posters, the bored staff, the drained customers, then back at the blank face of his bad cop co-parent. ‘Did you see?’
Joanna muttered something in Cantonese and went back to Gum Yong.
‘You can’t read, this is serious…’
‘She’s alone, someone could’ve taken her.’ Sila pushed himself up and checked for cars driving away with vicious smoke trails, but there were no live vehicles in sight.
‘We’ve gotta go look for her.’
Joanna kept eyes on the book, maybe reading, maybe not.
‘Move, get up.’
‘I’m finishing this chapter.’
‘And then I’m leaving. Five minutes.’
‘How? You don’t even drive.’
‘My license says I do.’
‘And I have the means to do it.’ She held up the keys that Sila at first thought were plastic, but then they jangled and he could see the little ninja panda he’d tied to the chain. ‘Four and a half minutes.’
‘You’d leave without us? Really?’
‘Jezus…’ Sila looked out of the window again, but the parked cars were blocking the view so he climbed up on the plastic cafe seat and looked over them, into the desert. ‘Wait, I think I see her.’
‘I’m gonna get her back. Don’t you dare leave.’
He ran out of Almodóvar Chicken and Joanna continued reading until the end of the page, which was also the end of the chapter. She closed the book and stared at the cover. Some part of her had known the Fragrant Princess would commit suicide in the mosque, it must’ve done as she’d read it three times when she was a teenager, but she had never known why she’d done it, how a young girl could have the guts to stab herself with a knife right through the heart. It didn’t make any sense. It still didn’t.
Why did she do it?
So the hero could be weighed down by guilt?
But that made it his story, not hers. The action of a girl with no brain of her own. Or a naïve brain. Which was either no brain or a transcendental one.
Was she doing the same thing?
Would the car obey her, if she did try to leave?
Had her license expired?
She stood up, frowned at the poor quality chicken drawings that had no discernible relationship with Pedro and walked outside. The sun was fiercer than when she’d walked in, so she ducked into the shade, taking the long route to the car.
A guy passed her and said something curt in Portuguese or Spanish and she shook her head.
‘… … … … … … …?’
‘… … … … … … … … …’
She got to the car, pulled out the keys with the little ninja panda tied on and thought about just going, all the way to Lisboa and away from this mess
all the way to Hong Kong
‘… … … … … … …’ she muttered in Cantonese and scanned the desert to see if Sila was on his way back.
He wasn’t there, neither was the girl.
there he was
over to the left, running haphazard across the desert
still trailing the girl
five, six hundred metres away.
‘… … … … … … …’
Where was the little demon child going?
They were in the Portuguese desert, there were no buildings far as she knew, the car was the only way out of there, no strangers to bite
what was she playing at?
Joanna checked her phone.
It had already been six minutes.
‘… … … … … …’
She put the keys back in her pocket and walked across the highway, looking both ways only when she got to the middle, then onwards, into the desert
after a fucking child demon
who spoke Arthurian Danish
and would never ever be her kin
legally or in spirit.
‘… … … … … … … … … …’ she shouted, letting out at least half of the anger she’d kept in storage the last three months, knowing full well Sila couldn’t hear her and, even if he could, would probably call her heartless again anyway.
Joanna caught up with the sentimental clown about fourteen hundred metres across the dirt, rubbing his knee, and asked what the hell he was doing.
‘Søren,’ he said, pointing forward. ‘I tried to drag her back, got in front of her, but she wouldn’t stop.’
Joanna didn’t need directions, she could see the little girl another hundred metres ahead. ‘She attacked you?’
‘It’s like she’s being remote controlled.’
‘She wasn’t even looking at you?’
‘No, just straight ahead, at those hills.’ He pointed an inch further, even though he didn’t need to; the hills were right there, about five hundred metres away. ‘Jezus, how is she moving so fast?’
‘This is our chance.’
‘She’s walking, but…it’s like she’s on one of those horizontal escalators, the things at the airport.’
‘Aaaaagh, need to start moving again, run faster, try and talk to her this time.’
‘Listen to me.’
‘This is our chance.’
‘She let go of your hand, she pushed you away. That means we’re free. We can get in the car and go.’
‘And this time we don’t give her a chance to catch up. No service station stops, change cars in Lisboa, only one night in each place. Go to Hong Kong at some point.’
‘You do what you want, I’m going after her.’
‘Wherever she’s going.’
‘What, the desert?’ Joanna wanted to point, but the hills were too close, too much like regular countryside so she switched back to the road instead [still not pointing]. ‘Sila, our bags are still in the car, all our stuff. Someone could be taking them, stealing them right now.’
‘Then go back and look after them.’
‘And if I decide to leave?’
‘We’ll meet you in Lisboa.’
‘How? You won’t have a car.’
‘We’ll get a taxi. Or a bus. Just tell me the name of your hotel and I’ll-…’
‘I don’t have a hotel.’
‘Fuck, she’s getting away.’
‘This is insane. Sila, she is not your daughter. Snap out of it.’
‘Don’t have time for this. Just go back, wait or go, whatever.’
‘… … … … … …’
‘… … … … … … … …’
‘Great. You too.’
‘I said, it’s like swallowing a bomb…’
‘Don’t care, I’m going.’
‘…that just pushed you away…and still you’re trying to shove it down your throat. Our throat.’
Sila didn’t answer, he’d already started running again, kicking up sand/dirt and, although Søren was moving fast, he managed to gain on her, maybe five metres a minute, and despite his go to the car, I don’t care line, he still looked back to see if Joanna was following and, when he saw she was walking, slowly but inexorably in the same direction, he slackened a bit, relieved cos
she hadn’t talked about Krsnik for weeks
not that he could remember and
even though she’d clearly thought up ways to kill their daughter, he knew she didn’t really mean it
and she hadn’t meant to say no to the marriage proposal either, she was just scared or stunned, one of the two, and
by the time they got to Lisboa
things would be sunnier
the buildings would be pastel and pretty
they’d be holding hands with Søren and
for the sake of something other than themselves
their miracle daughter
they’d be learning beginner Danish too
upper beginner for him
hello, what is this for her.