Monday, November 21, 2011
An Only Slightly Premature Holiday Kick-Off Continues!
Welcome back to Flowers on the Fence Country! The trilogy of Tanja Cilia’s Flash Fiction, showcasing the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future, continues with….
The Ghost of Christmas Present
He’s in Malta! she muttered, as she waited for the line to connect. “Meet me at the Upper Barrakka in ten minutes, near where the Lift used to be!” he said. That’s all. Not even the usual “See you!” which he knew could make shivers run up and down her spine.
He had told her not to contact him unless he gave the all-clear, and the coded message had finally come through on her mobile telephone. He was paranoid, she told him, when he insisted that she did not try to contact him on any social site, or even try and track his movements any online newspapers or on search engines. But he said he knew what he was doing – and she trusted him with her whole body, mind, heart and soul. So she didn’t.
Oh heavens, he knows I’m pregnant. Why didn’t he pick the Lower Barrakka, just across the road? He knows I tire easily – and it’s uphill all the way... I will never understand that man as long as I live.
She bunched up her hair, jammed on her crochet beret, and as she struggled to put on her parka, she rapped on her neighbour’s door and told her she was going out, and handing her the key to the flat, asked her to switch off the oven in fifteen minutes’ time.
“You look excited!” exclaimed the woman into who she bumped as she turned into Saint Christopher Street. Oh yes, something’s come up... she blushed, and ran up the few steps. She crossed Saint Ursula Street and turned left when she got to Saint Paul Street. She was already huffing. She counted each corner. At the back of her mind, there were those dreary history lessons in which she had learned how the streets of Valletta, except for the coast road, were at right angles to one another. However, learning their position on a map was extremely difficult for her (she is dyslexic).
Her English language teacher had mocked her in front of the whole class when, during the Careers Convention, she had declared she wanted to become a journalist. “You can’t even read a Primer!” I’ll show her, she’d thought.
Eventually, her name had appeared on the front page of The Times of Malta, over the story about how ghostly presences had been seen walking along Saint Barbara Bastions.
The said teacher had called her editor to say that someone must be ghost-writing her articles...
A medium had sworn he’d been contacted by ‘foreigners speaking heavily accented Maltese’ who were against the proposed underground track service, since it would desecrate their final resting places. The people who had been commissioned to see it through said he was talking bunkum – there was a lot of money involved in the project. But it turned out that a prison for slaves had existed underground in that general area at the time of the Knights of Saint John.
Not many people noticed that, one Sunday morning, a priest had visited the site, said some prayers and sprinkled some holy water from an asperges over the bastion sill. She had been looking out of her bedroom window, but kept mum. She included the incident in her report... and it was not gainsaid by Church authorities.
He’ll think I’m not coming she gasped, as began climbing the shallow steps in the upper part of Saint Paul’s Street. People were looking inquiringly at her flushed face given her evident pregnancy. A couple of them made as if to stop her and ask whether she needed any help – but she waved them off. She was actually on maternity leave, but she wanted to one-up the silly journalist from the rival paper with this Christmas scoop.
Once at the very top of Saint Paul Street, she took a deep breath and ran all the way to the entrance of the gardens, heading towards the back. “You made it!” he smiled. It struck her simultaneously that he looked deathly pale, and that he did not get up to greet her. It was only when she went to hug him that she noticed he was sitting in a wheelchair. She flinched.
“They broke both my legs. And then kneecapped me, to make sure I never walked again... But it doesn’t matter. Here, take this,” he said, as he handed her a big manila envelope, bulging with secrets. “Leave. Now.”
She made to complain. He shook his head; and suddenly the wheelchair was empty. She gasped, and instinctively felt that for their baby’s sake, it would be better if she left immediately.
Returning home down Saint Ursula Street, where the steps were right across the street that was narrower than the one from which she had come, and no traffic could pass, she felt safer. But she hurried, nonetheless. She heard a squeal of breaks and a sudden commotion. People screamed as an SUV skidded to a halt behind and above her, just in front of the gates of the public garden.
It was later reported that four thugs wearing balaclavas had dashed out of the vehicle, leaving the doors open, and ran into the gardens, guns blazing. Five persons, two of them children, had been injured.
Hearing the staccato shots, and knowing full well she would have been a victim had she been seen holding the envelope, she bent double and retched. An old lady looking out of a tiny side-window at street level saw her. Idħol, she said, inviting her to push open the door - kept on the latch as is still the habit in some places in Malta. She accepted a mug of hot, sweet tea and played for time just in case ‘they’ began scouring the streets.
Later, much later, she googled his name. The first link that came up was his obituary. He had died five months previously, in an unexplained accident on a business trip.