Copyright © 2017 by Lori Lynn Mitchell
Gold Coast, Australia
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Mitchell, Lori Lynn
If I Were a Rich Man
- Fantasy Fiction
Taka trudged along the back pathway toward the guest rooms carrying the heavy fruit bowl. She resented the intrusion on her time. When she was cleaning rooms, at least she would be left alone at her own pace. She always found a way to slow down the tasks and slip out back for a smoke.
But earlier this morning as she moved the laundry cart along the main walkway she had been interrupted to go back to the kitchen and organize a fruit bowl for a new guest. It had been so quiet lately that she was getting used to the freedom. Now she had to deal with the kitchen staff to get the bowl made up.
They hated her – she knew that. She had no time for their whining or time wasting drivel, and she told them so, on many occasions. That’s why she finally got the exclusive job away from everyone as the checkout housekeeper. At least she didn’t have to deal with anyone except her supervisor, since the guests were always gone before she got to the rooms, and she liked it that way. She even got to clean Mr Jack’s room while he was away. She had found many interesting things in his drawers and closets. That made it easier to endure the subservience of cleaning a rich man’s home.
Taka arrived at the guest room and reached for her master key. Unlocking the door she opened it and moved inside, placing the bowl on the tall wooden entrance table next to the new flowers already there. Before turning back she stopped and looked over the huge pile of fruit. Reaching out, she grabbed several of the best off the large pile and shoved them in her housekeeper’s apron. Leaving the room she slipped around the back and checked the service pathway to see if she could make it to her secret storage box without being seen. Walking purposefully with the bulging apron she disappeared down into the darkness of the back garden shade.
The ground was shimmering from the tropical sun as the plane landed. When Anabel stepped out and went down the stairs onto the tarmac, she instantly hit a wall of heat. It was too much for her ‘city uniform’ – the jacket and skirt suit that she preferred when travelling. She had discovered that if she was the best dressed person in the airport check in line, she often got offered an upgrade to First Class for free. It hadn’t worked this time, although she didn’t mind, because the suit was still more comfortable to wear on planes than jeans.
Looking around at the lush forested hills at the edge of the airport, she smiled and slipped her sunglasses down from the top of her head. This is what she wanted; serious heat, not the maybe, sort-of, come and go warmth that was supposed to be summer at home. Plus, when it got more than warm there, she was usually rushing to a meeting, wishing it away, or stuck working with over-compensating air conditioning blasting, which ended up feeling more like working inside a fridge.
As she made her way through security and customs she was already relaxing…these people were still human! They smiled pleasantly as they helped process the passengers quickly.
Arriving at the taxi transfer point outside she immediately saw a beautiful white luxury car and recognized the resort logo on the side. The driver was waiting for her, with her name on a typical printed sign. He stepped forward and asked, “Miss Anabel?”
She smiled and said, “Yes” as he politely took her luggage and lifted it into the back.
“Woah Miss, this bag is heavy. Are you coming to play or planning to stay?”
Anabel was surprised at his direct question. She was so used to the aloofness of big city service people. For a moment she thought he was being way too nosey, and she bristled at the intrusion. He opened the back door for her, smiled warmly and winked at her with both eyes. Then she realized that her thoughts were rude, as her instincts instantly told her this was a friendly, heart-centered man. Sliding into the air-conditioned backseat she waited as he walked around the car and hopped in.
“My name is Joe and I‘ll be driving you, ‘Miss Anabel,’ and your heavy luggage to the best resort in our little city. It will take approximately fifteen minutes!”
Anabel chuckled. Without trying, he was funny; so open and expressive, but deliberate and professional. He didn’t say anything more though, seeming to be intently focused on his driving.
Anabel watched the roadside. Such poverty, she thought. How can these people live in those tiny huts? Not huts; she would call them sheds. Some were brightly painted, but most had long since faded into dull shades. She saw small children wandering around alone, a three-legged dog and elderly men sitting under the rough shaded porches, smoking and playing board games together. Other than the main road, there were only dirt trails and dusty paths at the edge of the paved asphalt. She felt slightly guilty that they had so little, and here she was zooming by in a luxury car to an island resort. She did understand, though, that in her own way she was contributing by holidaying here, bringing income into their community from tourism commerce.
Gazing ahead down a dry, sloping field she noticed a large circle of children in colorful school uniforms in the distance. When the car neared, it was clear that two children were scuffling in the center. The dust rose as they moved back and forth rapidly.
“Stop the car.” Anabel called bluntly to Joe.
Joe didn’t understand why the woman had asked to stop out here and took his foot off the accelerator, looking around quickly for danger on the road. He looked left and right and saw no obstacles, nor any approaching animals or people.
“I said stop, right now, Joe!” Anabel’s voice rose to a firm command.
Joe pulled over and slammed on the brakes, responding to the urgency of the woman’s tones. He watched as she immediately slid across the back seat and opened the opposite door. She jumped out and began to walk purposefully out into the field. It was then that he noticed what had caught her attention. He realized that he had better follow her. This woman was heading straight for a group of school children, and he could see the challenge going on.
Putting the car in park and removing the keys, he took off his jacket and laid it across the front seat. Then he walked quickly to catch up with her, wondering what she was going to do. These children were far outside the school yard gates, and had no teacher nearby. It was lunchtime, but it was unusual for them to all be gathered together like this without supervision. Joe glanced sideways at the woman, but she said nothing. He noticed the look of determination on her face.
“Miss Anabel, what are you doing?”
Anabel barely heard his words. She was still about 50 feet from the circle. The children’s voices began to reach her ears. They were rhythmically chanting something, but it was incoherent. It wasn’t English, and then she realized that she would need Joe there to translate. His question registered then, and she answered him slowly and calmly.
“These children are not supervised and they are irresponsibly cheering on the fight, are they not Joe? No one is trying to find out what the problem is…no one is sticking up for calmness or trying to end it!”
Joe looked over at the group and wondered how this woman could know all that before they got there. What he saw were two children challenging each other, and a large group of children gathering around watching and adding their voices to the challenge.
As he arrived at the outside of the circle, Joe watched as Anabel put her hands forward in a small gap in the circle and moved forward into the center. He followed her through, reading the signs of emotion on the onlookers faces. Breaking into the space within the circle, he noticed the two children in the center. He recognized them both immediately. One was Juji, the daughter of the village butcher. The other one surprised him; it was the school teacher’s daughter, Kaela. No wonder it got out of control out here, away from the schoolyard. He could hear the children chanting for them to fight, to engage, to lock heads. Although he knew that challenges occurred with children as the community pecking orders were established early in life, he was surprised that these two girls had chosen a physical challenge. Usually it was the words that started and ended girls’ differences.
Taking in the scene Anabel noticed several things all at once; the outer circle offered no resistance to her movement breaking in and they suddenly went silent seeing the two adults arrive. She also saw that all these children were all primary school age; probably about ten years old, she guessed, and also, surprisingly, that the two children fist-fighting in the center were both girls.
Annabel assessed the situation quickly and realized that she needed to remove the stress and attention these two girls were getting from the crowd. She could see that it would have been feeding the emotions as it escalated. How to diplomatically and safely dissipate the outer circle was the first priority. She turned to Joe and looked at his face, reading his calmness as a sign that this wasn’t yet out of control.
“Joe, would you please tell these other children to go back to the school yard?”
Joe looked around at the circle and realized that Miss Anabel was right, they needed to send these children away. If they approached the two challengers in the middle of the heated exchange without removing the others, it could cause a show of pride. He turned to the circle and looked around for a couple of the children who were natural followers. Approaching them he directly ordered them with authority of his position, to go back to school now. Without hesitation, they backed away and turned toward the school. As soon as he saw that movement he scanned the crowd around them and found a few more of the ones he knew would listen. The chanting had stopped, and as he continued to order them back to school others turned and followed. It had worked. The circle was broken and the children were moving away, still looking over their shoulders at the two girls.
Thankfully, Anabel noticed the authority Joe had with this group. She let him continue to disperse the circle and turned her attention on the two girls, still locked in their own circle, only focussing on each other. “Stop it, right now!” Anabel said as she stepped up to the two fighters. She wondered how it got to this point with two young girls. They didn’t respond to her. Then she remembered that Joe had got the attention of the other children with one word, and so she used it.
“Atuska” she said firmly, standing next to the girls. She waited for their response. For the first time the two broke their furious focus on each other and backed away, seeing Anabel for the first time. One of them looked at her , scanning Anabel from head to toe. Then she snarled something at her. The other girl started talking to Anabel as if she were trying to explain her point of view. The first girl turned to the second and the fight was engaged once again. Joe had just come over to them and Anabel could see beyond him that the retreating children had stopped and turned, watching them again.
Joe could see the re-engagement and so he turned toward the slowing group to keep them moving out of the way. Using their own dialect, he threatened “I will get Miss Shakta if you don’t keep moving!” The entire group responded immediately and turned away, quickly walking back toward the schoolyard gate.
Both Joe and Anabel realized at the same time that they had to separate these two girls. Joe said one word to them and they both stopped and looked at him. Instinctively, the moment the two girls released their shared grip on each other, Joe and Anabel each stepped in front of them, blocking their view of each other and creating a gap. Juji started to peek around Joe and say something, but he immediately boomed a powerful sound, stifling her outburst as she looked up at him and submitted to sullen silence.
Anabel decided that the main pressure had been removed, so now it was Joe that would have to direct these two further. While keeping eye contact with the girl facing her, she could see the girl was clearly frightened and on the defensive. Anabel realized this had been an aggression rather than a disagreement.
“Joe, will you please send that girl away quickly, while I walk with this one.”
Seeing the wisdom in making a bigger gap between these two, he said a few firm words to Juji, making it clear that her father was not going to be happy to find out about this if she got expelled. That immediately got the effect Joe needed. When Juji’s face changed from anger to fear, Joe knew he had hit a nerve. It stopped the fight and deflated the situation. Juji stepped back and turned abruptly toward the school yard. She looked over her shoulder once, but Joe continued to watch her, using only one word – “bapa” and that got the result he needed.
Seeing she continued to quickly make a distance between them, he turned around and began speaking softly to the other girl. Anabel watched and listened as they talked. She could tell from his softened tones that Joe had also read the situation. He seemed to know both of these girls. She monitored the other girl’s retreat as well as the group of children in the distance already filing through the gate into the schoolyard. Watching Joe, she stopped, waiting as he turned with the other girl and began walking back with her to the school gate. As they talked back and forth, Anabel could tell by the tones that Joe was finding out about the reasons for the escalation. She was thankful that he was so skilled with people. He seemed to be a natural negotiator and clearly had authority with these children.
When Anabel had asked him to stop the car, she hadn’t thought about the language barriers or the different culture. She had just acted, feeling compelled to stop the fight. To her, it was abhorrent for people – especially children to stand by and cheer on a physical confrontation. Then to find that it was two girls – she was surprised, but their reactions were no different than boys, just human.
Anabel watched as Joe arrived at the gate. Getting closer to the other fighter, he suddenly changed tones and spoke harshly to the young girl he had just walked back with. Then he turned to the other as well, with the same tones. The first girl bristled but continued to walk away, while the second girl turned back to him, her face breaking into a faint smile. She waved at him and turned toward the school, separating herself from the other girl’s direction and moving quickly around the opposite side of the building.
As Joe came back toward the car, Anabel joined him and asked, “What were they fighting about? I’ve never seen two young girls being cheered on to a physical fight like that.”
Joe looked at the woman that had stopped this fight and considered his answer for a moment. She was right to help them; this had not been good. But he didn’t want to tell this tourist what they were fighting about. It was embarrassing to the community to have an outsider know that the fight escalated from the simple jealousy of a brighter, newer school uniform. The teacher’s daughter had always been dressed well. Even though it was the same uniform that all the other children had, Juji, the butcher’s daughter had decided to take her anger and frustration out on the differences she saw in her own hand-me-down clothes. He guessed that many of the other children felt the same jealousy, even though the teacher’s daughter was friends with almost everyone. But that didn’t help her when fear and lack reared its head.
“Just some schoolyard bullying that got out of hand.” Joe answered.
Anabel wondered what kind of issue would have been taken outside the schoolyard. As they got back into the car and Joe started the engine she felt the building relief of the air conditioning. While they drove away she thought about the scene, replaying it out in her mind. She had noticed that most of the children were wearing once-bright, but now faded uniforms, except the girl who seemed like she had been defending herself. Perhaps it was the same old issue that arises in so much human conflict: coveting and jealousy. Sitting back with a sigh, she realized her adrenaline had kicked in and she was feeling the effects of it combined with the stifling heat of the dusty field.
Within a few minutes, the rolling estate with the villa styled resort appeared, looking just like the online booking photos. Relieved to be getting close, she could see the terracotta roof tiles and whitewashed walls on the large main building. There were smaller buildings around it with thatched roofs surrounded by bushes and gardens. It seemed quiet and deserted as they pulled into the shaded circular driveway and Joe got out to open her door.
“Miss Anabel, the reception desk is just inside and my friend Salla will be your girl.” Joe smiled and immediately went to get a porter’s trolley for her bag.
Feeling the extreme heat again, Anabel was glad to move through it into the reception. She noticed it was breezy and comfortable inside, without the usual coldness of air conditioning. The ceiling fans were spinning rhythmically, and the other end of the stone-floored room was open, creating a refreshing cross-breeze.
The reception desk had only one person behind it. She was silver-haired and wearing a bright yellow traditional island print dress. Anabel came close enough to see the woman’s name tag, ‘Salla.’ She smiled as she thought of Joe calling this woman a “girl.”
“Hello,” Anabel said. “Joe told me you were the one to speak to. I’ve got a reservation. I’m checking in for two weeks. My name is Anabel Lawrence.”
“Welcome, Miss Anabel. I’m glad my friend Joe has introduced us! Yes, we have your room available. Let me get your key.”
Salla turned around and approached a locked glass cabinet. It contained a board filled with keys hanging on a matrix of hooks. She unlocked the door and reached for a key, leaving another still on the hook. Returning to the desk, she presented the key and a handwritten carbon copy booking form. To Anabel it all seemed old-fashioned compared to modern hotels. Yet the rest of the resort seemed very new.
“Tell me Miss Anabel, will you be choosing to holiday alone or are you wishing to socialize? We have choices for both; our day spa for massages and island tours too, and I’m happy to help.”
For a moment Anabel felt uncomfortable. She didn’t like people pushing her to spend her money. Then, as she looked at Salla she realized this kind woman was offering services to make her stay better. She was being way too sensitive and she had the choice to say yes or no.
“I think I’ll do a little of both, Salla. May I come to you later to ask what options you have? Right now, I’d like to get to my room, get changed, and refresh myself in the pool.”
Just then Joe arrived with her bag, ready to follow her. Salla handed Anabel her room key and said, “Very good, Miss Anabel. Come and see me soon and I’ll give you those options. Hope you have a good holiday here with us.”
Anabel smiled and took the key, thankful to finally be getting to her room, and soon, the poolside.
As Joe showed her the way, he asked her some probing questions, too.
“Miss Anabel, are you meeting here with others too? Are you having a good holiday from the big city? Are you looking for some tours around? I can be there for you. You tell Salla, and I can do that.”
“Thank you, Joe. I’ll let you know. I’m happily doing this holiday on my own. Yes, I really want to be away from the ‘big city’ and just go slow.”
They had been walking through a covered walkway in a tropical garden. She didn’t know there could be that many shades of green.
Anabel had lived all her life within the outskirts of big cities and the gray urban jungle had looked drab ever since her first holiday in the tropics. In this garden all her awareness came alive. Smells, sights and sounds surrounded her with birds, large flowering trees and exotic palms. She could smell the frangipani before she saw them. Those rich-smelling fragrant flowers looked unreal, like carved wooden decorations or sculpted candles, so perfect with their colors changing from an unusual combination of a wide center of deep yellow, through a muted pink flower, and finally ending in a richly deep rose-colored edge. She could see ferns in the shady spots, small citrus trees lining the walkway and flowers evenly spaced between. The Bird of Paradise was easy to spot with its orange ‘head feathers and beak’ that so obviously fit its name. Her desire was to live where these types of flowers grew naturally outside all year. Hibiscus flowers were her favorite. The large bright flowers were bested by their own center stamen, standing like an antenna in the center of the blossom, beckoning with its pollen. There were many others she couldn’t name or recognize. As she was lost in this momentary world she heard Joe say, “Here is your sanctuary, Miss Anabel.”
‘Sanctuary’ sounded so nourishing, she thought as she turned from the gardens toward her new home; at least for the next two weeks.
Anabel didn’t know what she had been expecting, but as she entered her villa, she knew nothing could have been better for her soul right now. Sitting on the entrance table was a beautiful bouquet of tropical flowers and a fruit bowl. The large living area opened out to a private patio space surrounded with more gardens. A ceiling fan was slowly spinning, and she could feel a cooling breeze enter the room. It was more like a hut, but with luxury. The floors were cool marbled stone – the kind with the flecks of sea fossils throughout. On the other side there was a small kitchen and a separate bedroom. She could see the bedroom from here, with its decorative mosquito net over the bed, white linens, and dark wooden side tables, intricately carved. Joe set her luggage on the tray in the bedroom and turned to her.
“If there’s anything else, Miss Anabel, please let us know. Will you be coming to dinner in the restaurant tonight?”
She hadn’t even noticed the time but realized it was already well after noon.
“Yes Joe, I will. Do I need a reservation?”
Joe smiled warmly, “No Miss Anabel, you came at a good time when it’s very quiet.”
“Thanks Joe. Will I see you around the resort?”
“Yes, of course. I’m here full time. Call us if you need anything. Just dial reception on the phone.”
With that final comment he smiled and left her alone in the room.
Anabel turned and looked around the room again. How did I get so lucky to find this place? she thought.
Jack was stunned. Standing there like a statue, he couldn’t move. The oddities and perplexities of life’s synchronicities usually amused him. It was often from an occurrence that could not have been planned. He recognized magic when circumstances popped into some uncanny alignment, bringing people, resources, and experiences together better than even he could have engineered.
This was one of those moments, but his normal amused reaction was absent. He had been stretching his legs and taking a break from his ‘work day,’ in his favorite office in the world. He had just got a juice from the pool bar and was returning up the garden path toward his own villa. And it was then that he saw her. She had a luminous expression on her face as she admired the gardens.
It was the woman he had seen at the cafe last time he was in the city six weeks ago! She was still in a business suit. What was she doing here?
He felt a rush of excitement, and suddenly felt an attraction to this tall, confident woman. Stopping with his drink in his hand, he felt awkward and self-conscious. At that moment, the woman walked into her garden villa and disappeared.
Relieved, it gave him a chance to compose himself. He felt nervous and confused like a teenager. ‘Jeez, get a grip Jack,’ he told himself.
His reactions were partly due to the shock of her showing up here, and partly from the reminder of her earnest questions about wealth. He had to admit that he admired her. Many people talk about their plans and dreams, but he knew that most never follow through and take action. But she did. She had decided and then made it happen. And of all the possible choices for that beach holiday, she had ended up here.
He had to have a conversation with her.
After taking a moment to recover from the shock he made his way back to his own villa with many thoughts whirling around his head, which would likely greatly distract him from this afternoon’s work.
Maybe tonight he would dine in the public restaurant rather than at his place. But first, he decided to go to the gym and release some of his energy constructively.
Anabel looked around the empty dining room. Only a few tables were occupied. Joe was right, it was a very quiet time to come. She felt as if she had the place to herself. The restaurant was like an extended part of the reception lobby. It was an open plan design and even extended through to the outside gardens. The whole complex was as beautiful inside as it was outside. The natural furnishings were complemented by fountains and indoor gardens. Although the large room felt comfortably enclosed, it was like the inside and the outside were one. The entire area was only enclosed because of the dark stained plantation shutters, although they were wide open, concertina-style at various spots overlooking the gardens. The ceiling fans were spaced evenly along the high ceiling, giving the early evening breeze a new life inside.
The sun was beginning its final trek low on the horizon, and she could see the long shadows on the outside gardens.
Salla came over from reception and welcomed her into the restaurant. She led Anabel to a corner table overlooking the beautiful gardens and sunset. Offering her a wine menu she waited as Anabel looked at it briefly. “Do you have a good Cabernet Sauvignon available by the glass?”
“Yes Miss Anabel, we have a special one from Australia. It is one I can highly recommend.”
“Alright Salla, I’d love to try it. Oh, how much is it?”
As Salla walked away with her order, Anabel thought about her afternoon.
She had spent the last two hours at the pool. The large-lagoon style pool was crystal clear with aqua blue tiles. She loved the color blend of blue and green that represented the waters of the tropics.
She had found a shady spot under a white umbrella and dropped her towel.
‘Don’t think about it too much, just go!’ she had told herself. ‘One, two, three, dive,’ and she was in. There was the brief shock of the change from air to water, and from hot to cool. It was welcome and refreshing. Then her body had relaxed, gliding underwater with her eyes closed. In a sightless, soundless realm the nerves in her skin were both stilled and stimulated. She let go fully, and then composed her loose body and kicked, pushing herself along underwater enjoying the sensations for a few more moments.
Climbing out of the pool feeling refreshed, she had wondered if there were any others checked into the resort. At the far end of the large pool and a young couple was sunning themselves. Near them, sitting alone at the pool bar was a man talking loudly to the bartender. He was much larger than his shorts allowed and, not wishing to see more of his backside she looked away quickly.
Settling onto her lounge chair she absorbed the surrounding view. It was magnificent. The ocean was just beyond the pool, and the two bodies of water matched almost perfectly in color.
She thought about ordering a drink but decided to wait a while. The money she was spending on this holiday was more than she had originally planned. She needed it though. The system upgrade had gone mostly smooth, but there were the usual last minute adjustments, training issues, and delays as people changed their schedules, missed their courses, and then blamed the system on their difficulties. She was glad her boss realized it was better to get his team de-stressed after the completion of training.
Although Anabel considered herself well-paid ‘for a woman’ she never seemed to have any money to spare. Years ago it was worse. She had worked her way through college as a poor student. Then, even after a few years of working full time, she found that she always had more month to go at the end of her money.
Finally finding this job, her money began to stretch further. But she had bigger dreams for her life. She wanted to be able to take a holiday anytime. Actually, she desired to live like this rather than having to take a holiday to escape her life.
Credit cards always came in handy. That’s why she had been able to spontaneously take this holiday. She would have it paid off in a few months, maybe even only a month if she tightened her spending when she returned.
She justified to herself that this holiday was affordable, but there she was laying by the pool still denying herself an early drink to cut back on the expenses.
The wine was superb, just as Salla had promised. She wondered why Australia could produce such good red wine. Although she didn’t know much about wines, she knew what she liked, and this one was delicious; full and rich.
Already deciding on a fresh seafood plate, she thought it would go well with the wine.
Watching the sun set in this peaceful place she thought how different it was to normal life. At this time of day she and the rest of the city commuters would be stuck in a gridlock trying to get home, so she rarely had time to enjoy the colors and impressions of sunset. The birds all seemed to chime their best songs at great volume together in their end of day ritual.
Why can’t I live like this all the time? she thought. What’s stopping me? Money: You’d have to be filthy rich to live like this. Maybe someday she could consider it, but certainly not now. Over the last five years she had established her career and settled into a good position that paid well.
Besides, she’d probably get bored living like this all the time. She needed the incentive of her pay check to keep her busy, and although that busy life was exhausting, sometimes it was stimulating. She probably wouldn’t appreciate this life if it was her everyday reality. Don’t we need something to strive for? Isn’t that what’s behind the human condition: to have an unfulfilled desire, to venture out and strive for some daily purpose, and to finally achieve our goals?
Well right now, this moment was hers. She took another sip of her wine and sighed with a gentle smile on her face.
Just as Anabel put down her glass, movement caught her eye from the open reception area.
She glanced at the man emerging from the gardens into the main reception area. He looked familiar. Where did she know him from? She tried to place the face but couldn’t quite remember where she had seen it.
She guessed he was in his early forties. He was dressed in casual wear – long khaki dress shorts, and an aqua blue golf shirt. He walked by the reception and waved to Salla, then turned toward the restaurant and scanned it. When he saw Anabel he stopped and smiled.
Those light-colored eyes, that subtle smile, the shoulder length hair: it was the man at the café! She could see that he also recognized her. Anabel couldn’t believe they would be holidaying at the same place.
…to be continued.