Chapter 9

Angela’s brief private celebration of Calvin and Joanne reuniting was short-lived because, after that little incident, they separated and kept a distance from one another again. Their travel the rest of the day was less chattery, so unlike the previous day. Only Jiro, Cyndi, Jacky and Sophia were the ones talking more often. The irony was reeking so strong, yet no one bothered to tease one another anymore. Even Sharon learned to keep her mouth shut.

Being separated did not mean Calvin wasn’t keeping an eye on Joanne. Not because of his duty either. She was walking with Jacky and Sophia so it wasn’t like she was in any danger.

“Can someone talk?” Sharon asked when they stopped at noon for a break. It was not an order. It sounded more like a plea.

The others exchanged glances among themselves. Sharon looked almost too pitiful.

“What do you want to talk about then?” Cyndi asked.

Angela did not want to say the wrong things again, so she had opted to stay silent.

“I know you guys think I’m a pest, but I honestly want to know why we have to separate with the others when we’re basically going the same way,” Sharon rattled out at one go, not wanting to be interrupted. “It makes sense to go in groups because we do not want to attract attention. But this?”

“We change course for the same cautious reason,” Jiro pointed out. Though he still maintained his calmness, he had exchanged a look with the other three guards seconds ago. Like Sharon had hit home.

“I know you guys will think that I’m crazy, but I sense something really wrong here.” Sharon was on the verge of tears. It was not a matter of fearing others’ judgments being thrown at her anymore. It was another type of fear. “Like…” She broke off, not being able to finish anymore.

Cyndi rushed over to comfort her, patting her shoulder. Joanne ended up hugging Sharon–on the verge of crying as well.

“I’m sorry, Sharon,” Joanne said. “I shouldn’t have picked on you these past days. It has been hard for all of us. I had no right to do that when we…” Her voice broke off as well.

“Qiao Qiao, stop crying,” Cyndi chided. “You’re making it worse.” Though she was scolding Joanne, but she was not in a better state. As if tears were contagious, she felt her eyes welling up also. But that did not stop her from talking. “We’ve been through these since little. It’s just a little different this time. I’m sure our fathers will explain it all to us when we get there.”

“If we get there,” Chun muttered under his breath.

Jiro sent Chun a glare. He had heard Chun since they were sitting next to each other.

“What?” Angela jumped at the opportunity.

“Nothing,” Chun said quickly, directing his eyes elsewhere.

“Are you guys hiding something from us?” Cyndi asked, looking at Jiro in particular.

“No,” Jiro replied, his tone still authoritative, still persuasive as ever.

For some reason, Sophia turned to scan at Jacky’s face for more information. She knew–as well as the others–that Chun had let it slip. Even if they did not hear it. Jiro’s attempt to shut him up was too obvious.

“Could you guys please tell the rest of us?” Sharon begged, having stopped crying already. “I know you had your orders. But…”

“We’ve broken quite a few rules, but if we break the promise this time…” Jacky said, trying to craft his words carefully. “We will never be forgiven. And we won’t be able to forgive ourselves either.”

“So it is serious!” Angela exclaimed.

“It has always been serious with us,” Joanne said. “What else can’t we take?” She was looking at Jacky. “Tell us, Jacky ge.”

Jacky let out a sigh. “I’m sorry, I can’t.” The first time he had to turn Miss Joanne’s request down. “You’ll find out when we get there eventually.”

Jiro took a glimpse at his watch. “We have to get going soon.”

“Come on, Sharon,” Joanne urged, helping her up. “We’ll know for sure later. No need to get ourselves worked up.” She was not just trying to reassure Sharon, but she truly trusted Jacky’s words that they would find out soon enough.

And to everyone’s disappointment, they stopped and camped by the river again. No answers yet. At least the girls were disappointed. They had been staying on the same path, keeping the river as their guide–in case their clean drinking water source ran out.

“So much for the answer,” Angela whined. She was not into whining. Yet she had it with staying silent for so long. It was all in vain.

“Forget it,” Joanne said, wanting to defend Jacky. “We’ll reach there by noon tomorrow. Maybe it’s because we’re all injured so we’re slower.”

“We’ll see.” Angela did not want to argue with Joanne. She actually quite liked Joanne. She had to restrain herself from having any disagreements with Joanne.

They followed the same routine as last night. Tonight, the order of duties was the same as last night. Chun took the first shift while the other guys rest. They were roused up once again like last night around Calvin’s shift. This time, it wasn’t because Joanne had found so much time on her hands to go pick a fight with Calvin. Yet it still had to do with Joanne, and Calvin was the first among the guards to get there.

“Go away!” Joanne’s scream reached their ears.

“Open up!” Calvin yelled out.

Cyndi was the one opening the tent for him.

“What’s going on here?” Calvin demanded. He thought Joanne was at odds with Sharon again.

“She’s having nightmares,” Cyndi replied. She returned to Joanne’s side also.

Joanne was thrashing around in her sleep, disturbing the others. Of course, it had awakened up all the girls.

“Go away,” Joanne’s scream continued. Sweats were forming on her face; her hair was pasted to her skin.

They had risked some light that night, so the others could see without having to adjust their eyes.

“Qiao Qiao, wake up,” Sophia attempted again. “You’re only dreaming.”

“Give her some room,” Jiro said, having arrived already and was observing the situation.

Angela and Sharon stepped out of their tent. Jiro gestured for Cyndi to make way also. She had no choice but step out as well. Like how it was with the morning, Joanne was covering her ears with her hands.

“I’ll take care of it,” Jacky said, stepping into the tent after the other girls had cleared out.

The others looked anxious yet were unable to do anything more. Only Jiro and Chun were still calm. Calvin was clutching onto his hands, making his wound worse. He had never felt so helpless in his life.

“Come on,” Jacky urged, his voice still low and patient. He took Joanne from Sophia’s grasp and carried her outside.

The night air helped because Joanne began to stir, waking up finally.

“Jacky ge,” Joanne called out, still frightened, clutching onto his neck.

“You’re all right now,” Jacky soothed, placing her down on the ground again. “You just had a nightmare, that’s all.” He patted her shoulder like many times before.

“I can still see him,” Joanne said, her voice shaky. “He wouldn’t disappear. He was waving at me but not because he was saying goodbye. He was telling me to follow him.”

“It’s just your interpretation,” Jacky said. He had no idea what to say either, except silently blaming himself for causing the worst for her.

“Now you get why I think it’s senseless your gang’s fighting?” Angela asked. She was looking at Chun.

“What do you know?” Chun retorted. He had enough of the silence game these past days. He could stay silent but not when someone was accusing him, attacking him. Most of all, it was her.

“Enough already!” Jiro bellowed. He had enough. More than enough. “This is not the time to convert or corrupt one another from doing whatever we’re supposed to do. If you think you’re right, shut up. You’re never going to get anywhere. I mean both of you.”

“You guys go rest,” Jacky said, turning to them, still having a hand around Joanne’s shoulders. “I’ll keep watch the rest of the night.”

“You sure?” Chun asked.

Jacky nodded. “I’m going to teach Miss Joanne how to meditate so she could focus on other things.”

“I’m still keeping my shift,” Jiro said. “You two need your rest too. Even if we’re just walking till noon.”

“Okay then,” Jacky agreed.

That was set. The others returned to their tents. Calvin looked reluctant, but he was pushed by Chun to return to their tent.

Jacky’s temporary method had worked because the meditation had helped Joanne calm down.

“Listen carefully,” Jacky said, putting more wood into the fire. “You need to remember what I taught you. So you could pull yourself out of the nightmare and meditate afterward. I’m sure you could find other ways in the future to help you. But that’s the only way I know.” He let out a sigh. “I could never pay back all that I owed you. But that’s the best I could do for now.”

Joanne placed a hand on Jacky’s shoulder. “Jacky ge, you don’t owe me anything. I was stubborn, too unreasonable. I made you teach me.”

“I could have said no. It’s against the rule. Giving you that answer was enough.”

“I know I haven’t been strong enough these past days, kept breaking down. But I will try harder to concentrate and conquer this nightmare.”

“I hope you will.”

“You will see the result.”

Jacky let out another sigh–as if that little declaration was just some empty reassurance attempt. “I hope so.”

Joanne got up from her spot and entered her tent then. The others had left a crack, so she was able to reach in and unzip the tent from the outside. Jacky was staring at her while she was doing that, his mind full of regret and his heart a pang of deep guilt.

“Time’s up,” Jiro said.

Jacky almost jumped because he had not expected it. Though Jiro had said he was not going to give up his shift. Jacky had lost his track of time because he was so into teaching Joanne.

He finally got up and left the scene after nodding to Jiro.

Jiro made sure Jacky closed their tent before putting out the fire. Like the other night, Cyndi came out of her tent and met him near the water. They picked up from where they had left off when Angela interrupted. Jiro was not only teaching defense skills to Cyndi anymore but other various topics that she wouldn’t have learned from others. It was more like survival skills mixed in with a lot of other knowledge.

© Wednesday, January 5th, 2011

Posted: Thursday, February 10th, 2011