I write it all down, what I know. Sonia arrives early in the morning to find me in the garden in the hammock, with a book and a jug of juice – juice I’ve squeezed fresh from the various fruits growing in my own back yard (and one or two that were hanging over from the orchard next door). I observe her nonchalantly as she looks for me. I’ve not been able to get into the hammock without help up until now so she’s not expecting me to be here. When I cough she gasps and then slaps me playfully. I sit up and offer her a glass. She grins at me and takes the other hammock.
She chatters on a little about how well I look and what a lovely day it is, as if it’s not normally like this. I ask her what day it is and she says Nearday. I say I’ve never heard of that one. She recites ‘Oneday, Chooseday, Hisday, Herday and Freeday. Then Meday and Youday. That’s the weekend.’ Then she smiles at me a like a schoolgirl who’s done her homework very neatly.
‘You’re making it up’ I say.
‘No I’m not’ she says, grinning. ‘Ask anyone.’
I gaze about for a while. I need to ask some questions. I’ve been putting them off. I see her move to go and do something and I stop her by saying ‘Sonia, what do you remember from before you were here?’
She sits back down and does her own share of gazing about.
‘I saw what you wrote’ she says at last and I realise I’ve left my papers down on the kitchen bench. It’s ok. I maybe wanted her to see.
‘And?’ I say.
She lays herself down in the hammock, looking away from me, up at the sky. Two huge black and blue macaws glide in high up to raid the big mango tree for breakfast.
‘You have to understand er... We’re going to have to give you a name. Do you mind?’ she says, turning to me.
‘I don’t know what’ I say, feeling suddenly tetchy.
‘Ross calls you Spatch.’
She seems somewhat ashamed of this, ashamed that she finds it funny. ‘It’s short for spatchcock – you know, because of how you looked when we found you... Anyway...’
‘Ok. I get it’ I say, repulsed and amused equally. I suspect I’m going to have to accept it. Actually it’s quite cool, as nicknames go. ‘Anyway’ I say, to try to get her back to the point.
‘Anyway’ she says, ‘people, once they arrive here, they... we, we just want to be peaceful, get on with things. What happened before...is gone. Do you not understand? It’s passed.’
‘But you do know who you were don’t you?’
‘You’ve just...’ I see her begin to get up. I’m afraid she’ll leave. ‘Sonia’ I say, maybe too abruptly. She stands there, stiff and irritated. I soften my voice.
‘Sonia’ I say, ‘there’s a difference.’ She looks at me impatiently.
‘Why do you need to go back there?’ she says.
‘What? I’m not going anywhere.’
‘I don’t mean to physically go. I mean why do you need to remember? It all sounds horrible.’
‘I don’t, it’s just...’ She gives me that look that tells me she thinks I’m being selfish and probably a bit self important, obsessing about my past. She’s wrong.
‘Sophie’ I say, ‘I don’t know who I am. You chose to...’
‘You called me Sophie.’
‘What? Did I? I didn’t mean to.’
‘Well that’s just it. I have no idea, maybe no one. Sonia, you chose to let go of all that because you were happy to just be here.’
‘And you’re not’
‘I don’t know... Yes of course I am, but...’ Now I can see I’ve really upset her. I wish she’d sit down and stop looking like she might run away any second. I feel rushed. I need to explain properly. I stand up and take her arm firmly and get her to sit down next to me. She’s momentarily impressed by my new-found assertiveness, I can tell.
‘Sonia. Listen to me. It’s lovely here’ I say, and I know I’m lying already. It only seems lovely. I decide to leave the lie anyway. ‘You’re lovely.’ She melts a bit. ‘You all are’ I add, for safety’s sake. ‘You’ve all been fantastic. Really. And it’s a beautiful place you’ve found me, and a lovely garden and everything, with the river and the orchards...’
‘God, you haven’t even seen the sea yet, and the forest...’
‘Sonia. Sonia, I know. But can’t you see? How would you feel if, if all your past had just been lost, forcibly taken away...’
‘But all the pain, and sexual abuse...’
‘But before that. I need to know what happened before that. I want to know who my parents were for example, and about my life before this, where I lived. Don’t you get it? I must have had friends and maybe a wife. Maybe children. I want to remember them, wouldn’t you? I know I was a painter... I suppose maybe it’ll all come back to me. I want to know what my name was.’
After a while she looks up at me and says she remembers her friends – people she met before, on her way here, and before that, in her life, her parents and her brother and her baby and then she leans forward and begins to cry, and I say I’m sorry for reminding her but she says no, it’s good, she’s glad she remembers, even if it hurts.
‘You’re right’ she says, sniffing and drying her eyes. ‘It’s not fair, not being able to remember. How can I help?’ And I tell her she can listen maybe, and make notes, and I’ll go down and make us something to eat.
In a single bound I take the stairs down into the kitchen, feeling rather pleased with my agility. Unfortunately I misjudge the low lintel and the next thing I know Sonia is there helping me up again and I’m clutching my forehead. She’s very worried, like I might have a relapse but despite the pain I laugh and say I’m ok and go over to the pantry. This is going to be one hell of a breakfast.
Once we’ve eaten we sit down in the shade and the first thing I do is tell her next time she sees him to make sure Miguel is ok with us spending so much time together. She looks a little bashful about it and I suspect she’s playing a little game with him, which is fine for her but I don’t want to make any enemies just yet. She says she’ll talk to him.
‘I just wanted to help’ she says but I suspect she’s not being entirely honest.
I begin by telling her what happened the previous night. When Kevin came in I’d been reliving The Warzone as I’ve come to know it.
‘There seemed to be some rules involved, like you had to move through this labyrinth and collect these power pack things, and there were these creatures there trying to stop you, big scaly...’
‘The lizard men.’
‘Sort of. More like dinosaurs in armour, with machine guns. They called themselves the Mutillati or something. Anyway...’
‘Actually’ she says, putting the pad down on her knees, ‘it all sounds a little, I don’t know...’
‘A bit silly?’ I suggest. She nods. ‘I know. It was like that. It was all a bit crap, like something out of some frustrated teenager’s imagination, like a comic book or something. Anyway, I discovered that after a certain period of time, after you’d been shot, you got another chance. You could get up and carry on, like you had several lives. Like when we were kids playing war – bang bang, you’re dead you know? And then you could be released by one of your gang or something. Except this was really gruesome and disturbing. I saw some horrific injuries.’
‘It sounds more like one of those computer games to me.’
I take a moment to realise she is absolutely right. It was exactly like that.
‘I don’t know why I remembered that’ she says with irritation. ‘Look what you’re doing to me. All this crap I wanted to forget is coming back. God, do you remember tamagochis? I had one of those.’
We take a moment to contemplate the horror.
‘So you were in a computer game?’ she says.
‘Someone’s idea of heaven I suppose.’
‘It was. Actually it really was – what it did to me. I’m not sure how long I was there, a few weeks maybe, but I remember looking down at this enormous black metal weapon in my hands and... stop sniggering.’ She does that mouth zipping mime thing and I say ‘Anyway. I had this horrible big metal gun and I remember thinking “Wow. I’m actually quite good at this.” It was like it was ok to go around shooting at people and no one was actually going to die... I’m ashamed to say I got into it a bit. I think I got quite a good score, just on the raw “shoot-em-up” side of things.’
‘Did you win?’
‘No. Hardly. It was fun at first, running across the rooftops, randomly shooting at monsters, blowing things up, ducking and weaving, but then I realised there was more to it than that and I had to start trying to work out how to get more ammunition and some of the others seemed to have got themselves some extra skills or powers or something. Then I got shot and it was the worst thing ever, well, apart from what happened... Well, you know. But it was horrible. After I got shot I hid myself in a dark little place under the street and found a lot of other guys down there with their guts hanging out or their brains showing and just laughing and joking about it – talking to each other about how they were going to do it different next time and how they’d picked up tips from somewhere. I just wanted to get out.’
She looks at me as if she doesn’t know me, appraisingly.
‘I’m not proud of myself’ I say and she smiles.
‘How did you find a way out?’
‘There was a door’
‘Really. A big metal one with one of those illuminated green exit signs over it. I mean, they didn’t exactly advertise the fact. I had to go through all these passageways underground, really damp and sticky. Some people’s imagination... Then there were some instructions, not very helpful, and... I don’t know. When I found it it was just sudden, I was out.’
‘Well that’s the thing. I seriously considered going back in it was so bleak and dark and cold out there. Just empty.’
‘But you didn’t’
‘I couldn’t. The door wasn’t there any more. I was still injured. I had to stop for a while, recover, try to think what to do.’
‘Was that when you found the Paradise place?’
‘That was much later. I was wandering about for ages. I don’t know how long. Sometimes it was just light enough to see a few yards around me. Everything beyond that was pitch black. I don’t know if you can imagine that. You can’t tell what’s out there, just outside this tiny pool of light, maybe going to jump out any moment. Other times – day times I suppose you could call it, there was enough light to make out the edges of the canyon or ravine up above against the sky, and maybe some of the rock formations around. Nothing else. I thought I saw things moving about out of the corners of my eyes sometimes but never properly. Probably my mind was playing tricks – sensory deprivation or something. I really don’t know. Then later there were a few dead looking plants about, all swollen and with the skin flaking off and there was a bit more light – grey and misty, like just before dawn but all the time.’
I look over at Sonia. She’s looking at me very intently, like she’s finally taking me seriously. ‘And do you think you still knew who you were at that time, where you’d come from?’
It’s a very good question. I’m not at all sure.
‘I think I still knew when I was in the shoot-em-up. I think something happened there – some sort of break down. I remember at the end, when I was looking for the exit, and I was down in these passageways – really tight some of them, like I could only just squeeze through and I knew they could come up behind me at any time and I knew what they did then, if they caught you. Have you ever seen a scorpion eat a locust?’ She shakes her head. ‘They just start gnawing at which ever part is nearest to their mouth, and the rest of the locust is still alive and moving about, and you’d have to pray if that ever happened to you, that they’d start with the head. I was thinking of that, trying to crawl through this tunnel – it was about ten inches top to bottom...’ I can see her squirming ‘And I was just panicking and crying and scrabbling at the walls with my finger nails and the walls were just slick with some sort of sticky fluid... I don’t know...’
I look at her in the chair opposite, hunched down, arms tightly folded, legs crossed. I decide not to go on. ‘Anyway’ I say ‘I think that’s when I lost it. I was just on automatic after that, just keeping moving. I think that’s when I forgot who I was.’
‘But they didn’t catch you.’
‘Does it look like it?’ I try to smile but it doesn't come off.
‘I don’t know. That might have been just your first attempt at escaping.’
‘They didn’t catch me.’
‘Can we stop now?’
‘Gladly. What do you want to do?’
She scans the room for inspiration. She looks cold and desperate for something to take her mind of things. I suggest we go out into the sun.
She says ‘I know! We should go to the beach’ and with that she begins to run about getting things ready, getting rid of the images I’ve given her. I feel sorry for that but have to admit I do feel better. I feel like I’m getting somewhere. As she faffs about I think back to that time when I was in the game and try to reconstruct what was in my mind at that time – all my memories. It doesn’t come but I know it’s there.
‘Help me’ she says.
‘Picnic’ she says. ‘Get some food and things, look there’s a chiller...’
And off she goes. It’s lovely having her around I have to admit. I only hope Miguel is going to be ok.