23. marec 2008

The Second Day - Miriam

When Miriam opened her eyes at first light she realised that the dream holiday had changed into something completely different. She knew something terrible must have happened to Tony. Where has he spent the long, cold night? – Miriam wondered. Had he come to a settlement or met somebody, he would surely have phoned so that we wouldn’t be so worried. Since he hasn’t done so, he must have had a serious accident; maybe he has hurt his leg…

She felt anything but fresh, yet Miriam got up and got ready for the new day because she expected the rescue operation to start very soon. And so it did: at 6.40 am Mr Nolan came to the bungalow and told her about the meeting he had had at 6.00 am with Steve Tyson and Leon Lescott at which they had divided the first tasks among themselves. Tyson and Lescott had already set off towards Prison Farm, the only state institution of its kind, because its manager, Mr Liburd, offered his help over the telephone.

At 6.15 am Nolan also called the local New Castle Police Station and informed the policeman, Glasford, about the failed search on the previous evening and about the plans for that day.

Nolan needed Miriam to tell him as much as she could about the route her husband was taking on his way to Nevis Peak, so that the search operation could focus on it. Miriam wasn’t able to give him any precise information, because Tony hadn’t told her much about his plans, neither had she thought of asking him more about his route. She could only remember that a few days before they had visited the highest settlement called Golden Rock, where Tony had enquired about the routes leading to the mountaintop. They had taken a taxi to Golden Rock because the place was on the other side of the island, too far for them to walk there. However, she knew for sure that Tony had planned to start his walk at Nisbet and go past the hotel Mount Nevis, where he had stayed the year before, and from where he had set off one morning on a short trip towards a smallish hill, the one with an aerial on its top.

Nolan understood that the hill Miriam referred to could only be Round Hill, which wasn’t a part of the central volcanic mountain of Nevis Peak, but a much smaller, and really the only other, “mountain” on the island. He concluded that if the tourist had headed from Nisbet past the hotel Mount Nevis, he must have chosen the route called Upper Round Road. This would first take him through the settlement and later along the uninhabited terrain towards the saddle stretching between Nevis Peak on his left and Round Hill on his right. Nolan also knew that in the settlement of Fountain Village, situated on the saddle, Tony had had two options: to turn left towards Nevis Peak or to turn right in the direction of Round Hill, as he had apparently done on that short trip the year before.

He asked Miriam to check which documents Tony had left in the hotel. He needed the photograph and personal details from Tony’s passport so that the rescuers would know who they should be looking for, and perhaps also for the preparation of a missing-person flyer. Nolan also asked Miriam to give him a few of Tony’s clothes, mainly the ones that hadn’t been washed, so that the sniffer dogs from the Prison Farm would know his smell. Miriam gave him everything he required.

When asked whether Tony would choose to climb a well-trodden route or something off the beaten track, Miriam answered that, being a rational man, he would have chosen a well-trodden and marked route. She thought that had he climbed the mountain off the beaten track he would have surely hired a guide, especially as he knew there were a few guides on Nevis. Nolan considered his last question to be of the utmost importance, so he asked it, in a slightly rephrased form, for a few more times. Since Miriam didn’t have an exact idea about the locations of the places on Nevis, and in particular the distance between the hotel and Golden Rock, and since she mentioned for a few more times how Tony had enquired about a climbing route in Golden Rock, Nolan left with an impression that the search should be started in the area around Golden Rock, especially because there were no marked routes leading from the Nisbet side of the island to the mountain.

Nolan informed Steve and Leon about his decision and these two men, together with a group of prisoners who volunteered to help the rescuers (Samuel James, Trevor Hector, James Allen, Philmor Seaton) and ten sniffer dogs went towards the area of Golden Rock where they began the search.

On his way towards the hotel reception, Nolan was approached by a Nisbet employee, Leroy Nisbett, who told him that at about 6 am on the previous day he had met a person who matched the description of Mr Tomažič, on the Upper Round Road heading towards Fountain Village. This piece of information made Nolan doubt that Tomažič had really chosen to start his climb from Golden Rock.

On a small island like Nevis, alarming events are rare, so Nolan decided at 7.00 am to inform the prime minister, Mr Vance Amory, about the missing person and the actions taken so far. However, when he phoned the prime minister, Mr Amory’s wife answered the phone-call and told Nolan that her husband wasn’t on the island because he was attending a parliamentary session on the neighbouring island of St. Kitts. Mrs Amory also told him that she was expecting her husband to phone her shortly and promised she would pass on the important information to him.

As an experienced security officer, Nolan knew that he should get in touch with the officer responsible for dealing with such a crisis, Llewellyn F. A. Newton, a disaster-preparedness coordinator. It is understandable that on Nevis the word disaster mainly refers to disastrous hurricanes that can occur during the rainy season, but at the same time Mr Newton and his team were also in charge in the event of other exceptional situations. Nolan informed Newton about the Tomažič incident at 7.10 am and one hour later Newton phoned him back telling Nolan that he had done everything necessary to start an official rescue operation. He was going to be personally in charge of the operation while cooperating closely with others, mainly the Nisbet employees and the police officers from New Castle and Gingerland.

As early as 9.15 am Newton came to Nisbet, where the first meeting of the head rescuers was held in the Coconut Restaurant. Apart from Nolan, the other participants were the guide, Jim Johnson, and the inspector, Austin Lescott, together with three other police officers. They quickly discussed all the urgent matters and decided how to organise the operation that day: apart from searching in the area around Golden Rock, they were also going to search around the settlement of Fountain Village, situated on the saddle. There they would go in both directions: left towards Hog Valley and right towards Spring Hill.

In the meanwhile, Miriam started a new day that wasn’t much different from the following seven days. More than anybody else she wanted the search for Tony to be as intense as possible and she would have liked to be involved in it, however, she also had to stay with the children. She even suggested to the head rescuers that she should join them, but they thought it would be better for the children to stay with her instead of being with people they didn’t really know. The other rescuers’ argument was the fact that Miriam didn’t have the experience needed for a search on dangerous terrain. On the one hand, she so much wished to hear the comforting news that her husband had been found, on the other, she got a chill each time the telephone rang, thinking: Will I now hear the worst? In addition, she had to conceal her enormous worries from the children – had she not done that, the situation for all of them would have been even more difficult. As it was, the children remained unburdened with the problem. Miriam tried her best to continue the lifestyle they had got used to over the previous days.

When Toni and Mariansa woke up that morning, their first question was: “Why hasn’t daddy come back yet?”

“I don’t know, sweethearts, I really don’t know, but I’m sure he is all right. Maybe he has sprained his ankle and has to wait for the rescuers to come and bring him back on a stretcher…”

“Will it be today?”

“Yes, your father will surely be back today.”

It is interesting to note that on the following days Nolan was comforting Miriam in a very similar way: “Of course it is very likely that your husband is alive. It had happened before that somebody was missing for several days, but in the end the rescuers found him alive.” A few days later he added more details to his account of the previous accidents: “There were cases when people spent a whole week in the jungle and were still rescued in the end.” However, he began to feel increasingly uncomfortable at the end of the first week. He thought that Miriam wouldn’t believe her husband could survive any longer than this in jungle.

At the breakfast the waiters and waitresses were specially kind to the Tomažič family because the news about the missing guest had already spread among the staff, though not yet among the other guests. That’s why Toni and Mariansa laughed more than on other such occasions, whereas Miriam only had a few bites of food. She was constantly staring at the silhouette of the mighty mountain stretching right in front of them. Tony is there somewhere, but where? Is he suffering? Is he hungry and thirsty? Maybe wounded? Some thoughts were even darker, but Miriam was pushing them out of her mind.

She thought the best thing for the children would be to spend the morning at the swimming pool. So she told everybody that they could always find her either at the pool or in their bungalow. They spend the mornings on all the following days in the same way. Whenever there was an important telephone call for Miriam, the staff came to collect her, or they simply put the call through to the telephone nearest to her. When the children weren’t in the water, they were playing on the sand of the nearby beach or they asked their mother to read to them. It was good that a few days before the children and their father started the second Harry Potter book, which Toni particularly enjoyed listening to.

When it was close to 2.00 pm, Miriam became even more nervous because that was the time for her to call Tony’s mother in Slovenia. Her mother-in-law is old and walks with considerable difficulties, so the decision to leave her alone was a difficult one, but they arranged for her to get food and other necessary help while they were away. During previous holidays she got used to the custom of receiving a phone call from her family every day at 7.00 pm Slovenian time. This meant a lot to Tony’s mother and it was good for the family to know that she was well. While on holidays this time, they also phoned her every day; because of the time difference it always had to be at 2.00 pm local time. However, there was an exception: last Tuesday Tony told his mother he wouldn’t call her on the following day because he was planning to go on a trip. Instead, he was going to call her on Thursday. Hence, that day Tony’s mother must have been waiting for the phone call, but Tony couldn’t phone her and Miriam couldn’t bring herself to do it either – she didn’t want to lie to her, but telling the truth to her mother-in-law was even more difficult. She could even have a heart attack, Miriam thought. I will take some risk and wait until tomorrow when I won’t have to conceal the bad news any longer.

Miriam’s mother was much younger and healthier, but still, Miriam couldn’t tell her the bad news either, so she decided not to call Slovenia at all that day. The mothers couldn’t help them in any way, but a phone call would surely make them worry a lot.

This decision spared Miriam a lot of painful explaining, but it also increased the burden she was carrying. Had she confided in her mother, she would have probably had a good cry and then perhaps felt a bit better.

The Nisbet staff looks after their guests well, among other things they also help them organise their arrival and departure. Hence, that day an employee, Steve, approached Miriam and reminded her that their flights to Orlando, planned for the following day, were uncertain. The decision to cancel the flights wasn’t difficult: even if Tony had been brought back that instant, they still couldn’t have simply packed and left for Orlando on the following morning. So she handed the flight tickets over to Steve to cancel them.

The Nisbet management, especially Kathie Johnson, did their best to help Miriam bear the heavy emotional burden. For this purpose they also brought in Dr Judy Sonnenberg, a professor from the neighbouring American medical university, which had just that year been opened on Nevis. Kathie introduced Dr Sonnenberg as her acquaintance and an American compatriot to Miriam over their afternoon tea. A trained psychologist, Judy performed her role so well that Miriam didn’t realise until the end of her stay on Nevis that she was getting the necessary therapeutic help; she simply accepted Judy as a compassionate friend that approached her in an unobtrusive way, making it easy for Miriam to confide in her and giving her a lot of comfort and encouragement. All of this was possible mainly because of Judy’s warm, straightforward personality and her readiness to fully devote herself to another human being. She didn’t find it difficult to sit up with Miriam late into the night, help her put the children to bed or even assist her with some other urgent tasks.

In the meanwhile, the search for the missing person continued. The policemen, various volunteers and, above all, many members of the Nisbet staff, were walking in the lower parts of the two mountains, Nevis Peak and Round Hill, calling out the missing person’s name and seeking possible new details about the tourist from the local people. The temporary coordination committee, chaired by Newton, was also trying to find a more efficient way of organising the rescue operation, which would mainly be searching from the air. However, there was no helicopter on Nevis. There were, of course, small planes, but they weren’t suitable for low flying, and were all the time used for regular flights. Newton called the head of the rescue service on St.Kitts, Mr Edmead, and asked him whether it would be possible to get aerial help from the US Coast Guard, the best-equipped organisation of its kind. The officials from St. Kitts did send a request for help, but received a reply that the US Coast Guard did not have the authority to carry out a rescue on the mainland. The French authorities from the island Martinique also refused help. Newton and Nolan then agreed that on the following day they would try to get a helicopter from American authorities.

Traditionally, the formal dinner in the Great House restaurant is, on Thursdays, replaced by a barbecue on the beach, so Miriam, Toni and Mariansa were obliged to attend it though they weren’t in the mood for such events. Already at afternoon tea, Judy kept them company, and she stayed with them during the barbecue as well. Considerate restaurant staff – the always-smiling Roslyn was especially popular with the children – were bringing food to the family as they sat in a quiet corner. On a few occasions they also brought them news about the rescue operation, unfortunately, each time it was bad news. That night there were many more mosquitoes on the beach than usually, and Mariansa seemed to be their favourite target. The family, therefore, soon had to leave the barbecue and seek shelter in their bungalow.

Before sleep they all prayed for their father, holding the Rosary that Tony’s mother had given to them just before this journey with a wish that they would use it often and pray for a safe return.

At 9.30 pm the children fell asleep and Miriam positioned all the window blinds in such a way that she could see out – she knew that she would be awake for most of the night staring into the direction from which her Tony might come.

Her heart trembled when, after 11.00 pm, somebody knocked at the door. But it was only Roslyn, who was finishing her work at the barbecue dinner, and just wished to say a few more comforting words to Miriam. She told her that a lot of people were looking for her husband and that in the morning she had also been looking for him in the area around her village, called Buttlers, crying out: “Anton! Anton!”

“Thank you, good Roslyn, thank you, good people.”

“Good night. I hope they will find Tony tomorrow.”

From my book: Second Place of Birth: Nevis

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