23. marec 2008

The Third Day - Miriam

On the third day of Tony’s disappearance Miriam knew she should phone Slovenia to tell their close relatives about the accident. She was still hesitant about telling it all to Tony’s mother who couldn’t help them in any way, but could be seriously affected by the news. The first person Miriam decided to call was Zlata Tavčar, the company manager of IUS SOFTWARE, who was, as a co-founder of the company, closest to Tony and most likely to be able to help. Just a week before she had received the Slovenian Chamber of Commerce Award for the best economic performance of a company in 2000. The award had been presented to Zlata at a ceremonial event, which Tony had regretted so much not to be able to attend, and after the ceremony she had left, together with her family, for a much-deserved holiday: skiing in Italy. They were due to be back that very evening; therefore, Miriam decided to phone Zlata at 2.00 pm Nevis time.

As on the previous days, the Nisbet staff again did their best to help the concerned family to get through the difficult moments of uncertainty. For Miriam, Nolan was the main source of information; in addition, that day she also received news from Newton, the coordinator of the whole operation, who came to see her in the morning. Newton told Miriam that, in addition to other ways of searching, they were also using a helicopter that day. This important piece of information gave Miriam new hope that the search would be successful this time. Newton also added: “I have already arranged everything necessary in the main hospital of Charlestown, so that its staff will be ready to admit your husband as soon as the rescuers bring him back because he will surely need immediate medical care.”

Oh, if only it would really be like this, Miriam thought. Then she waited – hour after hour – to hear the news that Tony had been found. However, no such message reached her.

By then the news about the missing tourist had spread all around the island and quite a few people came forward claiming that they had seen Anton Tomažič two days before, on the Wednesday. A few of those claims closely matched the previous reports, according to which, at about 6.00 am, the tourist had been on his way towards the settlement of Fountain Village, situated on the saddle. Some had seen him on the street, others had caught sight of him from their homes (like Leonard Skeete and Joseph Liburd), but none of them was able to say whether, on reaching the saddle, the tourist had turned left or right.

However, the information that was crucial to the subsequent search operation – and in comparison with which the reports about Tomažič’s morning direction sounded entirely irrelevant – came from Westbury Village. It was there that the father of Mr Wigley, the policeman, had presumably seen Tomažič on Wednesday AFTERNOON at about 4.30 pm. A black, middle-aged lady, Winnefred Herbert, from Westbury Village, confirmed Mr Wigley’s report. She told the rescuers that on Wednesday afternoon she had met, in front of her house, a white gentleman on his way back from the mountain heading towards the beach. Her description of the tourist was so convincing that even Miriam, after talking to the lady, was sure that Mrs Herbert had seen Tony. The lady described a middle-aged tourist wearing a beard and spectacles, dressed in short trousers and a tee-shirt (in the right colours), carrying a rucksack on his shoulders and a bag, which could have been a camera bag, in his hand. She added that they had even got involved in a longish conversation: jokingly Winny had asked the traveller whether he would marry her, to which he had replied that he was already married with two children and that, in the hotel, the family was waiting for him to come back after his one-day trip. When Miriam asked for more details about the tourist the lady also said that he had several grey hairs in his dark beard, which again corresponded well with Tony’s appearance.

Since Westbury is located to the RIGHT of the saddle at Fountain Village, it seemed logical that any further search operation should focus on Round Hill, which is separated from the main mountain of Nevis Peak by roads and other settlements. Hence, on that day, and for a few more days, even more people were involved in surveying the forests, bushes and the beach area of Cades Bay – all located in the lower part of the island belonging to Round Hill – in an attempt to find any trace of the missing tourist. Who would have focused on the high central area of Nevis Peak after receiving such precise information, confirmed by another person, about Tomažič’s whereabouts in the opposite direction? It seemed obvious that Tomažič had successfully returned from Nevis Peak and had, at the end of the day, been on his way down towards the coast.

This was the reason the helicopter, which the Nisbet management was finally able to hire for three hours from the island of Antigua, didn’t spend much time in the air around the dangerously foggy mountaintop. It only made a few circles there, and some around the extinguished volcano crater; it flew as much as the clouds pressing against the mountain allowed, and then moved away to carefully search the area of Round Hill. The lookout in the helicopter was Nikki Johnson, the wife of the guide Jim Johnson; Nikki was also a guide.

Back in the hotel, Kathie and Don Johnson arranged for another visit that would help the Tomažič family remain calm under the difficult conditions. That afternoon two Catholic priests came to see them: the local Father George and his colleague who ran the parish on the neighbouring island of St. Kitts. Only three percent of the inhabitants of Nevis are Catholics, and the majority of them are white people. As a result, the hotel managers correctly assumed that a Catholic priest was the right choice for their European guests. And so it was: no one could have given them more comfort than Father George. In an unobtrusive way, this pleasant Irish priest started a conversation with Miriam and in the meantime also got close to the children. Instead of offering a sermon based on theory, he was asking them real questions, then listening carefully to what the family was telling him and occasionally made his own comments about the recent events. He was also interested to know whether Tony was a religious man and Miriam assured him that he certainly was. Because of this they very quickly found that they spoke the same language. Just before leaving father George blessed them and prayed with them for Tony’s safe return. He also told them that the churchgoers of his parish would keep praying to God, asking for a favourable outcome, and he promised to come back to them, which he did do on the following days.

After talking to the priest Miriam felt strong enough to phone Slovenia. She decided she would first try to talk to Zlata. She phoned IUS SOFTWARE believing that the experienced and always-friendly business secretary, Mojca Pintarič, would help her find the company manager who, as Miriam knew, was still on her leave. That turned out to be rather difficult because Mojca, too, was on leave. That week, Slovenian schools had winter holidays and a lot of people were away with their children, so Miriam couldn’t even talk to the manager of the partner company, the GV Publishing Group, Slobodan Sibinčič, who was skiing in a Slovenian winter resort. After several attempts, Miriam finally got the number of Mojca’s mobile telephone. Mojca told her that Zlata and her family were due to come home at about 7.00 pm local time and so Miriam decided she would call back later.

While waiting for Zlata, Miriam had to make another difficult phone call: she phoned her mother, Slava Kranjac, and told her immediately that Tony had been missing for three days. Naturally, her mother was shocked, and they talked about when and how to tell the news to Tony’s mother, who would, that evening at 7.00 pm, be waiting more eagerly than normally for the telephone call – on the day before she had, for the first time, been waiting in vain, getting increasingly worried about all four travellers. Miriam asked her mother to phone Tony’s mother and tell her that the family couldn’t get a connection from Nevis to Vir, but that they were alright and would phone her on the following day. Miriam’s mother agreed straight away that this was a better solution than upsetting the frail and lonely, 85-year-old lady with the news that something very serious had happened to her only son, who had been lost in the jungle for three days. Miriam’s mother later did what she and her daughter agreed on, and in this way she also took over some of the heavy load that until then Miriam alone had been carrying. As for Tony’s mother she could spend two more days in the same way she had spent the past two weeks: in anticipation that she would soon be able to hug her two grand-children again and feel free from her usual worries that were with her each time the family went on a journey. However, being deeply religious, the old lady fell asleep each night while praying for the safety of her loved ones.

When, soon after 2.00 pm, Miriam was finally able to speak to her friend Zlata, she burst into tears. She told Zlata that something terrible must have happened to Tony because he had gone missing and the rescuers had been looking for him for three days. It was for the first time that Miriam could cry and release some the fear that had accumulated in her. Zlata was as shocked as if the news had been about one of her relatives – in the past 12 years she had been very close to her business partner, Tony. They were together every day: at work, for lunch and often also at gatherings of both families. Together with her husband, Dejan Stančič, who was also employed at IUS SOFTWARE, and two small daughters, they had just returned from a weeklong skiing holiday; even before they could find the time to unpack, the shocking news hit them. Zlata asked Miriam about the mountain that Tony had climbed, then about the rescuers and the way in which the rescue operation was organised. She knew she needed a few minutes to collect her thoughts and talk the matter over with Dejan, so she told Miriam they would soon call her back. Practical as she is, Zlata also asked Miriam whether she had enough money, and told her not to hesitate to spend it on the costs of the rescue operation, and she could even borrow some money if necessary. Zlata was sure that her colleagues would be quick at helping Miriam find the extra funds needed for Tony’s rescue. Miriam thanked her and told her that she had almost no money because she couldn’t cash in the traveller’s cheques that had Tony’s signature. She also added that until then money hadn’t been a problem because she had been simply adding the daily expenses of their stay at Nisbet to the family bill kept by the hotel. She thought, however, that she would probably need the money to hire the helicopter and the other expenses of the rescue operation.

Instead of opening the mail and tackling various other household tasks that usually need to be done after returning from a holiday, Zlata and Dejan sat down at their table, tried to collect their thoughts, and decide on what actions they should take. They realised that of the people in Slovenia it would have to be them who would carry the biggest load when it came to handling this critical situation. They also thought of Miriam’s brother, Niko Kranjac, who would also be capable of helping them. They both knew Niko well, as they often met him over lunch. Hence, they phoned him and found out that Niko had also just learned of the shocking news. They all agreed that Niko would come to see them on the following morning so that they could discuss the matter and make plans for the future.

In the meantime, the news about the missing tourist spread among other Nisbet guests who were all very kind and considerate towards Miriam and the children. That afternoon Kathie brought another two kind ladies over to Miriam, both from the Nevis Tourist Association. All four women talked in the entrance hall of the bungalow while the two children were playing outside on the grass. By then, Miriam and Kathie had become very close, almost intimate, friends because they had already exchanged several experiences associated with their family lives.

That evening Miriam told Kathie about the suggestion that Zlata had made during their telephone conversation. Though Zlata is a very rational person, she had thought that the rescuers might also want to seek help from a dowser or another person with similar skills. Referring to the Slovenian proverb “when in need, the Devil will even feed on flies”, Zlata had concluded that any technique, including a paranormal one, would be worth trying in order to find Tony. Miriam had promised to ask about such a possibility. Kathie knew about the activities of the American Society of Dowsers and also that some of its members were specialists in searching for missing persons. Without any hesitation she phoned New York, and soon got the names of two such people. One of them was famous for solving several mysteries, especially ones associated with kidnapping and other criminal acts. However, the lady had recently given birth, so she wasn’t available. Nevertheless, one of this lady’s colleagues was able to temporarily take over the matter and asked Kathie to fax a map of Nevis to him. After that, he soon expressed his belief that the missing guest was lost in the area called Eden Brown. Though the area was far from close to the places that Tony had wanted to climb, the Nisbet staff still checked this area, but they never found anything.

After several attempts, Kathie finally managed to get in touch with the main dowser of the society, Ginette Matacia-Lucas. During their telephone conversation, the lady said to Kathie that she found the case very interesting and would be happy to deal with it if her involvement in the matter could be organised so that it would suit her maternal duties. Thus, they agreed that, by using Federal Express mail, Kathie would send her a map, a photo of the missing person and 400 dollars. They also agreed to get in touch again on Sunday, at 12.30 pm, provided the mail reached Ginette on the following day.

One hour before dinner, the much-liked Roslyn visited the Indian Castle bungalow to find out what the children would like to eat that evening. Their father being away, the family had all their evening meals served at the same time, and in that room of the Great House restaurant that was reserved for the children – only that the family ate there a bit later than the other children. As a result of a lot of exercise and fresh air, the children ate well, but Miriam was glancing sadly towards the central hall of the restaurant where other couples were sitting and where, only a few days before, she and Tony had had such a pleasant (their last?) evening.

A little later, there was another sad occasion that stirred the emotion of everybody in the restaurant. When Miriam and the children were leaving the room it seemed that their loneliness had already become a routine, that there was little hope the night might bring a happy end to their unfortunate story. Toni and Mariansa politely said “Good night” to the deeply moved guests.

On the way towards the bungalow, they were looking into the sky wondering whether their father was watching the same stars …

And in their beds they said their regular prayer: My guardian angel, be always with me …

From my book: Second Place of Birth: Nevis

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