On my way across the clearing, I briefly debated who I should tell about the raft first — Jed or Sal. Going by the book, it should have been Sal. But we didn't have a book so I went with my instincts and told Jed.
I noticed the bad smell as soon as I climbed into the hospital tent. It was sweet and sour; vomit for the sour and something less distinct for the sweet.
'You get used to it,' said Jed quickly. He hadn't even turned round so he couldn't have seen me wince. Maybe he'd heard me cut my breathing. 'In a couple of minutes you won't smell a thing. Don't
I pulled up the neck of my T-shirt to cover my nose and mouth. 'I wasn't going to go.'
'Not one person has come in all day. Can you believe it? Not one person.' Now he did turn to look at me, and I frowned with concern when I saw his face. Spending almost all his time in the tent had taken a toll. Although his tan was still deep — it would have needed more than five days to wash that out — it seemed underlain by grey, as if his blood had lost its colour. 'I've been listening to them out there since two,' he muttered. 'They came back at two. Even the carpenters. They've been playing football.' 'I saw.'
'Playing football! None of them thinking to check up on Christo!'
'Well, I think after Sal's speech everyone's trying to get back to...'
'Even before Sal's speech they were staying away... But if it was
Sal in here... if it was anyone else... Apart from me...' He hesitated, looking blankly at Christo, then laughed. 'I don't know. Maybe I'm being paranoid... It's just it's so weird. Hearing them outside, wondering why they don't come to check up...'
I nodded, although actually I was only half listening. His confinement with Christo was obviously getting to him and he clearly wanted to talk about it, but I had to bring up the subject of the raft. Sammy and Zeph would have covered the sea between the two islands before nightfall — a conservative estimate I'd worked out with Mister Duck by halving the time it had taken us to make the swim. At the earliest, that meant they could start the journey across the island tomorrow morning, and could conceivably reach the beach by tomorrow afternoon.
Christo stirred, distracting us both. For a second his eyes opened, clearly focusing on nothing, and a line of dark bile ran out of the corner of his mouth. Then his chest heaved and he appeared to slip back into unconsciousness.
Jed wiped away the line with Christo's sheet. 'I try to keep him on his side but he always rolls back... It's impossible. I can't tell what I should be doing.'
'How long will he be like this?'
'Two days at best... It might coincide with Tet.'
'Well that's perfect. It'll be the perfect birthday present for the camp, and maybe it will help Karl snap out of his...'
'Help Karl?' Jed looked at me curiously.
'Sure. I think half the problem is that no one can talk to him in his language. I think if Christo was talking to him then...'
Jed shook his head. 'No,' he said quietly. 'You don't understand. Christo's not getting better.'
'You just said, in two days...'
'In two days Christo will be dead.'
I paused. 'He's dying?'
'But... How do you know?'
Jed reached out and took hold of my hand. Confused, I thought he was trying to console me or something, which got on my nerves, and I pulled my hand back. 'How do you know, Jed?'
'Keep your voice down. Sal doesn't want people to find out yet.' He reached out again to take hold of my hand, and this time he held it tightly, drawing it towards Christo's stomach.
'What the fuck are you doing?' I exclaimed.
'Shh. I want you to see.'
Jed pulled back the sheet. The entire area of Christo's stomach was almost jet-black, as black as Keaty's.
I stared at the skin. 'Why?'
'I don't want to,' I protested, but at the same time I felt my arm relax. Outside I heard the football bouncing near the entrance of the tent, a regular thumping that rose and faded like passing rotor blades. Someone cheered, or screamed, and someone else chuckled. Through the canvas, short bursts of conversation sounded sing-song and foreign.
Gently Jed guided my hand until it rested on Christo's torso.
'What can you feel?' he asked.
'It's hard,' I muttered.' ...It's like rock.'
'He's been bleeding inside. Bleeding badly. I couldn't be sure until last night. Or I knew... I think I knew, but., .'
'That thing... it's a haemorrhage?'
I nodded respectfully. I'd never seen a haemorrhage before. 'Who else knows?'
'Just you and Sal... and Bugs too, probably. I talked to Sal today. She said nobody can find out. Not after we've started to get things back to normal. I think she's mainly worried about Étienne hearing.'
'Because he wanted to take Karl to Hat Rin.'
'Yes. And she's right to worry. Étienne would insist we took Christo to Ko Pha-Ngan, and it would be for nothing.'
'You know that for sure?'
'If we'd taken him the day after the attack, maybe two days after, he might have been OK. And I'd have taken that chance, even if it meant losing the beach. I think Sal would have too... But now... what would be the point?'
Jed sighed and stroked Christo's shoulder before pulling back the sheet. 'No point at all.'
We sat in silence for a minute or two, watching Christo's shallow and irregular breathing. It was strange that, once explained, it was obvious to me he was dying. The smell I'd noticed on entering the tent was the smell of encroaching death, and the waxy appearance of Jed's flesh was from living in death's proximity.
This thought jolted me and I broke the silence bluntly. 'Zeph and Sammy built a raft. It was what they were doing behind the tree-line. They're on their way.'
Jed didn't even blink. 'If they make it to the beach,' he said. 'They'll see Christo die. Everything here will fall apart.' And that was all.