Saturday, November 7, 2009, 16:35 by
He’s in Malta! she muttered, as she waited to for the line to connect. “Meet me at the Upper Barrakka in ten minutes, near where the Lift used to be!” he said. That’s all. Not even the usual “See you!” which he knew could make shivers run up and down her spine. Her sister didn’t pick up, so she rang off.
Oh heavens, knows I’m pregnant. Why didn’t he pick the Lower Barrakka, just across the road? He knows I tire easily – and it’s uphill all the way… I will never understand that man as long as I live.
She bunched up her hair, jammed on her crochet beret, and as she struggled to put on her parka, she rapped on her neighbour’s door and told her she was going out, handed her the key to the flat, and asked her to switch off the oven in fifteen minutes’ time.
“You look excited!” exclaimed the woman into whom she bumped as she turned into Saint Christopher Street. Oh yes, something’s come up… she blushed, and ran up the steps. She crossed Saint Ursula Street and turned left when she got to Saint Paul Street. She was already huffing. She counted each corner. At the back of her mind, there were those dreary history lessons in which she had learned how the streets of Valletta, except for the coast road, were at right angles to one another. However, learning their position on a map was extremely difficult for her (she has dyslexia).
Her English language teacher had mocked her in front of the whole class when, during the Careers Convention, she had declared she wanted to become a journalist. “You can’t even read a Primer!” I’ll show her, she’d thought. Eventually, her name had appeared on the front page, under the story about how ghostly presences had been seen walking along Saint Barbara Bastions. The aforesaid teacher had actually called her editor to say that someone must be ghost-writing her articles.
A medium had sworn he’d been contacted by ‘foreigners’ who were against the proposed underground tram-track service, since it would desecrate their final resting places. The people who had proposed it said he was talking bunkum – but it turned out that a prison for slaves had existed in that general area at the time of the Knights of Saint John.
Not many people noticed that, one Sunday morning, a priest had visited the site, said some prayers and sprinkled some holy water from an aspergillum over the bastion sill. She had been looking out of her bedroom window – and included the incident in her report.
He’ll think I’m not coming she gasped, as she began climbing the shallow steps in the upper part of Saint Paul’s Street. People were looking inquiringly at her flushed face. She was actually on maternity leave, but she wanted to one-up the silly journalist from the rival paper with this Christmas scoop.
Once at the very top of Saint Paul Street, she took a deep breath and ran all the way to the entrance of the gardens, heading towards the back. “You made it!” he smiled. It struck her simultaneously that he looked deathly pale, and that he did not get up to greet her. It was only when she went to hug him that she noticed he was sitting in a wheelchair. She flinched.
“They broke both my legs. And then kneecapped me, to make sure I never walked again… But it doesn’t matter. Here, take this,” he said, as he handed her a big manila envelope, bulging with secrets. “Leave. Now.”
She made to complain. He shook his head; and suddenly the wheelchair was empty. She gasped, and instinctively felt that for the baby’s sake, it would be better if she left immediately.
Returning home via Saint Ursula Street, she heard a commotion. People screamed as an SUV skidded to a halt just in front of the gate. Two thugs wearing balaclavas dashed out, leaving the doors open, and ran into the gardens, guns blazing. She bent double, and retched.
Later, she googled his name. The first link that came up was his obituary. He had died five months previously, in an unexplained accident on a business trip.