Increasingly Chan was tired now, and wanted only to lie in bed or on the sofa, and read or watch television. While Chan slept or dozed I was thrust more into the company of Rupa. Worried that the growing life inside Chan might be making more demands on her human physiology than she could bear, I asked Rupa if she was at all concerned by Chan’s exhaustion. Rupa was typically perfunctory. ‘No, it’s normal that she should want to rest as much as she does.’
I realised that I was not sure whether Rupa knew I was Badezoid. Chan must have told Rupa, I reasoned, in order to make her understand why the authorities could not be involved in this birth.
‘Chan has told you about me, hasn’t she?’
That slow, quizzical look, the very model of noncommittal.
‘That I’m not from this planet. That I’m an alien.’
‘She told me that’s what you believe, yes.’
‘She believes it too.’
‘Yes, of course she does.’ A look at me, a beat, a look away. Rupa knew that withholding words was far more powerful than giving voice to them.
‘We’ve talked about it many, many times. I’ll admit that at first she wasn’t convinced, but she knows so much now, about my past life, since my memory’s returned. And why would she swear you to secrecy if she didn’t think that the baby inside her has a highly unusual gene pool?’
I could have begun in on the long descriptions of Badezon that I had given to Chan, but I knew it would be a waste of time. Rupa didn’t think I was an extra-terrestrial any more than she was. She, however, did not seem especially human either.
Yet I often found myself drifting into the room in which she was sitting. I watched her read, and waited for the glimmer of gentle amusement which momentarily curled up her lips at their ends. I interrupted her to ask questions about the birth; was there anything I could do to be more than simply a support?
‘If we need to ring for an ambulance… that will be your job.’
It was when one day I interrupted her reading for a fourth time, ambling backwards and forwards across the floor before the armchair in which she was sat, that she said, ‘why don’t you go out for a walk?’ There was as much amusement as impatience in her tone.
‘Why don’t you come with?’
We dropped down the hillside and threaded our way through the dunes and onto the beach, and into the last light of the setting sun. It was a still evening; the clouds were was hazed with golds rather than pinks. Before we left Rupa said to bring some newspaper. I carried it under my arm as we walked, never quite side by side, saying nothing.
It was low tide. She walked to edge of the water, obeying the drag of the moon, the backwards drag of particles by each successive wave. She stopped, and I turned towards the dunes and the houses to reckon. ‘It was about there, where you’re standing, that she found me. The day I fell to earth.’ I thought then that I saw just a little crack in Rupa’s sphinxy façade.
We walked further along, skirted the rocks of the headland and found ourselves in a bay that it would be tricky to escape when the tide turned and came back in; there was a way up the cliff, but in the dark, without a torch – without wings – it would be tricky. Under the lee of the cliff she stretched out a hand for the newspaper and told me to go and search for driftwood. By the time I came back she had found several pieces herself, had somehow splintered and arranged them pyramidally around the paper. From her pocket she produced a lighter and set the paper aflame. We sat down and she tended the fire periodically, adding bigger and bigger pieces of wood. We sat watching the flames, from time to time passing the small bottle of water she had also brought.
‘Who are you?’ It could have been either one of us who said it, but it was me to her.
She smiled a defensive smile. ‘I am Rupa. That’s really all you need to know.’
And I could not tell her my true name back, for it was the one thing that memory had not returned to me. Instead, on an impulse, I put my hands into the black nest of her hair and looked into her face. I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to shake her out of her ever-present serenity, or kiss her, or both. But I could make out no disconcerted ruffle, no invitation. Just a searching look back, an apparently non-judgmental appraisal. Perhaps kissing her might do it. I became aware of the feel of her hair in my hands, its thickness surprisingly soft; hints of its natural oils shuffled the sea smells aside for a moment. Reluctantly, gently, I withdrew my hands.
Then she put a hand to my face, brushed hair away from it. ‘I think we both would like to. But we both should not.’ It was the most demonstrative thing I ever heard her say.
We sat awhile watching the flames as it grew dark and the driftwood crumbled to white ash. With a start we realised that the tide was well on its way in and had cut off our route back round the headland. We would have to brave the cliff face. Rupa filled the bottle with sea water and poured it on the remnants of the fire. In the increasing gloom we found the steps shaped into the rock, and helped each other up them. By the time we made it to the top, we had reached an understanding.