I don't know how many times I had to say "Non, merci." during that evening.
The other passengers on the boat became aware of Catherine's sickness, and I had to refuse all the native medicine and the drinking and eating stuff that they tried to give us. They seemed like good people -- the young woman with the malevolent gaze didn't try approaching me any further --, and their offers heartfelt, but nevertheless, I did not want to risk our health.
When we disembarked, I did not have to ask around on how to get to the hospital nor look for transportation -- some of the most helpful passengers took care of that for me, while I occupied myself solely with Catherine, who was incredibly dizzy and could barely walk.
On the other end of the Elder Sisters Islands -- two long and narrow islands, connected by a single bridge, with a very busy commercial port --, the hospital was located in an old mansions complex that had formerly belonged to the Colonial Government. Although it was clean, its antiquated appearance did not inspire much confidence. Fortunately, Catherine was so fatigued that she did not refuse to go in.
Having disembarked, her condition began to improve almost immediately. I left her resting on a deck chair and went in search of physicians. At that early time of the day there were only nurses on duty, but they were able to at least provide safe water for Catherine.
While we waited for a physician, she took the saline solution intravenously right there on the porch, and a couple hours later she was much better already. Exhausted and stressed, Catherine temporarily gave up going shopping in search of clothes and books, but she had not given up her main mission on land -- calling France to talk to her family. She hadn't contacted them since she had gone to the Île du Blanchomme.
She was very upset with the difficulties in placing an international call, and her mood worsened when she finally succeeded but a maid reported that Catherine's mother was still sleeping, and she was not allowed to wake her up in any case.
"I'm not any case, you idiot!" Catherine cried, enraged. "I'm her daughter! And you'll wake her up for me." The maid must have given an excuse of some sort, to which Catherine immediately retorted. "Just because I'm telling you to do it! You have no idea the world's end I'm at, right now. "And how difficult it is to get a connection!" She snorted. "And she has sent me here. She is responsible for all this! Now go!"
They finally agreed that Catherine should call again within an hour, giving time to the maid to wake the mother. During that period, Catherine became impatient and refused to leave the public phone area, shooing other users away -- even when they called her to do the exams.
"Not now!" She so fiercely dismissed the nurse that the poor woman blushed and accepted Catherine's orders without further protesting. "Once I'm finished here. Now I have more urgent things to do. Do you understand what I'm saying? Do you understand French at all?!?" We had been living so peacefully for weeks on the Île that I had almost forgotten about Catherine's belligerent nature.
When she finally reached the number again, and her mother answered, Catherine demanded privacy. Apparently, I was the only one around who could understand French.
"Don't you have a list of errands here on the island? You can go, I'll be fine." she suggested, trying to dismiss me.
But I did not want to leave the hospital before someone took care of Catherine -- I thought she could simply walk away, now that she was feeling better, and go shopping... or even board a boat back to France.
Nevertheless, without leaving the hospital's ground nor losing sight of Catherine, I moved away as far as I could from her. Since I wasn't watching her so closely, otherwise she would shoo me, I don't know how long she stayed on the phone, for when I realized it, she was no longer there. A local lady informed me that 'the foreigner' had entered the hospital with a nurse, and after confirming the information at the reception, I could finally calm down. But I only felt at peace after seeing a doctor arrive. I ran up to her, to tell her about Catherine's heatstroke and the food poisoning.
It was while waiting for news from Catherine -- if she would remember my existence at all, since she hadn't bothered warning me that she was moving to the exams' area --, that it suddenly dawned on me that I had left the Île du Blanchomme deserted... Armand and I had never talked about my leaving the Île -- I had been in charge of taking care of the island, and I had with genuine happiness accepted getting stranded there...
I hadn't considered the possible danger of abandoning the island like that, to no one. I knew of pirate ships on those seas, but the news were they assaulted other vessels, not islands... But what could I have done? Send Catherine on a boat and let her seek a hospital on her own? To be by her side I had to leave the island. And my conscience was peaceful, having made the ethical choice between the safety of an individual and a property. Should I have at least locked a few things in the trunks, or secured others against another improbable storm?
But there was something else that I had not thought of...
What if Armand came back during my absence? What if he had been on one of the boats which we had crossed on the way to the Elder Sisters Islands? What would he think upon not finding me anywhere on the Île? How could I have left not a single note? Nothing... How would he react to my unexpected disappearance? I was afraid that he would think of something sinister, like maybe I had drowned, having been swallowed up by the treacherous currents around the Île du Blanchomme he had often warned me about... How could I have been so giddy? I'd have to apologize to my friend.
And not only that. Away from the Île, I realized how much I had put myself in a complicated situation. My main plausible justification to leave the island -- taking care of another human being -- was a mystery to him. How could he have guessed the presence of Catherine on the island? For a moment I froze, as giant goosebumps escalated and enveloped my spine. Catherine could be rather negligent, and I had to tidy her mess. She had been the last one to leave the house, and our room -- in fact, Armand's room, that we had turned into our room... What if she had left her lingerie hanging in the bathroom, or drying at the armchairs on the veranda facing Armand's room, like she usually would? And even if she hadn't, what would be Armand's reaction at opening his dresser to find all the feminine clothes I had so neatly folded and organized in it?
What would I say to Armand upon his return? And what would I say to Catherine, when he returned? What was there to say, actually?
I wanted to believe that she would be kind to immediately return the bed and room to Armand, but how to explain him why she had occupied it in the first place? And worse, why had I moved in with her... And what did Catherine represent to me -- and what did she represent, in fact?
That long afternoon, spent at the front steps of the sleepy insular hospital, while Catherine was inside undergoing the exams, for the first time I had a notion of the complicated matters which I had gotten myself into.
I had been furious with Catherine for coming uninvited to the Île, and for being an involuntary guest, but now that I had voluntarily gotten involved with her... I could even have explained to Armand a non-paying guest, but how to explain... a lover? What I had done to my best friend -- if I could still call him that --, knowing his feelings for me... was unjustifiable.
Suddenly, I saw myself hoping that Catherine would decide not to return to the Île du Blanchomme. I'd tour the Elder Sisters Island with her, find the best and busiest spots, making her fall in love with 'civilization' again, to use her own terms, and even helping her find a ship back to France and the world she missed so badly. Or a house to rent, a lovely cottage right on the beach where I could visit her, were it the case that she wanted to spend more time in the tropics -- or in my company. But not on the Île du Blanchomme, not any longer.
I'd then return on my own -- that would be the best, in case Armand was already on the island -- and I would send her things by boat. Or invent an excuse to later bring them myself. And if Armand hadn't returned yet, I'd be alone again, waiting for his return. I'd never mention Catherine's existence to him, nor her passage through the island -- the winds and the storm were transitory testimonies that could not accuse me.
That would solve everything -- erasing that episode. A bit shocked with myself, I realized how readily I would have dismissed the girl.
Since there was no true love, just some romantic involvement from my part, if I looked at it coldly, I guessed I would again and simply submit my lust. I just had to start meditating again, and gain control over my mind. I was sure to achieve that... Or maybe I should redirect that desire toward Armand? Wouldn't it be ideal, were it possible?
I had never been so confused and wrong. Thinking that, just like I had used on Catherine what I had learned of love and lust from Armand, I could now reverse the flow and instead, use on Armand what she had taught me.