The sun beats down on the orange Mehari that sways down the tortuous road, its engine screaming with each bend.
The Pernod was refilled during the visit to the Antoniottis, the retired teachers who they occasionally go fishing with. So they’re now on a tight schedule, with two more dominical visits to squeeze in before calling in to great aunty Virginia, who has early lunch on a Sunday, in order to treat herself to an additional half hour of siesta.
The small car rattles through the town, startling churchgoers as they flock out of the service, dozy with prayers and incense, squinting in the midday sun.
The children sit at the back, sticking their arms out of the flapping plastic windows, nauseated by the car fumes and curly roads. They long to be at Father Constantino’s house already. Out of all the visits, this one is the best, it also only happens every other Sunday as Father officiates at the Greek Orthodox church bi-monthly, making it even more special. The cordial hasn’t got white flakes in or a dark crust around the bottle’s rim and sometimes there’s ice lollies he presses into their hands before mum and dad can say it will spoil their appetite. He then sends them into the garden where his cats are willing to be chased and held tight, bottom legs dangling, and where juicy figs hang low and are allowed to be picked.
But this Sunday is different. A stern Father awaits them outside his front door. There has been an incident he says. Forgetting to greet the children, he addresses the parents solely, his voice as quiet as his baritone nature can muster, his accent stronger in his rushed explanation. They catch fragments of it. “…a traffic jam in Ajaccio…delay.”
“So it’s here? Inside the house?”
“Yes. In the lounge. Do come in, we can sit in the office.” And his voice grows strong again, his words final: “Children, today we’ll be staying in the office.”
So they sit in the stuffy room, trying to wash away discomfort with more Pernod and cordial and a small ball of very dry pistachios, mum telling Father about yesterday’s trip to the beach, and how big the waves were.
Louis fidgets, uncomfortable on the edge of the small couch, his brother’s leg hot and sweaty stuck to his. He was hoping to see Brunu, his favourite cat, but they can’t go to the lounge and the lounge leads to the garden. He crosses his arms, refusing to touch the pink cordial as a sign of protest. But the grownups don’t pay attention, they are deep in conversation, talking about the wildfires and the drought and the mayor.
Louis wonders what’s in the lounge. Maybe a pirate treasure? Father Constantino always tells him about the pirates that once roamed off the coast. He says there are pirate ships resting on the seabed and that he should look for them when he goes snorkeling.
The grownups are still talking, Sofia is sitting on the floor, playing solitaire, hard at work trying to shuffle the yellowing deck of cards, and Jacques has lowered his head on the nearby cushion and tucked his thumb in his mouth. Louis gets off the couch and walks out quietly, his heart thumping hard at the thought of a pirate’s chest sitting in the lounge. And if there’s no treasure, he can always go to the garden to see Brunu.
The lounge is dark but he can make a large, rectangular shape.
A treasure chest!
It is longer than expected, lacquered white and not wooden, but the handles are golden, as expected. The pirate lying in it is having a siesta.