Nell got the impression that they had not got the whole story about Sandra. It seemed too much of a coincidence that Dan was the image of a family member. She did not want to delve into family secrets but it seemed to her the kind of thing that might not have been discussed among the wider family if someone had a child out of wedlock. The trouble was that they did not speak enough Portuguese to explain to Lucilia what they were looking for.
Dan dropped Nell off at the health spa and took the van back to Paulo. Over dinner he explained what he had found out.
“Would that be Sandra Martins?” said Cacilda, “I was at school with her. she left before the end of the last year. I assumed she had moved away. “
“Do you know anyone who knows her family?” asked Dan
“My mother knows her mother.” said Cacilda. “well most people know each other in this place!”
“Could you make some tactful enquiries for me?” asked Dan, not sure that Cacilda was capable of tact.
“Of course! I’ll give her a ring after I’ve cleared the table.”
Cacilda came back into the room beaming across her face.
”I may have the answer!” she said, “it seems that Sandra made a bit of a mistake when she was 15 and the priest arranged for her to go to stay with his sister in a village in the hills. The baby was adopted via a Catholic organisation. The only reason that my mother knows is because Sandra broke down once and cried, saying the reason that she could not conceive was because God was punishing her for giving away her baby. It took her 13 years to have Luis, her son.”
“So Sandra may be my mother?” said Dan, slowly. “that means Lucilia is also related to me, and Claudia?”
“and a load of other people!” laughed Cacilda, “they are a huge family! you may have got more than you bargained for!”
“I’ll need the van but you can borrow my scooter.” said Paulo.
“I don’t want to just turn up out of the blue,” said Dan, “it would be a horrible shock for her. I need to approach her slowly. I’ll write her a letter.”
He settled down in the little room over the bakery. The smell of bread and sweet honey pastries wafted up from below. How did you write to someone saying you were their son? What if she didn’t want to see him?
He started to write.
My name is Dan Williams. I am 33 and from England. I am in Benagil at the moment, staying over the bakery. I came to Portugal to find my family. I was adopted as a baby and, although I could not have wished for a kinder or more loving family, I want to know my birth family. I have been researching my background. My Portuguese birth certificate names me as Orlando Martins. I believe I may be your son.
I would love to meet with you but I understand that for many reasons you may not want to meet me. I will be at the café in (square) at 1pm tomorrow. I am tall with dark curly hair. I will wait there for an hour. You can either come and take a look and then leave, or if you would like to speak to me I would love to meet you. I promise I will not give away your secret to your family unless you want to share it with them.
Dan lay on his back looking at the ceiling. Two flies chased each other round the light fitting. He felt odd, full of hope but also disquiet. He decided action was the answer and rolled off the bed. He put the letter in an envelope and gave it to Paulo to drop off at Sandra's flat when he did his deliveries in the morning.
He decided to ring Nell.
”What are you up to? Do you fancy a swim?”
“At this time of night?” it was gone 10.
“Ok, “ she laughed, you’ve persuaded me!”
Dan picked Nell up at the gates of the spa. At first she did not realise it was him.
”I was looking out for the van!”
“But I have this trusty steed instead!” he handed her the spare helmet.
The night air was sweet with the smell of herbs. Nell held tightly round Dan’s waist. They came to Benagil. Dan maneuvered slowly though the village, with its staggered rows of cottages. In the distance the sea shone. The moon was huge.
They turned into a new development of holiday homes. Each front door had an identical swathe of bougainvillea arching over it. Nell thought how sterile they looked. Dan turned onto a bumpy track and slowed right down. They eventually came down to a wide sweep of gravel, below which Nell could see a beach. It was not clear how you got onto it.
“I hope you are not expecting me to climb!”
“There are steps, I came here the other morning when you were having your pedicure.”
Dan pulled out a tiny torch and led the way down what looked like a chimney. Nell could see steps cut into the rock. Every two or three steps Dan stopped and shone the torch back so Nell could see where she was walking. They came out at the bottom of the steps onto a beach surrounded by huge cliffs. Nell slid out of her sandals and picked them up. The sand was gritty but not unpleasant.
"I bet its freezing,” she said. out in the sea a huge tower of rock was silhouetted against the sky. The cliffs looked bright orange in the moonlight. Dan pulled off his T shirt and ran straight into the water in his shorts. His squeals echoed around the cliffs. Nell pulled her dress over her head. She had put her costume on before she left. She put one foot in the water. It was chilly.
“Come in!” called Dan, climbing out up the steep beach. He took her hand. Nell took a breath and submerged herself completely. She shot out of the water gasping with the cold. The spray surrounded her in a gleaming aura of light.
“Wow!” said Dan, you look like an angel, or a mermaid!”
”Its phosphorescence! Its caused by plankton.” Nell had done a series of black and photos of the sea at night, making use of the magical effect of the tiny sea creatures.
“I love you!” said Dan suddenly, then put his hand over his mouth. “Sorry, that just fell out – I didn’t mean to tell you…”
No one had told Nell they loved her for a long time. tears rolled down her face.
”Oh God, I’m so sorry!” gasped Dan, “please forget I said it. I know you don’t feel the same way, I don’t want to ruin our friendship. please say you forgive me!”
Nell stood, up to her knees in the freezing sea, marvelling at the warmth she felt.
“Don’t worry, you haven’t upset me, I think you are wonderful!” she hugged him hard. “Lets get out before we freeze.”
They dried off and sat on the sand, still in their bathers.
“Can I just say….” started Dan.
“Please don’t say anything,” said Nell, “I’m sorry I didn’t say anything sensible when you said you loved me. Its just that I’m out of practice.” she told him about her fiancée.
“How could anyone hurt you?”
“It was one of those sick relationships. We fed off each other’s neuroses. I’m well out of it. Its just that I have somehow lost the language of relationships. I feel really great with you, safe, and whole. So maybe I love you as well. I’m just in a funny old state at the moment.”
“That’s ok, I just want to be near you. You fill me up with a huge glow!”
They got up and hugged again. then Nell tipped back her head and gently kissed Dan on the lips.
”Thank you for being so patient with me.”
They climbed back up the steps and walked to the scooter.
“Are you hungry?” said Nell.
“I’m always hungry!”
They got on the scooter and Dan steered it carefully down the steep hairpin bend and up to o Litoral.
“So much seems to have happened since we were last here,” said Nell.
“Not only have I nearly found my mother but I have also found you!” said Dan.
* * *
Dan got to the cafe early. Nell had offered to come but he wanted to be on his own to meet his mother, if indeed she turned up. He had a newspaper but he couldn't concentrate on it. He ordered coffee and sat trying not to scan the people on the pavement too obviously. At 5 past one he saw the woman from the supermarket. She was wearing the same red shirt and black trousers. He felt his heart leap into his throat. She came straight over to him and sat down. She enclosed his hand with hers. Tears poured down her face.
"You are the image of your father!" she said, in a strongly accented voice, "you are so handsome!"
Dan could not think of anything at all to say. He felt like he had known this woman for ever. Her hand felt like his own hand. They sat for minutes just looking at each other.
"Tell me everything," he eventually said.
"Your father and I loved each other from when we were children. We took silly risks, you couldn't get birth control in those says. We used to go to the smugglers beach at night. When I found I was carrying you my father threatened to throw me out. My mother went to the priest and I was sent away until after you were born. They took you away when you were 3 days old. My breasts poured with milk for days afterwards. The pain was intense but the pain inside me was much much worse. I did not want them to take you. When the woman came I screamed and screamed. You were frightened and you started to cry but I couldn't stop screaming. I wanted to bite her like an animal. After you were gone i just trembled and shook. My teeth would not stop chattering. It was like they had taken away my soul. When you father and I were old enough we married, but I could not conceive. I thought god was punishing me for giving you away. Luis, your little brother, did not come along for 13 years. There is not a day that has gone by when I did not wonder what you were doing, whether you were still alive."
Dan felt tears running down his own face.
"and my father is dead?"
"Yes, from an accident that should not have killed him. Since then I have lived with Luis in town. Your father and I were building a house for us to live in but when he died that had to stop. We can't do anything with it until Luis is 18. Its like everything went bad for us. But now i have found you! My luck has turned! You must come this evening and meet Luis!" Dan arranged to visit after his mother had finished work.
- o -
The police were a little suspicious to start with when Marcus and Jeff went to the police station. Alex however, they took more seriously. He had the manner of someone that people listened to. It helped that he knew a senior Portuguese judge or two from a conference on legal history he had been to in Lisbon. The laptop was handed over. Parvin was glad she had made a copy of the hard drive in case it got mislaid. The police brushed aside the question of breaking and entering with a 'boys will be boys' sort of attitude. Marcus handed over the bankers draft as well. He had written 'cancelled' across it in huge letters. The police took prints of Nell's photographs of the lawyer and the people from the plane. She had got them done at a machine in the supermarket. They seemed to recognise the man from the plane although it was not clear why. Jeff had checked with their bank and the funds had not been removed.
"how lucky are we?" he sighed, "we could have been totally stuffed."
"I think we should still move out here," said Marcus, "I love it - the light is wonderful!" Jeff could only agree.
- o -
Dan shyly introduced his mother to everyone.
"and here is my little brother Luis!" Luis had amazed him. He was just as Dan had been at his age. He loved football and dogs and was brilliant at swimming. They had fallen into each other's company as though they had grown up together.
Sandra looked like a different person. Her hair was loose and fell across her shoulders in soft dark curls. Her eyes were alight and she glowed. She was wearing a white broderie anglais vest and brown linen trousers. Dan introduced her to Nell. Sandra looked at Nell for a long time.
"something tells me you are special to Dan," she said. " I feel great warmth from you."
* * *
Dan and Nell sat on the hidden beach. Above them gulls wheeled on and off the cliffs, getting ready to go to bed. The sky was darkening. Dan felt exhausted. It had been emotionally draining meeting his mother and brother. He was stunned by how many mannerisms he had that Luis also had. The habit of jiggling his right leg when he was nervous, the odd way they both bit their nails. They both had bent middle fingers and tiny earlobes. Dan felt very odd having blood relatives after all this time.
"Its so awful what happened to the house, " said Nell, breaking into his thoughts, "I wonder if there is any way we can help your mother."
"It sounds as though there is nothing that can be done," said Dan, "she is going to dig out the deeds so Alex can have a look but he doesn't think there is much that can be done. Basically if someone died intestate in Portugal their property is shared between the spouse and the children. Its only a couple of years until Luis can legally deal with his share but they don't have the money to finish the building. My father was going to do the work himself. They will have to sell it anyway, but at least they could buy a little house to live in. But somehow I feel that my mother dreads that - the house is the last link with my father."
"Apart from you and Luis! I get the feeling that she minds a lot less now."
Dan made a little pile of shells and then knocked it over. "I fancy a dip. Coming in?"
Without waiting for an answer he stripped off to his boxer shorts and ran into the sea. Nell sat and watched him as he floated on his back, looking at the sky. He seemed so vulnerable in spite of being so big and full of life. Nell slipped out of her dress and waded out to where he was. the water was freezing after the heat of the day. Dan rolled over. She could see he was crying. She wiped his face with the back of her hand and kissed him gently on the lips. He put his arms round her. She could feel he was trembling.
"are you cold?"
"no, its just being this near to you - you're so beautiful." something in Nell shifted. it was as though a stone inside her had melted. They kissed for a long time. Dan picked her up. She felt weightless. There was something primeval about making love in the sea. It was magical, sparkling.
Afterwards they sat on the beach. Dan had retrieved their clothes, which had been floating near them, like jellyfish. They looked at the moon. At night the tall column of rock looked bigger than in the daylight.
"the Viagra rock!" laughed Dan.
They went for coffee at a bar.
"What an amazing day!" said Dan, as he dipped a little almond biscuit in his coffee.
"I love you," said Nell, "I never want to be apart from you!"
Life suddenly had possibilities.