Last Mango In Paradise. Chapter One!
Paul took the sharp corner on the exotic island a little too fast! He, as the driver, leant into it but felt his passenger balance in the opposite direction. The bike wobbled precariously and he lost control. He and Andrew then crashed, most exotically, down onto the rock-strewn asphalt, the bike coming heavily down on top of them. Luckily, they had just managed to avoid a tree that would certainly have broken more than their fall.
As they lay in a mangled heap, Paul knew it weren’t great!
‘Are you alright’ he shouted to Andrew, who was behind him, now not riding pillion!
‘I think so’ Andrew replied, with little conviction.
It seemed within seconds they were surrounded by three friendly Filipinos. One who began to lift the motorbike from off of them.
‘Ow!’ Paul managed, not quite screaming thankfully, as their hero seemed to manage to press the machine further onto his trapped foot.
‘Sorry, sorry, said the poor guy, and let the bike rest briefly on top of them again as he figured out an alternative way to extricate the dumb tourists who’d gone round the bend.
Eventually, after a protracted struggle, the boys were freed. Paul looked straight to his right knee which now resembled half a pound of fresh mince. He then turned to his partner, who appeared to have sustained the kind of wounds one had as a kid when falling from their Chopper’. (That is if one had been lucky enough to own one.) Paul didn’t remember clambering onto that iconic bike from the seventies until well into the eighties.
But at least he’d owned one. Even if it was third hand!
But it was now the new twenties, and he noticed Andrew’s arm. It wasn’t quite as nostalgic an injury. It looked rather contemporaneous, not to mention painful. There didn’t appear to be any skin left and it was already turning a horrible colour.
‘Why did you go so fucking fast?’ Andrew snarled.
‘I didn’t,’ replied Paul, mendaciously defending himself, ‘it’s you. You’re too bloody nervous – you leant against me. I couldn’t get round the bloody corner!’
Two bottles of Coca Cola miraculously appeared, and an old lady, smiling broadly with her four teeth, brought out a bucket of water and a small bar of soap. They learnt later that she was the local midwife. Paul was relieved that neither of them had been pregnant. He didn’t fancy going into labour in her very basic establishment – who knew what one would contract mid-contraction?
He and Andrew stood in the road sipping their cokes like two wounded teenagers.
Two bloody fools.
Paul took the piece of soap first and dipped it into the bucket finally producing a lather with his hands. He really didn’t want to but he knew it was necessary. He took a deep breath and slapped the lather onto his bleeding leg. It stung like a nest of malicious wasps. For a couple of moments he thought he’d rather have his kidney infection back.
But only a couple!
He rinsed his knee with some water and did the same to a slight graze on his arm and to a gash on his wrist.
‘Go on’, he ordered Andrew, ‘you go now.’
Andrew, who looked as white as an albino hermit, said nothing. He took the soap, and rubbed it directly onto his wounded arm. Paul knew him well enough to know it was probably agonising. Yet his husband made no sound. He was brave when it came to pain.
Just not when riding bikes.
They thanked their saviours most profusely and offered a few pesos. But the amiable locals would have none of it. Even though they were dirt poor they had only wanted to help and lift Paul and Andrew out of the dirt. Paul wondered where on earth would you come across such similarly altruistic people. He loved the Filipinos. As he noticed Andrew well up with gratitude, he was entirely sure his partner felt the same way.
‘Come on’, Paul said, a little too courageously, ‘we need to get back on.’
‘I’m not fucking getting back on with you’ Andrew barked, recovering some of his colourful spirit, although he still looked rather pallid.
‘You have to – we have to get to the port!’
It happened that The boys were on their way to the small quay at Consuelo. There were no cash machines on their tiny island of Pacijan. This made it necessary to risk a ferry trip over to the ‘mainland’ of Cebu, in order to score some wonga. They were dangerously low, and the damned virus, which had escaped out of China, meant a lockdown was imminent. There was a chance Andrew could get stuck on the other side and he and Paul would be separated. Neither of them wanted that – even after such a dramatic incident.
‘I’ll go really slow’, Paul assured his nervous to be passenger.
‘You’d better’, Andrew said, as Paul climbed painfully onto the bike, his leg complaining more than his husband. But he said nothing, there was, after all, nothing to be said. He had turned the corner!
They rode, far too steadily, towards the ferry. As they took each turn they wobbled slightly, partly through nerves, but also lack of impetus.
Paul felt something sticky trickling down his calf and into his trainer. He didn’t look, keeping his gaze transfixed on the road ahead. He knew their relationship could ill afford another crash landing.
When they reached the little town, after a ride which had felt eternal, they alighted from their machine and limped to the ticket office. The ferry, they were advised had been cancelled, but, luckily, there was another which sailed in three hours time.
‘I need a drink’ said Andrew.
‘Good idea’, agreed Paul.
He needed no persuasion.
He felt like he had the worse migraine in his knee – a panacea was sorely needed!
He knew Andrew must have been hurting too. But stubbornly, like most gay men attempting to be butch, neither of them said a word!
As they lurched towards a shack which looked as it it may stock something vaguely alcoholic, Paul could not disguise his limp any further.
‘Shit’ he groaned slightly, ‘it does hurt actually.’
‘You need a dressing’, Andrew advised, ‘here take this.’ He removed the sweaty neckerchief he’d been wearing round his throat for the past two days and offered it to Paul.
‘I’m not putting that on’, Paul assured his partner firmly. ‘I’ll buy something.’
‘You won’t – it’s better than nothing’ said Andrew, with an air of confidence that was most unconvincing. ,
‘Fuck off! I’ll take my chance. I’m not putting that shitty old rag on’!
With that Paul limped ahead – determined to find some convenience store which would prove to be, at the least, convenient.
The first two ‘shops’ they passed, although the owners were most concerned at the boys injuries, could supply nothing, but two packets of fags and a large beer. Which at least went some way to nullifying the situation. The third store still contained little more than a few bananas and some jars of sponge cakes, but at least it’s proprietor was able to direct them to the ‘big, general store’, just around the corner.
Nothing was ‘just around the corner’ to Paul at this moment in time. Every step felt like a half-marathon.
After an aeon they reached the general store, which was the size of a small ice cream kiosk. But the guy behind the counter was helpful and he furnished the boys with some cotton wool and a small container of hydrogen peroxide. He possessed no dressings.
Paul and Andrew doused themselves with the peroxide and swore profusely, much to the amusement of the villagers who had gathered to watch the spectacle. Paul supposed little went on in Consuelo, other than the odd dodgy karaoke. This episode was probably akin to ‘Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid’ to them.
Minus the glamour!
They were just about to ride of into the sunset when someone piped up,
‘Why not go to medical centre?’
‘’Medical centre. Yes. Perfect’ said Paul, a desperate smile fixed on his face.
‘Where is that?’
‘Here’, the guy answered, and gestured towards a rusty gate five yards from where they were bleeding.
Paul and Andrew looked at each other. They said nothing, but hysteria was as close to the surface as the plasma which was oozing from their wounds.
‘Thanks’, Andrew managed, and he and Paul walked towards a row of tables, set up in a car park.
In front of the tables were a few rows of chairs. And ladies sat behind each table doling out various medicines to each of their patients, whilst others waited patiently in the room for waiting.
It was not the N.H.S.!
Paul felt a pang of sympathy for the good island folk. He and Andrew sometimes did not realise how lucky they were in the west. They were not alone. If Corona hit the Camotes he dreaded to think of the outcome. He tried not to mull it over – it was easy as the pain came over him and his blood dripped liked mulled wine.
On seeing the two westerners, bruised and bloodied, one of the woman immediately ushered them into a small room beyond the triage. Inside they were treated by three happy woman who asked them to sit down. Paul did as he was told. Andrew walked back into the car park for a cigarette. Paul knew he was still fuming with him for going to fast and needed some fumes. He couldn’t blame him – he knew he’d been a tad overconfident.
The main medic, who wore a dirty mauve tunic, took out some forceps. Loaded them up with some padding, fuelled it with something yellow and began to wipe at Paul’s leg.
‘Oh My God!. Oh My God!’ ‘Oh My God!’ She repeated over and over as she prodded away. Paul did not find it reassuring. Her bedside manner could have been better. But he guessed there were no beds, so he forgave her. She obviously hadn’t had the practice.
And their obviously wasn’t one.
There wasn’t a doctor in sight!
Next she opened up a bottle and with an impish grin she informed Paul of it’s contents.
‘Iodine’, she chuckled. ‘Will hurt.’
She then splashed it all over, much like Henry Cooper in the ‘Brut’ ads of the 1970s. It stung in the same way that Paul remembered that famous cologne doing when, as a twelve year old, he’d accidentally applied some to a sensitive area when learning to masturbate. He’d never worn the stuff again.
After the lovely lady had finished torturing his leg. She moved swiftly onto his and wrist. At least the ‘Oh My Godding!’ had ceased. She was obviously more confident he may survive these injuries.
‘Your friend?’ She said as she finished up.
‘My what?’ Paul replied.
‘Your friend with you?’
‘Oh shit yes’ Paul said. He’d forgotten about his partner of over twenty eight years, pacing the car park, smoking and scabbing.
‘Andrew!’ He shouted.’ Your turn babe.’
Andrew underwent the same procedure, but didn’t suffer the same concerned expressions. She obviously thought he’d definitely make it through the night.
They laughed with the group of ladies, who were most interested as to where the boys hailed from and what they did for a living.
It was all rather jolly.
Andrew suggested that Paul’s leg was bandaged up before they left.
‘We have no bandage here’, one of them giggled. Everyone laughed at her joke.
‘This is the Philippines’, chirped another, ‘we are poor here’, she added with great mirth.
They all chuckled as the Corona virus seeped back into Paul’s mind as quickly as the plasma on his leg did the same.
Suddenly, one of the ‘nurses’ found an old bit of gauze in a drawer. She looked most pleased with herself.
Paul looked horrified.
But he politely hid his resistance as the women had shown such kindness.
She wrapped him up and tied the material rather too tightly. As they bade their goodbyes it was already stained scarlet.
The boys walked across the car park and Paul noticed Andrew was crying.
‘What is it darl?’ he asked.
‘They’re just so lovely here. I just love them!’
‘For fuck’s sake you’re just in shock!’
‘I’m not. They’re the most beautiful people. They’ve got fuck all and they just wanna help’, Andrew blubbed.
Paul hugged him.
He knew he was right. They had tried to pay the ladies for their services but they would not accept the cash. They just wanted to give their third world first aid to the boys.
They were true angels.
Paul was to get some first aid of an altogether different kind later that day. It was also most touching.
Paul limped with Andrew back to the ferry port and they sat together drinking San Miguel whilst listening to some drunkard murdering John Lennon’s back catalogue, at a level louder than a jumbo jet taking off.
There was nowhere one could escape karaoke in the Philippines.
Even in the smallest of hamlets. They were addicted.
Andrew gave Paul a rare public show of affection and hugged him in front of an intrigued audience, telling him to take care riding the bike back to their lodgings.
He obviously thought it was the last time they would see each other.
Paul assured his partner he’d be fine, but he was nervous as the hug had unsettled him and he was starting to stiffen. Added to which, a touch of shock was probably setting in as he felt rather high. Almost elated – he knew this was probably not the correct response to wearing a gauze of the claret colour and sporting a knee the size of a pink grapefruit!
After a highly trepidatious journey through Papaya fields and coconut groves, Paul pulled up at Villa Marques almost intact. He went straight to the bar an ordered a glass of Jim Beam. The sweet girl behind the bar asked him what he would like as a mixer. ‘
‘Jim Beam’, Paul replied with a conspiratorial wink. She laughed, filling his glass almost to overflowing. It went down quicker than a whore’s drawers and he ordered another before she’d had a chance to screw the lid back on.
He limped back to his room and was met with ‘Schock unt Ehrfurcht’ by his German neighbours. He obviously looked worse than he’d imagined – although the bourbon was bringing a little colour back to his cheeks.
‘I have something for this’, said Toni, the pornstar of a detective who was living next door. He dived into his room and returned with a first aid kit that would have put Dr Quinn -Medicine Woman to shame. It contained everything apart from the operating table.
Why were Germans always so efficient?
Paul was ashamed for a moment. He and Andrew were travelling with a box of Imodium, some paracetamol and a strip of Diazepam as their emergency supplies.
They did, however, have three colognes, two eye creams and a very expensive designer soap from their gorgeous cousin Lucy. So they weren’t entirely unprepared.
Toni made his way over to Paul’s place and knelt in front of him. He then proceeded to massage his ‘special cream’ onto Paul’s wounded knee, with such sensitivity Paul thought he may retreat into shock once again. Toni then dressed the wound like a professional, Paul guessed the German police must get trained in everything.
He was almost thinking of moving to Stuttgart!
‘Are you hurt anywhere else?’ Dr Toni asked.
‘Well’, said Paul, with a mischievous glint in his eye, ‘I’m kinda sore everywhere.’
They both laughed.
There was a sudden click of the latch and Toni’s extremely beautiful girlfriend came out. She looked with slight surprise at her boyfriend on his knees down in front of the obvious homo next door.
‘At last I get your fella to lay his hands on me’, Paul joked.
She laughed delightfully.
‘Oh, you can have him for the afternoon’ she said with a giggle.
Paul really did like the Germans.
They could be so understanding when they wanted to be.
Much hilarity ensued but then Toni had to rejoin Stefanie to search for a flight back to Munich. It was proving well nigh impossible, as one after another were being cancelled. It was beginning to look most troubling.
Paul watched the clock all afternoon. He did not want his partner to get stranded on Cebu. They would then both be alone to face the impending disaster which was Covid 19. The name that the rampant Coronavirus had now been given. It was all beginning to get a little bit like a science fiction movie. Totally alien to Paul.
Thankfully Andrew returned. Although Paul had endured a nervous forty minutes as the ferry had been delayed, being one of the last that was to return to the island.
It looked as though they were now marooned in paradise.
The following day they discovered the small island opposite, to which they regularly went to swim, had been closed. The local community understandably did not want tourists coming ashore with their germs.
A worried looking American had checked in to their digs. He told Andrew and Paul of the trouble he had been having with the ‘natives’. He said they were blaming him for bringing the virus to their shores. He said he had been hounded out of the place.
The following day Paul and Andrew were charged the price of a small scooter to the repairs which had to be made to their motorbike. The wad which Andrew had scored at the cash machine the previous day was more dented than the bike had been. They lost their confidence in their location.
There was nothing for it, Paul and Andrew would have to get out now. Why they still could. Things were getting messy. Not to mention their limbs.
They asked the German owner if they could get a tricycle to take them to another part of the island. Somewhere where the locals were less paranoid perhaps. Somewhere with a beach which was at least welcoming.
They went to Toni and Stefanie to suggest that they did the same, but the young couple had decided to take their chances with the ferry to Cebu, and make for the airport, despite the risk of being quarantined on arrival.
‘Are you sure?’ Asked Paul. ‘You could get stuck!’
‘But we must try,’ replied ‘Dr’Toni, ‘We must get back to Germany.’
They bade their Auf Weidersehens, and Paul and Andrew made their way south.
They prayed they had made the right decision.
Three days later, when their pals from Deutschland messaged them that they were still stranded at the airport waiting for a flight which never came, they thought they probably had.
The beach they were on was quiet.
The people friendly.
The food fantastic.
‘We can ride it out here’ said Andrew, ‘why do we want to go and wait at an overcrowded airport? Besides they’ll quarantine us now!’
Paul couldn’t help but agree. But he had a primal urge to get nearer to his family. To be with them in this time of uncertainty. He and Andrew were in such a quandary.
Fortunately a couple of days later the decision was made for them. Toni and Stefanie were still waiting for a rescue flight. No aircraft had left Cebu at all except for Manila. And Manila was now on lockdown. Nobody could travel in or out. Nothing was beginning to make sense.
Their place was peaceful and felt safe.
But then the same troubled American rolled into town. He was just as paranoid. With more stories which evoked ‘King Kong’ and the boiling of pots. Paul and Andrew began to wonder if it was him, rather than the ‘natives’ who had a problem. It turned out that they would not be around long enough to find out.
‘Good Morning’, Paul said, greeting their gorgeous landlady, Anne, as he yawned his way out of their hut on the beach.
‘Morning’, she replied, ‘only not good.’
‘Oh’, Paul managed.
He knew what was coming.
‘We have curfew now’, she informed him.
‘You can go nowhere.’
‘Oh well’! Paul said with a stiff upper lip, ‘we’ll have to stay here with you in paradise.’
‘Can we pay you on our card?’ he asked.
‘No. We don’t have’, said Anne.
Oh, thought Paul. Houston, or rather, Andrew we have a problem. He woke Andrew who was on another planet quite spaced out on the bed.
‘We have to get out’ he said, ‘Anne can’t take credit cards here.’
Ten minutes later they were struggling across the vast white sands with their heavy backpacks, hoping not to be stopped by anyone in a uniform.
They were heading for another orbit. To the one big resort in Santiago which they were assured would accept cards.
If not they were buggered.
Paul’s leg was suffering badly under the weight of his rucksack, whilst Andrew coughed steadily. They looked like two disabled tortoise carrying all they owned across the beach.
This was becoming a proper adventure.
They only hoped they would survive it.