Jenny dabbed at the sweat trickling slowly down her neck, trying to keep her movements unnoticed. Her heartbeat was uneven with the fear she felt, and tiredness had settled heavily in her bones. She puffed up at her fringe, but there was no relief from the heat and closeness of the room. She moved her head carefully, trying to check up on the children sprawled in uneasy sleep all about her on the hard-packed, earthen floor, and she tried to spot the third man who she knew was somewhere behind her. She could feel his eyes boring into her back. Be strong!
It amazed her that she was in this position. After all, it was only last week that she had landed in Malaysia, and this morning that she had started her job as infant teacher to the charity-run school. Then all hell broke loose, and she ended up with three lunatics holding them all hostage. She only wished that her aide and translator, Sahrizan, had been in the room with her when they came – at least then she’d have some idea as to why it was happening. She took a slow, deep breathe, trying to get some air into her lungs.
The heat and humidity had been a big shock to her on her arrival, especially as this was January, and she still hadn’t quite adjusted to air that felt as if she were swallowing it down like water, rather than breathing it in as she had the clean, crisp air of her welsh mountain home. She missed home terribly at this moment, remembering the Christmas just gone, and she struggled to contain the tears that sprang to her eyes. She couldn’t afford to show a moment’s weakness to these men. She knew that if she did, any advantages she might find would be gone and, if she were to keep the children safe, then she needed to be strong.
The clock on the wall ticked away the dreary hours, and she waited, sweat sticking her shirt to her back. The children all gradually woke up from their heat-induced sleep, and they slowly crept around her on the floor, getting as close to her as they could, and as far away as possible from the men carrying guns. It had turned four o’clock before there was any change in the stillness of the room, and it was disturbed when someone knocked on the door, and spoke loudly in the local Malaysian dialect that Jenny was having such difficulties in understanding. Jenny’s heart beat faster in fear of what was to come but, as one of the men opened the door, she was relieved to see her aide, carrying two gallon containers of what she hoped was water into the room.
The children still sat unnaturally still, the presence of the gunmen keeping them silent. Jenny looked at Sahrizan, trying to catch his eye, but he looked behind her, at the unseen man, ‘Selamat tengah hari,’ he said to the gunman, and Jenny knew this was just a ‘good afternoon’ greeting. There was a second’s silence, then the man behind her spoke, ‘you may speak in English, Sahrizan, so that the new teacher will know what it is we do here’. Jenny’s head span around as far as it could with her awkward position on the floor, and she stared in amazement at the man sat casually behind her on the seat provided for her in the classroom.
She saw immediately that he wasn’t armed as she had assumed, and realised that he must be British by his accent, which held the slightly rough cadence of the south Londoner. ‘What in God’s name is going on,’ she burst out, a flush of anger burning through her body. She quickly struggled up to her feet, and stood, legs braced, and hands balled into fists on her hips. ‘Who the hell are you, and why have we been held here like this for most of the day?’ Her breath came in gasps, as anger drove her to breathe more deeply of the humid air. The man just sat there staring intently at her then, to her shock, he suddenly burst into laughter, peal upon peal bursting from him as if he had been told the funniest joke ever.
Jenny’s face flushed with anger, and her temper snapped. With a cry, she lunged forward, swinging her arm towards her tormentor’s face but, quick as she was, he caught it before her hand could connect with his face. In an instant, he was up, and had Jenny in a hold that, no matter how she struggled, she couldn’t loosen, and it was this helplessness that sobered her, changing anger to fear. She stopped struggling, and the man’s voice came calmly from behind her, ‘that’s good, Miss Evans. Losing your temper doesn’t help, and could only bring trouble to yourself and the children. Now, I’m going to release you, so could you please be still, and you’ll get the explanation you deserve to have?’
Jenny stood stock still for an instant, then her body relaxed a little, and she nodded her agreement. His hand left her face and she felt able to breathe again. She was slowly released, and was turned to face him once more. He stared at her, then nodded, and indicated for her to sit in the chair he had left. ‘I’m sorry you were involved with this, Miss Evans, but it couldn’t be avoided, as the exercise had been organised long before we knew you were coming and, yes, it was just an exercise. I work for a security firm that works out safety measures. Measures that people can put into action, in order to stay safe from terrorists and the like. I’m afraid you got involved because, although you were new here, our plans couldn’t be changed’
Jenny looked around her at the children scrambling happily around Sahrizan, grabbing for the little cups full of water he was handing out, and realised just how idiotic she felt. Taking another deep breath of the humid air, she gave the man in front of her a wry smile, and then held out her hand, ‘well, you know who I am – don’t you think I deserve to know who has been holding me captive all day?’