The Gift of Rain

The Gift of Rain by Tan Twan Eng Read Free Book Online

Book: The Gift of Rain by Tan Twan Eng Read Free Book Online
Authors: Tan Twan Eng
Tags: Historical, Adult, War
occupied. It frustrated me that my personal retreat had been taken from me and for the next few weeks I spied out the activities that went on there. Judging from the supplies being ferried across by workmen in little boats, a small structure was being built. I contemplated sneaking onto the island but my father’s caution deterred me. So I gave up on it, and tried not to think anymore about it.
     
     
And halfway across the world, countries that seemed to have little to do with us were preparing to go to war.
     
     
    * * *
“May I speak to the master of the house?”
     
     
I gave a small start. It was an early dusk in the second week of April and a slight rain was falling, soft as the seeds blown off wild grass by the wind, a deceptively gentle warning of the monsoon season soon to come. The lawns glistened and the casuarina’s scent added richness to the smell of the rain. I sat on the terrace beneath an umbrella where I had been reading and staring at the sky, lost in my dreams, looking at the heavy clouds resting on the unbendable horizon. The words, although spoken softly, had jolted me from my thoughts.
     
     
I turned and faced him. He was in his late forties, medium built and stocky. His hair was almost silver, cut very short and shining like the wet grass. The face was square and lined, his eyes round and glinting strangely in the twilight. His features were too sharp for a Chinese, and his accent was unknown to me.
     
     
“I’m the master’s son. What is it about?” I asked, suddenly aware that I was quite alone. The servants were in their quarters behind the house, preparing their evening meals. I made a note to speak to them about allowing a stranger to enter the house without any form of announcement.
     
     
“I would like to borrow a boat from you,” he answered.
     
     
“Who are you?” I asked. Being a Hutton, I often got away with rudeness.
     
     
“Hayato Endo. I live there.” He pointed to the island, my island.
     
     
So that was how he had managed to enter the house. He had come up from the beach.
     
     
“My father’s not here,” I said. The rest of the family was away in London, where they were to join my brother William, who had completed his university studies the year before but had decided to stay on in London with his friends instead of coming home to work. Every five years my father would reluctantly place his manager in charge of the firm and take his children to their homeland for a long visit, a practice many of the English in the colonies viewed as being almost as sacred as a religious pilgrimage. I had elected not to go this time. My father had been annoyed, for he had planned the journey to coincide with the start of my school holidays, and had in fact spoken to the headmaster of my school to allow me to miss the first month of the new term. But I suspected my siblings were relieved: I often felt that explaining a half-Chinese relation to their English friends and distant relations was not attractive to them at all.
     
     
“Nevertheless, I require a boat from you,” the strange man insisted. “Mine, I am afraid, has been washed away by the tide.” He smiled. “It is probably halfway to India by now.”
     
     
I got up from the wicker chair and asked him to accompany me to our boathouse. But he stood, unmoving, staring out to the sea and the overcast sky. “The sea can break one’s heart, neh?”
     
     
This was the first time I heard someone describe what I felt. I stopped, uncertain what to say. Just a few simple words had encapsulated my feelings for the sea. It was heartbreakingly beautiful. We stood silently for a few minutes, joined by a common love. There was no movement except for the rain and the waves. Veins of lightning flared and throbbed behind the wall of clouds, turning the bruised sky pink, and I felt I was being granted glimpses of blood pulsing silently through the ventricles of an immense human heart.
     
     
“The sea is the only thing

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