The Charm – Chapter 14


The Bongo van rental company has an air of complacency about it. A reflection of the budget clientele they cater to. A few young men lounge around the workshop, unresponsive to their arrival. Several multi-coloured vans are lined up out front with ‘hire me’ banners across their windshields.

A single, dusty van is parked in the lot’s back corner. A thin veil of waist high grass surrounds it, almost hiding the wide, deep scrape down its left flank. The cut-rate artist’s rendition of a Jamaican flag is forever marred. Jemma has a sinking feeling that this is their transport. Terry is having the same thoughts.

“For fucks sake, that’s probably it down there. They haven’t even gotten it ready for us. Wait here a minute while we sort it out.”

Mark and Terry stalk off towards the office while the girls dump their gear. Dejectedly they wander over to examine the neglected van more closely. Jemma pushes aside the dead grass and rubs a hand over dirty glass to peer in. A window, left down for months, has let dust and rain inside. A fine layer of crusted mud covers the front seats. Old food wrappers and drink bottles lie on the floor.

Traci’s daydream of traipsing about the countryside in style is shattered.

“Oooh, gross.”

She tuts and moans until the men return. Mark is dragging his feet behind Terry. The meeting mustn’t have gone well.

“That’s it I’m afraid. They said it goes. Guess it’s up to us how clean we want it to be.”

He sounds a bit disgusted. Jemma tries to lighten the mood.

“That’s OK. It’s a free ride. We can’t complain.”

Traci could.

“It’s dirty!”

“Don’t worry. Me an Mark’ll give it a spruce up. We’ve gotta get fuel and load some stuff they want us to take down south. Probably take an hour or so. Why doncha get some chips and stuff for the trip. There’s a shop down the road. Here take this.”

Terry holds out a handful of cash.


Traci takes the money and grabs her pack.

“You can leave that,” Mark says quickly, moving to take it.

Terry grips his arm, hard.

“Why don’t you go score some ‘other’ supplies for the trip? I’ll take care of the girl’s luggage.”

Terry’s face hardens when Mark opens his mouth to argue. Things were about to get nasty.

“In a minute,” Mark says, backing off.

Jemma wonders what brought on that argument. She unzips her pack. The men watch closely as she pulls out a bundle of dirty clothes, wraps them in a towel, and stashes it under the back seat. Their untoward scrutiny makes her blush.

“I need my pack to carry the shopping. I don’t like using plastic bags,” she says.

“Well I’m not taking mine,” Traci pouts, shoving her bag at Mark. She stands between him and Jemma until he takes it. She is not pleased when he looks around her, eyeing Jemma’s back pack.

“Maybe I should come with you. I gotta get some ziplock bags,” Mark says, uncerimoniously tossing Traci’s bag into the van.

“We’ll get some for you. What’re they for?”


“It’s for his sand collection. He collects sand from all the beaches he surfs at,” Terry says hurriedly. Both men look at each other tensely.

“Yeah. For my sand collection. I better come; you’ll get the wrong ones.”

“We’re big girls; I think we can manage,” Jemma says, her own irritation rising. She slings the deflated bag across her shoulder. Mark’s grim face tightens and Jemma distinctly feels the medallion vibrate.

“Forget it, dickhead. You’re helping me get this shit-box going.” Terry said poking a finger hard into Mark’s chest.

Like a whipped puppy Mark hangs his head. Terry adopts a false smile.

“Sorry girls. We’re just playing around.”

“That’s OK. You boys have fun playing with each other, we’ll be back soon.”

Jemma turns and walks away.

“Sorry about her,” says Traci, squirming in embarrassment at Jemma’s rudeness.

“If you’re coming, let’s go,” Jemma calls, not slowing down.

The last thing she wants is Mark tagging along. His aggressiveness makes her nervous. She can’t understand Traci’s attraction to that type of man. Terry’s momentarily fit of temper is disturbing too. Something dark dwells under that amicable facade of his.

“Maybe we should get a bus. They’re kind of highly strung don’tcha think?”

This suggestion is met with Traci’s own brand of outrage. She delivers a non-stop whine accusing Jemma of deliberately ruining a fun trip, just when she’d met a really nice bloke, etc. It’s easier to cave in than argue. Reassured they are sticking with Mark and Terry, Traci gushes love for Jemma again. Jemma can’t decide which side of her is more annoying.

They take their time window shopping in the mall for an hour. After Bangkok they find the prices ridiculously high. A Woolworth’s supplies the required groceries and loaded down they retrace their steps to the camper hire company. Jemma’s anxiety rises when the sight the rental yard. She touches the warm medallion and is calmed.

Their van sits in the driveway, ready to go. Terry has the drivers seat and Mark is lounging in the back, his feet hanging casually out a window. A pile of swags and other gear filled the space behind the last row of seats. Jemma examines their ride critically.The tyres are pumped up and the windscreen has been washed but the rest of the van is still filthy. The rusting caved-in scar along the passenger side stands out more noticeably now the van is exposed.

Mark slides the side door open. It grinds to a halt halfway along its damaged tracks. Traci jumps in and he muscles it shut again. Jemma takes the hint, preferring to ride up front anyway. Her door has not escaoed damage either and resists being opened. She tugs at the handle until Terry leans over and slams his palm against it. The rusty hinges pop and squeal. She has to slam the door twice before it will stay closed. The boys haven’t made much of an effort to wipe out the inside. Dust covers most of the dash. Jemma runs a finger through it with a grimace.

“I cleaned your seat and we blew the worst of it out with an air gun,” Terry says easily, rubbing a clean patch on the instrument panel with his fingers to reveal the speedometer.

Mark can’t resist complaining about how long they’d taken.

“Finally! We thought you’d gotten fucking lost. We were gonna come looking for ya.”

Terry adjusts his mirror and sends a cryptic glance to his mate before starting the van. He hands Jemma’s pack to Mark.

“Stow the gear would ya and shut up would ya?”

“Fuck. I’ve already got everything packed. Now I gotta do it again.”

“I’ll do it.”

Traci reaches for the bag but Mark snatches away.

“No, I got it. You’ll just mess it up.”

“Well, sor ree for trying to help.”

They continue arguing back and forth. Terry clenches his jaw and drives onto the highway. Jemma clamps her mouth shut too, determined to ignore them.

(Chapter 15)

Published in: on Saturday, 1 November, 2008 at 4:39 pm  Leave a Comment  
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