A large, heavy-set man, Knooden was honest and hard-working to the core. Salt of the earth. An uncomplaining, staight-forward man. What you see is what you get. He expected no truck with people and few people had reason to give him any. He knew everybody and everybody knew him.
His mother had tried to send him to school when he was a boy, but he had bunked off almost every day, preferring to join his dad fishing – and his dad preferred it too, for there were a great many mouthes to feed. He could write his name in a crooked, unsure way, and he recognized some of the letters and numbers he saw around him. But he had no reason to read or count, he managed fine as he was. He was sharp. No fool. He saw things. Heard things. He knew stuff.
He chewed a bitter fruit he called a valledi. It looked slightly like a large sycamore pod, and left Knoorden’s teeth yellow. He barely ever changed his clothes and, indeed, owned only two or three T-shirts and shorts. He was always barefoot and had huge, flat feet with the soles like elephant hide. His hands were like great hams, tough as timber, calloused and covered in dozens of small scars. His large jaw and small, sharp eyes, gave him a slightly dog-like look that was not unpleasant. As a young man he had been considered good-looking by the local island girls. He was not interested in that, however, but took a wife when he was nineteen and fathered a great many children. He had a lot of siblings of his own, and his family stretched over the island, and over neighbouring islands, over five hundred of them in all, and all of them loyal to their elders. That was just as well under the circumstances.
Extract from “French Sand” by Catherine Broughton, a novel set in the South Pacific:-
“Which reminds me,” Melanie pulled her bag out from under the desk and took out some cash which she gave to Mat. “Your pay to date,” she said.
“You know where would be a good idea for you to go ?” asked Mat as he stuffed the notes in to a pocket. “The prison. No harm in it. You just say you want to see Delahaye – give the real reason if they ask you.”
Melanie thought for a moment.
“As you say – why not ? There’s nothing to lose and we might learn something.”
Noumea’s prison was situated next to the police station in the centre of the oldest part of the town. Looking at the sombre walls, it must have been one of the first buildings ever erected on the island. There were only seven cells. Tricot was not there, but Melanie was seen aimiably enough by a gendarme calling himself Berton. He explained that prisoners sentenced to more than five years generally got transferred out of Noumea to a more secure prison in Mayotte.
And that Delahaye was one of the men who was to be transferred. He had served only six weeks of an eight-year sentence. Berton didn’t ask why Melanie wanted to see Delahaye, but escorted her through the office rooms at the back of the gendarmerie and out in to a large courtyard walled-in with very high stone walling and barbed wire. Despite the heat, Melanie shuddered. Inside the prison block her eyes took a few moments to accustom to the sudden darkness. There was a strong smell of urine and black tobacco. The gendarme stopped at a cell on the left. A noise that sounded like some kind of snorting came from the cell beyond, which told her that only one other seemed to be occupied.
“Debout!” ordered the Berton in to a small dark window cut in to the door, “you have a visitor.”
There was a sudden rush of movement from within the cell and Melanie could hear feet shuffling rapidly along the stone floor.
“No, it’s not your wife! But it’s a lady, so be polite.”
Berton opened the heavy wooden door, beyond which was a set of bars.
Delahaye’s face appeared. Berton stepped to one side, his back to the wall, and indicated with his head that Melanie could speak. She had hoped he’d go away. Looking at Delahaye, his face expressionless, she saw a man in his early forties, his skin thick with sweat and grime that had mixed together, unwashed, for six weeks. His eyes behind the spectacles were dull and looked – hunted. His eyes in the newspaper had been those of a criminal – these eyes were those of a man whose life had been shattered. Melanie held up her photo of Greg.
“Do you know this man?” she asked bluntly.
“He’s dead,” replied Delahaye.
“I know. He was my husband. How did you know him? It is important.”
Catherine Broughton is a novelist, a poet and an artist. Her books are available from Amazon/Kindle or can be ordered from most leading book stores and libraries. They can also be ordered as e-books from this site:-
https://payhip.com/b/tEva “A Call from France”
https://payhip.com/b/OTiQ ”French Sand”
https://payhip.com/b/BLkF “The Man with Green Fingers”
https://payhip.com/b/1Ghq “Saying Nothing”
“French Sand” from Amazon:-
For more about New Caledonia:-
- See more at: http://www.turquoisemoon.co.uk/blog/people-in-my-books-knooden/#sthash.YrGJS8tX.dpuf