THE COLOURFUL SHOP
The sun was scorching down onto the beach when Caitlyn, Viola, and Stephanie, all in their late twenties, arrived there on the first day of their holiday. It was at the end of August and the three friends had gone to the Mediterranean for a short holiday before going back to the monotonous daily life of work and home. The sea was bright blue and warm, it was rather like paddling in a soup. Summer was not yet over, and the air was still hot at midday. The crowds had diminished somewhat, and the festive air that had been present the week before the girls' arrival, was on the wane. It was a lot quieter and there were fewer children present. The entire atmosphere had nothing of the stridence of the month of July with families of parents and children present.
In spite of the quietness, the three friends had managed to buy new outfits for the holiday. From the local market, Viola had bought herself a violet coloured bikini with a towel, to go with her dark hair. Stephanie was a red-head and had got a light green tunic to stop her precious white skin from getting burnt. Caitlyn, who had brown hair, had a white bikini with large red flowers, matching towel, and cover up. They were dressed to kill. Every morning they were down at the water's edge to take a walk along the beach, before going back to the hotel, to swim in the swimming pool, and sit on a sun bed in an endeavour to get a tan, however pale. Stephanie chose to stay in the shade, while Viola and Caitlyn, plastered with sun block, made an effort to turn a pale gold.
At times when they were out walking to the beach or back to the hotel, there was a female figure following them. Viola had commented on it one day, "Girls, I'm sure we're being followed. I have an uncanny feeling about this."
Caitlyn said, "It's probably the heat that's affecting you. After all, it's still hot and we're not used to it. Perhaps we shouldn't spend so much time in the sun."
Stephanie added, "Why don't you cover yourself up as I do, then you might feel a bit better."
Viola said, "I feel perfectly all right, so please don't tell me what to do in order to feel better when I'm not ill. I'm not going to mention it again, but I'm sure we're being followed. OK?"
They had a routine that during the first three days never varied. After breakfast they walked to the beach and when they had had enough of sunbathers and bright sunshine, they returned to the hotel, where they would swim in the pool and have their lunch. The evenings were spent idling the time away as best as possible. Viola still maintained that they were being followed, but as yet she hadn't managed to discover who their pursuer was.
Then, when they weren't expecting anything to happen, a young woman came up to them during their morning walk on the beach, and introduced herself. Later that day, Viola said it was the person who had been following them.
"Good morning. My name is Daphne, and I've noticed that you're on holiday here. Are you enjoying yourselves?"
"Yes, we're having a very nice time, thank you," Caitlyn told Daphne.
Viola stepped forward and said, "These are Stephanie, and Caitlyn, and I'm Viola."
Daphne scrutinised the trio, and said, "What are you doing now?"
Stephanie said, "What we always do, and that is return to the hotel, swim and get a tan, and then have lunch and a nap."
"Very well. I must go now. Perhaps we'll meet up tomorrow. How many days do you have left of your holiday?"
"We've been here four days now, so, ten days from now to when we leave to go home," Caitlyn replied.
Daphne made a show of looking at her watch, and said, "I must go now. See you tomorrow." And she went off with a wave of her hand.
When the three friends were out of sight, Daphne made a call on her mobile and said to the person at the other end, "I've found what we've been looking for. They have ten days of their holiday left."
"What did you make of Daphne?" Stephanie asked her friends.
"I found her a bit peculiar, to be honest," Caitlyn answered.
"We shan't be seeing her again, if we're lucky," Viola added.
Daphne kept out of sight of the girls during the next couple of days, and then she reappeared. "Hello, girls. How are you getting on with the sun tanning?"
None of them said anything for a moment, and then Viola said, "Where have you been? Do you live here?"
"Yes, I do. Why do you ask?"
"Because I've had the strangest feeling that at times you are following us," Viola replied.
"That's a weird thing to say or even think. Why should I follow you? What reason could I possibly have?"
"That's for you to tell us, if it's true that you've been following us," Caitlyn said.
"I was on the point of asking if you would like to come to my house for a drink."
The three exchanged glances and said, "Yes," although without much conviction.
They covered their bikinis with beach towels and wearing flip flops on their feet, followed Daphne up the beach to the road. At the top of the road on the right hand side there stood a pink house. The architecture was more that of a house out of A Thousand and One Nights than one at a popular beach resort.
Daphne opened a door, which was the entrance to the garden. There was a pretty pink pool and a bar. Daphne flung off her large straw hat and they saw that she had blue hair. It was obviously dyed hair, but it was false too.
"Let's sit over in the shade, it's getting to the hottest point of the day and you don't want to frizzle do you?" Daphne declared.
"Do you live here alone?" asked Caitlyn.
"No, I don't. My parents live here with me. I'll get some drinks for us. What do you prefer, orange juice, lemon, or lime? They all come frozen and ice cubes too" Daphne offered them.
"I'll have lime juice, please," Stephanie said, and the other two agreed.
The house and the garden were both quiet, which wasn't natural given that the house was big and it was time to be preparing food. There was no noise coming from any other buildings either. Where was everybody? Where was her family? The four sat in silence for half an hour, only broken by a few trite remarks to relieve the boredom. Viola stood up and said, "We have to go back to the hotel for lunch or we shan't get a good place in the queue."
Caitlyn and Stephanie got to their feet taking their cue from Viola.
"Yes, sorry, Daphne, we'd better go, so as not to miss out on any of the goodies. We all get so hungry being by the sea," Caitlyn said to Daphne.
Daphne made no effort to stop them or offer them lunch, instead she jumped to her feet and accompanied them to the door, opened it, and said, "You know the way to your hotel don't you? Pleased to have met you. Bye."
And the three girls once again found themselves in the street outside Daphne's house. They walked to their hotel in utter silence, due more to the heat than to not having anything to say. They all had plenty to say. It could wait till they were safely in the hotel.
The area round the pool was empty and silent. Through the French windows they could see people sitting in the air-conditioned restaurant. They went to the side entrance of the hotel and from there entered the dining room. The queue wasn't too long, and they had soon taken the food they wanted from the dishes on offer.
"Let's sit over here by the window. I don't much fancy sitting in the middle," Viola said to her companions.
"What shall we drink?" asked Stephanie.
"After that sickly lime, I think plain water would be fine," Caitlyn said
The other two agreed, and they all sat down and ate a hearty lunch during which they hardly spoke.
In the lift going up to their room, Viola said, "I hope we don't meet up with her again. I can't get my head round why she's been following us or why she invited us into her garden."
"It was so deathly in there even though it was so hot. I agree we don't have to see her again, this is our summer holiday, not hers," Stephanie declared as the lift door opened and they stepped out into the corridor and went to their room.
The next morning the hotel receptionist called them while they were having breakfast, "There's a phone call for you at the desk."
Caitlyn went to the desk and picked up the phone, "Hello, who am I speaking to?"
"Hello. I'm Daphne. Which of you am I speaking to?"
"I'm Caitlyn, we are having breakfast. Is there anything you want?" Caitlyn wasn't sure what to say. She didn't want to be deliberately rude as there was no need for it.
"It's just to tell you that you and your friends are invited to my family's shop this morning. You can meet me outside the house I took you to yesterday, and I'll take you three there. What do you think?"
Caitlyn called to Viola and Stephanie, and they went over to where she was still standing with the phone receiver in one hand. Caitlyn covered the receiver with a hand and told them what Daphne had just said. "Well, what do you say about her invite to her family shop?"
The other two stared at Caitlyn wondering what to say, then Viola spoke, "We do have a choice you know, we don't have to go and see her family shop if we don't want to."
Stephanie said, "I say let's go and see. She probably just wants to sell us stuff. That's all."
Caitlyn uncovered the receiver and told Daphne at the other end, "Daphne we've decided to meet up with you and see your family shop. What time are we to be there?"
The conversation finished, Caitlyn put down the receiver, and looked at her friends. Viola was the least enthusiastic of the three, and was in two minds whether to go. "Why don't we go to the beach as usual and come back here to sunbathe? I'd rather be out in the open air than be stuck in a shop," Viola suggested.
"I think we'd be better off keeping together," Stephanie said.
"I don't agree," Viola answered. "I'm going to lie beside the pool, and you two go and meet up with the weird Daphne."
"What do we say if she asks us why you didn't turn up with us?" Caitlyn asked.
"Tell her the truth, that I didn't want to visit her family shop. After all, it's the truth," Viola said to her friends.
Half an hour later, Caitlyn and Stephanie left the hotel. Viola was happily lying down in the semi-shade between the pool and some trees. She wasn't exactly alone, as the whole area was with sun-beds and people lying down on them and others cavorting in the water. "See you two later. If you arrive back after lunch, you know where to find me. OK?" Viola told them.
"You don't know what you're probably missing," Caitlyn told Viola.
"I have no interest in finding out. Just be careful, and don't get yourselves into trouble."
That day the sun was even staler than when they had arrived. There was an unhealthy glare bouncing off all the white buildings, and when Caitlyn and Stephanie saw Daphne standing outside the pink house, it seemed as if the building was on fire, somehow pink wasn't the correct shade for the heat.
"Hello. Where's Viola?" Daphne asked them.
"She preferred to stay beside the pool instead of leaving the hotel in this heat," Caitlyn told Daphne.
"Hm. That's a bit of a nuisance. Still, never mind, can't be helped, I suppose," Daphne said, as if she were talking to herself.
"I'm taking you to where my family and I work. It's a bit of a walk but I think you'll agree that it's worth it when you see what I've got in store for you," Daphne said.
"Are we going to be there long?" Stephanie asked.
"As long as it takes," Daphne said in reply.
There were buildings on either side of the road but none of them resembled in any way a shop or a dwelling. There was the odd person to be seen walking, but no one else. The same could be said of vehicles, very few of which passed them in either direction. From the atmosphere it was more like walking in a cemetery than in a roughly urbanised area.
Fortunately the walk wasn't too long and Daphne stopped before a square shaped building that reminded them of a warehouse. "This is it. The family shop," Daphne told them opening a small door.
The interior was nothing remotely like the exterior. There were floors on different levels painted in bright colours. Cushions covered all these levels as did ornaments, large stone vases, coloured glass, white painted walls, potted palms, and a pair of decorative fountains bubbling away. On the left hand side, almost out of sight, was a woman, Daphne's mother, Polly. She was presiding over the cash.
"Mother, these are Caitlyn and Stephanie, who are going to help us. Girls, this is my mother, Polly."
Caitlyn and Stephanie stepped forward to shake Polly's hand. Instead Daphne's mother stared hard at her daughter and said, "I thought you said there were three of them. Where's the other one?"
"She didn't want to come."
"You haven't done so well this time, have you, Daphne? Well, they'll have to work a bit harder, that's all."
Caitlyn and Stephanie stared at Daphne, then her mother. What on earth were they talking about? Work? What work?
They soon found out.
"This shop is my family's business, and we need people to help us with making up orders, so when it's necessary we get holidaymakers to help us out to fill up the orders."
"I want out of here right now. What kind of game is this?" exclaimed Caitlyn.
"Viola was right, she sensed something was fishy about you. Come on, Caitlyn, let's get out of here."
"You can't go, we need you to help us fill an order. I had no other way of getting you here to help us, and when I saw the three of you on the beach, I realised straight away you were the right ones for us."
"Thank you very much for spoiling our holiday," Caitlyn said, feeling depressed for not having seen through Daphne.
Polly told her daughter, "Take them through to the factory floor, and show them what they have to do."
"Are we going to get paid for this?" Stephanie asked.
"Just get on with the job. This here is my father, Ellis, and that one over there," pointing to a younger man, "is Hubert, my brother." Daphne smiled at her father and brother and said, "These are our season's helpers."
Ellis and Hubert opened up large containers full of colourful objects ranging from tea and dinner sets with matching tablecloths and napkins, to furniture: dressers, tables, and chairs were lacquered in all the colours of the rainbow. Caitlyn and Stephanie were overcome by all the colours.
"What is it we have to do?" Caitlyn asked Daphne.
"You have to make up sets. So you choose a colour, and get everything in that colour, and pack it into one very large box making sure that nothing is rattling around inside. Then it has to be sealed up."
"Do we really have to do this? You seem to have got us here under false pretences, rather like kidnapping," Stephanie declared.
Daphne said nothing. Then, "Think what you like, but now you're here you might as well get on with the job."
Caitlyn and Stephanie both thought how Viola had been right about Daphne, and in turning down her invitation. They were also worried about when they'd see their friend again.
Viola was happily relaxing by the pool, reading magazines, and drinking fresh juice. After a while she fell asleep and began dreaming. When she awoke, the sun was no longer scorching down. There were people still swimming, and the noise of people playing tennis could be heard coming from the tennis court. Viola saw that she had been asleep longer than she had anticipated. A waiter approached her and asked to take her order. Viola felt hungry and ordered a salad and fried fish. The waiter went away to fetch her meal. Viola looked at her watch. It was five p.m. Where had Caitlyn and Stephanie got to? She tried ringing them without success, they had either switched off their mobiles or were out of coverage. While she ate, Viola wondered what her two friends could be doing.
Caitlyn and Stephanie were getting tired. They had been putting the packs together all day and had had nothing to eat. Also the work was heavy and boring. They both felt uneasy. Daphne kept looking at her watch and having short conversations with her father and her brother, after which she would urge them to work harder.
Her meal finished, Viola went up to their room, where she showered and dressed in street clothes. She made another effort to ring them. Nothing doing again. She thought of going to Daphne's house, and then it occurred to her that in all likelihood Caitlyn and Stephanie wouldn't be there. The sky had become lilac in colour and was beginning its journey down to the horizon.
Caitlyn and Stephanie finished up the last of the large boxes, and asked Daphne, "Can we leave now, please?"
"Yes, of course you can. These are for you. One each," and Daphne handed them a money belt, each full of cash.
Both girls stared at the money belts and Stephanie asked, "How much is there?"
Daphne smiled and said, "There's enough in them to keep you going for quite a while. Every season we employ tourists and pay them much more than if we maintained a permanent staff, that way we save taxes.
Here, have a drink, my father made it for you. He and my brother are happy with a job well done."
They were offered a tasteless and colourless beverage.
In a few minutes they were both fast asleep in the back of Ellis's van.
Daphne, Polly, and Hubert cleaned up The Colourful Shop.
Ellis drove the van as near to the hotel as was safe for him, helped the two girls out, and drove off.
Caitlyn and Stephanie staggered into the hotel and sat down on a sofa in the hall, where Viola found them a short while later.
They remembered nothing about The Colourful Shop. Only the name.
Viola pestered them a few times about the origin of the money belts full of bank notes, but Caitlyn and Stephanie always said it was a mystery to them, too.