WRIT LARGE: Ch 19, Part 1
To Bend with the Wind
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Lightning streaks the sky with flashes of blue and silver, and for the first time in my life I am afraid of a storm. Maybe it is because we are so exposed on the vast expanse of flat beach, or maybe it is because when the electricity fades, the thunder rolls in above our heads, making us duck. When I raise my face toward Jeff and the boat, the world has darkened.
It feels as though the island is angry with us for attempting to abandon it. Rain stings our faces, grey snarling waves crashing onto the beach. Jeff waves his hands above his head and yells at us, but his voice barely makes it out before the wind snatches it away.
Jeremy gathers Kim into his arms. “Can you guys swim?”
We nod. The boat has stopped as close to shore as it can, and we must make our way out to it.
My first step into the water and I am shocked at the bite of cold when this same ocean felt like a warm bath earlier in the day. I turn to Olivia whose face is pale in the gloomy half-light and ask if she needs help.
She shakes her head.
The waves intensify, slapping our thighs as we wade deeper. Ahead of us, Jeremy sets Kim down into the water and they both swim towards the waiting boat, their strokes strong. Todd stays level with Olivia and I as we lunge forward. I’m a strong swimmer. My father insisted on teaching me himself when I was a child, as his mother had an irrational fear of water. I recall Saturday mornings spent at the local pool, rubber bands looped around my ankles forcing me to swim length after length using only my arms. At the time, I resented my father for encroaching on time that I might have otherwise spent playing football with my pals, but now, I wonder if those lessons were a solid foundation for the time when I would need them most. It isn’t easy swimming against the tide in a storm. A glance at Olivia and she’s already flagging. I swim towards her as Todd reaches her from the other side and together the three of us somehow make it to the boat where Tony and Jeff are waiting to haul us up.
“Everyone okay?” Jeff kneels in front of us on the deck as we sit shivering on the benches.
“Never better,” says Olivia, her teeth chattering.
Sandra comes over with blankets. “Take your waterproofs off, guys,” she says. “You’ll feel better once you’ve warmed up a little.”
The rain is hammering against the cabin roof and lashing the outer deck, zigzagging across the windows, but even this feels like a haven after the exposure of the beach. I ask where the other tribe members are.
“They took a boat with the crew,” says Jeff. “What happened back there? You guys get lost?”
“Dessert happened,” says Olivia. “In the excitement we circled back to camp at the other end of the island.” She peers out the window at the dark mound in the distance where the beautiful island should be. “I dropped the flag.”
“Lucky for you, I brought the sweet ice box.” Sandra winks at us.
Tony is wrapping another dry bandage around Kim’s ankle.
I ask Jeff what the plan is.
“We’re heading back to Tioman Island. We can shelter overnight at the Cabana Beach Bistro before we make our way back to Gentings. Captain says it’ll pass by just north of Tioman so we should be safe from the brunt of it.”
“You guys been caught in a storm like this before?” Sandra asks.
I tell her about the summer I was visiting family in Townsville, Queensland when a cyclone hit. I was a boy and remember being frightened at the way the sky transformed into this dull grey wall of rain and how we watched the water rising outside the house; even though the house was raised on stilts, the water still reached a level where it came inside. I add that it still wasn’t quite the same effect as being surrounded by ocean as we are now.
“How long will it take, do you think?” Olivia asks.
Jeff peers in the direction in which we are travelling. “Not sure, with this wind level.” He goes and speaks to the captain. When he returns, his expression is serious. “Captain says we’ve been blown off course which means we’re heading towards Labas Island. It’s rocky. If we make it there, we’ll set up camp and wait it out. It’s not ideal, but at least we’ll be on land.”
Tony joins us. “Can’t see anything out there yet with this rain, but I’m guessing we can’t miss an island, right?”
No one speaks.
The captain is talking to himself, his words swallowed by the storm. Despite the howling wind and menacing rainfall, I can still sense when the engine cuts out, and by the way everyone else glances at Jeff, I can guess that they felt it too.
Sandra doesn’t finish because everything else is drowned out by the sound of screeching metal. The boat judders as though in pain, rearing from the water like a wounded horse before crashing down bow-first. We are all thrown onto the deck, crashing towards the cabin where Olivia lands on top of me, her elbow catching the side of my head. I instinctively raise my hands in self-defence, the back of my left hand catching something hard and sharp. I’ve lost the blanket around my shoulders, but my face is smothered by what I can only assume to be Olivia’s blanket. I shove it off, rolling over onto all fours.
Olivia is on her back. Jeremy offers her a hand to pull her to her feet as the other tribe members drag themselves upright. Todd’s T-shirt is ripped and there’s already a bruise swelling on his thigh. Sandra is on her hands and knees but appears to be unhurt, while Tony is leaning over the side of the boat trying to assess the damage. Kim, although unsteady on her sprained ankle, offers a helping hand to Sandra. Jeff, beside me, has blood trickling from a wound below his ear. He touches blood and smears it across his shirt.
That’s when we all notice the water on the deck.
“What happened?” Jeff asks the captain. “Did we hit something?”
The captain shakes his head, still gripping the wheel with white knuckles. “Rocks,” he says. “We were further off course than I realised.”
“Are we near Labas?” Jeff is leaning against the side of the cabin. A glance down and I can see water creeping up the sides of his shoes.
The captain points straight down. “That’s Labas. It’s underwater.”
He leaves the cabin, ignoring the water underfoot, and clambers towards the motor at the rear of the boat. The ice box is still intact, but everything else appears to have been tossed about in the collision. Our backpacks are scattered across the deck. Bottles of water are rolling around. Fishing rods are buckled, and the diving equipment has created a haphazard obstacle course the length of the boat. He inspects the propellor, leaning over the end of the boat until I think he might fall overboard and then strides back to a chest built into the side of the boat.
“The propellor has damaged the fibreglass,” he says, dragging lifejackets from the chest. He hands them out to each one of us in turn, donning one himself, before returning to the cabin.
“What happens now?” Jeff asks, fastening his own lifejacket.
The captain has already taken up the wheel again. “The bilge pump will hopefully do its job and keep the water under control. I’ll continue on to Sepoi Island.”
“Is it worth trying to make Tioman?” Jeff’s voice is raised above the wind and rain, but I can still barely catch his words.
“Too far.” The captain shakes his head. He jabs a finger at a map on the boat’s dashboard which Jeff studies for several moments.
Jeff turns to face the rest of the group. “Did everyone hear that? Keep your lifejackets on until we get to Sepoi. Is anyone hurt?”
“Your ear is bleeding,” says Sandra. She’s already shaking water from her backpack and locating her first-aid kit. “There’s blood on the floor.” It’s a passing comment as she cleans Jeff’s earlobe and chin, assessing the wound.
I enjoy the title of this piece, "To Bend With the Wind". It has such a positive connotation, and makes one feel like they will prevail. They aren't breaking with the wind, just bending.
The details in the action really made me feel like I was with the characters. I liked the detailed descriptions.