WRIT LARGE: Ch 19, Part 2
To Bend with the Wind
The boat lurches on the crest of a wave and I raise my hands to keep my balance.
“Your hand,” says Olivia.
I glance at my left hand which has somehow turned red. It doesn’t even look like my own hand—there’s a loose flap of skin somehow darker than the rest, blood oozing from the wound.
“Here, mate, take a seat,” says Tony, easing me down onto a bench.
The pain which had felt little more than a scratch, is now sending searing flashes to my brain as though someone were stabbing me with a knife.
Tony works fast. He uses antiseptic wipes to clean away the surplus blood, taking care not to damage the loose flap of skin. His face gives nothing away. More to ease my own tension than his, I say that it’s lucky I’m not left-handed or there’ll be no biographies being written.
“There’s always a Dictaphone,” says Olivia. She smiles at me but keeps her eyes on the wound. I ask how bad it looks. “You might want to invest in some gloves.”
Tony laughs. “It’s not too deep. Might leave a bit of a scar but I’ll get you patched up. This’ll be a story for your grandkids.”
When Tony has finished smoothing a plaster over the wound, wrapping a bandage around it to keep it secure, the pain has dulled to a throb. I thank him and he shrugs it off.
“Anyone else need a little Tony Vlachos magic?”
“Save it for when we reach Sepoi,” says Sandra. “You can wave your sceptre and build us some shelter.”
“Will it come to that?” asks Olivia. “Will we actually need to build a shelter?”
“Unless you fancy spending the night in the rain.” Sandra stows her first-aid kit back inside her backpack. Jeff’s wound is minor and although it’s still a little bloody, she’s left it open to scab over naturally while it heals. “Believe me that’s no fun.”
The enormity of what is happening seems to hit Olivia, and she secures her own pack over her shoulder, shivering uncontrollably.
“These guys know what they’re doing,” says Jeff. “If you want to be building a tree-house with anyone, it’s them.”
The wind snatches at the boat, slamming it into a wave. We all crouch low, holding onto whatever is closest to us, heads down, as the bilge pump begins to whine. The sound grows louder, competing with the raging wind. Beneath our feet, the water stops being a steady trickle and becomes a mini stream, rippling and gushing over our shoes.
Jeff glances at the captain who is already on his feet, his wiry body pushing through us to get to the dinghies secured either side of the boat. He growls instructions at Tony and Jeremy to copy his actions for the dinghy their side.
I feel helpless watching them. The water is already up to my shins and the possibility that the boat will sink is rapidly becoming a probability that no one could have predicted when we first climbed aboard. The sky has grown darker and the ocean spreads endlessly around us like a gaping black hole. It is this wild expanse that makes me feel tiny and inconsequential; I’ve read enough to know that humans can’t compete with water. I swallow and look to the others for direction.
Jeff points to the ice box, and between us, Olivia and I lift it ready to take with us.
When the dinghies are fully inflated, the ropes are lowered enough for us to climb in. Olivia and I step into the captain’s boat followed by Kim, Jeff, and Todd. The captain lowers us over the side of the boat until we meet the water which whirls suddenly, spinning us around and crashing into the side of the boat as it attempts to drag us away.
We are drenched within seconds.
Jeff stands while the captain gives him directions with much yelling and finger pointing in the direction of Sepoi before he releases the boat and joins the others. “We’re heading for Sepoi Island,” Jeff yells above the storm when he takes his seat and grabs an oar.
Todd takes the other.
The dinghy feels light, almost flimsy, riding the waves and slamming the surface as though it is solid ground. My teeth jolt and my head pounds with each crash, but Jeff and Todd row rhythmically, trying to keep the vessel on course. We are all quiet. It is as though speech would be a distraction that would allow the storm to sneak in and undermine our resolve to reach our destination.
Jeff’s expression falters when I spot the island ahead and point it out. We’re a little off course but not so much that they won’t be able to steer the dinghy towards it.
“We’ll make it!” Todd yells, his eyes narrowed in concentration as he heaves harder to swing us west.
Jeff shakes his head. “It’s not that. The island’s mostly underwater.”
We all stare at it then and on cue, lightning illuminates the sky, followed by an immediate bellow of thunder that I feel in my chest. It reminds me of a music festival I attended when I was younger, and it seemed like the best idea ever to stand directly in front of a speaker so that the music vibrated my bones.
It’s true, all that’s visible in the lightning glare are trees. No sandy beach. No rocky foundations. Only the tip of the island.
“Any shelter’s better than no shelter,” says Todd. “I’m not taking my chances out here.”
Jeff nods. I sit beside him and take the end of his oar while Kim joins Todd.
I can tell that Olivia is feeling guilty for not helping, but then a giant wave picks up the dinghy, tilting it until it’s almost vertical, and I have to drop the oar to grab her leg before she is thrown overboard. As the dinghy rights itself, we are both tossed forward again, our faces hitting the bottom.
We crawl to a sitting position and Olivia rubs the side of her face.
“Are you both okay?” Jeff yells.
Olivia nods, her eyes focused on the island, her cheek visibly darkening even in this eerie light.
I resume my place beside Jeff in silence. It isn’t easy battling the tide and the wind, and our progress is slow. By the time the Sepoi forest looms ahead of us like a stranger stepping from a thick fog, my arms are burning, and my palms are stinging with popped blisters.
Todd is first on his feet. The boat lurches beneath his weight as he secures the dinghy to a tree, looping the thick rope around the trunk and performing an expert knot. He climbs out and offers a hand first to Kim, and then to each of us in turn.
The island is surprisingly rocky underfoot. We stand in a small, saturated group, the ice box at our feet, and take in our surroundings.
“Can anyone see the other dinghy?” Kim asks.
We all stare at the sea like the stranded travellers I guess we are. In the distance we can see the front end of the boat jutting ominously from the water like a shark fin, but there is no sign of the other dinghy.
“Anyone see it?” Jeff asks.
Behind us the wind howls through the trees.
Love the festival analogy - and the ever-building excitement. Look forward to reading what happens next