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A Different Ocean

About the author
Jacob Ross was born in Grenada, and has lived in Britain since 1984. He is a poet, playwright, journalist, novelist and creative writing tutor.

birds going home

‘Day yawns and cracks the egg of dawn’ (Stridal)

By that time she had long become familiar with the play of light on the tiny whisky bottles frosted by the waves, the fantastical chunks of multi-coloured glass, reshaped by salt and time. She’d scrubbed the coins and strips of green-caked copper until they became once more as bright as the fire that had shaped them.

What astonished her nephew, Cedric and her friends was the fact that the sea had delivered these things, which they themselves had never been able to locate. It was as if it required a particular way of seeing, a talent that was specific to the Sienna Millers of this world.

And indeed Sienna saw the bay below their homes in a very different way from them. It was the great wide open paw of some soft-voiced, growling dog that scampered off to other worlds at night to fetch these gifts for her. So, on mornings, when she sneaked down to the beach, she found them waiting there amongst the shells, the jellyfish and seaweeds.

The doll had been her greatest find. She had simply found it on the beach one morning, a pale, outlandish flower sprawled against the glittering blackness of the sand. It possessed half of everything: a single, sea-bleached leg that was cocked up at the sky in a most indecorous manner, one damaged eye that seemed to follow her movements whichever way she turned and a portion of an arm. It had half a headful of soft, corn-yellow hair, which made her recognise its possibilities straight away.

She’d bathed it and dressed it. Had cared for it the way a person would care for an ailing friend, having forced on herself a secret and very pleasant conviction that it would fulfil the miracle that its very discovery on the sand had promised: to restore itself completely and become whole again.

Not only had she named the doll Lucille, they’d quickly become sisters. And by virtue of that carefully worked out fact of kinship, she too had acquired sun-coloured hair that floated around her face, not unlike Lucille’s, hair which she squinted through, combed and parted with her fingers and shook constantly in pleasantly annoying, imaginary winds. She and Lucille, they now lived in a blue room with pretty yellow curtains and windows that faced a flush of trees, laden with apples and pears and peaches, all growing on the same branch. The tar had also seeped away from beneath her skin, leaving her as pink as the cheek of the one-eyed doll. And to cap the whole thing off she had changed her name to Jane.

Tan Lin threw Lucille into the fire the evening Sienna, in a fit of excitement, forgot her in the yard and hastened down to the beach to watch the men haul in a giant octopus from the place they called The Mouth.

She bawled and railed like an orphan while Cedric, his face a mix of sympathy and pleasure, poked the black, sizzling lump of foul-smelling plastic from the fire and placed it at her feet.

‘Chiiiile! Shut dat big black mout o yours before I close it for you for good,’ Tan Lin shouted. And Sienna didn’t wait for the words that were sure to follow. Words that were worse than all the cursings she could think of. Words whose meaning she did not know exactly but which nevertheless, would ride the air and sting her like a splattering of hot oil. She was halfway down the hill and heading for the beach when those words she hated so much came, ‘Petit jamette laid!’

They propelled her forward as surely as if somebody had planted an oversized boot on her behind. And it was only when her feet hit the soft and somehow allaying coolness of the sand and she saw the small crowd at the northern end of the bay that she stopped the bawling, her rancour not so much replaced as distracted by the sight of the small crowd, for they were standing on the part of the beach they habitually warned strangers against.

The sign that used to read DANGER, SUDDEN DROP, in big red letters was still there although the writing had long been chewed into by rust. And the sea as if in complicity with the faded sign, did its best to hide the crater the government had dug there on a promise to build a yacht marina in The Silent. But at the end of that election year, the machines they’d sent to excavate the shallows had climbed back onto the trucks and never did return. What they left there was a patch of darker blue which only reminded them of itself in odd ways: a sudden flush of cold along the stomach of the person who dared to swim across it, or the way a boat or bit of wood would slowly drift towards it, in response to some secret pull, some quiet, dreadful persuasion which, they reminded themselves time and time again, had already swallowed the lives of two unsuspecting brothers. And it was this unearthly readiness to suck in everything that possessed a will weaker than its own that made them call that place The Mouth.

Sienna decided that they might have spotted another octopus down there, for it was a place these ocean creatures liked. Several strides away, she realised that it was Missa Jacko who was in the middle of the group talking, his oar-thin arms like propeller blades flailing the morning air above the heads of men and women. Soon, his words like a flap of agitated gulls reached her.

‘Some thief-an-criminal gone off and take mih fishpot and all the fish that was in it. I goin to murder the dog. I goin to search every house-an-garden. I goin to inspect every latrine in the area. I goin to scrutinise every fishpot in the sea and no matter how much paint dem paint to change it, is goin I goin to find mih property. Is only a stinkin thief could thief de fishpot dat I buy de other day. It was full of fish, I sure o dat, else why de hell dey thief it? Eh? I want back all mih fish in mih fishpot. Who de hell dey tink dem is, eh? Who dem tink I is!’

If the others were alarmed, it was not so much at the fact that somebody had stolen Jacko’s fishpot but that his awful complaining voice would rub against their ears like an unrelenting corn husk for at least another month – including nights – since Jacko was the kind of man who did not need an audience to run a conversation. Even those who had no memory could not forget the time when Martin bought him a pound of hooks in town and forgot to give him back his penny change.

Sienna’s arrival turned the man’s rum-reddened eyes on her. His hands froze on something in mid air, her presence presenting him with a possibility he hadn’t thought about before.

‘You! You know any ting about my fishpot?’

The astonishment stopped her midstride. Catching her breath and swallowing a sudden sting of tears she bawled, ‘Me? Me! Me tief yuh fishpot? Me! Me? I goin tell my Tanty dat you say…’

Jacko’s hands fluttered in alarm. Tell yuh Tanty! Tell yuh Tanty… is only ask I ask, an I ask polite. I didn say…’

‘I goin tell she, I goin tell she dat you say everybody in we family is thief an you goin search from de top o we house to below we bed an even we latrine an…’

‘Jeezas – spare me,’ Jacko turned to the faces around him, his lips shaping an appeal. ‘Anybody here hear me say anyting like dat? As God is me witness, anybody hear dem wuds come from me?’

‘Wasn’t what you say’, Anna May cut in sourly. ‘But who is to say is not what you mean? What mek you tink is not dat foreign boat down dere dat cut you fishpot.’

Ten pairs of eyes turned towards ‘down there’.

The Lagoon

‘Down there’ was The Silent – a largish lagoon of still dark water that sat directly below the precipice on which their houses stood. It was a place that yachts liked. They started arriving in November like a flock of great white birds. So tall sometimes their sail-wings seemed to scrape the blue above. They would remain there for a couple of days or sometimes for a week.

A beautiful skiff with a very long mast was sitting in the middle of The Silent. It hadn’t been there the day before. It must have arrived late last night or in the small hours of that morning.

The man’s hand milled unbelievingly above their heads but before he could draw breath Anna May’s voice slapped him around the ear. ‘So! What you goin tell me now – dat whiteman boat never does cut no fishpot rope?’

Everything happened quickly then. Martin pulled his diving glass over his face and rushed the water. And of course he headed for The Mouth. He began hovering around the edges like an insect at the lip of some godforsaken flower. Then his voice rang out across the water with more pleasure than surprise. ‘It down there! Kin hardly see it! Look like it full o fish too.’ His laughter had the sharpness and abruptness of a gull’s. It tickled the small crowd into a sudden derisive burst and Jacko’s shoulders became a defeated slump.

Before they realised it, Sienna had hit the water in a rapid running dive. The momentum carried her right through to the blue lip of The Mouth. She caught Martin unawares, saw the rush of alarm the instant she surfaced beside him. She sucked in hard and arced her body in a tight, downward curve, flashing her heels briefly, defiantly in his face.

The cold swallowed her whole and bruised her senses. She swam fast downwards towards the dim unearthly shapes below, already aware of the growing pressure in her chest and eardrums even as she puzzled at the ease with which she was slipping down the throat of the hole. Her body was telling her something that her mind already knew: water should resist. The sea never offered itself up to anyone that easily.

But she kept kicking, heading for the bottom-darkness until she spotted the white blur that was the rope that had secured the float to the fishpot. The wicker of the pot itself was no more than a patch of paleness somewhere further down. She focused on the rope, kicking harder as she reached for it, amazed at the way it evaded her grasp. It was then she noticed the circling dance it made, understood what that meant and told herself that there shouldn’t be no tide here trying to drag her down below. She milled her legs furiously, reached out and finally grasped the dancing rope. She wrapped it around her wrist and ignoring the burning in her chest, began the struggle upwards. Her efforts to fight the water’s tug and haul the weight up at the same time forced her towards the other side and there suddenly, miraculously the water opened up its fist and released her.

Hands were waiting to lift her out and seat her at the back of Ragman’s little boat. Jacko was bawling like a strangling goat and there was a dizzying din of voices on the beach.

They rowed her over quickly and dropped her on the sand, examining her as they would some creature that the ocean had unexpectedly deposited at their feet. The morning had become a bright, featureless haze and she could not control the trembling.

‘Cold down dere,’ she chattered, gathering her clothes. ‘Real cold.’

‘One hundred and ninety,’ Martin said, his voice soft and disbelieving. ‘I count one hundred and ninety.’

A quietness had descended on them all. Anna May sketched the sign of the cross across her chest and muttered something while the rest stared at the fishpot at Jacko’s feet.

‘You could ha dead,’ Jacko muttered coarsely, and then after a pause, ‘But nobody can’t say is I who send you.’ He seemed to be addressing the thrashing mass of parrotfish and snappers.

‘Dat’s all y’have to say?’ His words roused something cold and bitter in Sienna. ‘Yuh didn drown.’ Jacko shrugged.

‘De fish is mine,’ she told him.

‘Like hell.’

Anna May laughed softly. It alerted Jacko like a dog confronting danger, for that chuckle carried a threat that suddenly roused her son. Big and wordless as a boulder, Preeso stepped between the fishpot and the man.

‘Not, not even a little one for me?’

‘Not even.’ Sienna told him.

Anna May did not accept the fish Sienna offered her. She seemed somehow more concerned to get off the beach, as if she’d just sensed a change in the weather. Even Jacko, now that he had recovered his possession had lost interest in it. Their sudden detachment had reduced her effort to nothing and she remained there feeling the way those awful words from Tan Lin made her feel.

That was how the two strangers met her; alone on the beach with a pile of dead fish at her feet, staring blankly at the dark blue patch of water that had left a freezing place inside of her.

She had not heard them approaching and that still puzzled her. The first time she knew they were standing there beside her was when a soft voice brushed against her ear. ‘Nice catch.’

She looked round to see a woman in a sky-blue bikini smiling down on her. And for no reason she could put a finger on, her heart began to race. Perhaps it was because the woman was slim as the dolls Sienna had seen in the St. George’s store the first and only Christmas Eve she’d ever been to town. Dolls with skin as pale and pure as manioc starch. The woman had their pink cheeks and Lucille’s creamy yellow hair. And her eyes – her eyes especially – the girl stared at them dumbfounded for it was as if they had been made especially for her from a patch of perfect sky. And even more astonishing was the fact that they matched exactly the little stone set in silver, fixed to a very fine chain around her neck.

‘I’m Sue – Sue Kramer. This is John Hedgcoe.’

‘Hi,’ the man said. His eyes were very different from Sookramer’s, a dark centre rimmed by a lighter colour, which she could not determine exactly. The eyes of birds, she thought, seagulls. He was barefooted like the woman, a bit taller, and like Miss Sookramer, everything about him was gold, even the hairs covering his stomach and limbs.

Nothing in her life had prepared her for this encounter. For these strangers who came in from the other side of the world never seemed to see them in their little houses on the hill. And she understood this. For wasn’t their world like the pretty glass boxes that Cedric had shown her in that magazine, in which people placed and cultivated fish that looked like flowers? Their yachts came and went with the same seasonal indifference of seabirds and if it were true that they exchanged the occasional stand-offish smile from time to time, it was only during some chance early-morning or late-night encounter on the beach which were never planned or natural. If these people belonged to the same world at all, they certainly owned very different parts of it.

So when the woman held out her hand Sienna could not help but stare at it and then up at her face. She could not hold those eyes so she fixed instead the blue of the stone.

What was her name? The woman’s voice was soft and pleasantly musical. Sienna Miller? That was a nice name. Did they all have English names? In which of those houses on the hill did she live? Why did they build their homes on stilts? Did she know the names of the fish at her feet? Where did she learn to dive like that? A whole raft of questions the answers to which generated even more questions.

The man who had never taken his eyes off her spoke only when the woman paused for breath. And his was an odd way of speaking since she could not decide whether he was talking to the woman, himself or her. ‘Nice teeth’, he said. That was when she was in the middle of responding to one of the woman’s questions. And in between another of her replies, ‘good shoulders, deep ribs’ and something else which wasn’t clear at all.

Miss Sookramer excused herself and stooped to prise a shell from the sand. The man spoke to Sienna directly for the first time. Did she know why The Mouth behaved the way it did? Did she know that the whole ocean was like that, more or less?

‘Warmer water rises to the top, colder water slides below; the way water boils.’

For some reason, he added with a quiver of the little gold moustache, the effect was much stronger in The Mouth. Were there others, boys, who could dive like her?

‘I is de best.’ She answered flatly which made the man laugh softly. And pleased that she had humoured him, Sienna added for emphasis, ‘everybody round here know dat.’

The man smiled brightly down at her before pointing at a small white craft in the lagoon. It was a blinding silver in the path of the morning sun. That one Cincinnati Dreams is ours.’ He grinned at the morning and the sea. ‘Ever been on one before?’

Sienna shook her head.

‘Wanna come over later? Susan thinks you’re nice.’

Tell us what time, we’ll come in the dinghy and get you.’ The woman offered.

‘I kin swim,’ the girl said flashing a quick instinctive glance up at the houses.

The man was looking out to sea, his eyes so narrowed down, all she saw there was a glint. She might have told him that it was Missa Mosan’s little tray of a boat, coming in from his trip out to the reefs beyond Goat Point. In fact she hadn’t remembered Missa Mosan when they asked her if anyone could dive better than she did. But, she decided, he should not be counted anyway since everybody knew he’d exchanged his wife and children’s soul to the devil for the secrets of the deep. And he was not from The Silent anyway. He came from that barren place, several hills beyond that was known curiously as The Waterhole. She also knew that he’d borrowed the eyes of gulls, which was why he saw things from great distances before anyone else had an idea they were there.

‘Well, we’d better be off,’ the man said briskly. ‘See yah later,’ Sookramer said, and she was also off, hurrying to keep up with the man.

They left behind a slight wind, full of odours, which came off the sea and wrapped itself around her like a piece of cloth. She sniffed and grinned. She’d taught herself to pry beneath the first fresh layer of any seawind to get at the smells it always carried underneath – those magical and secret odours that arrived from the very place she believed Lucille had come from.

‘Look like you conversatin wit de sea!’ Missa Mosan was a little man with a big head and the largest hands she’d ever seen. He was smiling as if he expected her to be waiting there for him.

‘Is true you have a thousan chilren?’ she asked him promptly. She’d asked this question hundreds of times before, but she knew that if he chose to answer her at all, it would be as if he’d heard it for the first time.

‘How much twelve you got in a thousan, Miss?’

‘A whole heap,’ she muttered frowning. ‘Is true you use to have a hundred girlfriend?’ This one was supposed to catch him unawares but the man grinned toothlessly and winked. ‘What you fink?’

She shrugged, wondering how he would react if she also told him that Tan Lin said she didn know what women saw in the big-head little runt of a man.

He began tossing things from the boat onto the sand, first his machete, then the oars, followed by his fish-gun, then a crocus bag still writhing with his catch.

‘Dem pretty?’

‘Dem…?’

‘Yuh chilren? Dem pretty?’

He rested very large and heavy eyes on her face. ‘You know anybody who not?’

‘No,’ she answered quickly.

‘Which make me ask meself what people who does never have one word to crack with we, what dem want with one of us, specially a little girl?’

She stared at him tight-lipped but he did not seem to be in a hurry for an answer. He stepped back and reached beneath the stern of the craft, his hands emerging with something large and heavy. Whatever it was, he’d wrapped it in a piece of sacking and she watched his face as he reached into the bag, brought it out and turned it towards her. It was a shell – one of the largest she had ever seen – caked outside with silt and seaweed. But its mouth, now that it was turned to her, snatched her breath away. She had seen a queen shell only once before and it had never been this close up; and even then she had never imagined that a thing on earth could be so beautiful. For the ocean had gathered all the colours in the world, mixed them with the light of all the sunsets there had ever been and trapped them within the hollows of that shell.

‘Now dat’s pretty,’ he breathed. ‘Dese belong to de ocean. Her pussnal joolry an she never give dem up without a fight. Every time mih ooman have a chile, she send me off to get one so I kin risk mih life like she. You gotta go down, down, down an keep goin till you don’t know top from bottom. You keep goin cos iffen you tink o de hurtin in yuh ears, iffen you link one little second dat you can’t reach it, den you never goin to get it. You ever wonder why all de good tings in life so flippin hard to get?’

She nodded because she had actually wondered.

He turned the shell to face him, awed it seemed, at the beauty of the thing and the fear it held for him each time he tried to draw even with his woman. And then he handed it to her. Mosan was looking at her closely when she brought the shell to her ear. She closed her eyes to absorb its thunder, the suck and surge that were also bellow and sigh, to feel the quiet unnameable stir of fear and pleasure in her gut.

Sienna opened her eyes and nodded. What he saw on her face must have satisfied him because he showed her all his gums. ‘Like I say, nice tings don’t come easy.’

He gathered his things and placed them in his big canvas bag. With a toss of his head, he muttered, ‘watch yerself, girl! Some people don smile to smile; some-a-dem smile to bite.’

She took in those last words the way she took in Tan Lin’s curses, a sort of condemnation which, even if they were directed at the strangers, felt like they were meant for her.

Still, during what remained of the day Missa Mosan’s words had come to her off and on with the annoying persistence of a fly.

They did not prevent her from swimming over to the boat that evening as she’d promised. The uneasiness had washed itself off the moment she slipped into the water even if it was the first time she had ever swum in the lagoon.

Sookramer and the man welcomed her. They had drawn the boat closer to the mangroves so that if people were looking down from the houses on the hill they would not see her being lifted aboard by her new friends. There was something nice about the secretiveness of it all; the way everything was understood without being talked about.

There was still a lot of light left in the sky, and the night-black beach in an improbable moment had become a burning strip of silver. The woman turned to stare open-mouthed. ‘Come,’ she said as if she were dragging herself out of a dream. Til show you around.’

But it was the man who did. He explained the difference between cutter rigs, gaff rigs and Bermudan rigs and why their boat was a Vancouver and not a Westerly or an Armagnac. All she remembered was that everything in their boat was tiny and perfect. There was a bed, a stove standing beside a shiny sink and what looked like a tiny fridge and toilet.

The woman had given her something to eat called pasta, a can of Coca-Cola, two lollipops, Chupa-Chups, whose wrapping she was going to keep, a big square of chocolate covered in gold paper and a packet of chewing gum.

They told her about places with pretty names like Albuquerque, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Ohio. They said they liked the way she talked, that she looked very strong for her age and she had the clearest eyes they’d ever seen. Sookramer had even fingered her hair and marvelled at its softness. She in turn had been allowed to touch the woman’s and – although she did not show it – was surprised that it was not as soft as it appeared.

Missa Jonko took an apple, large as a fist and red like a ripe tomato, which he began peeling with the biggest knife she’d ever seen. He appeared not to be watching her but she knew he was and in her turn, she pretended not to observe him. And it was with something like mild shock that she saw him, with a flash of the wrist, drive the knife into the fruit and toss it in the water. ‘Fetch it and its yours,’ he grinned.

She leapt after it with alacrity and surfaced a few moments later with the impaled fruit.

‘Great!’ He brought his palms together thunderously. ‘Now you got an apple.’ Turning to Miss Sookramer, he said. ‘I told you she’s got talent.’ And to prove that he was right he held up a silver coin and threw it a few yards beyond her.

She did not manage to retrieve it nor the others that he flung so casually overboard. When she surfaced, her face creased with disappointment, she saw that the man was smiling.

The water flows that way,’ he said, his hand sweeping in the general direction of where the lagoon opened out into the bay and then the world. ‘You can’t feel it but it flows. Always start a little way further up from where you want to go. Come tomorrow.’

‘About this time,’ the woman cut in gently, her eyes towards the houses on the hill.

‘Yep! And I’ll teach you how to dive anywhere, for anything. I’m gonna make you famous. You know why? Because Susan and I, we think you’re special.’

She realised the man meant what he said as soon as she swam over the following day, for he had a can of coins on deck. Again they’d drawn the boat closer to the mangroves. ‘Y’know what’s great about this game?’ Missa Jonko laughed. ‘I throw em, you git em, you keep em. Remember what I told you yesterday about starting further up? Here we go-oh!’

That was how, in the evenings that followed, she learnt to anticipate the dizzy spiralling of dimes, the direct plunge of large glass marbles with wondrously foliated irises, the slant of paper knives and nails, the somersault of tiny silver saucers, the twirl of metal rulers and whatever else the man decided to throw at her. And what made it all the more amazing was that Missa Jonko never seemed to run out of pretty things to toss. It was as if he’d conjured up these bright unsteady objects from his mind to do his personal bidding in the water.

The little cave she’d dug under the tuft of cus-cus grass below her cedar tree above The Silent became a bulging glittering nest. She now counted three penknives on which was written the word, ‘Kiwi’ in silver; a fingernail clip that was also a can opener; a tiny brass box with engravings of naked people that looked curiously flat against the metal; a silver ring with the head of a lion on the top; and the most treasured of them all, a round copper case full now with dozens of what the man called half-dollars and which were the most difficult to retrieve because he had ordered her to wait until he counted fifteen before she went after them.

The days, too, had assumed the glitter of these objects. Bright days in which she avoided the people who used the beach on evenings. She had developed what she imagined was a protective sheen around herself which guarded her from their stares, their silences, their words.

She’d done this right after Anna May had spoken to her. It was after her fourth visit to the boat. The woman had crooked a finger at her and Sienna had approached cautiously since there was no mistaking the tightness in Anna May’s manner, which meant that what she was about to say was going to be very hurtful.

‘What you doin on dem people boat? Eh? You know what yuh playin wid? Eh? You dunno is trouble dem people does bring? I wouldn let my Preeso spend five minutes on dat boat. But little girl like you, you across deh all evenin, every day. What yuh Tanty sayin bout all o dat? Eh? Is why I never like dat ooman. She too damn careless for me. If is somewhere you want to come when evenin come, come to my house. You kin help me do de washin up. You kin sweep mih yard. A little girl like you have good use. I know you strong. I does watch you. But dat boat, dem people! Is warn I warnin you.’ And with that the woman had walked off muttering to herself.

That was why she decided never to see the stares, hear the words or heed anybody’s crooked finger anymore.

If she didn’t know better she might have believed that the man had overheard everything that Anna May told her because it was from that very day that his smiles were replaced by a curtness that seemed somehow more natural to him and which she did not mind because this persistent drill, this daily bidding to slip beneath the shadowy skirts of the lagoon, to retrieve and keep those pretty things had also brought a strange sobriety upon her.

Now she did the things Tan Lin asked her to do without complaining and Cedric’s teasing no longer triggered the usual peppery outburst. In fact more than once he complained that she ignored him.

If Tan Lin had heard about or noticed her disappearances on evenings, she was saying nothing although a couple of nights before, believing that she was asleep, her aunt had brought the lamp down over her and moved it along her body slowly, the way a fisherman would check a craft for dents or weakened seams. Then with a smack of her lips she’d straightened up and left the room.

Sienna had already rehearsed the truth just in case she asked, anyway. She would say that Missa Jonko was teaching her to dive so that a man in America called Missa Olympic could judge her and tell her she was the greatest in the world. The presents she would get for that were made from proper gold too. But it meant a lot of practise. It meant diving deeper than anyone had gone before. It meant learning to place a hook around a ring on the box that Jonko had lowered to the bottom of The Silent. It meant understanding everything the man taught her the very first time because he did not like to repeat himself.

He would have her dive until the sky had drained itself of light and the water had become too dark for her to see what lay below. It was only then that he would allow her to dry out on that part of the deck he called the coach roof, while she answered Miss Sookramer’s questions, her eyes fixed on the stone at her throat.

At first, the woman’s gestures and expressions had been confusing, like some new road whose twists and turnings her feet could not anticipate. And so she would take the broad things: the show of teeth that meant a smile, the laugh that indicated ease, and of course the kindness in the voice that was always there; or the hurt that sat behind the calm whenever the man’s impatience turned on her. She was the kind who liked to laugh though, and it was this that allowed Sienna to get past the constant questions, and the odd way she sometimes said things, to the feelings underneath.

A few days ago, in the middle of a laugh their eyes held briefly, a small silence descended upon them and they knew then that they had become friends.

‘Are you coming tomorrow?’

It was Sookramer’s way of telling her to leave. It was what she always said before lowering her voice and bringing her hand around her mouth. ‘Can you bring me something green? Some leaves or flowers – anything, please?’

Sienna would not go home straight away. She made her way to the lip of the precipice above The Silent to watch the night creep in from the sea. She would watch the muted cabin lights come on and if it were one of those evenings when the air was very, very still, their voices would lift and drift upwards towards her. She would stay there until tiredness or night with a sudden, tropical chill that always took the strangers by surprise, drove them down below. The yellow lanterns would go out and it would be depthless-dark down there and very, very lonely.

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