A Child’s Life at Sea Part 4

I slowly reach my hand out for my brother. It is so dark I can’t even see where my hand is. Then suddenly I feel something on my foot. ‘There is something on the ground,’ I whisper to my brother. ‘I felt it.’ Then I hear a splash and a croak and several other small splashes. ‘It’s just a frog, dummy,’ laughs my brother. ‘Perhaps you should try kissing it. Maybe it will turn into a prince.’ ‘Yuck!’ I say. ‘You kiss it yourself if you dare.’ But my brother doesn’t fall for that. He just keeps teasing me. I still am not able to find his arm in the dark, but hearing his familiar teasing is kind of reassuring. Then suddenly we hear footsteps behind us.

The sound is heavy and thudding, like it belongs to something really big. I hold my breath. My heart is pounding and I close my eyes, even though it doesn’t make a difference, it is just as dark in the tunnel as it is when I close my eyes. Then suddenly it is quiet again. My brother has stopped his teasing. He must be just as scared as me. I am completely frozen, I can’t even run. Then all of a sudden I feel a big hand on my shoulder and a voice whispers in my ear: ‘Got you!’

‘Daaaaad!’ Complains my brother. ‘I knew it was you!’ A flashlight lights up and I see my father laughing in front of us. My brother looks pale, but he starts laughing too. ‘Good one, dad!’ I want to laugh, but I can’t, my heart is still kind of racing around inside of me. ‘Come on,’ says my father and takes my hand in his. ‘ Let’s go see the canon.’ And we do, and just like that, with my hand in my father’s, I feel safe again, and everything is right in the world.

A Child’s Life at Sea Part 3

‘Did the soldiers really hide in here, daddy?’ ‘Sure did, honey. They used these tunnels to move unseen underground when there was an attack. If you follow the tunnel to the end you will find a lookout post with a canon pointed to the horizon.’ ‘Did they really shoot the bad guys, daddy.’ ‘They had to, honey, there was a war and if they didn’t protect our country, innocent people would die.’ I stare at my father. ‘Did you fight in the war, daddy?’ My father laughs. ‘No, sweetie, the war was long before I was born.’ I feel a little disappointed, I really wanted my dad to be a hero. ‘Come on!’ complains my brother, ‘let’s go inside!’

We are on a small island on the south coast, known to be one of the many military bases during the Second World War. Our boat is docked by the stone pier, and my father has taken me and my brother up to see the tunnels carved deep into the mountain. They go on for kilometers and have no natural, or any other form, of light. But my father has brought a flashlight. My brother is already on his way into the pitch black tunnel. I take my father’s hand and we follow him.

There is water dripping from the ceiling of the tunnel and it makes an eerie drip-drop sound that echoes far into the deep. My father switches on the flashlight, but all we can see is black wet slippery stone walls, uneven and bumpy. The ground is also wet. Our plip-plop footsteps bounce off the wall and disappear into the deep, only to return as a hollow mimic of themselves ten seconds later. The sound makes me think of ghosts dragging their skeleton feet on the ground. My brother seems to think the same because he whispers in my ear: ‘I bet it’s haunted! Soldiers must have died in here, you know.’ I shiver and all of a sudden I feel very cold. I grip my father’s hand tighter. We walk further and further in.

‘If the tunnel collapses now, we’ll be dead,’ whispers my brother. And even though I am sure my father can’t hear him, he just adds to the horror be saying out loud: ‘well kids, we have reached the point of no return. We are further from the entrance than we are from the exist.’ I swallow hard. The flashlight flashes a couple of times, and both my brother and I jump. ‘Hold on, let me just…’ My father lets go off my hand to adjust the batteries in the flashlight. Then all of a sudden it goes completely dark. I want to scream, but for some reason I seem to have lost my voice. My brother on the other hand has not. He lets out a roar, fit for a lion. ‘Daaaaaaaad, what’s going on?’ There is no answer. I desperately reach out for my father’s hand, but it is not there. He is gone. My father is gone, and with him: the flashlight.

To be continued…

A Child’s Life at Sea – Part 2

‘Please don’t let her come, uncle, she is too little!’ My brother complains to our favorite uncle and puts his hands on his hips for emphasis. ‘She can hold the torch,’ says my uncle, and smiles wistfully to me. My brother sighs. ‘ She always gets what she wants.’ I glance at him behind my uncle’s back and stick my tongue out at him. He kicks a pebble so hard it flies into the sea and makes an exquisite plopping sound as it breaks the surface. My uncle looks at him sternly. ‘ You are already scaring the crabs away.’ My brother puts on the Life jacket my uncle hands him. He has a sulky face. ‘ At least I don’t have to wear a baby vest.’ That hits home and I give him one of my angriest glares. I am quite a big girl now, but I still don’t know how to swim and my brother delights in the fact that I have to wear a big chunky bright orange Life Jacket with an oversized collar that hardly lets me turn my head from side to side. ‘ Be kind to your little sister, says my uncle as he lifts me into the dinghy. My brother scowls and climbs in after me.

It is already dark and long past our bedtime, but we have been given special permission to stay up. We are going crabbing. My uncle steers the outboard confidently across the black sea, and the little rubber dinghy practically flies above the tiny white-sprayed currents. I squeal with delight. My father would never drive this fast! The sound of the outboard is the only sound we can hear in the dark early autumn night, and the subtle roar echoes against the cliffs, perfectly silhouetted against the starry sky. ‘ Can I have a go?’ Asks my brother, and to my surprise my uncle agrees. My brother doesn’t drive quite as fast, but I am twice as scared. He is still just a boy and I don’t trust boys to drive boats, even little boats like our Rubber-Linus.

As soon as we approach the steep cliffs my uncle takes over. And a couple of meters off shore he lets the outboard die, and we simply float with the current and the leftover push from the engine up to the cliffs. Now it is completely quiet. Only a few nightbirds screech hauntingly in the dead of night. The ocean splashes eerily against the cliffs, and the sound makes me feel so funny inside, like I am excited and scared, happy and sad at the same time. ‘ You’re up, sweetie,’ says my uncle and hands me the torch. I take it with both hands and switch it on. A white ghostly shadow creeps across the black surface and climbs slowly up the steep cliff. ‘ Now remember,’ says my uncle, ‘ when I tell you to switch off the torch, you have to do so immediately, okay? This is very important. The light will scare the crabs away.’ I nod nervously. ‘ Now point the light at the wall of the cliff right under the surface.’ I do as he says, and my brother and uncle lean over the edge of the dinghy as far as they can and stare into the water to the place I point the light. ‘ I see one! I see one!’ Shouts my brother excitedly. ‘ Hush!,’ scolds my uncle, ‘ you’ll scare it away!’ My brother looks embarrassed and is red all over. ‘ Now quickly, switch off the light!’ He whisper-yells to me, and I fumble with the off-button. I should have been keeping my finger on it all the time, I inwardly scold myself. But apparently I am quick enough, because my uncle has already grabbed the crab by its claw and is now flinging it hurriedly into the boat. The crab immediately goes into attack position with its claws out, and to my horror, it is running sideways towards me. I squeal loudly and jump instinctively unto the inflated rubber-side of the dinghy, but I jump with too much force and before I know it I am splashing around frantically in the water. I scream as loudly as I can and try to pull me feet up against my body. I remember overhearing my uncle telling my father that this place is teeming with crabs. Convinced that they are going to catch my toes in their sharp claws I continue screaming at the top of my lungs.

‘ Stop it! You’ll scare away the crabs!’ Yells my brother just as loudly. My uncle has already managed to get a good grip on the sides of my huge orange baby vest and he hauls me out of the water and back into the boat, much like he just did with the crab. The crab is still running around sideways in the boat and as soon as I see it I start screaming all over again. My uncle lets go of me, grabs the crab by its claw and hurls it back into the sea. Finally I stop screaming.

I can see my brother sulking in the bow of the boat. ‘ I told you not to bring her, ‘ he complains to my uncle. ‘She is such a baby.’ I stick my tongue out at him and make a fearsome grimace. ‘ Come on, ‘ says my uncle, ‘ We’ll better get you home, little one, before you catch pneumonia.’ ‘ Arrrrrgh!’ Says my brother. ‘Can I at least drive?’ He looks hopefully at my uncle. My uncle nods. ‘ Okay, but you better make it fast before your sister catches her death.’ At that my brother’s face lights up and he roars the outboard into life and head out to sea in a fierce pace that makes the water foam excitedly around the prow. I sit shivering in my uncle’s arms, but I smile to myself when I think of the crab happily running about in the bottom of the sea.

A Child’s Life at Sea – Part 1

My brother bangs the side of his cot as a huge wave crashes into the wooden side of the boat and soon after my little round-shaped window is submerged in water. The boat, in which we are sleeping, or are supposed to be sleeping in, topples over and my brother holds on for dear life as he is pushed by the mere force of the ocean towards the edge of his cot. We both laugh out loud and I shout in excitement: It’s like being rocked in a huge cradle! ‘ Yeah, ‘ adds my brother, ‘ or a hammock!’ We both giggle at that, and soon it is my turn to be hurled over sideways by King Neptune. But it is then that I feel it. It sneaks up on me like a mischievous current, but when it starts pushing its way through there is no going back. I cringe. But I have to go, it’s impossible to pretend my way out of it. ‘ Daaaaaaad!! I have to pee!’ I shout. My father soon appears in the tiny wooden door separating our sleeping quarters from the deck. ‘ You really really have to?’ My father sighs. I nod my head apologetically. ‘ Okay, but you can’t go to the bathroom in this weather. To sea is too rough.’ The bathroom is all the way on the other side of the boat. ‘ But I HAVE to go!’ I insist. My father looks thoughtful, but then he smiles and disappears. He is, however, soon back. With a bucket. He places the bucket on the floor next to my cot. ‘ If you can’t go to the toilet, I bring the toilet to you,’ he says and smiles. I giggle as I worm my way out of my sleeping bag and slowly climb down from the cot. ‘ Incoming!!’ Shouts my brother, and I brace myself. Luckily the floor is not much larger than the bucket so it still remains standing up when the wave hits. I can’t stop giggling as I squat over the bucket. When I am done my father collects the bucket. ‘ Are you gonna throw the pee in the sea?’ Teases my brother. My father ignores him. Relived I climb back into my cot, still giggling a bit. ‘ My sister peed in a bucket! My sister peed in a bucket!’ My brother makes his voice into a sing-song rhyme, and I stick my tongue out at him. But I am giggling too much to make an angry face. And soon we are back playing our wave-game again. It is a seven hour crossing. I can hear my mother complaining to my father on the deck : ‘can’t they just go to sleep.’