Authors: Rosa Rankin-Gee
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The only real person in this book is DJ Silver Fox â Roger â who was kind to us.
If this were a film, I would want it to start with leaves, and light coming through them. The sun would hit the camera straight on, and splinter out and catch dust. Light and leaves are how I'd want it to begin.
There would also be unmetalled roads and bright yellow butter on our table and the CoupÃ©e, thin as a spine. You'd see the sea, birds that flew faster, and women driving tractors, with potato cheeks, and legs cocked like cowboys. The Mermaid Tavern, with dogs in, and children. Roger with hips like a whisky flask, and fields through fences, school-jumper green. I'd put sun on all of this.
On our skin, too. Sun on our arms as we cycled along the Avenue, sun on Sofi, sun on Pip. I'd hold my hands up to the light and you'd see scars from sea anemones and other things.
The camera would pull out then, back past our skin, the stones, our bikes, the house and, eventually, you'd see that we were on an island. Then I'd go back to before I was on an island, and before I knew the island existed. I'd go back to the very beginning.
Thieves, bandits, pirates, robbers, ruffians and murderers, no worse than the very cannibal, they would certainly eat us alive.
Rabelais on the Sarkese, 1530
My name is Jude. And because of Law, Hey and the Obscure, they thought I was a boy.
Not even a boy. A young man, and someone who could teach their son. I was none of those things, apart from young. But a merchant banker called Edward Defoe flew me out to Sark on a private plane, together with frozen meat and three crates of Badoit, and that's how it started.
The plane was for the meat, not me. But he said there was no point in flying cattle class when I could fly with the food from Biggin Hill and escort the boxes through Guernsey. He'd send a cab, he'd book the ferry, he'd see me Friday. See you Friday exclamation mark. Just like that, sent from his BlackBerry. I remember thinking: he didn't even use all his fingers, how do you decide who tutors your son without using all your fingers?
Four days later, I turned up alone at Biggin Hill Airport. It was late morning on the second Friday of July, and I was wearing a suit jacket I'd borrowed from my mother. My shoes were wrong, and my stomach felt like a cold piece of paper, scrunched up. I didn't even have a ticket, all I had was his name.
A brunette with pink eyeshadow and a fluoro jacket came out and I said it: Edward Defoe? It was a question, and an answer and all I had. I thought she'd send me home â I think I hoped she would â but she smiled, teeth from temple to temple, and sent my bag off in a golf cart.
The departure lounge at Biggin Hill was a strange place, empty as an office in summer, with air-conditioning vents and London, Moscow and New York time on Rolex clocks on the wall. There was an unofficial-looking stall selling chocolate bars, and I wanted to stop for water, but I was taken straight through to the tarmac. The fluorescent lady introduced me to the pilot, Fred, who was eating a muffin and getting a stone out of his shoe.
He was younger than I wanted him to be. He had too much neck, in waves from his crown to his collar, velvety with stubble. It made me think of a sofa â over-upholstered somehow. And then I saw the plane, and that was when I thought: this has to stop. It was a joke plane, a child's plane. But I shook Fred's hand, and stood there, smiling until my gums were dry. Then, when he told me to, I climbed up the tiny steps. It was like a Smarties tube, just shorter and more metal. The fold-down seats in the back were stacked with the meat and Badoit, so Fred pointed to the co-pilot's chair, and said I was to sit there. It was mustard leather, with duct-tape kisses where the leather had cracked. I don't know why, but I got my book out, and put it on my lap, open, like an extra seatbelt.
Fred crushed in and gave me a cold, heavy headset to wear. He put one on too, and pushed the microphone nearly all the way into his mouth. âTake off,' he said, flicking a switch, âeasiest bit, but most deadly.'
We didn't die. When we started accelerating along the runway, I didn't think we were going fast enough, but then we stepped up into the air, shaky, like it was just a jump, and gravity would remember us. But somehow the trees got further away, and two fields became four, five, fifteen, countryside.
I'd never been in a cockpit before. I didn't like the way the co-pilot's steering wheel shook, and the nose of the plane felt like my own â pale and too close to my face. I could even see it out of the bottom corner of my eye. I looked away, out onto England. It was gold because of rapeseed, and the clouds made islands of shadow. I looked at how big England was, and I kept on thinking about islands.
Fred pointed to places I'd never heard of, and then Portsmouth. Over the Isle of Wight, he showed me Shanklin; said he liked it. After that, it was just sea below and ahead, painted pebbledash, for miles.
Fred leaned out of his seat, looking all over the sky for light aircraft and birds.
âRadar's dodgy. And you can't trust the French â that's not racist. That's fact. What's the international language of air travel? English. What do they speak round here?' He summarized the air above the Channel and the vague direction of France with his finger. âFrench. And what's that?'
âLethal. That's what it is.'
I asked him if he spoke French and he didn't reply. He showed me the cargo boats below, black little cuts in the sea, impossible to get in perspective. We also saw white ferries, but from 3000 feet up, on waves, they looked like foam.
After a while, we came to islands but I couldn't tell if they were big or small, or which one was Sark. I didn't know what to look for. When I asked, Fred said the one with a beach like a scar was Herm. And the other one, no, not very good at geography are you, that one's France.
Finally, there she was. That's how Fred said it: âThere she is.'
We saw Sark from the side. It rose out of the sea like a soufflÃ©, with, all around the edge, these coloured-in cliffs, and on top a patchwork quilt of fields, stitched with hedges. I couldn't make out a single house. Because of where the sun was, the sea on one side shone, half-blue, half-pink, and on the other was almost black.
And then we flew past, on towards Guernsey. I didn't know we couldn't land directly on Sark because it's illegal, or that we couldn't even fly over it under 1000 feet, because we weren't royalty. Later, people in the Bel Air would tell us with dark eyes that even in a life-or-death emergency, air ambulances couldn't land, but I didn't know that then. In that plane, I was on my way to a word â Sark â an empty box, thin as paper, tinny.
Maybe I'd half heard of Farquart & Fathers, and that there were no cars â something about the war, Nazi occupation, feudalism. But I didn't know that even the doctor drove a tractor, or that we would steal internet and scallops. I didn't know anything.
I could tell straight away that Sofi didn't like me. I liked her as soon as I saw her. It's strange trying to remember when you didn't know someone, especially if they really didn't like you, and later they do. I want to shake myself and say, âBe normal, why aren't you being normal?' I try to remember it for next time I meet someone new â âJust be normal; go straight to normal,' but it's never like that.
Sofi didn't like me because I was wearing a suit jacket and using the voice I saved for my parents' friends. Also, she said, it was because I said no to a slice of her cake. She said she thought,
and plotted putting extra butter on my peas to make me fat. Still, I liked her right away.
But I hadn't got to Sofi and her kitchen yet, and I should say things in the order in which they happened.
Fred landed in slapping winds at Guernsey Aero Club. There was no passport control (âCustoms only come if they don't like your surname,' Fred said as he yanked my bag out of the hold, then clarified: âArabs.'); just a taxi waiting, a people carrier â pearly purple â full of tree air fresheners and loud radio.
We drove out of the airport, so that first time I only saw Guernsey through glass. The roads were thinner than on the mainland, the pavements like pencils, but the buildings were proper ones, like you'd see in normal cities, and there were full-size offices, with proper signs, where real people must have worked. I don't know why I found this surprising, but I did. I just expected an island to be different. The driver played his radio, and hummed different tunes on top. He didn't try and talk to me and I was happy with that. A feeling kept on coming in waves; someone was running a rolling pin over the inside of me, making it so thin it almost went away. That was panic, I think.
I wanted the taxi to go slower. I prayed for red lights, and zebra crossings, and things that get in the way, but the singing driver drove me straight to St Peter's Port, and right up to the seawall. âDefoe's lot,' he shouted out the window. âCan I whack the boxes on?' Then he swung out of his car and hoisted my cargo onto the white and navy ferry for Sark.
It was called the
and it didn't leave for another thirty minutes. At first I was alone with the ticket man. I wondered if I could ask him questions. I wanted to know what Sark was like, and if he lived there. I wanted to know if he knew the Defoes. I wanted to know if it would all be OK. But I sat on a plastic seat below deck and wrote texts I never sent. I thought that if I tried to speak it would come out funny. I tasted my cheeks and even though I was still, I tasted iron, as if I'd been sprinting. Other people got on the boat, but nobody else was travelling alone.
It took all day to get there. By the time I set foot on Sark, it was evening and the air was heavy with fog. There's a lighthouse on the west side of the island, and its foghorn is thick and low. It only sounded twice that summer, but my first night was one of them. There was still brightness in the sky, but it couldn't light the sea any more, and I remember thinking that the water looked like tar. I pulled my suitcase up the harbour steps and I could have been anywhere. I'd had too much coffee and I hadn't had lunch. I could smell my mum on the lapel of the jacket, and I could smell the sea. I leant my bag against the cold harbour wall, and waited.