It was nearly eleven when I awoke the next day. I reached across the tent feeling for Sinead but no matter how far I reached I couldn't feel her. My eyes opened and I searched with my eyes for her but apart from myself the tent was empty. I lay on my back, my eyes getting used to the brighter light that was being defused through the canvas. My thoughts went back to last night, and I really couldn't stop myself smiling as I thought about the events.
It appeared a touch cooler today and I pulled on a hoodie over my t-shirt. Glancing across, I saw Sinead had left her clothes scattered all over as usual. Another of the things I loved about her, her total disorganisation. Shaking my head I opened the flap and looked out. After such a good day yesterday, the usual British weather had come into play again, the weather from last night following us down the country and a fine mist hung around the clearing. Its dampness could be felt from inside the tent. Maybe today was a good day to head south.
I wandered over to the fire area where I could see everyone was sitting. I’d got about halfway across the clearing when Zee sauntered across to me.
‘So Squonk, marriage eh?’ she said. We locked eyes, each seemed to be searching for something hidden behind our smiles.
‘News gets around quick,’ I said smiling.
‘Are you sure?’ she said after a pause looking deep into my eyes.
It’s a question I’d asked myself since early morning, did I love her enough to spend the rest of my life with her? Well if I kept getting myself into situations like last night, I didn’t think that was going to last for long.
‘Yes’, I said after a long pause.
‘Congratulations,’ she said hugging me, ‘Look after that one Squonk, she’s not as strong as you think’
She linked her arm through mine and we wandered towards the fire.
‘So when’s the big day?’ Ahlaam asked
‘Can I be a bridesmaid?’ EH asked
I shrugged my shoulders, not knowing what to answer.
‘As soon as we can,’ Sinead said happily, ‘you can all be bridesmaids’
‘Pull over at the services Squonk, we could do with a break’ Ahlaam indicated as we passed the sign on the M1 motorway.
It had been a long and frankly tedious journey down country. Jacqueline had turned up at about midday and presented us with the keys to a beaten old people carrier. Quite where she kept getting these wrecks of cars was a mystery to me. This one at least had seats that were relatively comfortable, even if the engines noise had grated our ears after the first hour.
It was early evening as we pulled into the car park at the services. I smelt the air as we stepped out of the car. Not fresh, a hint of petrol vapour on the light breeze, but better than the stuffiness in the car, days without a real bath or wash didn’t help and body odour although masked the best we could still was a problem. After a few days I was beginning to fantasise over a hot soapy bath.
I sat sipping my coffee and thinking about returning home. It had been a shock to find that there was an author’s camp relatively close to where I used to live, you never think that the misery was so close to home. I hoped that the cats were OK. The neighbour I thought would feed them and look after them but I wondered though if I would ever see them again. I suddenly started to well up inside, emotions getting the better of me. Tiredness didn’t help but I started to wish I was back there, wanting to return to the normality of my life. From the moment I’d left home, my life had changed irrevocably. I knew I could never go back to my cosy life again. I’d be on the run while ever these Govians were in power. I wondered if I’d ever be truly free, whether I’d be alive a year from now. I felt a tear break cover from my eye and make a dash down my cheek. I quickly wiped it away hoping that no-one else saw its downward journey.
‘It’s OK Squonk,’ a quiet voice said beside me.
I glanced across to see EH sitting next to me and saw the same sort of sorrow etched on her tender face. Instinctively I placed my arm around her and hugged her. EH was the youngest of us all, she’d left home six months ago and had been living in the camp ever since, not seeing her parents in all that time. I could only imagine how she must feel, of the trauma it must be causing her inside. I felt a sense of shared unhappiness, of things that were never quite said but just understood by the small group. EH burrowed her head into my shoulders and I could hear her gently shake as tears found her eyes. Looking around our small band I saw the same look of grief and loss on all their faces, see them looking inwardly, remembering their families. I couldn’t help myself, but let my tears flow freely, life was so unfair. I’d always imagined meeting my friends would be a joyous occasion but now the despair I felt was so intense.
‘It’s OK Squonk, we know what you’re feeling. The sense that your life has changed, the realisation that you can never ever go back’, Ahlaam said slowly, ‘We’re the lucky ones though, we have each other. We may not see our real brothers and sisters, but we are strong for one another. What was it Dumbledore said “Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, when one only remembers to turn on the light.” ‘
The quote hung above us, its poignancy taking on a new significance since the death of the real-life Hagrid. The Govians had not only taken away our books, our culture and our heritage. They’d also split families and made orphans of teenagers. The anger I felt at that moment was totally alien to my nature. I wanted to hit them hard, hit them where it hurt. They were hitting the heart of my movellian family. I slammed my fist down on the table sending drinks flying across the surface.
‘That’s right Squonk, channel that anger into the cause.’ Prez said, ‘we’ll beat these bastards… or end up dying in the process’
‘What’s up?’ Sinead said brightly returning from the toilet blissfully unaware of the underlying despondency, caught in her own world.
‘Life Sinead, just this awful f…… life,’ Lily said with feeling I’d never have guessed from her demeanour. The strain had even hit the normally reliable level headed girl.
Sinead looked quizzically at us as we sat. It was obvious that she didn’t understand what was happening. She was still happy and pre occupied with the engagement.
‘Come on’, Ahlaam said eventually, ‘let’s get going.
Luckily for me, the place we were due to stop for the night was the other side of Barnsley, far away from the haunts that I knew. Jacqueline had managed to arrange for a friendly farmer to lend us her barn, which was situated high up on the Pennines miles away from the nearest house or farm. I pulled up outside just as the sun was setting in the west. It had been a hard gruelling day, both physically and mentally. The views from the barn were stunning. Towards the north the whole of the West Yorkshire basin stretched out below us carpeting the floor with urban sprawl. Five power stations expelled their pollution high up into the atmosphere in huge white plumes of steam.
Moorland stretched in every direction. The sweet smell of the purple carpet of heather filling the area with an intoxicating aroma of perfume that hit you when the doors were opened. The barn wasn’t much. The farmer had left us a stove and some rudimentary supplies. A few bales of hay, dry and crisp inside lay down one side of the barn, but the rest of the floor was just a rough earth base. A faint but distinct smell of animal droppings filled the air, not unpleasant but enough to invade into your nostrils.
‘Well, I’m not sleeping in this pig sty,’ Prez said lifting up her sleeping bag and walking out.
‘It’s sheep muck, not pigs,’ yelled back Ahlaam, ‘she has a point though. It’s a nice night, let’s sleep outside.’
Later we all lay in our sleeping bags on the springy heather. The sun had vacated the sky and a slender ribbon of stars stretched across the sky. The moon hung like a light to the east, almost full, the craters on its surface visible and pock marking the surface. It was hard to imagine that man had once walked fleetingly across its face, it looked untouched and virginal. It had been in our night skies for millions of years, slowly moving across the heavens, a silent passenger observing all the grief and trauma from eons ago.
‘They say that if two people look up at the moon at the same time, no matter how far apart they are they feel the connection,’ Lily said mournfully. We lay there, all close, for what seemed like ages. I don’t know what the others were thinking, but I thought of the cats I’d left behind and then of my father. I’d lost him a few years before. He’d made a valiant struggle against the disease that is Leukaemia, but sadly had gone down fighting, ironically capitulating a year to the day after he’d been diagnosed, the day incidentally after my birthday. I always thought he’d fought on for that extra day, so that my birthday wouldn’t forever be tinged with sadness. Sinead was asleep, gently snoring beside me. I couldn’t once again hold back the tears.
I heard a few sniffles from where Lil, Zee and EH were laying and worked my across towards them. We huddled together, each providing silent comfort for the others, the touch of others a comfort. I felt Zee’s hand grasp mine and squeeze itThe night sky continued its regal procession through the night oblivious to our presence. In the greater universe we were just pinpricks on the humanity of the world.