Under instructions to behave and be back at the minibus for four o’clock we all wandered off into the town. We’d been dropped off at the top of the hill and had to walk down the steep hill into the town. It was the sort of place my grandmother, god bless her, would have called quaint. Little houses bunched together along narrow alleyways. The main street went down to the sea front winding it’s way down often not much more than a car in width at times. Off it ran snickets, small cobbled or flag stoned walkways that led to houses clinging to the side of the hill. A stream babbled its way down the hillside, beside the road at times, emerging into the sea through a tunnel under the sea front square.
It was one of those places that is quite exciting to visit. The adventurous side of you wants to go down all these little snickets finding out where they went. While most of the class disappeared into a shop half way down the hill, anxious to spend their money on energy drinks and sweets, Mai and I turned off down one of the snickets, the one that led towards the museum. We both wanted to go back and have another look at the photo, although we were both reluctant to draw too much attention to it.
The snicket that led to the museum was cobbled. Leading down between the houses before veering to the right into a small square. An antiquarian book shop, housed in an old chapel was on one side of the square. It looked interesting and warranted closer investigation. Mai and my love of books meant this was going to be a big draw for us. However our attention was on the small house on the other side. It had once been a couple of fishermen’s cottages that now were converted into a museum of the town as well as the life of a fisherman. It was actually a fascinating place, learning about the ‘flither girls’ and the wife who made the creels. It was also where we’d spotted the photo.
We pushed the door open, bursting into the initial room as the heavy wooden door gave way to our pressure. There was that usual musty smell that old houses and museums have, a faint trace of damp with an underlying sense that something had died behind one of the exhibits. The place had the air of decay to it, like it was in need of an overhaul from the bottom up. I guess the funding wasn’t there, after all they didn’t charge for admission.
I nodded at the man stood behind the desk. He had been here yesterday when we went with the school. I guessed he was retired and this was how he spent his time, he certainly looked old enough to have been around long before this museum was founded.
‘Ah you’ve come back have you?’ he said convivially to us.
‘Yes, it was very interesting, but we didn’t see everything.’ Mai replied
‘Well if you have any questions, I’ll try and answer them, or if I can’t my mother will be able to, she’s been around here longer than me.’ He said looking around for someone, ‘she was here a minute ago, seems to have disappeared though.’
‘Thanks,’ I said.
We exited the room and climbed the narrow stairway that led to the first floor. I followed Mai into the left hand room. It seemed bigger than it had the previous evening with just the two of us in there. The photo of the three of us was no longer hanging from it’s hook on the wall. At first I wondered if we’d imagined it, but there was once again there was the mark where the frame had hung.
‘It’s gone,’ I said oblivious to the fact that of course it was.
‘I wonder if it’s fallen down the back of the cabinet, just watch the door whilst I look,’Mai said quietly
I stood by the door and half watched through it while Mai tried to move the small cabinet.
‘Damn, it won’t move,’ Mai said, ‘come and give me a hand.’
I crossed the room and tried to help her move it. It wouldn’t budge from its position even with both of us pushing.
‘I’ll see if I can get my arm around the back,’ Mai said kneeling down on the floor. Feeling with her hands, she stretched far into the cavity between the wall and the cabinet. Have you ever noticed when someone is doing this, their eyes go glassy as if their eyes are now in the tips of their fingers. Mai also had her tongue sticking through her lips at one side. She always did this when she was concentrating, but as she was so self conscious about it, I never mentioned it.
‘No photo here, but …’ her voice trailed off as she reached further into the crevice.
‘Got you,’ she said eventually withdrawing her hand. In her hand was a small piece of paper, a small piece of blutak stuck to the back.
‘Now that’s interesting,’ she said reading it. She handed it to me and stood up, brushing her clothing down from imaginary dirt.
I looked at the paper. The print was obviously old and had faded, made sometime in the past on a typewriter just said ‘Three Refugees from Sheffield’ and underneath ‘1939’.
‘Do you think this is the missing label that was under the photo?’ I asked
‘Yes, I guess it may be,’ she said guardedly, ‘at least we know now the year it was taken, it still doesn’t explain how our faces were on it.’
‘Look here as well,’ I said suddenly looking at the photo of the school class.
Mai looked at the wall and gasped. The photo had changed, it was now one from a year later and my face was missing from the newer one.
‘That’s odd,’ she said, ‘ let me look at your phone’
I passed it over and she looked at the photos I’d taken. They quite clearly showed what we had seen.
‘Come on, we’re not going to find anything else here are we?’ she mumbled, ‘lets go and get a coffee before we have to go back.’
We walked down the stairs and into the reception area.
‘Find what you wanted?’ the man asked.
‘Well you know upstairs with the display on the Second World War? There was a picture there the other day that’s missing now.’ Mai ventured.
‘Ah, my mum’s redoing that display with some newer photos,’ he replied, ‘she’s on some of the school ones.’
‘Ah OK, can we talk to her?’ Mai asked, ‘we’re very interested in the war years’
‘She seems to have disappeared, may have nipped back home. She’s ninety one and amazes me that she still manages to have such energy. She puts me to shame. If you’re around again, pop back in and I’m sure she’ll be here.’
‘Thanks’ we both said and went out into the square.
The weather had changed since we had been inside. Where once there had been blue skies, now fog swirled around the area. At times it was so thick that it made it impossible to see further than a few metres in front of us, at others it lifted and you could see the rooftops. It gave a real atmospheric feel to the place. You could imagine how it must have been in the past. The town had been a haven for smugglers in the distant past, I could almost make out figures in the shadows lifting their contraband up from the front.
We’d had a quick cup of coffee in a cafe near the front and then started back up the hill. It was an eerie feeling where we almost were walking in our own bubble, such was the thickness of the fog.