Authors: Cathy MacPhail
Thinking about it, there was only Liam. He might
surprise Zesh. Now that there was no Axel in the picture, and that was what he had hoped for, no Axel, Liam felt free. He stretched himself out, his legs under the seat. And he opened his eyes for one last look. His mum and dad and his two brothers were standing by the car, waving. He waved back. There were Zesh's parents too. His dad looked as arrogant as Zesh himself. Standing erect, he only nodded at Zesh, but his mother kissed her fingers and placed them tenderly against the window of the bus. Zesh looked embarrassed by the gesture. The redhead with the big boobs could only be Fiona's mother. She was as loud as her daughter. Jumping up and down and jiggling all over the place. âCheerio, hen. Don't do anything I wouldn't do!'
Fiona peeked over the bag she held over her face. âWould she no' give anybody a red face? She's a total embarrassment!'
Considering Fiona had purple hair, Liam thought she had a bit of a cheek saying that.
And the fat woman, well, she just had to be Angie's mum. She looked so much like her. She was standing beside Angie's dad, holding his hand. Her expression was full of concern. No wonder. Their daughter was sitting beside the dreadful Fiona.
Mr Marks jumped on the bus. âRight, is everybody here?'
He looked relieved that the âeverybody' didn't include Axel. He checked his watch. âI think we've waited long enough for Axel O'Rourke. Let's get this show on the road then.'
Yeah, Liam was thinking, fast, before Axel does turn up.
There was a cheer as the door folded shut. The waving grew frantic, as if the parents thought their children were off to the wars and not on a school trip.
The bus had just begun to move off when a car roared into view. Allan's car. Liam recognised it. Allan was Axel's mother's latest boyfriend. His heart sank. The car drew to a halt and Axel was bundled out. He didn't want to go either. You could see that in his face. Mr Marks spotted him. For a moment it looked as if he wouldn't stop the bus. He did, but very reluctantly. There was an ominous sigh from everyone.
The door slid open and Axel jumped on. His face broke into a sarcastic smile. âBreathe easy, folks, I'm here.'
I saw death that day, so much death. The bodies of my comrades floating in the sea beside me, the smell of charred flesh. Part of me wanted to give up and let death take me too, but I fought on, swimming against the tide in the ice-cold water, heading towards a gloomy shore. If I could reach the land, I would be safe.
It would perhaps have been better had I died in the water.
* * *
âIt looks like a prisoner of war camp to me.' Fiona threw her rucksack down in disgust. âI was expecting a five-star hotel at least.'
She glared at the low corrugated-iron building that hugged the compound. The windows were open and bright yellow curtains fluttered in the breeze. There were flowers blooming along the borders, but there was no disguising the fact â it was a corrugated-iron building.
It was bad enough most of them had been sick on the boat coming over, but to arrive finally at this!
âIt's been here for years, Fiona.' Mr Marks lifted her rucksack and pushed it back into her arms. âBut it's been all modernised inside. Twin-bedded rooms for the girls, and four-bedded rooms for the boys.'
Liam shouted out, âThat's sex discrimination, sir.'
Mr Marks didn't even bother to disagree with him. âI know. It is. Now, come on.'
Angie came running up beside him. âDoes that mean me and Fiona can share, sir?'
Fiona tripped up at that point. Almost fell flat on her face with the shock. Share â with fat Angie. Now this trip really was turning into a disaster.
âAre you sure that's what you want, Angie?' Mr Marks asked.
Are you sure that's what
want, Angie? Hey, Mr Marks, how about asking me? Fiona wanted to shout out. She remembered Angie's parents, the worried looks on their faces when the bus was driving off. She'd made such a bad impression â¦ deliberately.
âSure your mum and dad won't mind?' she said. And she knew by the flash in Angie's eyes that they would. She had been warned against Fiona. Now, why didn't
girls like Angie listen to their parents? They knew best. Didn't she understand that? Fiona was a bad influence, or at least she intended to be.
âYou're my best friend, Fiona.'
Another shock. What made her think I was any friend at all, Fiona asked herself. She glanced at her teacher and noticed a tiny smirk on his face.
âWell, of course you two girls can share.' He said it with some satisfaction.
Angie jumped in glee, clapped her hands together. âIt'll be great. Just like the Chalet School girls.'
Fiona curled her lip. âJust like the what?'
âThe Chalet School. My mum's favourite books. They're great. Come on, I'm dying to see our room, Fiona.'
As they stepped into the building Fiona gave Mr Marks one of her coldest stares.
A big moose of a woman lumbered towards them. She had lots of black hair, even on her face, and she was wearing shorts. Big fashion mistake, Fiona thought. She was smiling eagerly at them.
âHello, Mr Marks. Lovely to see you again â¦ and so, this is the latest bunch?'
Mr Marks smiled back and shook her hand. âThis is
Miss Lawton, girls. Any problems you can go to her.'
Fiona decided to get her own back on him. âAh, so this is why you were so eager to get here, sir. Wee romance going on is there?'
Mr Marks actually blushed. âEnough, Fiona, you can get detention even here.'
Fiona whisked out an imaginary notebook and began jotting down on it.
âWhat are you doing?' Liam asked her.
âJust keeping a list of everything that happens here. Then I'm taking it to the European Court of Human Rights.'
Liam laughed at her. âFirst you've got to be human.'
Miss Lawton slapped Fiona on the back and almost flattened her. The woman bellowed with laughter. It was the only way to describe the loud guffaw that came from her. Fiona hoped she wasn't going to be this cheerful for the whole two weeks.
âThey've all tried that one, haven't they, Mr Marks? And we always answer, “We're just good friends”.'
What a wit, Fiona thought.
Angie was dancing about enthusiastically. âCan we see our room, Miss Lawton?' She linked her arm in Fiona's. âMe and Fiona are sharing.'
âBetter have a reinforced bed for her. They're not used to elephants sleeping in them.' It was Axel, his rucksack slung over his shoulder.
Angie gasped. A little flush came to her cheek. Fiona threw down her rucksack and rushed at Axel. With both hands she gave him a push that sent him reeling against the wall.
âWell, they better have a rock for you to crawl under, 'cause they're not used to snakes either.'
âYou're lucky you're a lassie. I'd thump anybody else for that.'
Fiona urged Axel towards her. âCome on, big guy. Try it. Think I couldn't take ye?'
Mr Marks jumped between them. âI don't believe you, Fiona. You're worse than the boys!' He pointed down the corridor. âNow, get to your room!'
Fiona threw one more defiant dark look at Axel, then she turned and, lifting her rucksack, strode down the corridor. Angie was already by her side, her spirits lifted again because her âbest friend' had stuck up for her once more.
Liam watched them go down the corridor together. One thing about that Fiona, she had plenty of spunk.
But of course, she'd known Axel all her life, lived in the same mean streets that he did. Same kind. His eyes went back to Axel and he was watching them too. Pure malice in that look. He'd get Fiona some way. He'd pick his moment and â¦ Liam shrugged away the thought. It was nothing to do with him.
Mr Marks began allocating rooms for the rest of the group. Boys in one wing of the building, girls in the other. Please, Liam kept praying, don't let me be in with Axel.
But he was. Him and Axel and Zesh, all sharing. Zesh was even more alarmed at the thought than Liam was. So much for his prayers. No one ever listened to them anyway.
âWhy have I got to share with him, sir?' Zesh was angry now.
Mr Marks only sighed. âThere is another school coming, and all the rooms have been allocated. And Axel will have to behave himself. I'm in the adjoining room. I'll be keeping a firm watch on everything.'
âThis is going to be one awful trip!' Zesh moaned.
âAt least we agree about somethin',' Axel said. âThis place is a dump.'
Mr Marks turned on him suddenly. âWhy don't you
ever give things a chance, Axel? This is an opportunity for you. You're not even paying for it. Rick Glancy lost his place just so you could get here. The least you could do is make the most of it.'
âMake the most of this?' Axel sniggered. âDevil's Island would be better than this.'
âAre you never enthusiastic about anything, Axel? Life is a wonderful gift, can you not see that?'
Axel stared at the teacher as if he was an idiot. âLife's crap,' he said eventually.
Mr Marks took a step back from him. âTell that to somebody who's dying of cancer, Axel. You'll find they would swap places with you anytime. They fight for just one more day of this crap life. And people like you â¦ who've got it all in front of you, are just going to waste it and never appreciate it. Your kind make me sick.'
Axel pushed past him. âThat the sermon finished?' He sounded angry.
Mr Marks was angry too, and it was then that Liam remembered Mr Marks's wife. She had died, just a couple of years ago, and she'd had cancer.
By the time Liam reached their room Axel had naturally picked the best bed, by the window, with a view
down into the woods. Birds were chirping outside and there was a strong smell of manure.
Axel slammed down the window. âThat is sick. Cannot be good for you, breathing that in. And if that bird keeps belting that noise out, I'm going to shoot it.' With that he flopped on to the bed and turned his face to the wall.
Liam took the bed as far away from him as possible. At that moment, two weeks away from school didn't sound good at all.
âYou always stick up for me, Fiona.' Angie hadn't shut up about it since they'd come into the room. She loved the yellow gingham curtains fluttering at the window and the matching duvets on the beds. And she would keep going on about this zonking Chalet School. Now she was back to her ânew best friend' routine.
âIt was nothing to do with you, Angie,' Fiona tried to tell her. Useless. The girl never listened. âI just don't like Axel O'Rourke.'
âBut you always know how to say the right thing at the right time. Do you think you could teach me to do that?'
If I could get a word in, Angie, Fiona thought.
Angie didn't wait for her answer. âYou don't think I'm
too fat, do you?'
Now, this was a tricky one. You looked at Angie and a tub of lard sprang to mind. Couldn't exactly tell her that though, could she?
âMy mum says I've just got a slow metabolism.'
Slow? It's come to a halt, Angie.
âI'm a difficult age. When I get older I'll slim right down.'
Like your mother, Angie.
âBut while we're here, I'm going to watch what I eat. Exercise. You'll help me, won't you?'
âOh, you can rely on me.' The sarcasm was lost on Angie.
âI love school trips.'
That was when Fiona remembered something Angie had told her a while ago. âYou said the last school trip you went on was a disaster. What happened?'
Angie flopped on to the bed beside Fiona. The springs made a very funny noise. âIt really wasn't my fault. It was worse than a disaster. It was a tragedy. Somebody got killed.'
Mr Marks seemed to think that a trek in the hills was a joy. There he was, striding out ahead of them, drawing in great lungfuls of air, every now and then turning round to them and calling out, identifying plants and birdcalls for them, trying to get them to appreciate the wonders of nature, the scenery, the hills, the view.
âListen, that's a willow warbler. Isn't that the sweetest sound you ever heard?'
âLook, a buzzard. They call it a tourist eagle, did you know that?'
âThere's a lark. Have you ever seen anything more beautiful?'
âMmm, and that lovely coconut smell. That's gorse.'
He stopped at the top of the hill looking down over the sea to the magnificent cliffs of the island. âWhat do you think of that? The Doon, they call it. There are
caves in there, caves that burrow right under this island, a catacomb of caves.'
âHave you been down those caves?' Zesh asked him.
âWonderful experience,' was his answer.
âAre you not frightened you might get lost in them, sir?' This was Angie, hanging on the teacher's every word.
âNot many people get lost in the caves. The inland caves mostly come out into this magnificent sea cave.'
âJust like doing the toilet. In one end and out the other.'
The teacher turned on Axel. âHave you always got to be so coarse!'
âYou said â¦ not many people, sir.' Zesh took a step closer. âSo, some people have gone in and not come out again?'
Mr Marks didn't answer that one. Instead he turned to Liam. âLiam,' he said, âyou can draw. Have you ever seen anything like this?'
âGet lost, sir,' Liam called back. Truthfully, he hadn't seen anything quite like this before. The sunlight on the heathered hills seemed to cover them with a purple gauze. And the Doon, with the sea crashing against its rocks. It was breathtaking, but he could never admit
that to Mr Marks. Certainly not with Axel watching him. Axel gave him a punch now.