Well, there we are then. Nobody left but me and thee.
I’ll make myself comfortable, if you don’t mind. If I bundle up my tunic I daresay it will make a passable cushion – pop it down there in the light from the doorway – yes! That’s champion. Still not so stiff that I can’t sit Red Indian style. There we are – Akela would be proud of me. I’ll loosen my boots too, if you can pardon my stockinged feet. One does sweat so in this infernal heat.
I’m sorry, old chap, I’m being dashed insensitive. There are you with nothing but an old blanket and a bit of straw to lie on, and here’s me rattling on about my creature comforts. My apologies. It’s a good thing you can’t understand a word I’m saying, isn’t it?
At least there’s something here I can offer you. The Major’s left us with a double set of rations, look. Get something inside your stomach and the world soon seems better, that’s what my mother always used to say. Now, you turned your nose up at the chocolate the lads offered you earlier, didn’t you – I don’t suppose you fancy a bit now? No. No, fair enough. It’s this American filth they give us, not a patch on good old Fry’s, I’m afraid. Let’s see – can I interest you in a can of bully beef? It’s meat, old fellow, MEAT. Let me just pull back the key, and – oh, that’s piqued your interest, hasn’t it? Golly, you really must be desperate. Here, have a sniff of – oh, I say! Well, I was going to spark up the burner and cook it up for us both, but… not to worry. You tuck in. I’m not sure it’ll do you much good like that, but. Mind you, they tell me you fellows eat raw fish. Iron constitutions you must have. But I suppose it’s all a matter of what you’re used to.
Gosh, you made short work of that, didn’t you? You really must be famished. No, I don’t think so, we’ll save the other. No telling just how long we’re going to wind up here, see. The Major reckoned they’d be back across in the morning, soon as they’ve got hold of some sort of cutting tools to spring you out of this place, but I’m not sure I like his chances with the locals on the last island. Not fully co-operative, you might say. I suppose one can’t exactly blame them, after five years of war, but I can’t exactly see some friendly blacksmith raising up his brawny arm to offer up his best hammer and bellows. Do you even have blacksmiths out here? I suppose you must do, someone had to make those bars after all. Funny, you think of that as an English thing. Under a spreading chestnut-tree and all that. Not too many of those round here either! Although you’d never go short of coconuts.
No, decidedly unfriendly lot, they were. Did their best to stop us coming over here. Whole group of them chattering like monkeys and capering about on the quayside when they realised where we were headed. Quite a turnaround from before, you’ve never seen such a sulky mob. Mind you I suppose you can hardly blame the poor blighters. If it was a battalion of Hitler’s stormtroopers marching up Clacton High Street to tell us it was Winston that had run up the white flag and they were running the show now, I doubt we’d be precisely pleased to see them either. No denying it once they saw the pamphlets, mind. Not with your emperor’s own message and the photos of your chaps on board the boat, there was no denying them. I say, old chap, what have you done with the one we gave you? Never mind, I’ve another here in my knapsack. And plenty more where that’s come from: we’ve got to cover every island in this whole sector and get these into all hands possible. ‘Mopping up’, they call it, making sure everyone’s properly read, learned and inwardly digested the good news. Or bad news rather, from their P.O.V.
You’ll want to give it a proper look-over, it’s got all the details. At least, they tell me it does, it’s pure gobbledygook to me of course. There we go. I’ll point the torch thataways so you can see: it’s starting to get a bit dim in here. D’you know, I don’t think it will ever stop tickling me how you fellows read things all topsy-turvy. That’s it, start at the back. Ha! There we are, you’ve got to the picture. That’s General MacArthur, for our lot – well, he’s a Yank, but they more than came good for us in the end – and there’s your top general too, and your foreign minister. That’s right, you’ve got it! Well, that makes a change. You’re the first one that’s smiled when they saw it. It’s usually wailing and gnashing of teeth. The Major even says there’s been a few cases in other sectors of fellows running themselves clean through with swords rather than accept the surrender. Not you though. You look like Christmas has come early. I suppose that means they haven’t put in the details of how it came about. God help you when you find out about that.
I wonder if that’s what you are, then, some sort of Conchie? I suppose that would explain why they brought you out here and locked you up in this place. Seems a tad extreme, though. Desert island and a prison cell. I suppose they weren’t going to take any chance of you doing a Robinson Crusoe and building yourself a boat. Not so far to the next island, though it’s fast-running water between them. Quite a job we had getting over here.
Our conchies we just put to work on the land, which at least means they’re some use. But then as the Major keeps reminding us, your lot are a very different people. Take your honour a lot more seriously, matter of life and death. Unless, of course, that big grin on your face is because you were secretly on our side all along. Some sort of spy, were you? Not a very good one, if you ended up here. Mind you, that would surely be a shooting offence for your lot as well as ours. Jerry certainly puts ‘em up against the wall when he catches one. Oh, who knows. Someone surely had it in for you, that’s clear. And it’s not like you can tell me even if you wanted to, is it?
Ah well. My enemy’s enemy is my friend and all that. Or maybe we’ve all got to stop that sort of thinking altogether, if anything good’s going to come out of this whole damned mess. In victory, magnanimity; in peace, goodwill. That’s what the Padre’s always preaching at us. I say, you certainly took agin him, didn’t you? The Major thought he was the ideal man to come in and try to talk to you, but you weren’t having any of it. Quite took the wind out of his sails, it did. ‘I’ve never seen a reaction like it’, he kept saying, over and over again, fiddling away at his cross so hard I thought he’d have it off the chain. Funny you weren’t like that with any of the rest of us. He’s not such a bad stick, really, the Padre. Insisted he should be the one that stopped here with you till the morning, even after that. Thankfully the Major made him see sense. Asked for a volunteer, and I stepped up quick-sharpish: fancied this a sight more than I did another trip in that rusty bucket, and back again the other way. Fact is, my sea-legs aren’t all they could be. I get quite bilious after just a few minutes in open water. What a mission to end up on, eh? Just my luck. We’ve got to tour every island in this whole damn archipelago in the next few weeks, make sure there’s no-one left lurking in the woods and still at battle stations. ‘Mopping up’. I ask you.
Mind you, I wasn’t exactly beating off the competition when the Major put the call out. ‘Rather you than me,’ that’s what a couple of the boys said to me as they were getting ready to disembark. Bill Greenwood said he wouldn’t spend the night here for all the tea in China. Mind you, you’d given him quite a fright: he was the first one to come in here and spot you when we’d pretty much given up all thought of finding anyone living on this island. Came running out like he’d been bitten on the B.T.M., shrieking ‘there’s a woman in there, Sarge, she looks like a witch!’ Forgive him, silly sod, but that’s what he thought when he picked you up in his torchbeam with all that hair hanging down. You’ll see it yourself when we can get you in front of a mirror.
You’ll be glad to be rid of it, I shouldn’t wonder. You must have been locked up in here a good long stretch for it to get to that length. I mean, supposing you chaps’ hair grows at the same speed ours does, that must be, I don’t know, ten years’ growth or more. Nails too, eurgh. No offence meant. I had no idea they got so sharp as they grew out, is all.
That takes us back long before the war in that case, doesn’t it? So there must be some other reason you were put in here. Ah well. We’ll find out, if we ever manage to get a translator-johnny sent out. Not that there’s much chance of that in the forseeable. ‘All tied up on the mainland’, that’s what the Colonel said. ‘Just show ‘em the pamphlets, they explain everything in the lingo they’ll understand.’ Tell that to the crowd yammering away at us on the quayside. Major had to fire a shot in the air before they would back off. And I suppose we’ll never know what it was they thought was so important to say to us.
Think I’ll get up and stretch my legs. Oof. Not much left of the day now. Beautiful sunset. Really lights up the room, look, orange right the way through to the back wall of your cell there. No? Not keen? Well, no wonder, lord knows how many of these you’ve seen through this doorway. A kind of torture, I’d imagine. Seeing the outside world and not being able to get to it. It’s like they’ve designed it specially, isn’t it, this door and your cell door lining up like they do, and the waves lapping on the sand just beyond. Look at that, sun spreading out all golden on the sea. That’s one more thing I shall never get over, how quick the sun goes down in these parts. Blink and you miss it. I shall get the stove going once it’s gone, make us both a brew, see if we can’t find something else you fancy eating. I’ll just take a moment to enjoy this.
I may as well tell you this, since you won’t understand me anyway, but there’s something Rosie – Rosie’s my sweetheart back at home – something she always writes me in her letters. It’s soppy, no doubt, but there’s a truth to it after all, and I like it. She always says ‘Remember to look at the sunset, and remember that as it’s going down where you are, that very same sun is coming up to shine on me here, and we will always be together.’ And she’s right. There’s been plenty of times these last few years I’ve had no certainty I’ll still be around to see the sun when it comes up again. But I’ve made it through. And it won’t be too long now before Rosie and I are together in the sunlight again.
Just the very last of it now, glowing red on the horizon. And the sea looks like it’s burning. And now it’s gone.
Right then, torch on and I’ll – oh! My dear fellow, how did you - ? But if you could open it the whole time, why on earth – ?
Some sort of prank, was it? Well, it’s a dashed unfunny one if so. We could both of us have been away hours ago with the rest of them, if you hadn’t decided to play the damn fool. You’ve put us all to a great inconvenience, not just me but the whole damn company. So you can stop grinning at me in that queer way.
What’s this? What are you trying to -? Embrace? Well, you’ve hardly put me in a friendly mood, I must say. But if you insist – in peace: goodwill, yes, alright, I suppose – we can
My god! What are you -?
Augh! Let go! Let go I say! Why would you bite -?
Oh god no god no god