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Experiment 6


page 8


The hills rub their eyes and crawl slowly, unwillingly, from beneath their blankets of mist, dragged up by the rising sun. Below them, resting calmly within their circle, the harbour looks just as sleepy, the boats resting at their wharves with only flickers of movement to show that life is beginning again. On such a morning the world looks perfect - the sky washed clean, its glow spreading and becoming deeper as time passes, as if a bottle of sunlight had been spilt across it.

Down in the harbour below the hills the awakening is not so leisurely, especially down at the last wharf where a liner is being prepared to tear itself away from its rest. Eight o'clock in the morning. What a time to sail! Draped with assorted luggage, people bustle up and down the gangway, grumbling about the earliness of the hour and the rush to catch the boat, until the freshness of the morning wraps itself round them and silences their fuss. The hum of voices gets louder and louder - the last moments are still comfortably far away. The tears must be kept for their proper time. Even sadness must stick to the rules.

At the bottom of the gangway stand two people, waiting for the group in front of them to move on. Slowly they make their way up and on to the boat, where a steward rushes forward and relieves the man of his suitcases. Luggage for one. Only one is going with the boat but the same tenseness covers both - the boy going away and his companion staying here to push her life on until the time comes when she can go too. Down the stairs and through a maze of narrow passages they follow the confident steward until they arrive at a small cabin, a little box, neat and blank like an unused, printed form. Suitcases thud onto the floor as the steward is thanked and hurries out. Now the silence grips them, closes them into their own box, cut off from the bustling hum of the rest of the boat. Outside the porthole the dancing water is sharing a joke with the sun and the city, flung across its hills, is blinking in the clear light. But that is outside, the golden sun has no place in here. This is not the warmth of happiness but the cold shade of one going and one staying, the boy going now to chase his life in another country, the girl staying to count the days until her turn comes to be off to a different world.

page 9

"How long will it be, Joan? Two years? Three? That's not long to wait, really. And you'll still be studying and going on with everything else until you're free to come. It won't be long, honestly."

No, it won't be long. But watching someone else go, standing back and letting him go without question, that brings it home. That brings back all the restlessness, the longing to be going far from the clockwork life of working to learn and its accompaniment of frenzied activity. What peace can there be in her mind when she is ever looking forward and fighting the restlessness that wants to break through all the bonds that keep her here and be off, away to look for herself? But there is peace sometimes, months when the time flies by and life feels like an escalator going at three times its normal speed. She knows all this, knows that a few years is not a long time, knows that she is not going to live in the depths of misery all those years, but this is a moment when knowledge doesn't matter. Everything else is cancelled out by the bitterness of staying behind while someone else breaks loose.

"Why must I stay? What does it matter, staying here to struggle for a few letters to tell the world I've spent three years pulling other people's thoughts to pieces? What's the use?" She breaks off and pushes the fury away from her, looks up half-smiling. "Oh, doesn't matter! You're going, I'm staying here. But soon I'm coming. I'll catch you up. You won't be two years ahead of me again."

"No, not again. Soon you'll come."

"Peter, I'm going now. I'm not waiting for the boat to go, to stand here and watch you going. I don't want to stand on the wharf and weep for you. I'm going now."

Soon over, saying good-bye, unless you count the seconds as the hours they really are. Down the passage, up the stairs, down the gangway and then along the wharf, with only one look back at the boy standing up there looking after her. Soon over, just like pulling sticking plaster off your skin - steel yourself and tug, hard and quickly. It hurts less like that.

Along the road away from the harbour she walks, restlessness rising to anger, rage against the world that ties her here. People pass her, armoured in their ignorance, squashing their feelings into the bounds of convention. What do they know of this helpless fury, this force that drives against everyone and everything, that no-one can understand except the one who is page 10gone. Look, the blank faces go on their way. Oh to grab them, shake them, batter them into feeling something, anything, any feeling that will jerk them out of their cow-like complaisance, their bland determination not to see or feel the pins that will prick their balloons of self-satisfaction.

The road becomes steeper, leading on up the hill until it fades into a narrow path that twists on up to the top. She climbs quickly, hurries up the path until she stands looking over the trees and houses at the harbour below. Here there are no people, just the wind winding its fingers through her hair, blowing out the bitterness, calming the fever to a quieter longing. She borrows the words from it from someone else's mind - " 'When will you ever, Peace, wild wooddove, shy wings shut, Your round me roaming end, and under be my boughs? When, when, Peace, will you, Peace?' There goes the boat. He's going now and I'm still here. But soon, soon I'll come. This won't last for ever and then I'll be free, free to wander and come to my own life. It won't be long before I come to my 'pure peace' and leave the 'piecemeal peace' behind. But before that, what is there? 'Patience exquisite, That plumes to peace thereafter.' But I've no patience, I can't pour patience over my restlessness to smother it. But it passes just the same, and time passes too and I'm not unhappy most of the time. Impatient patience! Nothing exquisite about that. Work and wait, that's all."

The boat has nearly vanished round the point, the water making way for it as it carves its way through. From the hill she watches it go. Then she sits down on the grass and leans back, feeling the cool hands of the wind on her face. The houses on the hills, the water plated with light, the trees shivering in the wind spread out below her. The quietness, the sun and the wind rest her, leave her still to make her peace.