Q is for questions

The police station seat is cold. The steel feels like nicks of razor blades on my skin. As thin as I am now, the cold spreads through the fat below the surface. I shudder as the detective enters the room and he holds up his hand to apologise, as though the reaction was aimed at him. Perhaps it was. The ship was much warmer than this, even though they think that they have rescued me. I have no idea what day it is, or what time it is, though no doubt once the questioning starts I will become acutely aware of every second that passes. The detective loiters at the door, waiting for someone it seems. His hand rests on the handle, and when he opens it another detective enters. ‘Hello, Rachel,’ her South African accent breaks through. ‘I am Detective Anna Forster. You don’t have to be afraid with us.’ * The sea opens out in front of me. Ope tells me that these waters are deeper than the tropical ones we have been exploring and there is nothing but blue. The air is so fresh that it feels like a first breath every time I open my mouth. Although the colours of the tropics were something I had never seen before, I could not stand the moisture in the air. It reminded me of my schooling. Of the sticky classroom that became a sandwich room. The sweat from the pubescent boys seeped into my skin, but they were, at the time, my best friends. Their laughter I remember bringing joy to the smog of sweat. On-board the ship The Lost Boys have shown me a world beyond a Victorian grammar school. A world where I can light a fire, load a gun, and answer to no one but the open seas. * ‘So you were taken from the yacht?’ Forster asks. ‘I was on the yacht when they arrived, yes,’ I reply. She slides a sheet forwards and slowly turns it over. ‘Do you recognise this man?’ I almost do not, but my stomach betrays me, and so must my face because Forster tilts her head. His eyes are not the ones I know, there is defiance and anger behind them. I can feel his breath behind my ear. ‘Where is he now?’ ‘I cannot disclose that,’ Forster replies. ‘I would like a break.’ ‘Certainly,’ Forster says and they leave the room. I walk to the mirrored wall. It is a long time since I have seen my face, and I no longer recognise the person. Except, really, I feel like this is the person that I have always been and some imposter had masked me for most of my life. * When I was little our source of adventure had stemmed from hurried visits to late night newsagents when the electricity meter had run out. There was no warning when the house would be plunged into blackness, but as far as I can remember, and have reminisced about with my siblings, it was never during the day; it was only after the shadows were dancing beneath the England football flag. Alexandre—Ope to his close friends—had also been haunted by flags in his childhood. He was from Congo and had laughed deeply when I asked if it was from the guerrilla groups that owned the villages. ‘Darling, it was red, white and blue that haunted my dreams. From your Jack to the bullshit US Africa Command.’ My childhood of tinned stewing steak paled in comparison to the miles he had to walk to find fresh water. Miles amongst hidden landmines. * Ope finishes reading to me and rolls the pamphlet between his cracked palms. I had been force-fed Wordsworth, but listening to him recite I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud whilst sailing across the sea in a boat that was stolen from the Italian coastguard, I cannot help but have a new appreciation for his words. Or at least the tongue that speaks them, and kisses me at night. Ope hands me a glass of Zubrowka vodka. He rubs cinnamon around the rim with his forefinger, and then holds it out to me. I lick it off and he leans forward, to suck what is left from my tongue. He is the captain of the ship—Dalene. Michael calls his name and when he stands he ruffles my hair. Tentacles of an octopus are marked into his skin, and they travel up his arm, where a siren straddles the head. * The thing that most surprised me about Ope and the boys was the devout vegetarianism. His favourite was to have a heavy lunch and then wait until the stars rose before we had the evening meal. The men, all crocheted in deep black lines, sat together creating banquets of exquisite spices and vegetables. The boys sang to the moon, each picking up the beat in their own tribal tongues, with a unified chorus in French. Any implement to hand transformed into an instrument, and they had danced for me in just their underwear, teaching one another—a history that had in every case been ripped from them. The only dance I could remember was the Gay Gordon, and after the men had retired to their hammocks I taught Ope. We were facing North with the moon behind us. As we turned to march forwards, a meteor streamed across the sky. * The siren blares and people begin to run. It is as though a whirlpool has infiltrated the yacht, rather than playing below the surface. A rope ladder is thrown over the side, and a glint of light forces me to protect my eyes. An unfamiliar hand pulls my arm from my face, and a man is screaming at me in a language I do not understand. I realise the glint was from the shaft of the assault rifle in his hands. He throws me to the ground, where the other passengers are gathered. I do not dare to look up, and so watch feet pound rubber, which seems to make the knees bounce more viciously like a war march. I try to focus on the whistling of the wind, and allow my hair to cover my eyes, where I can lose myself in each strand that tries to fly away. * There is always talk about the creaking of ships, how they seem alive but that couldn’t be further from the truth. It is a mechanical sound, of steel hitting steel—completely inhuman and that is what I like the most. The man who brought me aboard the ship climbs down the ladder. ‘You have no right to keep me here,’ I say. The man thrusts his arm through the cell and grasps my bicep. ‘Do you understand where you are, darling?’ he whispers, ‘Do you understand that I have the only right to put you where I choose? Strapped to the front of the boat, or the ocean floor.’ ‘You have taken me, but you do not own me.’ The whites of his eyes rev. ‘Darling,’ he whispers. We are so close his lips flick mine. ‘I am the Captain, be grateful I have not let my crew own you.’ * When I wake he is wiping my thighs clean. Next to the bed is a bucket filled with red liquid. Blood has dried around my knees and stuck to my hair in clumps. Ope smiles at me but his eyes are full. ‘Michael brought you to me. He thought you had a disease.’ I try to sit up, but he holds my shoulder. ‘The baby is gone.’ He lies next to me. ‘My wife died like this. I could not let it happen to you.’ He speaks to me about spirits and energy, about how they move around many plains. His arm is across me and I can smell the iron on his fingertips. I am so weak that I cannot turn, but he pulls me around, and I can hear his heart pumping with blood. It knocks on my eardrum as though trying to filter into my own body. * ‘So he took you on-board knowing that you were a radar specialist?’ Forster asks. ‘Yes. He found my ID in my bag.’ ‘Did he coerce you into helping with the seizure of the yachts?’ ‘No, he did not.’ ‘You realise, Miss Frost, that if that is the case then you will be tried in a South African court for kidnapping, robbery and murder.’ I remain silent. ‘Four nationalities of coastguards have traced you across four different oceans, recovering the wreckages that the lost boys have left, and you were with them for months. Do you understand the position this puts you in?’ I cannot tell whether she wants me to lie so that I can be a free woman in this world that we inhabit, or whether she truly believes that I could not have found myself in the open air, alongside the chimes of whale pods. ‘I understand fully.’

Tamsin Connor