A Farewell

The ship is tall, leaning. Its only crew are the gulls, who tie the knots in the sails; old, old, sailor souls. On its prow stands Barinthus, the helmsman, dark-cloaked, stern, implacable.

No-one sees if his lips move beneath the shadows of his hood as he reads out the roll call: the names of Londeners, Devonians, Bristolians, Scousers, Mancunians, Lancastrians, Glaswegians, Brummies, whose accents mix in the huge make-shift camp that has grown up in the marshy hinterland between the worlds.

They’re mostly old. Veteran souls move between them, boiling tea on stoves that burn on no gas. They drink from metal cups, pull blankets around them, attempt to recall to one another their stories.

Some of them are funny – drunken exploits – other people’s knickers and roundabouts. Some are tragic – motorcycle crashes, the loss of daughters and sons, spouses who lost their memory yet lived on.

“How did we get here?” few recall that journey or what brought them.

White hounds with red markings on their ears, noses, the tips of their tails, patrol the edges of the camp. If anyone tries to leave they are there. A grin and friendly growl is always enough. The pups like to play amongst the child souls, tongues lolling, letting their bellies be rubbed. When their master calls them, not liking them to get attached, they leave whining with their tails between their legs.

“Where are we going?” few recall that journey they have made so many times before.

“The biggest shipload since the last war,” my god’s voice from where he stands invisible so as not to frighten the souls.

Their leaving seems to take forever, one by one getting up from their camp stools, boarding across a wobbly plank and taking their places in the cabins, more cabins-worth of souls than there are cabins on board?

“The number of cabins, the space of the hold, the expanses of the deck, are limitless, infinitesimal,” Gwyn informs me. Speaking ominously “no matter how many passengers the ship is never full.”

I watch with Gwyn as the camp fires go out and the ship sinks deeper and deeper into the waters.

As a gull flies down and with a practiced twist of her yellow red-spotted beak unties the mooring rope I clasp my hands, bow my head in mourning, say farewell to 980 Britons who I never knew.

As I leave, dropping a tea bag in a pot for the next souls, I see them already beginning to arrive. Some are escorted by their ancestors, others by the hounds, others by white birds. A little boy is carrying a white red-spotted hamster wrapped up in his school blazer.

Their numbers are endless.

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