فصل 06

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فصل 06

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Chapter six

Disaster Strikes

Jed’s eyes were a little wider apart than mine, so I had to adjust the binoculars before I could see clearly. It took me several seconds to find the beach on the island next to ours, but then I saw the five familiar figures almost immediately. They were in the same place they’d been yesterday morning and nearly every morning for the past nine days, except for four days ago when the beach had been completely deserted. That had caused us a bit of concern until they reappeared from the trees a couple of hours later.

‘They’re still there,’ I said.

‘What are they doing?’ asked Jed.

‘Just lying there.’

‘And you can count all five?’

I paused. ‘Five, yeah. They’re all there.’

‘Good.’ Jed coughed quietly into his hand. We had to be careful about noise, so close to the dope fields. We couldn’t smoke either, which didn’t help my nerves. ‘Good.’

My first day with Jed had started badly. I’d woken up in a terrible mood, still thinking about my family and friends in England. I was also rather depressed about not going fishing with the others. But as soon as he’d explained about the people he’d seen on the neighbouring island, I’d understood.

Then I’d started panicking, saying, ‘This is the worst thing that could happen,’ again and again, while Jed waited patiently for me to calm down. It took some time, but eventually I stopped talking for long enough for him to speak, and he was able to explain the situation to me.

The good news was that Sal didn’t know that I’d given Zeph and Sammy the map of our island. After Jed had seen five people on the island next to ours - the island Etienne, Francoise and I had swum from to reach our beach island - he’d only told Sal that some strangers had arrived there. He didn’t mention their connection with me. She thought that Jed had asked for a partner because he’d got tired of working alone. The other good news was that the people hadn’t moved from the island. If they were aiming for our beach, they were obviously finding it difficult to reach us.

However, we had to assume that they did want to get to our beach eventually. We also had to assume that two of them were Zeph and Sammy, and the other three were the Germans that Jed had seen on Ko Pha-Ngan when we did the Rice Run. We couldn’t be sure about this because the people were too small to see clearly through Jed’s binoculars, but it seemed likely.

When Jed had told me the bad news, I’d spent the rest of that day in a state of shock, watching the five people through his binoculars. Every time one of them appeared to move, I was sure that they were going to start swimming towards us. But they didn’t. In fact, they hardly moved from their patch of sand, occasionally going into the sea for a few minutes or disappearing into the jungle behind the beach for a couple of hours.

After three or four similar days had passed, my initial level of panic faded and I just felt generally tense. With the tension I was able to think more clearly. That was when I began to notice other things about my new job with Jed.

The first was getting to know Jed more. We spent every hour until nightfall sitting on a rock at the highest point of our island. Apart from spying, all we could do was talk. Mostly we talked about Plan B, which was what we were going to do when the five people finally got here. The only problem with Plan B was that, like most Plan Bs, it didn’t exist. We had several options, but we could never agree on which one was the best. The option I favoured was that Jed went down to meet them and told them that they weren’t welcome, but he didn’t want to do that. Although he was sure he’d be able to make them leave, he was also sure that they’d go straight back to Ko Pha-Ngan and tell everyone what they’d found. Instead, Jed wanted to rely on our island’s natural barriers. There was the long swim from the island, then they had to get past the dope guards, find the lagoon, and then find a way of getting down the waterfall. Jed was confident that this would all be too difficult for them. I didn’t like to remind him that Etienne, Francoise and I had managed it. It was during one of our endless Plan B discussions that Jed told me about the main aim of his job - to look out for new people who were trying to find our beach.

‘Something’s bothering me,’ I said, putting down the binoculars.

Jed frowned. ‘What?’

‘I’m afraid they’ll find our backpacks. We couldn’t swim with them so we hid them under some bushes. If Zeph and Sammy find them, they’ll know we were there and that they’re near our beach.’

‘How well did you hide them?’

‘Quite well. I’m starting to think that I might have copied the map wrong. I drew it in a real hurry and I could have missed out an island between Ko Phelong and here.’

Jed nodded. ‘It’s possible.’

‘So if they think they’re on our island now, that explains why they haven’t moved for the last nine days. They’re looking for our beach… which they won’t find… but they might find the backpacks.’

‘It’s possible,’ Jed repeated. ‘But they sit in the same place all day. It faces us, right? So they know this is the right island. They’re sitting there and trying to work out how to reach us…’

We looked at each other briefly, then I started staring through the binoculars again.

Jed and I would stay on the rock until the sun set, then we’d go back to the camp. We couldn’t spy if it was too dark to see, and anyway, Jed said it wasn’t safe to be outside the camp after nightfall. You didn’t know what or who you might meet. Back at camp, Jed would go and talk to Sal and I’d get some dinner. Then I’d go and look for Etienne, Francoise and Keaty. Usually I’d find them near the kitchen hut, having a joint before bedtime.

Lying to Sal about Zeph and Sammy and the map was easy, but I hated lying to my friends. However, I didn’t have a choice. Until we knew whether Zeph and Sammy would manage to get to our beach, there was no sense in worrying everyone. I could only tell them that my new job involved looking out for people who might be trying to find our beach.

‘It’s a good idea,’ said Keaty. ‘What will you do if you see someone coming?’

‘I’ll tell you when it happens,’ I replied, laughing uncomfortably.

At the end of the tenth day working with Jed we were, as usual, hurrying to get back to the camp before nightfall.

My plan was to eat some food quickly and then spend the rest of the evening with my friends. But when I got to the kitchen hut, all I found was a cold pile of boiled rice. The cooking pots for fish and vegetables were empty. Then I noticed something even more strange. Apart from Jed, the clearing seemed to be completely deserted.

I walked over to Jed. ‘Do you notice anything weird?’ I said.

‘Well, I can’t see any food.’

‘Exactly. There isn’t any food. And there aren’t any people either.’

Jed stood up and shone his torch around him. ‘Yeah,’ he said. ‘That is weird…’

We looked around us for a few seconds, our eyes following the light from the torch. Then, from somewhere nearby, there was a loud moan, the sound of someone in a lot of pain.

‘God, did you hear that?’ whispered Jed.

We paused, listening carefully. Then we heard the moan again, and the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. There was something frightening about the empty camp in the darkness.

‘OK,’ said Jed, ‘we’d better investigate.’

We’d only walked a little way when someone put their head out of one of the tents. It was a girl called Ella.

‘Jed? Richard?’

‘Yeah, it’s us. What’s going on, Ella?’

She shook her head. ‘Come inside. It’s a disaster.’

We went in. One of the cooks was lying inside the tent. His eyes were closed and he was holding his stomach.

‘It was Keaty. Stupid fool,’ Ella said, wiping the sweat from the guy’s forehead.

‘Keaty? Why? What did he do?’ I asked.

‘He put a squid in one of the fishing buckets, and we cut it up and cooked it with everything else.’


‘The squid was already dead when he speared it. Most of the people in the camp have food poisoning and are being violently sick. Only five or six of us are all right. I’ve got a bit of a stomach ache but I think I’ve been lucky.’

‘And why did Keaty spear a dead squid?’

‘I’d like to ask him that myself. We’d all like to ask him,’ said Ella in an angry voice.

‘Where is he?’ I asked. ‘In his tent?


‘OK. Well, I’ll go and talk to him.’

It took me ages to find Keaty. He wasn’t in his tent, and there was no response in the clearing when I called his name. Eventually I decided to check the beach, where I saw him, sitting in a patch of moonlight a little way down the shore.

‘Hi,’ he said in a low voice.

I nodded and sat beside him.

‘I’m not very popular at the moment, Rich.’

‘Neither is squid!’

He didn’t laugh.

‘So what happened?’ I asked.

‘Don’t you know? I poisoned the camp.’

‘Yeah, but…’

‘I was fishing, using Gregorio’s mask. I saw this squid, we’ve eaten squid a hundred times before, so I speared it and threw it in the bucket. I didn’t know it was already dead.’

‘But if it wasn’t moving…’

‘Yeah, well I know that now! But I thought… I thought its arms were moving…’

‘So it was a mistake. It wasn’t your fault.’

‘God, Rich! Of course it was my fault!’ he shouted, and looked away.

I only stayed with Keaty for a few minutes because I wanted to find Etienne and Francoise. He wouldn’t come with me because he said he wasn’t ready to face people yet, the poor guy.

When I saw what was happening inside the longhouse, I was glad Keaty had decided to stay on the beach. The scene inside would only have made him feel worse. I’d had no idea that the effects of food poisoning had been so severe. Everybody was moaning and there was a strong sour smell throughout the longhouse. People were crying out for water or for the vomit to be wiped off their chests.

I eventually found Francoise and Etienne. Etienne was asleep, so I suppose he might have been unconscious, but he was breathing steadily and his forehead didn’t feel too hot. Franfoise, however, was awake and in a great deal of pain. She didn’t cry out like everyone else but she bit her bottom lip, and all over her stomach were marks from where she’d been digging in her fingernails.

‘Stop doing that,’ I said firmly.

She looked at me through dull eyes. ‘Richard?’

‘Yes. Stop biting your lip.’

‘What is happening, Richard?’

‘You’ve got food poisoning.’

‘I mean, what is happening to everyone else?’

‘Well…’ I looked down the longhouse. I wasn’t sure how to answer in case I frightened her. ‘People are being sick…’

‘Do you think this is serious for us?’

‘No, no,’ I replied, laughing encouragingly. ‘You’ll all be much better tomorrow. You’ll be fine.’

‘Good… Richard, I need some water… Please will you bring me some?’

‘Of course. I’ll be back in two minutes.’

Outside I found Jed sitting in front of the kitchen hut, eating some plain rice. He held out his bowl as I approached and said, ‘You should eat.’

‘I’m not hungry. Have you seen inside the longhouse?’

He swallowed. ‘I put my head round the door. The same thing’s happening in the tents.’

‘Are you worried?’

‘Sure. People can die from food poisoning like this. We need to make them drink lots of water. And we need to keep ourselves fit so we can look after them. That’s why you should eat something. You haven’t eaten since morning.’

‘Later,’ I said, thinking of Francoise. I got some water and walked back to the longhouse.

While I’d been away, Francoises condition had got worse. I helped her drink the water and stayed with her until her breathing became slower and heavier and she finally fell asleep.

I don’t really feel I have to explain what happened next, but I will anyway. I bent over and gave Francoise a kiss on the cheek. I remember noticing how soft and smooth her skin was. In the middle of that terrible night, with everyone moaning and all the vomit, I wasn’t expecting to find sweetness. It took me a little by surprise and I closed my eyes for a few moments, just for the chance to forget about all the bad things that were happening. But when I looked up, Etienne was staring at me.

‘What were you doing?’ he asked.


‘You were kissing Francoise!’

‘So? I gave her a kiss on the cheek. You’ve seen me do that before.’

‘You’ve never kissed her like that before. For so long!’

I felt exhausted. ‘You’ve got this wrong,’ I said. ‘You’re very ill. It’s affecting you.’

Etienne didn’t say anything.

I tried a joke. ‘If I give you a kiss, will that make everything OK?’

He paused a bit longer, and finally nodded. ‘I am sorry, Richard. You are right. I am ill and it is affecting me. But I can look after her now. Maybe some others need your help.’

‘Yeah, I’m sure they do. Shout if you need anything.’

I stood up and glanced at Francoise, who was still fast asleep. Then I walked out of the longhouse.

That night I slept in the clearing. The last thing I remember before falling asleep was Sal’s voice. She’d recovered enough to walk around, and was calling Keaty’s name. I could have told her he was down on the beach, but I decided not to. I didn’t like the sound of her voice. It was like a parent calling to a naughty kid.

Jed woke me at about six-thirty with a bowl of rice. While I ate, he talked.

‘Listen. One of us has to go and see what Zeph and Sammy are doing.’

‘Oh, OK… But why not both of us?’

‘Why do you think? Someone has to stay here to look after all these sick people - and I think it should be me. I know a little bit about first aid.’

‘And what should I do if Zeph and Sammy are on their way here?’

Jed paused. ‘I’m trying not think about it, but if they are then get back here as fast as you can and tell me. But before you go I want you to find Keaty and the Swedes. There are about fifteen people here who are well enough to eat, so someone’s going to have to go fishing for them. Only the three Swedes and Keaty are healthy enough.’

I went down to the beach first and found Keaty sleeping in the same place. I assumed he’d had a bad night so I decided to smoke a cigarette before waking him up. I was just finishing it when Karl, Sten and Christo - the Swedes - appeared. I put my finger to my lips, pointing at Keaty, and we walked away from him so that he didn’t wake up.

‘You’re going to be busy today,’ I said to them.

Sten nodded. ‘But there is only half the camp to fish for, no? We only need to catch fifteen fishes. Not so difficult, I think. Would you like to fish with us?’

‘Thanks, but Keaty will wake up soon.’

‘Ah yes, Keaty. Is he sick?’

‘No, he’s fine. A bit depressed, but he didn’t get food poisoning.’

‘That is good. Well, we should be going. We will see you later, Richard.’


Sten said something to Karl and Christo in Swedish. Then they walked down to the shore and began swimming towards the caves.

When I got back to Keaty, he was awake.

‘Hi,’ I said. ‘Did you sleep all right?’

He shook his head. ‘Are things bad at the camp?’

‘They were last night. It’s better now but people are still being sick.’

Keaty sat up and rubbed the sand off his legs and arms. ‘I should get back. Got to help.’

‘No, don’t go back yet. They want you to do some fishing.’

‘They want me to go fishing? After the squid!’

‘That’s what Jed said. The Swedes will be fishing too, and most people won’t be eating. Just catch a few fish.’

‘OK then. See you later, Richard,’ Keaty said, and set off down the beach towards the water.

Hours later, I made my way back to the camp after spending the afternoon watching Zeph, Sammy and the Germans through Jed’s binoculars. The clearing was empty apart from Ella, who was cleaning a few fish outside the kitchen hut.

‘I was hoping you’d bring some more fish,’ she said when she saw me. ‘Keaty’s the only person who’s brought me any.’

‘What about the Swedes? Haven’t they come back yet?’

‘No they haven’t. What time is it anyway?’

I looked at my watch. ‘Six-thirty. I wonder why they’re taking so long. Maybe it’s the boat - perhaps the engine broke down or they ran out of petrol.’

Ella looked annoyed. ‘Maybe,’ she said. ‘But if you think about it, they could have swum back by now.’

I thought about this last comment of Ella’s as I walked towards the longhouse, because she was absolutely right. The Swedes could easily have swum back in two hours, even dragging the boat behind them.

In a way, then, I was already aware that something serious had happened to Sten, Karl and Christo. Logically, it was the only explanation. But there were too many problems in the camp to start worrying about new ones. As I entered the longhouse, people were calling out for water or for someone to clean up their vomit. I ran around helping people and didn’t have time to think about the Swedes again for ages.

At a quarter to nine the longhouse door banged open.

‘Oh there you are,’ I started to say, but the words dried up in my throat.

Karl was half bent over and the expression on his face told us at once that there was something badly wrong. He took a single heavy step towards us, moving into the brighter candlelight. That was when we realized that he was carrying someone on his back - Sten. Suddenly Karl fell forwards without making any effort to stop himself, and Sten slipped off his back on to the floor. He was terribly injured - there was a circle of flesh as large as a football missing from his side.

Etienne was the first to move. He raced past me, almost knocking me to the ground. When I looked up, he was bending over Sten. I heard Sal behind me calling out, ‘What’s happened?’, and then Karl began screaming at the top of his voice. For a minute people covered their ears as his cries filled the longhouse. It was only after Keaty had grabbed him, shouting at him to shut up, that he managed to say one word: ‘Shark.’

The shocked silence after Karl said ‘shark’ only lasted a heartbeat. Then we all started talking again. A circle quickly formed around Karl and Sten - the same kind of circle you get in a school playground when people are fighting - and everyone started shouting out questions and making suggestions. Everyone wanted to be involved in the crisis. ‘They need water!’ and ‘Put him in the recovery position!’ and ‘Hold his nose!’

I thought all the advice was stupid. You could see the air bubbling out of the hole in Sten’s side, so his lungs were obviously completely destroyed. And anyway, you couldn’t imagine anyone looking more dead. His eyes were open but you could only see the whites. Karl could hardly be put in the recovery position while he was rolling around and screaming. The only person who was talking sense was Sal. She was shouting at everyone to get back and shut up. No one took any notice though.

I pushed my way backwards through the crowd, which was easy as most people were trying to get closer to the Swedes. As soon as I was out of the circle, I began thinking a lot more clearly. Two realizations hit me at once. Number one was that I now had a chance to have a cigarette. Number two was Christo. Nobody had even mentioned the third Swede, who might have been on the beach, wounded and waiting for help to arrive.

I hesitated for a couple of moments, then I made my decision and ran down the longhouse, passing the few squid-sufferers who were still too ill to see what was going on. Just before I ran out of the door, I lit a cigarette and shouted ‘Christo!’, but I didn’t wait to see if anyone had heard me.

Through the jungle, I cursed myself for not having grabbed a torch. I couldn’t see much apart from the red light from my cigarette. On the beach, however, there was enough moonlight to see clearly. Across the sand were deep tracks where Karl had dragged Sten. He seemed to have reached the beach about twenty metres from the path that led to the clearing. Christo, I noted, couldn’t have reached the shore. In the light from the moon, the sand was silver. If he’d been there, I’d have seen him.

I took a deep breath and sat down near the water, wondering what to do. Christo wasn’t on the beach, and I hadn’t passed him on the path from the camp - unless I’d walked over him without realizing it - so he was in the lagoon, the open sea, or the cave that led to the sea. If he was in the open sea, he was probably dead. If he was in the lagoon, he was either on a rock or floating face down. If he was in the cave, he would be at one of its two entrances, maybe too tired or injured to swim through the underwater passage. The shark could be anywhere.

‘I bet he’s in the cave,’ I said, and lit another cigarette to help me think.

When I reached the cave, I swam to the place where the passage went below the water level. Then I took a lungful of air and dived underwater. Every few strokes I stopped and felt around to make sure I wasn’t accidentally going down the side passage to the air pocket like I had before.

When I came out of the cave into the open sea I looked around for Christo. I shouted his name without a lot of hope because the moonlight was bright enough for me to see that he wasn’t there. I sat down on a rock and wondered what I should do next.

‘Maybe Christo was only slightly injured,’ I said to myself. ‘Maybe he swam through the underwater passage with Karl, helping him with Sten, but something happened. Maybe he’s in the air pocket!’

I stood up, filled my lungs with air, and dived back into the water. I found the side passage to the air pocket on my third attempt. I surfaced in the air pocket and took a deep breath.

‘Here…’ said a quiet voice.

‘Christo! Thank God! I’ve been…’

‘Richard. Help me.’

‘Yes. I’m here to help.’

I pushed out my hands and touched Christo. He moaned.

‘Are you badly hurt?’

‘… I have… some injury.’

‘You have to swim. We’ve got to get out of this air pocket. I’ll swim ahead using my arms, and you’ll have to hold on to my legs and try to kick. Understand?’

His voice sound fainter. ‘… I understand.’

‘OK, Christo,’ I said. ‘I think I know which direction to take.’ Within a few strokes I realized that the passage was not the one leading back to the original cave. About ten metres along we found a second air pocket, and ten metres further on we found another. Then we came up into fresh air. I could see real stars and real sky.

I laid the exhausted Christo out on a flat rock. ‘You’re OK now, Christo,’ I said quietly. ‘You’re OK.’

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