Alone on a Wide Wide Sea
one-sided battle, with only Piggy Bacon’s voice raging and roaring, then afterwards the sound of Ida sobbing and the dog whining. This time there were two voices raised, hers as loud and as angry as his. For the first time, Ida was givingas good as she got. We could hear her every word. “The boy will die!” she cried. “Do you want that? Did we have these children here for this?” I wasn’t the only one who felt like cheering her on.
    “All children are sinful, born sinful,” Piggy railed back, “and these are more sinful than most. My task is to cleanse them of sin, to prepare them for heaven. I won’t spare the rod, because it is the only way they will learn. And the boy has to learn who is master here.”
    “I thought Jesus was master here,” she argued. “Or did you forget that? You punish the boy only out of pride, and you know it.” And so it went on. Sadly though, it ended as it so often ended, with the sound of smashing crockery, of blows, and Ida’s sharp cries of pain and the dog yelping and whining. We knew Piggy was kicking him. Then silence, and sobbing.
    Marty began the chorus, and raised to sudden courage we all joined in: “For she’s a jolly good fellow, for she’s a jolly good fellow, for she’s a jolly good fellow, and so say all of us.” We sang it out loud, again and again, at the top of our voices to be sure that Piggy could hear us. He heard all right. He came out of the farmhouse and bellowed at us to stop or he’d come over and whip the lot of us. So, cowedonce more, we stopped. I felt even then that our silence was a betrayal. The shame of betrayal is something that never leaves you.
    All of us knew that Ida had done battle for Wes and for all of us that night. None of us knew that although she may have lost the battle, she had not yet given up the fight. Wes didn’t know it either, of course, which is why, I suspect, he decided to do what he did.
    He disappeared the next morning, but he didn’t go alone. We came back from work for our soup and bread at lunchtime as usual, and found his bed was empty. I immediately supposed that maybe Ida had come over and taken him back to the farmhouse to nurse him and look after him. So I ran over and found her at the back, digging in her vegetable garden. She hadn’t seen him, she said. She left her digging and joined in the search. Everyone was looking for him now, including Piggy Bacon, who was stomping about the farm, shouting at us to look here and look there, and ranting on about how, if Wes had run off, he was going to find him and thrash the living daylights out of him. Then he discovered, or someone did, that Big Black Jack was missing too. Now he went really berserk, volcanic. I’venever seen anger like it. This man of God let out a seemingly inexhaustible explosion of expletives, spat and spewed them out, all the swear words he must have been bottling up inside himself all his life.
    It was quite a show, and we loved it, every moment of it. We kept our distance, of course, each of us secretly savouring the futility of his fury, celebrating his impotence. Wes had done it. He’d escaped. This was what he had been talking about to Marty and me that night on his bed, this was his “only way out”. Wes had gone walkabout with Big Black Jack, and he wasn’t coming back. We were all willing him to make it. I think that maybe I even prayed for it.
    Piggy went after him of course. He rode out on one of the other horses, and we scanned the horizon all day hoping he wouldn’t come back with Wes, but fearing the worst all the time. That evening we looked out of the windows of the dormitory hut and saw Piggy come riding in, slumped in his saddle, his face covered in dust, his lips cracked – and he was alone. He hadn’t found him. Wes was still on the run. We all jumped up and down in the dormitory, clapping one another on the back, ecstatic in our triumph, not just because Wes had succeeded yet again in humbling Piggy Bacon, but

Similar Books

Kartography

Kamila Shamsie

The Firefly Letters

Margarita Engle

Wrangling the Redhead

Sherryl Woods

Brutal

Kevin Weeks

Eileen

Ottessa Moshfegh

Love Me if You Dare

Carly Phillips