Glenfinnan Viaduct was a grey brick bridge with arches that dove between the grassy hill and the top of the bridge like dolphins out of water. Below a river rumbled through the landscape. It was dotted with huge boulders.
A dozen girls stood in a line atop the hill, looking down on the bridge from above. Their bags were left inside the car. Each of them stood in their own, relaxed poses, ranging from suspicious, to bored. Zangi had stolen the pea jacket this time, and her hands were buried into the pockets. The style suited her, but the colour was too dull. Simi pointed this out. Zangi said she was jealous.
“So-o-o, what are we here for?” Ravi asked.
Dorothy decided that telling them that Tristian was waiting nearby, hoping to catch them. Of course, he was actually back in Edinburgh, searching the Botanical Gardens for any signs of them.
“The Hogwarts Express will be coming through any time now,” Dorothy explained.
There was a distant whistle of a steam train that caught Zangi’s attention. She straightened up sharply like electricity ran through her. Billows of anchor grey steam bloomed up through the trees. Moments later a shiny scarlet train came rumbling down the track, into view across the viaduct. Zangi began to squeal like a tea kettle while Tiana snapped a dozen pictures as far zoomed in as she could get. One image caught the train ploughing through the stream, head on. It was very moody.
“I love it, well done,” Tahati said.
“That’s bare good fam,” Simi agreed.
“Excellent, you’re very skilled,” Dorothy smiled.
“I know right!” Tiana beamed.
“Can we leave now?” Simi asked.
“No man. Look at her,” Tahati said.
She gestured to Zangi. Zangi was staring at the train, wide eyes and full of amazement. She looked like a toddler seeing a rainbow for the first time. Pure joy. Tiana raised the camera that hung around her neck, and pointed it at Zangi. The sudden flash snatched Zangi’s attention, and Tiana slapped the camera, scolding, because she thought the flash was off.
“Are we leaving then?” Zangi asked.
She didn’t like her friends seeing her vulnerable, happy or sad, in case they used it against her later. Not that they ever did. The only time they used it (apart from making points on how to improve her drama, or explain things easier in science) was when she had her panic attacks.
“Yeah, screw it, let’s go,” Tiana agreed.
“Go on girls, I’ll stay here,” Dorothy said.
She was waiting for Tristan to appear so she could make a snarky comment to him. None of the girls even paused to wonder if she’d be safe left alone here. Well, not until they were already most of the way down the street.
“D’you think she’ll be ok on her own?” Simi asked.
“She’s a grown woman fam, she’ll get through it,” Zangi shrugged.
Since they were already driving, and it was already getting late, they didn’t see the point in going back to find her.
Dorothy wandered about for an hour until she got bored and decided that he was definitely not there right now. So she phoned him.
“Where are you?” She asked.
“Hello to you too,” he sniggered.
“I just brought all five girls to you, in a car, to see the Hogwarts Express cross the bridge,” Dorothy said sharply.
“What?! What bridge?!” Tristan asked urgently.
“The Glenfinnan Viaduct!”
“What?! That’s three hours away from here! Why would you do that?!”
“You’re three hours away?! No wonder I can’t find you! I thought we agreed you’d wait here for them and I’d bring them!”
“No, I didn’t agree to that. Dammit Dorothy you’ve just cost me my job!”
Dorothy had spent four hours in their company now. She worked out very easily where they were heading. Once they told her they were heading “nowhere in particular” but while driving they chatted about places to see in Scotland. Skye, John O Groats, Loch Ness. The only one they agreed on was Ness.
“I’ll take you to them, if you come pick me up,” she offered.
From down the phone came a horse, mocking, laugh. “Why would I believe you after all of this? Suffer!”
And he hung up.
Dorothy glared at the phone in her hand as if she wanted it to burst into flames. When it didn’t she huffed in exasperation. Looked like she was stuck.
With nothing else to do, Dorothy sat down, cross legged, on the Scottish hillside, and began to type up her report. A scolding, exposing, exaggeration of what she had been told, pinning all of it on Tristan. When she finished she gave a satisfied grunt, and deleted it. Calmer, she typed up a more believable report. That one, she sent to her boss.
getting later and later but the sun didn’t seem to realise. It sat prominently in the sky, as stubbornly bright as ever, even while setting.
“You’ve gotta hand it to Scotland. They ain’t often got the sun, but when they do, they cling to it,” Tahati joked.
The others were relaxing in their seats, steadily getting more tired as the evening grew into night. Even the radio eased off into calmer, more relaxed tunes, ready for its listeners to drift off. The others were relaxing in their seats, steadily getting more tired as the evening grew into night. Even the radio eased off into calmer, more relaxed tunes, ready for its listeners to drift off.
Stubborn Love by The Lumineers filled the car. Beside the golden sunny glow, and the dusty, empty, Scottish roads, it felt like a music video. A softy, hazy, golden indie music video.
Put them in slow motion, with Ravi’s hand out the window, riding the breeze like waves, light glinting off the sunglasses Zangi had found somewhere, Simi leaning over from the back seat, Tahati turning back from the front, and Tiana glancing back in the mirror, laughing inaudibly. That’s the way it looked on Ravi’s snapchats anyway. She had all of them in silence. One with her hand and bracelets weaving through the air as she tried to reach the fence of the road. One of Tahati giving her stink eye for filming her, but smiling anyway as she looked away. One of Zangi pouting and putting up peace signs, with her long hair free from its pony tail, and the sun on her sunglasses. One of Simi mocking Zangi, and laughing as Zangi’s hand reached over to shove her back into her seat. Finally, one of the rear-view mirror, focused on Tiana making funny eyebrow movements, and laughing with her eyes, despite the sun filling up the windscreen. Only they could hear the nostalgic soundtrack. Not that they were listening or paying attention to the radio at all. If they had been, they’d may have taken the time to appreciate the moment.
Saying that, they weren’t too blind to see an opportunity to appreciate the moment when it slapped them in the face. Or exploded above their car.
“What was that?!” Tahati asked urgently.
“Fireworks, fam, chill,” Zangi said.
The sky was barely dark. It was still navy blue rather than black. But it was getting late. Maybe someone, somewhere couldn’t be bothered to wait anymore.
(In fact, it was bored teenagers in a field, with a bonfire, throwing fireworks in for laughs. They accidentally burned down a shed before running away later)
They parked the car in a view point, overlooking a pretty, small town. From this distance though, it looked like a collection of twinkling fairy lights. Dozens of red, yellow and green lights were shining in a skyline shape. The sleepy town became stars fallen to earth.
Fireworks explode above, vivid colours to ignite the otherwise black sky. Saffron, acid green, pure gold. The air had a tincture of gun powder. The scent took them back to every bonfire night and Diwali they ever lived through.
How odd it was to think of home because of colours in the sky.
Zangi got out first. It was almost dark, and the temperature had dropped drastically. Zangi indicated this by rubbing her skinny arms, and making a noise. Ravi followed her, with a small hop as her feet hit the ground. Both climbed onto the roof of the car. There was a groaning of metal as the roof dented to accommodate them. Their legs sprawled across the windscreen, masking the view. Since they couldn’t see from inside the car, Tiana, Simi and Tahati got out of the car, and climbed onto the bonnet together. The driver’s door and the backseat doors were wide open, but all the girls were on top of the car. Heat from the engine radiated through the car and warmed them from below. The three on the bonnet were squished together, which spread the warmth anyway. Ravi lifted her phone as high as possible, and made everyone squish together to get a dark selfie, with a firework bursting in the background. It was a miracle that she got it in, since the green firework was the only light. All of them loved the picture though.
“You should send that to Dorothy,” Tiana suggested.
“Don’t you wanna send one of yours?” Zangi asked.
Tiana shrugged and laid back against the glass screen behind her. Even between their legs it was surprisingly comfortable. Except for the wipers.
“I like the selfie, but I’ll send one of my own if you like,” she said.
Ravi leaned over her phone, and started typing an email to Dorothy. Zangi leaned her arms back behind her so she was propped back by her elbows. Tahati pulled one knee up onto the bonnet and entwined her fingers to rest on her shin. For most of the night they sat in silence, in these positions. All of them were comfortable and relaxed together. Even in silence.
By the time the fireworks stopped they’d been on the hilltop for an hour and a half. It was pitch black out, and they were going to have to turn on the headlights. Before they did, though, Tiana took a picture of the skyline. Except she blurred it. Instead of any detail, all the photo captured was a skyline filled with dozens of soft circle lights. Little fairies from the fairy lights.
It was late. It was dark. It was cold. Exhaustion was beginning to sink in. They climbed into the car, and Tiana decided to join the main road to speed the journey up.
Here there were more cars, but no traffic. No one dared honk their horns. All they could hear was the rumble of the axels and the radio.
The mellow music hour on the radio was full of static as the nearby hills interrupted the flow. Gently, Crows In Snow by Passengers slipped through the radio bars, and let the musical notes wrap around them. Simi, Ravi and Zangi were in those magic minutes between being awake and being asleep, where they were so completely relaxed they didn’t feel like talking. Zangi could barely keep her eyes open. Stripes of orange illuminated the car as they passed each lamppost.
Those tall poles leaded the way down the road. Through the pale grey clouds, the moon peeked through. Along the edges, trees formed dense silhouettes that faded into the distance. All of the rest of the world was lying quiet and speechless. Tahati, in the front seat, rolled down the window to let in a whistle of wind. A perfumed blend of diesel and dew followed it. But it wasn’t cold. It was pleasant. It was calm.
“You can sleep, y’know. I’m ok driving alone,” Tiana said quietly to Tahati.
Tahati shook her head. She sighed. “I’m took busy thinking to sleep.”
“What’s on your mind?” Tiana asked.
Tahati looked back out of the window and tried to get a glimpse of the stars through the clouds.
“I didn’t phone my mum today. I was going to after I prayed, but once Zangi woke up and was loud, and demanding the bathroom, I got distracted. Then I got distracted by Dorothy. Then by the car. Then by the train. By the time I remembered there were fireworks,” She explained.
Tiana glanced over for a moment. “Is that so terrible? I’ve only been texting my mum since we left Tristian. Apart from when we were shot at, but only because I thought I was going to die.”
Tahati risked a laugh, despite trying not to wake the others. “My parents would kill me if they knew about that. I could be killed out here, and they’d wait until we were in Jannah together to beat me... I just don’t wanna disappoint dad.”
Now it was Tiana’s turn to laugh. Tahati frowned at her.
“Nothing. Just... you and me are so different. I don’t care what my dad thinks of me. That ship sailed ages ago. My mums gonna be ok with whatever I do so I don’t need to have ambition.”
“I need ambition. Mum says I have to be a lawyer.”
“I thought you wanted to write and make comics?”
“Why don’t you? Screw your mum and just do it!”
Tahati laughed again and shook her head. She turned to look out of the window again.
“You’re right. We are really different.”
They drove onwards for a while, in silence, until Tiana cleared her throat.
“Look, I know I take the piss a lot, and I know I don’t admit when I’m taking the piss, but I do care about you. I want you to be happy. To end up happy. If being a lawyer is something you can enjoy, then go for it. Good luck to you. But if it doesn’t, and you’re only doing it to please your parents, I can’t encourage that. Comic writing is a risky thing, but if you love it, you can make it work. If it makes you happy, you should at least try. Y’know?”
Tahati glanced over at Tiana slightly, but Tiana was staring dead ahead. Her entire focus was on the road.
She coughed awkwardly, and said, “Or, like, don’t. Whatever, I ain’t your mum.”
Tahati looked back out of the window and continued thinking. It wasn’t long until she too drifted off. Tiana was left on her own, listening to the crackly radios music as the car took them to Inverness.
“take the photographs, and still-frames in your mind...Hang it on the shelf of good health and good time...Tattoos of memories and dead skin on trial... For what it’s worth, it was worth all the while... It’s something unpredictable, but in the end it’s right... I hope you had the time of your life.”
Pale yellow sunlight gleamed though the windscreen, down onto the girls. The dawn made way for the sun to rise and the sky changed from dark to an illuminating shade of blue with tinges of orange.
Water fowl cheered for a new, more beautiful day. Tahati opened one eye. Swooping out in front of the car was a shimmering loch. Cheery ducks went padding across the front of the car, with their large ducklings tailing them. The happy fluffy things made Tahati smile.
A hand tapped Tahati’s shoulder.
“Ready to pray?” Simi yawned.
Tahati nodded. They didn’t have their prayer mats, so they took the blanket Zangi had stolen from Edinburgh. It was like rolling a tartan flag across the bay of the loch. Even though prayer was an individual experience, each of them liked the bond of praying together.
Ravi woke up next. She climbed out of the car to stretch and breath the cool fresh air. The smell of the cold water lived in the air, even while the sun was out. That’s when she spotted Tiana. Exhausted from the drive, and trying to find somewhere to park, Tiana hadn’t bothered to even take off her seat belt. She just folded her arms on the top of the steering wheel, and buried her face in them.
“She hasn’t moved in hours. She might get deep vein thrombosis,” Ravi said.
“I’ll wake her up,” Tahati said.
Ravi grabbed her arm to stop her.
“No, no. This is perfect,” she smirked.
“Perfect?” Tahati repeated in confusion.
“Remember valentine’s day?” Ravi asked pointedly.
For valentine’s day Tiana had decided that since they were all single, they should do pranks. Like bribing Mr Edwards into reading a note attached to a single rose, from Simi’s “secret admirer” in front of the whole class. Or filling Zangi’s locker with McDonalds minion toys so they all fell out on top of her. They had vowed revenge then.
Now they could take it.
Firstly, Ravi took a picture of her sleeping like that. Then, she smiled at the others.
“Get me a feather,” she grinned.
Tahati covered her mouth with her hands to try and stop herself from giggling. Simi elbowed her and shushed her, despite giggling herself. She lifted her phone up to start recording. Ravi reached in from a distance. She wafted the tip along Tiana’s bare arm gently. Tiana grunted and rolled her head away to try and get away from it. Again, the feather brushed against her arm. This made Tiana twitch and try to get away again. Ravi edged forward, holding the feather at an arm’s length. Simi moved to film through the windscreen. Ravi rubbed the feather against her one last time.
Tiana tried to move her arm away, which caused her other arm to slip and fall. This made her head come crashing down onto the horn.
The screech came either side of her head, making her bolt awake again. The girls howled with laughter and the video stopped dead as Simi pulled her phone away. In the far back seat, Zangi groaned and sat up.
“Why you bitches so loud?”
“So you don’t get deep vein thrombosis,” Ravi said.
Tiana rubbed her eyes and stretched by pushing her hands against the wheel and her shoulders back. This gave her a chance to think up her first insult of the day.
“I’d rather have thrombosis than wake up to you every morning.”
“Harsh,” Ravi laughed, “But I’d rather not wake up to you every morning either.”
Tiana fell out of the car, like a drunk. She stretched her arms over her shoulders, and twisted her hips. Then she let her arms fall to her side, and looked around, squinting in the early morning light.
“We actually made it here? I thought I dreamed that, like I dreamed hitting that sheep…” Tiana muttered.
Simi glanced at a faint red stain on the left headlight. Some of the paint had been chipped off like it had hit something hard. She chose not to mention this.
“We made it,” She nodded.
Tiana nodded in awe, and smiled to herself. “Nice one.”
“Enough of this. Breakfast time!” Tahati declared.
Zangi was out of the car and ready to like a bolt of lightning.
“Keep an eye out for Nessie!” Ravi yelled.
“She’s real?!” Tahati gasped.
“As real as Robin Hood!” Simi beamed.
“Remember where we parked!” Tiana called as they headed away from the only car parked on the loch side.
Walking around all of them were beginning to wake up fully. Like flowers blooming with each step. Somehow, soaking in the sunrise was completely rejuvenating experience ever, despite each girl having the worst night’s sleep ever.
After breakfast, and a boat ride, and checking out a glass blowers shop in Fort Augustus where a pretty woman was using a large flame to make a dolphin and let them take photos, it was time to leave. Despite the steep hills and narrow roads around here, Tiana let Simi drive. She stayed in the passage seat, ready to take over if anything went wrong. (A snapchat from Sapphire mocked this, and told Zangi to call her Jesus if she took the wheel.) Tiana was still too tired to drive herself.
Simi didn’t like driving up hill, so when she finally got to the flats, she gave up trying to drive. They were almost in Nairn by then, so they still had a long way to go. Zangi volunteered to drive. Despite protests, they didn’t have much choice. She buckled in, and set off with everything her brother had tried to teach her already. Tiana had to keep reminding her it was a rental, so she should slow down. Zangi ignored her. It wasn’t until they crossed over a small bridge, without the wheels actually touching the ground, that they forced her out of the driving seat. She drove back to the carpark of Cawdor Castle, before getting out.
Tiana, Ravi and Simi had been forced to learn Macbeth for English, while the others learned Romeo and Juliet. They were the only ones who recognised the name of the castle. That didn’t mean any of them could be bothered to go inside. Instead, Tiana climbed onto the roof of the car, to see over the bushes (and cattle) separating them from the castle grounds, and took photos from there. They didn’t miss out on much.
Tahati drove on from there. It was painfully slow at first. She slowed for roundabouts, and caused a symphony of horns behind her as she did. They kept driving though. Onwards and, occasionally, upwards. Tahati got more confident the longer she was driving. Strangely, for the girl with the most anxiety and least anger management skills, she was an excellent driver. Very safe. Very controlled. Which is probably why Tiana dozed off while she was driving. She stayed asleep until Zangi smacked her as hard as she could and made her wake up.
They stopped for a wander around on a hillside, because Ravi desperately needed to pee and there was nowhere else to stop. Perched on a small mound, not far off road, was a fruit stall selling punnets of cherries, strawberries, blackberries and all sorts. It was weather beaten, and covered in peeling paint, but filled with brightly coloured, slightly bruised fruits. Each one smelled as sweet as the last. A large sign read “all punnets 2 for a £1” which was well in their price range. Which is why they spent seven pounds on fruit. Half of the punnets got eaten immediately, while walking around the hill. The rest were eaten while Ravi drove.
Tiana had to hand feed Ravi when she wanted fruit, because she was terrified by the idea of taking her hands off the wheel. Simi googled their path, and found out that there were very, very, large hills up ahead that were best to be avoided. When they tried, they found themselves heading down tight country roads with sharp bends and multiple farms.
It didn’t end well.
A flock of sheep filled the road between two rocky walls. For as far as the eye could see, it was a sea of white and horns. At a snail’s pace, they had been inching forward for twenty minutes now. All the while the fuel tank had been creeping towards the red. Now it was dangerously close.
With a final clunk, it refused to go any further, and cut out the engine. Now they were stuck in a tin can in the centre of a flock of sheep, and no idea what to do about it.
Tiana sat with her thumb nail against her teeth, her elbow on the window, and bounced her leg as she thought.
“We can’t just sit here and hope,” she huffed finally.
“No shit,” Zangi muttered.
“What else can we do?” Simi asked.
“What if one of us go to the nearest garage and bring back fuel?” Tahati asked.
“Where’s the nearest garage though, genius?” Ravi asked sarcastically.
Tiana glanced down at her phone. It had fallen into the cup holder under the radio. She grabbed it, and it beeped in complaint before dying.
“Crap,” she muttered, “anyone got charge?”
Zangi and Tahati did. Neither of them had signal through.
“I’ve only got enough to make one call. If we find somewhere with signal I can help,” Zangi said.
“Not helpful though. We need signal for Internet to find out which direction to go in to find a garage,” Simi said.
“How will we get out though? You can’t open the doors for sheep!” Ravi said.
“There’s sheep all around the boot too, so We can’t get out that way,” Simi added.
“I know!” Tahati’s eyes shone with either excitement or fear. Or both.
Once again, they were plunged into silence. A kind of hopelessness surrounded them for a good while. Everyone was expecting someone else to come up with a plan. Frustration was growing.
“What’s the point of having so many sheep on the road anyway? They’ve got fields to stay in!” Simi huffed.
“They have to move between fields when the mothers stop milking because there’s usually not enough grass for the mothers and the lambs in the original field,”
“These sheep stopped being baa-lambs ages ago,” Tahati said.
Zangi stared at the black faced balls of white that crowded the paths around them. She noticed them jumping onto the rocky walls on the edge of the road.
“Can you open the window Ravi?” She asked.
Ravi didn’t answer. She turned on the battery, and rolled down each of the four windows as far as they could go. Zangi knelt up on her seat at the far back, and leaned over into the boot, to grab her bag. The others watched her climb into the middle seats with her bag, and out the window.
Zangi was tall and lanky. Watching her climb out of the window was like watching a daddy long legs climb out of a bath. She made it though. Out the window, and over to the wall. Once she was stood on top of it, she heaved her bag around her shoulders and dusted herself off.
“Well she made it,” Tiana said, with a hint of impression, “all in favour of following?”
“What if we don’t find a garage?” Simi asked.
“Then we’ll walk until we find something, or someone to take us somewhere,” Tiana said.
“Where?” Simi asked.
“Simi, can’t you just go along with things sometimes, instead of trying to plan everything? I have no idea what I’m doing, neither does anyone else, so just roll with it!” Tiana snapped.
“Alright, chill!” Simi kissed her teeth.
“There’s a farm down there. I can see it. Maybe they’ve got fuel,” Zangi called.
“Can you see a tractor?” Tiana called.
“Nah, but I see a harvester,” Zangi said.
“Well that needs fuel! Let’s go ask to borrow some!” Ravi declared.
All of them climbed out of the car via the windows. They balanced along the top of walls to avoid the sheep. Once or twice the sheep jumped up onto the wall in front of them. Every time it made Tahati yell in alarm. That made the others laugh or mock her. That annoyed Tahati.
By the time they got to the gate to the farm it had been a struggle. Now they were here there wasn’t anyone around on the farm that they could find. The only living creatures around was a white duck and four brown chickens paddling in a muddy puddle. Not even a farm dog could be seen.
“They’re probably in the field, in the harvester,” Zangi said.
“It might take them ages to notice us. We’ll run out of fuel by then,” Tiana said.
“They’ve probably got loads of fuel to spare... if it can find it,” Tahati said pointedly.
There was a shift in their attitudes.
“It’s probably in the barn,” Ravi said.
“They probably wouldn’t even notice it was gone,” Simi said.
“Not until we were gone,” Tiana agreed.
“And it’s not like they need it more than we do,” Ravi said.
For one, long, lingering moment, all of them glanced between each other, wondering if all of them were in on this.
An hour later, Tahati was driving through the lane while Tiana, Ravi and Zangi tried to usher the sheep back down the road, towards an open gate into a field. Simi was behind the car, pushing it forwards until she could manage to get to the fuel tank. There were too many sheep in the way. She had to stand on the wall to try and get the jerry can high enough to pour into the car. Tiana had grabbed the nearest one, and set off running for the car. They had no idea if it was petrol or diesel or even lighter fluid, but they were going to find out. Once the sheep were out of the way enough for them to drive on, the other girls climbed back in through the windows. Simi left the jerrycan in the middle of the road.
For a good half hour they drove without problems. Then the engine began to clunk and complain. Five minutes later, greyish smoke came fluffing from out of the bonnet, and the car smelt of smoke. Slightly panicked, and terrified, the girls leapt out of the car, with their bags, and ran down the road in case it exploded. Five minutes later it was still smoking but there were no signs of fire.
Once they were sure it wouldn’t explode, they edged closer to it. Zangi sat on the wall, and leaned on her thighs.
“What did we mess up?” She asked.
“I dunno did we over heat it?” Ravi asked.
“I dunno, maybe,” Simi said.
“We need to open the bonnet and see,” Tiana said.
“Why?” Simi asked.
“Might see what’s up with it,” Tiana shrugged.
“Does anyone know how to fix cars?” Tahati asked.
“I know how to recognise what’s wrong with the engine so I can tell the mechanics what to look at,” Zangi raised a hand.
“I can do wheels and oil changes,” Ravi said.
“I can do petrol,” Simi said.
They looked over at Tahati. She threw her arms in the air. “I can’t even drive well; do you know how difficult it is to find the biting point? It’s impossible! I have to take off my shoe!”
“That’s sort of what makes you the safest driver. You’re very good for a learner, you should be proud,” Tiana said.
That made Tahati blush a little.
“I think the problem was putting the phone on charge. It must-a drained the battery,” Simi said.
“Did the phone at least charge?” Tiana asked.
“Not fully,” Zangi said.
“So, we don’t know where we’re going?” Tahati asked.
“Nope,” Zangi said.
“But it’s getting dark,” Tahati said.
“Yep,” Zangi nodded.
“And we’re stuck,” Tahati said.
“Yes,” Zangi agreed.
“So… we’re sleeping here tonight,” Tahati said slowly.
“Looks it,” Zangi nodded.
Loud, mixed, swearing. Ten minutes later, they were pushing the car down the road with all the effort they could muster. The sun was setting behind them and burning their backs. Tiana, Simi and Ravi were side by side on the road, putting in the most effort, but Tahati and Zangi were on the walls, pushing it along by the roof. They were in charge of finding a gate off the road to go through to spend the night off road.
“Look! A campsite!” Zangi cried.
There was a battered old sign that pointed towards an old field. The campsite was actually down the small turning just beyond the field, and a mile down the road. Officially anyway. technically this was part of the campsite too, but only for peak times.
This was not peak times.
The field was empty.
“Are you sure this is a campsite?” Tahati asked.
“There’s no sign of life except rabbit crap, no toilets, no shower, nothing but a trough over there and a hut over there!” Ravi said.
“Sounds like a campsite,” Tiana muttered.
“And a river,” Ravi added.
“Have none of you been to a festival? The trough is for guys to pee in, and that hut, that’s for us girlies,” Tiana said.
The other’s eyes widened in terror.
“Dear God no,” Simi breathed.
The sun had gone now. It was the kind of beautiful experience that only certain situations can create. One you wouldn’t imagine happening, until it did. For example, the blazing heat the week before was needed to make the clouds that brought the rain. The sun was needed to fill the clouds with an orange and pink glow. The clouds had to be thin enough to fill with light, but thick enough to veil the sun. And the raindrops had to be fat enough to fall as thin as it was right now, to send a rainbow across the clouds beside them.
As the cloud drifted across the sky, the sun lowered. Together, they made the moment fleeting.
A thousand families in a thousand houses missed it. Even as it passed their windows they were busy staring at TV screens and phones to notice. Or reading. Or playing games. They just weren’t looking outside.
Or if they were pushing a car.
All that was left was an inky residue in the blue sky. That was rapidly being punctured by little glowing stars.
Something in Tahati snapped. She started screaming. It made the others jump out of their skins. Tahati turned into a pterodactyl. She went racing across the muddy field, as fast as she could, while giving off a mighty, primal scream. One that had been pinned inside for so long and now was running for the hills.
the others clubbed together around the front of the car to watch.
It would have been an oddly intimate sight if anyone else had seen it. There were four friends gathered by the parked car. One sat on its bonnet. One leaned an arm on another’s shoulders. One stood with a hand on her hip and her weight shifted into one leg. They were Tahati, a few feet in front of them, on her knees, screaming into the star crammed sky. The entire scene was lit only by the stars now. This made the grass look midnight blue, and the girls become silhouettes. The colder air caused the scream to come out as a mist, which made her look like a dragon.
When she finally stopped screaming, there was a long, calm, pause. Tahati looked as if all the air had been released from her. She vaguely resembled a deflated balloon. Or at least, a deflated one of those dancing men outside car dealerships.
After the pause had lingered for long enough, Ravi straightened up. She waded through the long, blue grass and mud, over to her friend. Ravi laid a hand gently on her shoulder, and then sunk to her knees at her side to wrap her arms around her. Tahati didn’t move other than to lay her head on Ravi’s shoulder.
Slowly, one by one, the others came wandering over too. They each hugged her in turn.
They sat in a circle in the grass, together, beneath the stars.
Tahati pulled up bits of grass and pulled them apart. “Sorry. I don’t know what came over me.”
“Don’t be. You got it out of your system. It’s healthier than bottling it up,” Simi said.
“Everyone needs to scream their head off sometimes,” Ravi agreed.
“That’s why I go to concerts. To smash the bottles I’ve been filling with things I want to ignore,” Tiana agreed, “Why’d you think Sapphire’s so happy all the time? She goes to concerts every damn week!”
“That’s why men go to football matches. And why they cry at football. Men are too weak to be emotional about real things so they focus it into other, richer men kicking a ball into a net,” Simi scoffed.
“I’m not sure I see your point?” Tahati said.
Simi laid a hand on Zangi’s shoulder. “Being emotional, and being vulnerable, is being human.”
“I don’t like it,” Tahati said.
“No one does,” Tiana said, but she said it at the exact same time that Simi said, “Then be a robot.”
Tiana’s eyes lit up. “Be terminator. We could kill so many people with that!”
“I was thinking Iron Man. He became a robot so he didn’t have to face emotions,” Ravi said.
“He didn’t become a robot though, he created suits,” Zangi said.
“Robot suits. For him to be a robot in. He became a robot,” Ravi said.
“No, he became someone who controls robotics-” Tiana began.
“He became. An iron. Man. That’s a robot!” Ravi argued.
This debate lasted a few hours, which to be honest was one of their shorter debates. Meanwhile Simi wandered off to find some bits of wood, and random scraps of paper from the car, to burn in a campfire. This included the rental contract, and the car manual which they could have used to figure out what was wrong with the car. it took them a while to light the fire, because the only light they had was the one in the car. it took a while to charge the car up enough to warm the lighter enough to burn.
Eventually they were all sat in front of the car, around a burning fire. Hungry, sure. But not cold. And, (for the first time in a long time for two of them) not lonely.
“I’m scared,” Ravi admitted while she poked.
Simi lifted her head. “Of what?”
Ravi shrugged. “The future.”
“Girl same,” Zangi laughed.
“No I’m serious. I’m terrified. I’m scared that trump will get in power, and I’m scared we’ll be talking about Brexit for years, and I’m scared that I’ll make the wrong choice of subject to study, and I’m scared that I won’t make any new friends, and I’m terrified that I’ll lose you... I don’t want to lose you,” Ravi muttered.
“Oh Ravi...” Tiana said.
“Ravi even if trump gets in power, so many people hate him that they’ll vote against anything he wants to do. He’ll have no effect on the way our country is run. We’re safe from him. But we will be talking about Brexit for years. Decades even. It’s a big change. One that will go down in history forever. We gotta embrace it now. It’s not worth being afraid,” Zangi explained.
That was the one and only serious thing Zangi ever said.
“If you make a mistake in what you’re studying, drop it. Move on to something you actually want to do. Find something that you love, and tell everyone else to go screw themselves. Do what makes you happy. Even if it means turning your school life on its head. Give it two years and no one will care,” Tiana said.
Tahati agreed. “You’re smart. You’ll get through.
“And if you could make this group if miserable hoes to love you, you’ll be fine without us!” Zangi grinned.
“Not that you’re going to be without us for long. I made snapchat to keep in contact with you, if you think I’m not sending you one every day, you got another thing coming!” Tiana said firmly.
“You mean it?” Ravi asked.
“Damn right I mean it. I’ll call you up in November and drag you to the cinema to see Fantastic Beasts and where to find them with me and Zangi for my birthday. And you’re coming. Got it?” Tiana warned.
Tahati looked up at the stars. “If we head that way, we’ll be going north. Towards that tree.”
“How can you tell?” Simi asked.
“Polaris,” Tahati pointed to the north star shining brightly above them. “The coast is that way.”
“D’you think anyone would mind if I washed my clothes in the river? It’s just I’m in my last clean shirt and its covered in mud, sheep smell and gas,” Simi said.
They looked between each other, and down at what they were wearing. These were their last clean clothes...
It turned out to be useful that do one was around, because it meant that they could leap into the river, wash their clothes, splash each other, and laugh loudly. The water was freezing. It came up to Simi’s thighs, and she was the shortest one. The rest of them had toes that were practically blue.
To try and get their clothes as clean as possible, they had races. Ravi’s shirt vs Simi’s trousers. They held them in the current until they were floating and let them go. Two of them (usually Tahati and Zangi) stood a little way down the river, to catch them. Jeans lost every time. All of them washed as many of their clothes as possible, which took a lot of effort. They finally understood why old women had those scrubbing boards when cleaning. Once they were full of icy water, and half frozen to death, they couldn’t handle it anymore. They went back to crowding the fire, trying to warm up.
“Well I can cross skinny-dipping in the dark off my bucket list,” Ravi said, shivering.
The others laughed loudly. It was underlined with chattering teeth though. This was not the glamorous washing experience they were partly expecting, and now they had a new problem.
“How’re we gonna dry these?” Tahati asked.
The laughter was replaced with humoured groaning at this brand-new problem to deal with.
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