Miss Bird Has a Vision
It is 1935. Harriet Bird has lived in the Malay Peninsula for sixteen years. Now she must return to England and an uncertain future. She has just boarded the passenger freighter in Singapore that will take her across the Indian Ocean and along the Suez Canal to Port Said. It is her first time out on deck, which she shares with Mr and Mrs Richmond, whom she encountered at embarkation, and a mysterious man whom she has yet to meet.
‘Miss Bird stared at her fellow travellers and at the sun-bleached deck and the shimmering ocean. A current of electricity, as if with sudden violence a bolt of summer lightning had been released from a pink aureole of sanctifying cloud, shot through her mind.
And she had a vision. It was as if, among all the haphazard constituents of human life – all the chance encounters and coincidental events – design, intention, had shown its calculating hand beneath the chaos of existence.
We are standing here, she thought, and we cast no shadows. We are spaced mathematically about this tiny deck as if by a hidden intelligence and we cast no shadows. Everything has significance: the way the wind flutters at Mrs Richmond’s hair, so that it floats behind her in a blonde stream of rapturous sunlight; her husband’s tie, blue and green, caught over his shoulder and coiling like a snake; this gentleman’s unlit cigar, stiff with defiance and defeat. And … we are like angels. Yes, angels! – fallen angels perhaps, but nevertheless angels. We await something momentous on the brink of eternity. This little deck might be our final assembly point before we all fly off into the empyreum. There we will turn to fire and light, each entrusted with a sacred mission, with a vow of silence sealed with a holy kiss on our dry and chastely burning lips.
Miss Bird gripped the rail to steady herself against the absurdity of her mind. This was her age at work. It drew connections against one’s will, gave one silly dreams that meant nothing but caused trouble if one talked about them. Oh dear! She was too tired for these sick fancies.
‘Madame, are you unwell?’
It was the little man in the shiny suit and greasy hat …
The Long Voyage Home needs a publisher. I hope this extract will have whetted your appetite for more.