Story postcard – finding her own body (2)

“Simi, torch please.”

Simi passes the torch across to Tim and closes her eyes, her head pounding with the howl and thump of the wind. The mad orchestra shivers through her, rising louder.

I’ve got to do something or I’m going to die. What do people do? How do you …? Sing! Sing? Yes. That’s it. I’m gonna sing! That’s what they did on the Titanic … well, not exactly sing … didn’t do them much good … but … I can sing.

She begins to hum. The rhythym fills her head, and vibrates down into her body, soothing her, and freeing the words.

“Swing low, sweet chariot …”

She starts softly, but her voice grows stronger and stronger.

“Swing low, sweet chariot …”

Each word gives her courage. Eyes still closed, she pulls her shoulders back and forces the rain out of her head, sinking one breath, and then a second, deep into her lungs.

One verse in, and the words have grown like a flame. They push up and out, higher, stronger, louder. Simi gets to her feet, lifted by the music. Then another voice joins. She opens her eyes, and sees Marybelle, her face tilted upwards, and her voice ringing clear. Together they plunge on, singing out against the wind, the words buffeted and bashed but always rising, clear above the chaos, and by the time they reach the final chorus Tim’s tenor has joined them.

They hit the final note and Simi, chest heaving, feels alive again. She has found her way back into her own body. Stopped its panic. Calmed herself. She hears a muffled clapping from where Bernard sits, wrapped tight in blanket and shadows. “Another … please, another.”

Marybelle is beside him, her smile lit by her torch until it flickers and dies. “Oh no!”

“Mine’s still good,” calls Tim. “Any more songs Simi? They’re great.” He shines his torch towards her. “Simi. Your hand. What’s happened?”

“Just a splinter. Marybelle got it out. It’s fine,” she says, feeling braver now. “Any suggestions for songs?”

“Sweet Ba …a,” Bernard calls.


“Sweet BANANA. Old Army song. One of their Malaya ones,” Marybelle shouts.

“Don’t kn …”

“You choose, Simi,” Tim says.

Simi is still thinking about which song to pick, when another rush of bodies tumbles through the door. The first person she sees is Rudd carrying a torch, his head just visible over a mass of logs. Then comes Jambee with more wood, which he adds to the pile Rudd has tipped on to the billiard table. Tonderai is behind them, arms stretched by a metal log basket, which he places between the bench and the table, its short, stiff legs lifting the metal off the wet floor, as the wind washes in more rain.

“Brilliant,” says Tim.

Marybelle is clapping.

“Eish … too bad out there,” says Tonderai, as he moves Bernard’s wet clothes carefully around to the long edge of the table, then reaches inside his raincoat and pulls a box of matches out of his trouser pocket. He strikes one, shields its flame into the drum, and slowly slowly coaxes a fire to life.

Copyright Georgie Knaggs & The Phraser 2023

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