Authors: Ann Kelley
Tags: #Historical, #Mystery, #Adventure, #Contemporary, #Young Adult
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To the real Bonnie
I have read, enjoyed, and learned about the natural history of Thailand and the islands in the Gulf of Thailand, and about the habits of tigers, from these books:
Chasing the Dragon’s Tail
The Singing Ape
Jeremy and Patricia Raemaekers;
Fight for the Tiger
Tigers in Red Weather
“When there is war,
the poet lays down the lyre,
the lawyer his law reports,
the schoolboy his books.”
“Where have all the flowers gone,
long time passing?”
It all began with my mother
changing her mind. At the time I was glad that no grown-ups, except Layla Campbell, were coming. Jas and I adored Layla Campbell. We’d met her only three times, but we knew that she was special, mysterious. She had taken over as our cadet leader from Mrs. O’Hanlon, who retired or went home or something.
Layla had this halo of curly red hair and wore lots of black smudgy eye makeup, which made her eyes glisten as if she were on the verge of tears. She held a cigarette like Lauren Bacall in the movies, and had this big sad mouth. Jas and I called her the Duchess, because of her posh Edinburgh accent.
We tried to walk like her, stole cigarettes from our mothers and choked trying to smoke like her. So we couldn’t have been happier that she was to lead our camp.
But I’m going too fast. I’ll start at the beginning. I remember when my journal was new and pristine, with clean white pages and a sky-blue hardback cover. Now it looks the way I feel—dirty, battered, torn, ripped, shattered, falling apart.
My journal takes me back to the Forbidden Island, and it’s all happening again….
JOURNAL OF BONNIE MACDONALD
MAY 11, 1974
Hooray! Tomorrow the Amelia Earhart Cadets go to the island with Layla Campbell.
Senior Amelia Earhart Cadets:
May and Arlene (the “Glossies”)
Waterproof holder for journal (v. important)
Flashlight (take lots of spare batteries)
Book? Ask Mom for recommendation
Swiss Army knife
Change of clothes
Toothbrush and misc. toiletries
Finally, we’re off. The rain is bucketing down, the roads are flooded, and you can hardly see through the windshield because there aren’t any wipers, so the Duchess hangs out the window and mops it with her tie-dyed scarf so the driver can navigate. She asks me to hold on
to her legs so she doesn’t fall out. She has these really long legs. Jas and I are laughing like mad.
The road disappears completely at one point and you can’t tell where the ditches and fields begin. We’re making a wake like a motorboat. People are wading through water to get home, their belongings in bundles on their heads. Only the gentle-faced water buffalo look unfazed. They’re in their element.
I glimpse through a gap in the flowering frangipani trees a girl of about my age, her heart-shaped face made up like a woman’s, with scarlet lip color, black eye shadow, and powdered cheeks. Her black hair, decorated with red and orange flowers, is like a waterfall to her tiny waist. She stands on a balcony and looks as if she is waiting for someone to press a button so her life can begin.
Bar girls and their scrawny-legged bosses squat on tables and look bored; Buddhist monks in orange robes hold umbrellas over their shaved heads; and confused stray dogs swim around looking for a place to stand and bark at the suddenly wet world.
Inside the bus the juniors are shrieking and whooping every time the water gets really deep outside. There are stranded vehicles all over the place.
In the back of the bus, between bumps and careering, May is attempting to apply mascara to Arlene’s
eyelashes. They both turned up wearing no makeup but they have transformed themselves from senior cadets into femmes fatales in a matter of minutes, with bright pink lipstick and blue eye shadow. Arlene shrieks—a lump of mascara in her eye.
“Spider-eyes! You look like you’ve got spiders around your eyes!” May hitches up her tube top and laughs.
Jas rolls her eyes at me.
Jody, Carly, and Sandy are staring out the windows, clutching their teddy bears. It’s their first camping trip. Carly and Sandy are the . with a red neckerchief. Natalie is huddled in the corner looking anxious.
“Don’t worry, Nat, we’ll survive,” I tell her, and she smiles faintly through her frown and carries on sucking the satin edge of her rag.
Sandy is the smallest girl, with pale hair and skin and skinny limbs. She looks as if she’d float away if you blew on her. Jas pulls her onto her lap so she doesn’t get too bumped around on the bad roads.
When the bus finally arrives at the wooden pier, we older ones help the little girls onto the boat, amid lots of screeches and giggles.
“Why won’t the stupid boat keep still?” May demands. The boatman tries to hold it steady as the lively waves drag it in and out.
By the time we’re all settled on the boat, the sun has
come out, but it’s a rough trip and nearly everyone is sick. Not me, though.
Hope manages to vomit into the wind and gets it all over her orange sweatshirt.
“Are we there yet?” Sandy moans. She is as green as the praying mantis I found in my bedroom last week, or one of the snakes the Thai boys torture on the compound.
Waves come over the bow and the sides and soak us all. Even the juniors’ teddy bears are sodden.
An hour’s boat trip is about as much as I can take at the best of times. The secret is to keep your eyes on the horizon so your brain can make sense of what is happening to your body. Dad told me that. He used to vomit in his helmet when he first started flying. Now he flies Phantom F-4s. He’s in the Special Air Service Regiment, deployed as an instructor to the United States Air Force front-line base at Utapao, an hour’s drive away from our home compound at Amnuythip.
We’ve been in Thailand for two years. We don’t see much of him—he mostly has to stay on the base—and when we do see him he looks very tired, with dark bags under his eyes, and his wavy brown hair has gone completely gray. But he’s still handsome. These days he has a very short fuse, and I mostly stay out of his way. Mom says that’s wisest. Dad thinks the war will be over in less than a year. We’ll go back to Scotland then.
It’ll be great seeing Grandpa and Grandma again, but it will be hard leaving my friends here, and I do love Thai food, especially sticky rice. There’s a little beach bar at Amnuythip where they have the best sticky rice ever. We have parties there sometimes when Dad and the other fathers are home. The Buddhist bar owner was a monk for many years and he’s covered in tiny tattoos, mostly words, like a newspaper of flesh. He and his wife cook chicken, pork, prawns, stalked barnacles, clams, lobster, and rice-stick noodles with all sorts of herbs and spices—ginger, coriander, lemongrass, and galangal. They were childhood sweethearts and lost touch with each other for years, but met again when she was a widow with five children. Mom thinks that’s so romantic.
There’s a tiny part of me that wishes Mom were here. Mrs. Campbell smiles and hugs the little ones, but I can tell that’s she’s worried. The boat bumps and shudders on the waves.
We’re nearing the island when the outboard motor stutters and stops.
“Are we out of fuel?”
The boatman, who looks about a hundred years old, can’t get the motor started. He has only one eye, which is covered with a black patch, like a pirate.
“Isn’t that where we are supposed to be going, Mrs. Campbell? I think we’ve gone too far.” I point to the landing place we came to last time we camped.
The sea sweeps us quickly past the island, and we seem to be drifting fast. The current is really strong.
“I’m sure the boatman knows what he’s doing, Bonnie.”
We watch him doing things to the outboard motor, but it still won’t start. We’ve gone way past our little island, and lots of others, too. They rise like big lush anthills straight out of the water. The boatman hauls up a small canvas sail and mutters something. I don’t know what he’s saying but the Duchess translates.
Rather than tack back against the wind and current to our island, which will take hours, she explains, he’s taking us to another, which is much bigger than the one we had planned to camp on, but has a landing place and freshwater, he says. Or that’s what Mrs. Campbell thinks he says. Is her Thai really that good? I’m impressed. But the others are appalled.
“There are over fifty islands in this archipelago,” shouts Mrs. Campbell between screams and groans.
“I don’t care where we stop, as long as it’s soon,” I tell Jas. She nods wearily and we huddle closer together. Waves crash over us and the boat is nearly overturned a couple of times. We use our hands to bail the water out.
“Where are the life jackets? No life jackets? No, of course not. Why did I ever say yes to this stupid trip?” Arlene says.
“Shut up, Spider-eyes! Will you just shut up?” May answers.
The Glossies (Jas and I thought of that name; they spend most of their time dressing up like they’re going to be photographed for a magazine, messing with their hair and plastering their stupid faces with too much makeup) squabble at the best of times. And this is not the best of times.
We are getting very close to a reef. Waves build up into breaking surf and our boatman steers carefully toward a gap between two exposed rocks and coral heads. As the boat reaches the gap it is raised high on a wave and we are swept into a lagoon.
There is a thin stretch of sand and, on the right, black rocks reaching out into the sea, like a natural harbor, except that as we get closer we can see that waves are surging between the rocks, making it dangerous to get too close.