In the light of the news on yesterday’s post, and the overwhelmingly positive response I’ve received from so many of you, I thought I’d share the first chapter of my tentatively titled book: The Joseph Project. It’s not my favourite chapter – it probably needs the most work, ironically. Or perhaps it’s just overworked in my mind. Whatever it is, here it is. I welcome feedback via email: cratar (at) gmail.com.
The object captured his attention. So much so that the slender icy fingers of wind slipping down the back of his coat neck did not bother 12-year old Simon at all. In fact, he hardly noticed the sudden drop in temperature. Even the high-pitched whistling gusts snaking through the multi-coloured beach huts could not divert his attention from the strange object at the water’s edge.
Tangled seaweed surrounded it. If it weren’t for the glinting flash of light that seemed to break free from the kelp mass, he may not even have noticed it.
“What could that be?” Simon half-whispered his thoughts aloud.
It wasn’t uncommon to see all manner of debris littering the beach in the middle of winter. After all, the Western Cape had been dubbed the Cape of Storms centuries ago for good reason. But, there was something mysterious about the smooth object embedded in the beach’s shoreline.
Even in the overcast greyness of a typical wintery June day, somehow the sun managed to push through the thick cloud, reaching out to touch the object; lighting it up as if it were a signpost to another world. Simon felt strangely drawn to its glow. What could it possibly be?
From the sandy Muizenberg beach walkway, Simon’s mother called his name. His three younger siblings huddled around her legs, trying to stay warm as the relentless wind whipped their hair across their faces and teased their coat hoods away from their heads. It was cold. Mrs Ward waved, signalling that it was time to return to the car and head home. No doubt, she was regretting their impromptu beach outing to collect shells for their sea-life project. It had been calm and sunny at their house, but the weather in Cape Town was known to change dramatically even within the same hour.
Glancing back at the object, Simon reluctantly turned and ran towards his mother. Perhaps it was nothing after all. As if to reassure himself that it wasn’t really much of a mystery, Simon looked over his shoulder towards the water’s edge where the sea foam pooled around the kelp, sliding off its smooth surface with each wave of the murky winter sea water. The glow had faded. The heavy clouds had reclaimed the sky and not one slither of sun escaped. But, while the glow had faded, the object was still there. It was… it was… a bottle?
“Mom!” Simon yelled into the roar of the wind, “Mom! I’m coming now! Wait for me in the car!”
His voice carried away in the wind. Not stopping to see if she did hear him, Simon turned around and sprinted to the water’s edge. There it was. Tangled seaweed gripped it, but with a gentle tug he managed to free the bottle from its chains of kelp. Tucking it under his coat, he dashed back towards the parking lot.
Simon was breathless when he arrived at the car. His cheeks glowed red and his nose was damp from his frosty exertion. His mother had just finished buckling his youngest sister into her car seat. Ducking under her arm, Simon slipped through the gap between the seats and scooted across to his own seat.
“Simon!” his mother chided, “Really! Can’t you remember to be patient and wait until I’m done with buckling Jemma in? You almost knocked me over! It’s bad enough that the wind is trying to carry me away, without you trying, too!” Shaking her head, Mrs. Ward slammed the sliding door shut and walked around the car to the driver’s side. She hadn’t even realised that he was out of breath.
Feeling a sliver of annoyance at his harassed mother’s rebuke, Simon secretly fingered the bottle beneath his coat. It was cold and wet, seeping icy dampness through the layers of his t-shirts and jersey. Strangely, he felt a sense of excitement. “Strangely” because it was just a bottle after all. A handful of vagrants gathered near the beach in the wintertime, warming themselves with sips of wine from bottles shaped just like this one. It was probably just one of their old discarded bottles, empty of everything but perhaps a few specks of sand. He would return home, examine it and then, in all likelihood, toss it into the recycling bin under his mother’s kitchen sink. Yet, despite knowing this, Simon still felt a warm thrill of adventure gather around his shoulders like a comforting blanket. Imagining scenes from his favourite shipwreck stories, Simon plotted out a fantastical tale of the bottle’s journey. While Mrs Ward drove along the M5 towards the leafy suburb of their home and his brother and sisters sang their loud and off-key accompaniment to the nursery songs playing on the car’s sound system, Simon’s thoughts were lost in a world of intrigue where his bottle contained jewels and secret codes. By the time they arrived home, he was convinced that his bottle was a part of a secret spy plot from hundreds of years ago and that he, Simon Ward, now held the last piece of a great mystery.
Flinging her seatbelt aside, Kim bolted across the car with all the exuberance of a typical 10-year old girl, knocking Simon right out of his dreamy state.
“Hey!” Simon shouted indignantly as her beanie sailed across the car and slapped him in the face, “What was that for?”
Kim didn’t hear Simon; she was too intent on racing her twin brother, Nic to the front door. Shaking his head, Simon carefully unclipped his seatbelt and followed his excitable younger siblings to the front door, hoping that he could slip, unnoticed and unbothered, into his room to examine his treasure more closely.
It was not to be. Just before Simon reached the front door, Purdy, their energetic border collie, hurtled like a bullet towards Simon, her favourite human in the whole world. With three bounding leaps, she crossed the front path and planted two great big muddy paws on Simon’s chest. As Simon tried to ward off Purdy’s enthusiastic greeting, his precious bottle slid out from under his jacket and… shattered on the driveway.
~ end of chapter one ~
Special thanks to the Radue family for playing the roles of Mrs Ward, Simon and Nic in our fun photography session on Friday. And to Katie and Micah for playing Kim and Jemma. (whoops – sorry Micah, I hope you won’t hold it against me when you’re older!)