There was a grey sky whipped with white the colour of the houses and trim. In the gaps between the pavers there were some flowering weeds; herb robert; ivy leaved toad flax; dandelion; dock. I was busy with the plants when a movement caught my eye.
It was a little lad, maybe nine or ten, what would be called here on Orkney a wee peedie boy. He was wearing grey school shorts and a white shirt and a bright blue jumper, the colour of the sky only once on this trip.
He wasn’t looking at me but seemed to know I was there.
I crossed over the road, just an ordinary street, with terraced houses on both sides, a canyon of granite fronts and white paint. The only colours were the varied front doors and the weeds in the cracks in the pavement.
The little lad started to sing, hesitant at first and then a little louder. It was ‘Flower of Scotland’, and, as he grew more confident, his voice echoed between the buildings.
He kept to time, slapping one hand against his side as a reminder.
A seagull wheeled above him and then landed a few feet from me on the pavement where it walked uncertainly up-and-down. There was no one else in sight.
The boy sang for three versus without fault, repetition or hesitation. At the end I wasn’t sure whether to applaud or not and glanced down at the herring gull who eyed me with an imagined disfavour.
I looked back up at the boy but he was gone. There were no doors swinging closed in the tight faced houses, and no flash of blue at the end of the street.
I carried on towards the house where I was staying, puzzled, and pleased at the oddness. But mostly bemused.
Near the house that friends on another island had loaned me, a retaining wall had come down, stone and brick facing fallen all across the road. There were people coming out of the houses to look. It had been a high wall, excluding and imposing, barely softened by any lichen yellow or crottled green.
Later in the evening I spoke to my friend on the phone and I mentioned to her that I had just missed the wall and I laughed about not being squashed as flat as an oatcake.
She was more worried than me, perhaps feeling responsible for her neighbour’s bad walls. Then I mentioned the singing child that had delayed me and she went quiet.
After a long sigh she told me the story of a local wee peedie boy who had had the gift of foresight and who nobody ever believed. He’d been called Cassandra as a local joke until all his pals were lost in a shipwreck-storm between the islands. And though his neighbours paid attention to his warnings ever after he never forgave himself that they hadn’t been saved.
He had grown old, she said, and had eventually died, but he still came as a warning.
At the other end of the phone she was quiet, remembering, and gradually we talked of other things: the archaeological dig I was on; the people I had met across the Islands; the gig I was planning on going to the next week.
We didn’t speak of it again, and although I’m a scientist usually prone to the more rational explanation, when ever I hear that song I think of that wee boy and how his music saved me. And it gives me pause. For when it comes down to it what do I really know?
Submitted by E.E. Rhodes