Gerry Sitting on the back steps, I deduced three things from the visitor:
Underneath the dirt and grime, his eyes are blue.
He is extremely thin and extremely hungry.
Out of all the things I grow in my secret garden, he chose the strawberries.
He couldn’t see me from where I sat. But he might have - just was too weak to care. Maybe he could just size me up. I wasn’t an officer. I was a girl. I wasn’t wearing a uniform. I was wearing a dress with a let down hemline and a knit cardigan with too many dropped stitches to count.
So I must have looked very unthreatening indeed.
I shifted on the seat, closed my notebook. I watched him pick one of my strawberries and cram it desperately into his mouth. His eyes were clouded with guilt. Guilt from stealing from a girl’s secret strawberry patch. Would he have seen guilt in my eyes too, if he’d looked?
I cleared my throat. “I can get you something else.”
He didn’t flinch at the sound of my alien voice. He didn’t even look up. But he drew his hand back from the strawberry patch, dropping his arm limply by his side.
“Don’t worry,” I told him. “I’m not going to tell on you.”
He wouldn’t look at me. “S’il vous plaȋt,” he whispered.
In my head I added a mental note.
2. He is French.
“Oh,” I said, a little hesitant. I tried to remember any French people had tried to teach me at school. If only you’d try to learn a little French, Gerry, said my father. “Do you understand English?” I asked. His eyes met mine for a split second, then went back to the strawberries. I eased forwards.
“You’re not from here,” I said. “I’m sorry.”
He knew that I knew where he came from. “Did you escape?” I whispered.
He shook his head violently. He understood me.
“Ils vous laissent parfois trouver de la nourriture par vous-même. Ils n'ont pas assez à nous donner. J’ai tellement faim.”
I had no idea what it meant, but I could tell by the way his voice broke that he wasn’t happy. I wanted to reach out and touch him, but he seemed to be shrinking away already if he knew that’s what I wanted to do. So I didn’t.
“It’s alright,” I told him. “You can eat some more strawberries if you want. I can make them grow until November. Honestly.” I smiled. I wasn’t sure he understood that part, but at least he could hear my tone. He could see me smile. “Or you could eat some of the lettuce. This is my special patch. It’s hidden. No one can find it and take anything away.”
I sat, stewing on my words. “You’re the first one to find it,” I added.
He gazed at me blankly. He really was very dirty, but I wondered what they would say if he came back with his face washed. Would they assume he’d splashed his face in a river after he’d drunk, lapping up water like a dog? Whatever they would think, keeping clean wasn’t on the top of this boy’s list. Food was.
“Wait,” I said, getting to my feet. “Let me get something hot. It would help. My Mother’s made soup.”
I reached out and touched his shoulder gently. He flinched away. A layer of grime came away on my fingers.
I walked inside. Everything seemed dark after being outside in the sun for so long. I didn’t wait for my eyes to adjust, and instead walked in the direction of the kitchen, not caring that I could barely see. It’s what comes of living in a house for so long. You know it so well you could find your way around with your eyes closed.
The kitchen was bright, sunlight gleaming on the flagstone, the window open to let in the cool air. Mother had gone somewhere and left the soup cooling in the pot. I spooned some into a bowl for the visitor and made my way to the back door, trying my best not to let it slop over the bowl.
The dying sun greeted me as I stepped outside. Sweetpeas nodded their heads from the corner. A bird swooped overhead.
But the visitor wasn’t there. He was gone.
Chapter 2 June has always been a strange month for us. It was June when Germany took over Jersey, June when Aunt Janet was sent to Ravensbrück, June when our dog had a litter of puppies and I was afraid to sell them because I didn’t know whether they would have been eaten instead of cared for.
And now it was June again, the fourth June where something happened. In a place where things are always happening.
American and English troops landed in France and we had no food.
The day after the visitor came, I took Pearl with me to meet Bess in the village.
Bess smiled at me as I approached, and I sat down with her on the wall.
We didn’t have picnics by the cliffs anymore. Not after what happened to Captain Ayton, even though Daddy had warned us hundreds of times before that.
There are mines on those cliffs. They’ll blow you to pieces. Don’t you go near them, Gerry, they’re dangerous enough as they are, crumbling away. We learned our lesson when Captain Ayton was blown to pieces instead. And besides, picnics weren’t the same anymore. They were scanty and didn’t taste nice.
“Where have you been?” said Bess, taking my hand and squeezing it, because if there was something Bess hated, it was being out alone. A year older than me and she still hated nights without a moon. Still hated the large waves in a storm.
“I’m not that late,” I told her.
She gave me a look and then focused on the bright stretch of sea in front of us.