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She is staring at the flickering TV screen. There is a nature programme about the journey of the Waxwings. The documentary-maker is shouting into the fluffy-capped microphone to overcome the noise of the helicopter. In her mind’s eye she is there too, looking down at the swirling of the ocean and the white water that defines the edges of a tiny island amid miles and miles of sea. The camera zooms in.
‘These small birds are easily identified by their prominent crests and yellow tipped tails. We have followed them from the far north and now they have reached the island of Roae; uninhabited since the 1930’s when the last of the population was forced to leave or face starvation.’
The camera pans from east to west, encompassing the island. A man is looking up at them––his hands covering his head. For a moment she sees his face, eyes squinting into the sun.
‘The journey of the waxwings is one of a long and arduous flight. But they have not come here to breed: they will feed on the rowan berries and the hips and haws before they go on their way.’
A close-up shot.
‘See the yellow tip on the tale and the mask around the eyes.’
She has recognised the man. There are no trees here, just bushes: nowhere to hide from the hovering eye of the camera like a bird of prey watching every movement.
‘The waxwings have landed to refuel.’
She remembers the days of heavy drinking, the bottles of spirits, the hard love, the pain, the aftermath, the rituals that had become their lives––and the day he went away, leaving his mark to yellow on her face. He did not come back to apologise, but then, she knew she could not forgive him, not this time. The police would be pressing charges.
He had left her to the silence, a hush of fear.
Now here he is, caught in the click of a shutter, climbing over a stile, running along a track, following the line of the cliff, towards a boat flinching on the sea with its waves; sharp, lashing at the jetty.
‘Soon the waxwings will be flying south in their search for food…
The helicopter is turning, side-on to the sea, leaving the island, the boat, the man.
‘…and as they travel down the east coast of the mainland, they will raze the hedgerows and the gardens of their berries.’
The clock on the mantelpiece ticks. She will wait for the waxwings. They are her witness.