Am Bodach

Harris 1891 : The old man rose slowly from his chair, walked stiffly towards the door of the blackhouse. He was accustomed to the gloom, the air thick with peat smoke, but still he fumbled with the door latch. He muttered to himself in gaelic.

Outside the morning sunlight blinded him and he raised his arm to shield his eyes. Several hens scattered from under his feet , only to return expectantly. He dug into the pocket of his tweed jacket and scattered some oats on the bare earth, then sat down heavily on the stone bench, leaning his back against the stone wall of the blackhouse. He had built this house himself, with the help of others, 45 years ago now.

He breathed in. The stiff sea breeze was refreshing after the stale air of the blackhouse interior. They said that peat smoke prevented the plague but it couldn’t be good for your lungs. He chuckled to himself.

Across the glen a shepherd waved to him and he nodded in reply. From his vantage point he could see the whole village, the blackhouses huddled around the millpool, the church, school and post office. Beyond that was the Sound of Harris, glittering in the sun, islands scattered in her midst.

One island sat prominent though, a focal point almost on the horizon. Pabaigh, the priests island, the island of his birth. That wasn’t yesterday, he reflected, yet he could remember the village houses, the school, the church and he could remember the fields of barley that they played in as children, despite dire warnings from their elders.

For it was the barley that they exported in boats, to trade with other islanders. And it was the barley that helped produce uisge beatha, the water of life. He remembers that most of all, the men sitting around the peat fire, drinking whisky, stories galore, laughter and tears as the storyteller held them in his hand.

They were evicted in 1846.

The old man was woken by the first raindrops. He had fallen asleep. Auld fool, he muttered to himself. As he rose to go inside he saw that Pabaigh had disappeared from view.

Harris 2021: The Range Rover Discovery climbs up the track to the holiday house, a converted ruin it says on the website. The car speaks ‘You have arrived at your destination’. ‘Thank goodness’ mutters the man driving, ‘these bloody roads’. A woman jumps out, followed by two teenaged girls. She looks across the glen. ‘Oh my God’ she cries,’I think that man is waving to us’.

Inside the house, they unpack their bags, fill the fridge, switch on the tv. The woman goes upstairs, walks onto the balcony and looks out. A strange pyramid shaped island catches her eye. How queer, she thinks but just then theres a cry from downstairs- ‘Mum, whats the code for the wifi?’

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