Chapter 15

In the lull between Christmas and New Year, when the twins had gone back to their own lives and all anybody else seemed to want to do was shop, Anna packed herself and Hector into the car and headed away from the city and back to Elie. The revelations from her Dad were still fresh and the new found openness between them was something of an awkward joy in the household, but neither seemed to want to push their luck and so while Struan took his vulnerability hangover back to the office for several days, Anna took the opportunity to return to the box of family history, ready to explore its secrets. As she pulled into the driveway opposite the harbour Hector’s head appeared expectantly at her shoulder.

“Yes, yes, we’ll go to the beach first,” she reassured him, rubbing his nose and reaching for his ball.

The tide was out leaving several of the boats abandoned on the sand. The sight of them made Anna think of girls at an old fashioned dance, sitting at the side, forlorn and waiting for someone to ask them to dance. They would have to wait a while longer today as the beach extended far past their bows providing a vast and abandoned playground for Hector. These few days were always quiet here, but as the New Year approached more and more people would come roaring in from elsewhere to enjoy the peace and quiet of this tiny sleepy town. Anna knew it was all a bit of a cliché now, for the well-heeled from Glasgow and Edinburgh to have a holiday home in Elie, or to borrow someone else’s for the weekend. She took comfort in the fact that her family had been doing this long before it became fashionable, before you could buy ‘I’d rather been in Elie’ mugs and cushions in the local gift shop. Not for the first time she wondered what it must be like to be one of the residents here, watching your home being eaten up piece by piece, first by those with enough for ‘a little place by the sea’ but more recently by nameless, faceless entities turning one time family homes into anonymous holiday lets. It wasn’t only here that it happened. All along this coastline, tiny picturesque villages were having their prime seafront properties snapped up, renovated and rented out to visitors so that no local could afford to live there. Anna wondered what her Mum would make of it all.

With the sea in retreat Anna was able to walk the full length of the beach to the far side of the town and as she turned to make her way back her stomach growled. Clipping Hector onto his lead they made their way off the sand, meandering back through the town to see where might be open. Nautical-themed ornaments adorned windows and walls, while the sand crept along the edge of the road, carried inland by many feet and paws, a souvenir to the streets from the daily beach-dwellers. After stopping in the café to pick up a slice of carrot cake they made their way along the main street before turning back down towards the harbour. A couple of hardy kayakers made their way across the sand but apart from that the beach was still deserted. A short while later, fed, watered and satisfied, Anna was back in the lounge and ready for the task at hand.

“Now then,” she began, lifting the cardboard box from where it had been abandoned in the middle of the floor and placing it beside the coffee table. “Let’s see what we have.” Taking off the lid she lifted the large piece of paper containing the family tree, opened it out and placed it on the table. Next were the leather notebooks, followed by the Christening robe and finally the box of letters. The name Molly Mackenzie had been swimming around in her mind for days. Who was she? What was she like? Why had these particular artefacts been kept? And how did her step-grandfather’s family have a connection to Jamaica? Opening the first book, she turned through the pages with great care and realised she was looking at a diary spanning the years 1827 to 1833. The writing at the start was clearly that of a child but as the pages progressed the penmanship matured. The second volume was less complete, running only from 1833 until 1834. Next she unfurled the christening robe on the carpet in front of her, running her hands along the delicate lace, marvelling at how it had remained in such good condition.

 “Where do you fit in the puzzle I wonder?” she spoke to it, imagining it filled out with a kicking, cooing child. “Were you Molly’s, or someone else’s?” Folding it carefully, Anna placed it back in the box out of harm’s way, not wishing the dog or a wayward mug of coffee to do any damage. Finally she came to the bundle of letters and looked at the dates, trying to curb her greedy mind from reading something out of its timeline. The first half dozen or so letters were already in date order and seemed to come after the dates in the journals. The final envelope was inscribed with different handwriting and was the last date in the series. Anna felt the temptation to jump ahead in the story and so she tucked them away without looking to see who they were from, hoping that all would be revealed soon enough. Satisfied that all was now in order she lifted the first journal and took it to the sofa to read. Anna was used to dealing with historical documents and was always excited to get her hands on some authentic connection to the past, but sitting holding this diary suddenly felt very different. This ishistory with a very personal connection, she realised afresh. The person who held this book wasconnected to her family. Opening to the first page, she began to read.

 4th August 1827

Herein lies the diary of Miss Molly Mackenzie aged ten years old. I live on the Harlaw Vale Estate, in the parish of St.Andrew positioned outside of Kingston, Jamaica, in the shadow of the Blue Mountains. 

**

An hour later Anna closed the first volume of the diary, rubbing her temples to try and ease the fuzziness in her head. It had been a strain to decipher Molly’s faded handwriting and piece together the dates and gaps in entries and she had taken to scribbling place names and questions on a scrap of paper in order to do some further research once she was finished. The professional historian was in part thrilled to discover such insightful first-hand accounts and equally embarrassed by a clear gap in her own knowledge but the more she read, the inescapable and overwhelming personal revelation was that her family had been plantation owners in the Caribbean. It didn’t matter that it was a side of the family not related by blood. The connection was real. She had known about Britain’s past with slavery, but it had always concerned someone else, somewhere else. Not here. Not us. Not…her.

As Anna allowed the reality of what she had read to take hold, a deep sense of unease began to settle over her, forcing her up from the sofa to pace the room, back and forth, rolling her shoulders, moving her body, trying to shake off…what? What was she feeling? Stopping by the window she looked out at the sea and found herself no longer comforted by its presence. In a short space of time it had come to represent something entirely different, a dark highway to the unknown, to the past, to another place that held a painful connection. Memory of an old, dog-eared atlas sent her to the book shelf and she opened the cover turning first to the double page world map at the front. Tracing a line with her fingers from Scotland across the Atlantic, the elegant font of that ocean speaking only of noble adventure, hinting at awesome wonder, betraying nothing of bondage or suffering. Her hand moved slowly left, finding the correct region, then island and finally the small dot of the capital. For several minutes Anna simply knelt and stared at the tiny faded patch of yellow in the middle of the light blue Caribbean Sea. Finally she named the feeling that had been coursing through her veins these last minutes. Shame. A profound sense of shame. In her mind surfaced the woman from the museum, accusing her of not knowing her own history. Anna had been so sure of the story she’d been told, felt secure in all she’d been taught but she had been wrong, and the woman she met that day clearly knew things that Anna did not.  

Turning to the index to find a map of the island she found that this particular atlas had only a slightly larger picture of the entire region. Casting the book aside, hungry for information she opened her laptop and began to search. The internet fed her every kind of map and survey and as her appetite became more voracious she found herself following every link to a new angle, a fresh insight until she had gorged herself to the point where her head was swimming with knowledge and the words on the screen began to blur together. Lying back onto the carpet she stared up to the ceiling, gathering her thoughts. In amongst the disquiet a small voice of hope began to rise.

Molly.

Despite the facts of what she had been born into, this girl’s character was finding its own way, making her own path. Was there some redeeming part of this history to be found in the life of this young girl? Anna was intrigued by Molly’s strong sense of self, knowing that she was setting herself against her own father and the whole of the society to which she belonged. And what of her friendship with Jacob? The more that Anna allowed Molly’s personal story to take centre stage in her mind the more she felt driven back to the source, despite a strong distaste for the subject matter.

And so steeling herself for further unpleasant revelations she opened the book and began to read.

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