The boys exchanged looks – there was no way out of this one. They were caught in the act, nowhere to run but out to sea and no excuses. They could see his outline in the horizontal sun, casting a very long shadow indeed across the beach and across their new dreams of a summer of surfing. He was shouting, but they couldn’t make out what. Dolefully they grouped together for some show of solidarity and scooped the board towards them. They could see scratches on the top from where the board had slid along the sand on one of its many journeys in alone and, although they were purely cosmetic they blanched at the changes they’d made. In the long slow wade back up to the beach they began to feel the cold once more as the water stopped being a friendly enveloping cocoon and became an unpleasant hanger on – they shivered almost simultaneously, smiling with bravado at the anticipated wrath, not wanting to show that they really were scared. Even at this age they would rather not face off the obviously incandescent Victor who was coming more clearly into view, face red and shoulders shaking as they approached.
Just as they were back in the waist deep water another wave overtook them, snatching the board from Matt’s hands and propelling it a little way ahead of them. Instinctively Joe dived for it, caught it and , just before the second wave came through, threw himself across it and was as amazed as anyone to feel the moving water pick him up and increase his speed up towards Victor. There was nothing to lose now, this was very possibly the last time for a very long time that he was going to get the chance – he swung his arms through the water like a dervish and amazingly picked up the front of the wave. With all the strength he could muster he pulled himself up to standing in one bound and stood, legs outstretched, knees bent and eyes gleaming as he rode the wave with almost nonchalant lack of effort. Behind him Matt, Dave and Andy started to run, ploughing through the water behind him, easily outstripped by the speed of the planing board. Joe reached the shallow beach edge water, where the sand could be seen blowing back and forth beneath the clearer water. He came within feet of Victor, who was looking at him with his mouth open, and hopped off the board just as the momentum dropped – a single graceful, almost balletic move.
Joe awaited the tirade – he could hear the others behind him, out of breath but almost by his side.
Victor looked up – his face a mask, but red in the reflected sunset. He waited as the four forms dragged themselves much more slowly up the last few yards, Joe now joined by his brother Dave in carrying the offending board from the water.
Victor waited until they were within touching distance, all looking down at the ground. He spoke softly, his heavily accented voice carrying power without the need for any volume.
“Who the hell told you that you could use the board ?”
Silence as they all looked at each other. Matt looked up, shrugged his shoulders.
“So, Matt – your idea or what ?” Victor looked him square in the face. Matt clenched his hands into fists, fists of shame rather than aggression.
“Guess it was, I just thought…well, I just wanted to try it…”
“So why the bloody hell didn’t you ask ? “ Victor raised his voice a tiny amount, but enough to make Matt shrink back. “See Matt, where I come from, where we come from – Africa – it seems to be only bloody polite. Over here, no bloody manners.”
Still silence from the assembled group. Matt mumbled something that sounded like sorry but didn’t manage to make it out of his mouth as a fully formed word.
“Look, you boys” Victor continued, “When I looked out of the window and saw some kids messing about with a board in the water what was I to think ? The bloody board is mine. I was bloody angry I can tell you.”
“Sorry – we didn’t...” Dave was cut off by Victor.
“See, the thing is I know you aren’t pains in the arse like some of the bloody kids who come here on holiday. So being asked is all I really wanted. Do you think that I mind about the board ? Well ? Have you ever seen me use it ? Look man I’m too bloody old for that sort of thing – it’s going up on the wall in the bar or maybe I’ll hire it out to the guests.” He reached forward and ran a finger down the scratch on the varnished surface. “Well, I was going to.”
He stared at them intently. One by one they wished that the sand would open up and swallow them whole. The shadows spread longer and deeper across the beach, the air was heavy with colour and no-one spoke.
“Do you know how long I’ve been watching you four ?” – they shook their heads pitifully – "For about an hour and a half now. Like I said, I was bloody angry when I realised you’d got my board, but oh man, after watching you play the four stooges on that board for that long – well I asked myself, how can you get so angry with this bunch of doffs ?” His face broke into an unexpected grin. “Man, you were so bloody funny falling of all over the place that I couldn’t get angry any more. Man it’s just a lump of wood I told myself. You bloody stupid kids are giving me more fun watching than the bloody thing ever would have if I tried to use it.” He grinned again.
At first none of the four boys cracked a smile – they were exhausted not by the sea but by the anticipation of what was going to come next, part of them still wasn’t sure if this was a trap that Victor was setting before he lammed into them with the full force of his anger. No-one quite knew how to behave around Victor. Then Joe smiled, diffidently at first, laughing in relief a moment later.
“Hey !” shouted Victor, quelling the laughter and raising his voice for the first time, “I didn’t say it was good what you did.” He relaxed again, “But yeah, it was bloody bloody funny. You want to use the board again ?”
They could hardly believe the words; they tripped over themselves trying to say that they did.
“Well, there’s strings attached – you can have the board but I need two waiters, that’ll be four shifts a week each for two of you, five ‘til ten – you decide if you want to do it. Friday nights too, until you go back to school or whatever you do in this place. “
They looked at each other again, shoulders shrugged, not a word spoken but it was agreed that somehow they’d do it.
“Interested then ?”
“Yeah,” said Dave, “we need to work out who does what but, yeah. And we can use the board again ?”
“OK bra, but don’t take long – I want the first night’s work tomorrow – don’t dick me around and I won’t mess you around. Pay’s not great but you can use the board whenever you’re not working, maybe you’ll be a tourist attraction – the amazing surf clowns or something. First night’s work for each of you is on account – you pay for using the board without asking today – don’t even think about arguing the point or the board goes back in the cellar with a lock.”
Victor turned around and walked back towards the cliff path. “Don’t wait too long to make up your minds – someone here by five tomorrow, right ? Put the board back in the hotel before you go. Bloody lucky you lot I tell you”
And with that he was gone, stomping back up the path with an agility that belied his figure. Down on the beach no-one spoke for a good two minutes, they lay the board on the sand, sat down beside it, drier and not shivering now and tried to believe their luck.
The sun sank further down, its movement almost perceptible now as it slunk away to the other side of the Atlantic. The blue deepened, the reds spread out along the cliff edges and then with a flash it fell from view. The boys grinned, picked up the board and made the journey back up to the clifftop different creatures to the ones who had come down a few hours before.
A song for Victor - who knows ?