Patrick ran along the path, hands spread wide, feeling the tall rapeseed through his fingers. The sky was a deep blue, the sun was shining. It felt good to be out of the stuffy house.
For the first time in a week the wind direction on the island had changed and the radioactivity levels had dropped. Jessica’s parents were still refusing to let her leave their fallout shelter, but Patrick was free to cross the fields and visit her. Maybe he could persuade her mum to let Jessica come out. Ever since Mr. Trebold had caught the cancer, she had been cautious about Jessica’s exposure.
Savouring the fresh air, Patrick stopped and gathered a handful of the yellow rapeseed flowers, a present for Mrs. Trebold. He held the flowers to his nose and breathed in the musky, honeyed scent. The last week of increased fallout levels was enough to ruin the crop again, same as last year and the year before. They would go through the process of harvesting, then sending it to the laboratory on the mainland for testing, before the fields would be set alight and the precious oilseed incinerated. Still, they looked glorious for now, swaying golden as far as he could see.
Clasping his self-made bouquet, he was about to resume his run when he spotted a section of the crop next to the path that had been flattened. Odd, especially as no one had been allowed outside for the last week. Perhaps some livestock from Old Timpson’s farm had escaped, but they should have been locked up in shelter too.
Curious, Patrick approached the opening. His feet crunched on the carpet of broken stalks. The breeze, pushing the crop to and fro, made a rustling noise that grew louder the further he immersed himself between the tall plants. Over it all he heard a man’s voice, a voice crying out in pain or anguish. He couldn’t understand the words, the language was foreign to him.
‘Pochemu ty ostavil nas!’ the man cried. Patrick crept forward and came upon the man, on his knees, hands filled with crushed rapeseed in both fists, tears running down his face. He recognised him. It was Pyotr. His parents had warned him to stay away from him. He was a Crazy Old Russian. The children thought him harmless, they taunted him whenever they saw him in the village.
Pyotr saw Patrick. He looked up into the young boy’s eyes. ‘Eto ne moya vina,’ he said, his wet eyes pleading. ‘It is not my fault,’ he repeated in broken English, before a fresh wave of hysterics enveloped him.
Patrick turned and ran. He couldn’t wait to tell Jessica about the Crazy Old Russian.