She clung to the sides of the Rexene seat. They were moving fast. The American army jeep with its large white star on the bonnet (he called it 'the hood'), swished through the dusty English country lanes at an exhilarating speed. There was a rush of warm air on her face. She raised her chin and closed her eyes, as if in a shower of warm summer rain. The jeep was noisy. Some of the time they spoke with raised voices, words lost to the wind. Some of the time, they sat in silence. Either way, it did not matter. This was fun. He was so easy to talk to. She told no fibs. She told him about not going to school, taking the money from under the clock... and none of that mattered. What was alive for Rose was being here, doing this, riding fast, seated on the wrong side, next to a G.I. He changed gear with nonchalance, his free hand resting lightly on the steering wheel. Her hair was black, shiny, thick; his a tight crop of tiny black curls, close to his brow. He smelled of coconut butter and mint gum. They were both chewing grown-up spearmint flavour. It came in long thin strips. It said 'chlorophyll' on the pack.

The hedgerows gave way to a chain-link fence and open space: an air base, flat, its buildings like giant curves of corrugated paper, painted in camouflage swirls of black, brown, green, khaki and grey. A bright orange windsock caught the sunlight.

They eased to a pause at a barrier across the entrance, a negro G.I. in the open doorway of a metal and glass booth. Rose saw the contrast between its airy lightness and the stale wooden shed at the railway station. A few discrete words and the barrier was raised. The jeep sped through the camp, past a hundred brick and arched black corrugated iron Nissan huts, to a row of wooden outbuildings that backed onto a compound of latrines and dustbins - and a thicket of briar and dog rose in bloom.

 

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