Iceland

I am twelve.

I have never flown on a plane before by myself, never had a holiday without a parent. When my ears start to pop on the flight it hurts so much that I cry silently against the window, too embarrassed to let the woman beside me know that, really, I’m just a child.  I am visiting an Icelandic friend who spent a few months at our school, and who has invited me to stay. Now she has children of her own, but then she was all scabby knees and a toothy grin, just like me.

When the plane lands I whimper with relief and rub my arms against my hot, wet face; it is time to look adult. My feet, cracked from a summer of running around barefoot and climbing trees, are causing me to limp a little, so much so that when he sees me, her father picks me up and carries me to the car. It was not the dignified arrival that I had hoped for. We talk on the long drive home, they lived an hour or so from Reykjavik, and she offers me a sweet that tastes like sea water and liquorish. There is a gathering of their friends that night, all warm faces and knitted jumpers. We stand around the fire and I try to understand what they are saying. A pretty girl with bright red hair puts her arm around my friend’s shoulders, and I feel unaccountably jealous that I am not her favourite.

On the third day she asks me, ‘would you like to ride?’

‘Of course’, I say, and so she takes me by the hand and tugs me gently from the house, our shoes bouncing slightly on the springy moss. After a while she points down to the foot of a hill, where we can see a farm and some horses.

‘Come on.’

The farmer is in his fifties, and looks amused to see two scruffy little blonde girls bounding up to his gate. I look longingly at the ponies while my friend negotiates, until she jabs a skinny elbow into my ribs. We are to go now, she tells me, but tomorrow we can come back and ride the horses, on one condition.

‘Oh yes?’ I ask her.

‘Yes. We need to come back tomorrow, and we must bring a pie.’

And so the next morning at the crack of dawn we are up, our Lopapeysa jumpers keeping us cosy from the dawn chill as we clamber amongst the blueberry bushes. The sun rises clear and bright over the volcanic landscape, and our fingers stain deep purple from the tiny berries. Once we have filled our basket we head back to the house, and my friend’s mother helps us to bake them into a pie. As it comes steaming from the oven, we wrap it in cloth and set off down the hill, little hearts beating as fast as birds with excitement. We hand over our prize, and the farmer hands over his.

We spend the rest of the trip on the backs of our sweet, musky ponies. All we need do is bake the farmer a pie every morning, and then we can ride out, alone, over the mossy plains and grey rocks, stopping now and then to lie by a stream and eat. Sometimes we speak, sometimes we don’t; it is enough to be in this wild, beautiful country, young and alone. We are both good riders, and we are not afraid. We feel how extraordinary it is to be alive, and to gallop with the wind in our hair, gripping the reigns with purple hands.

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