It sounded like a gull at first. A shrill caw that wouldn’t let. George jerked up when he realized what it actually was – a human voice. He looked about, half in panic. How many months since he had last seen another person? A man silhouetted by the sun shouted and waved madly, one hand holding a cloth. George knelt by the waters to wash his face and then ran to his tent.

George sat in his foldable chair, which he’d retrieved from the tent for this momentous occasion. It was best to make a clear first impression, he’d always been taught, but the lesson rang truer than ever these days. As the other man’s raft came within distance, George rested his arms over a folded leg. And in his rested hands rested a loaded rifle. The stranger dropped his tablecloth, both hands up in the air as the two rafts gently bumped together.

‘Bloody hell. Where’d you get a hold of that?’

‘Traded for it’, George lied. He took in the man’s raft. It was a neat thing, larger than his own. Where George’s was made of chopped wood roped together, the stranger’s consisted of segments of timber grouped together and buoyed by large tyres underneath. In the centre was a three-sided shelter. George hoped his face didn’t betray how impressed he was. ‘State your name and business.’

The man pointed to his shirt pocket, and slowly reached into it. He threw the contents to George’s foot – a red passport:

EUROPEAN UNION
UNITED KINGDOM OF
GREAT BRITAIN
AND NORTHERN IRELAND

‘I was an Englishman too.’ The man gestured at Her Majesty’s waving flag. ‘Name’s Nigel. Business is trading if you’re up to it. Could do with some things I’m short on.’

George cautiously bent over and opened the passport, careful to keep the rifle pointed at the stranger. HUGHES, NIGEL. Place of birth LONDON. ‘Not so fast Nigel. Who did you declare for?’

The man, Nigel, looked puzzled. He stepped forward a half step still smiling and met a raised rifle point. ‘What do you mean?’

George took a deep breath. ‘When it all happened. Who did you stand with? The continent? The union? England? The south? Where did your bloody loyalties lie, Nigel?’

The man’s eyes sharpened. ‘You want me to say the union, or England. But it was the south. Are you going to shoot me now?’

George chewed his tongue a moment and lowered his gun. ‘Doesn’t matter who was who any more, does it? What matters is you stood at all.’ He reached under his foldable deckchair and threw out some rope. ‘Name’s George. Welcome aboard.’