"Three tickets please," I said to the chick at the ferry office.
"Are you sure?"
"We can't guarantee you a return crossing."
"Oh. Why not?"
She rolled her eyes. "Severe weather warning from Iona."
"Isn't it just five minutes across the water?"
"Things are different over there. So do you want the tickets?"
"Do you think we should?"
"That's up to you."
"Do you reckon it'll return?"
"It may. It may not."
"What happens if it doesn't?"
"Obviously you'd be stranded."
"How likely is that?"
"I can't speculate."
"Can you give me a little hint?"
"No." I turned to my travelling companions for an opinion. I could tell Mum wanted to get back in the car and drive back. To Australia.
"I don't care," she said, hands on hips and lips pursed like a disapproving headmistress (incidentally, her chosen profession).
"Well I don't care either," said my sister Rhiannon, who clearly did care, as she was the poor bastard who'd driven us there on the hairy single-track road.
"I say we go!" I declared.
"Damn straight," said Rhi.
"It's up to you," The Mothership attempted a neutral tone.
There were a half dozen others on the ferry, all clearly wild crazy risk takers like ourselves, living life on the edge. They were a cheery lot, especially the roly poly Glaswegian lady who giggled nervously as the ferry humped across the choppy waves.
Mum looked anxious and gripped her handbag, no doubt mentally reviewing the Terms and Conditions of her travel insurance policy. Rhi and I calmly scoffed down Tunnock's Tea Cakes and assured her it was all part of the adventure.
It really was wilder on the Iona side. We overheard the crew say the next crossing would probably be the last of the day. That was only 45 minutes away! It seemed absurd to stay just 45 minutes, but we couldn't risk being stranded overnight, especially when we had booked obscenely expensive accomodation on Mull. So we gathered around the Rough Guide and plotted our sprint around the island.
"Righto, let's go LET'S GO LET'S GO!"
Rhiannon led the charge. She was off the boat and halfway to the nunnery before I'd figured out how to put my raincoat on. It was ridiculous, trying to absorb the mystery and history of a place while bounding through the wind in Neil Armstrong-esque steps. We breezed through the nunnery and said hello to some sheep then left the breeze carry us to the Abbey.
"I'm okay thanks!"
"Go and stand over by that wall and you'll be sheltered. Go on!"
It was then I noticed the time and realised that the ferry was still on the Mull side. Then its lights came on.
"Ooh dear." Another grizzly guy appeared beside me, suitcase in hand. "That usually means no more crossings." He sighed and stomped away.
Mum and Rhiannon came out of the shop and I updated them on our situation.
"Get out of the rain, you lasses!" Orange Coat Guy shuffled by again, "Go and stand by that wall over there and you'll be – "
The touring Scots reappeared, all frowning at their watches and shaking their heads. We all piled into the coffee shop. At that stage everyone was laughing at our predicament, all confident the ferry would return at any moment. It would be back. Of course it would be back! We'd parked the car in a 2 hour zone. Do they have parking inspectors on Mull?
Besides, we had to get back. We had a two-part surprise planned for Mum that night. We would be spending the night in a fancy castle near Tobermory. The second part of the surprise was that she was paying for it.
I grew anxious and snappy at the thought of our plan going tits up. I also had that awful Chris de Burgh song trapped in my head. Don't pay the ferryman! Until he gets you to the other side! God, Chris de Burgh was shit. I stared out at the angry sea and thought about how shit Chris de Burgh was. I bet he had to pay the Lady In Red to dance with him cheek to cheek.
Minutes passed, perhaps hours. Cheery conversation gave way to brooding silence. Fingers drummed on tabletops, teaspoons tapped impatiently on saucers. And The Mothership was doing that staring thing again.
"Mother, you're doing that staring thing again."
"I'm allowed to look at you! I haven't seen you in over a year!"
How naff to be stranded on an island just five minutes from shore. The roly poly lady gazed across to Mull with a mournful expression, her giggle long gone. I began to imagine her with an apple in her mouth, glistening with marinade and rotating slowly over hot coals.
Time crawled on. And on.
A woman on the other side of the room suddenly flung down yesterday's Guardian and squealed, "Look!"
"Hurrah! It's the ferry!"
"Noooo! It's a baby seal, diving in the waves! A wee baby seal!"
I leaped from my seat and slapped her across the face, "Pull yourself together, lady! Don't you know what happened to the boy who cried ferry? Why don't you make yourself useful and go club that seal for our dinner."
Or maybe I just sat in my chair and sulked.
And then finally, just when we thought all hope was lost, just when I was about to ask the waitress for a carving knife, the ferry lights went off and it started its crawl back to Iona.
"We're saved! We're saved!"
We abandoned shop and fled to the port as fast as the wind permitted. A wave crashed over my head as I boarded, completely soaking the right side of my body, but I was too relieved to care.
I took a seat and waved farewell to Iona, vowing to return in fairer weather. At last our ordeal was over. I looked at my watch and noted how long we'd been stranded in that cafe. Thirty-five minutes.