Chapter Six

Despite the journey's somewhat forbidding reputation among his fellow water operatives, Stephen was enjoying driving to the reservoir. The route was a rough track that went up and down and round and about as it followed the topography of the land. Though driving one of the Kirknane Water Company's all-terrain vehicles, it seemed to Stephen that he was experiencing every bump and hollow in the track. However, moving, and being moved about, in this way made him feel connected to the land he was driving through in a way that he found unexpectedly satisfying, and pleasingly different from the norm of roads made smooth with asphalt and built as flat and straight as possible. Moreover, as he drove through a landscape he had never seen before, he found so much that was interesting and pleasing to see - and enhanced by it being a beautiful January day that was crisply cold but crisply sunny as well. The hills and their valleys had an intriguing beauty to Stephen. He took a particular delight in the meandering rivers that seemed to accompany him on his journey as they shared the valley floors, for there was no river in Kirknane: just a couple of small, narrow streams that had their courses straightened, taking unnatural right angles, to follow urban boundaries. Every so often, a change in the route would give him a new viewpoint, and on a couple of occasions, when he was going from one valley to another, he had been presented with an entirely new and wonderful vista - and all the time moving between light and shadow. Intensified by his feelings of escape and freedom from Kirknane, Stephen found the whole experience quite exhilarating and gave him a childlike sense of innocent wonder and enjoyment.

As his vehicle was jolted by the bumps and hollows of the track, what Stephen had packed in the back was moved about a little, and it sometimes made enough noise to remind him of some of what he was bringing. Before he had left Kirknane, his new colleagues had given him things of their own that had helped them get by in their own time at the reservoir. Stephen knew he was not likely to use much of it, but out of politeness, a genuine sense of gratitude, and a fear of becoming the ‘odd one out’ once again, he had accepted every offering with thanks and made a display of putting them in the back of his vehicle. Likewise, he had listened attentively to every bit of advice he was given, regardless of how much at variance it was with his own intentions and expectations. The predominant theme of all the advice that was proffered was to live largely indoors as if he hadn‘t left Kirknane, so unpleasant was the reservoir experience - so much so, it was regarded as a final test and rite of passage for a new recruit before acceptance as a ‘true’ water operative.

Thus, ironically in a job he had taken expressly to distance himself from the community of Kirknane, the perceived adversity of the posting to the reservoir had given Stephen a sense of camaraderie at work that he had never experienced before. The further away he drove from Kirknane, and the deeper he went into the uninhabited hills that contained the reservoir, the more he appreciated that camaraderie. Stephen also began to better understand the difference between being detached from the community but present in it and the complete isolation of his new situation.

How tame his walk into the countryside with the torn out job advert now seemed, and how long ago it now felt. He had applied straight away and, two weeks later, given the job on the same day of his interview. He was not aware of any other applicants and would not be surprised if he was the only one, given the unattractive nature - to others at least - of the reservoir posting. Indeed, he had wondered if they had given him the job as quickly as possible to pre-empt him changing his mind about wanting it. This had caused him to question his eagerness, but he had quickly reassured himself he was doing the right thing.

Suddenly, Stephen caught his first glimpse of the reservoir, and in the excitement all his existing thoughts instantly evaporated. Kirknane had no expanse of water of any kind and was a considerable distance from the sea, so the reservoir was a new experience for him in more ways than one. As he wended his way along the track, the reservoir came in and out of view, but his focus on it remained constant: when it was not in sight, he looked for it coming back into view. He had developed great expectations for his stay at the reservoir and was eager to see the scene of such anticipation.

Eventually, Stephen could see the entire reservoir and its surroundings, including its concrete dam, and adjacent to the dam, the small cottage he would be staying in and the even smaller works building he would be partly working in. In order to briefly view the whole place alone and in silence, and not have his first impressions mediated or affected by the incumbent operative, he stopped the vehicle before he reached the buildings, switched off the engine, and got out. He stood in front of the vehicle and surveyed the scene before him. The reservoir was so placid that the surface was smooth to an almost eerie degree. In its alluring depths he could sense a profound and mysterious otherness. The surrounding hills, that gave the reservoir its shape, were plainly clad with grass and heather but had a curiously pleasing aspect. There were some attractive clumps of trees dotted around the edge of the reservoir. The sky had a lovely bright, bluish hue. There was an utter calm to the place - there was no wind at all - and an almost unearthly quiet. The combined effect exuded a compelling, almost hypnotic, sense of tranquility. His first experience of the reservoir, and the journey he had experienced to get to it, had not only met but exceeded his expectations and, so far at least, vindicated his decision to come.

Then he saw the incumbent water operative emerge from the cottage with some luggage, presumably having seen or heard Stephen approaching in his vehicle. The man placed his luggage on the ground, where he no doubt expected Stephen to stop the vehicle, then returned inside the front porch of the cottage only to re-emerge quickly after with more luggage. He had evidently already assembled it all in the porch, in anticipation of Stephen’s arrival, in order to return to Kirknane as soon as possible.

Stephen got back in the vehicle, restarted the engine, and completed his journey by driving to the buildings where the track ended and the man now awaited him.