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Historical Fiction Speculative Friendship

Letters to a Heartfelt Island

June 2, 1939, London, England.

Dear Mikiel,

It’s extremely difficult to know how to start a letter, especially to someone you’ve never met; in the same way it’s difficult to speak to a stranger. But it becomes easier once you get started, and after that it gets easier still. In the end you’re glad for it because you’ve made a new friend. There we go – I’ve started and it wasn’t so hard at all.

I’m very glad my uncle put me in touch with you. I’ve been wanting a new pen-friend, and when my uncle told me he’d met a boy during his posting who wanted the exact same thing, my heart leapt with joy. And a boy from Malta of all places. I’ve heard very little about your island, except that it’s a very sunny place and that it’s in the heart of the Mediterranean. Of course my Uncle, being a military man, told me all about its strategic location. And how every empire in history has tried to occupy that island. But I’m not really interested in all that jargon. It really does bore me to death. I want to know what kind of people inhabit such a place. I imagine it would be very similar to Italy in many ways, but of course I’ve never been there. So I have no way of knowing for sure.

What language do you speak? What kind of food do you eat? And most importantly; tell me a bit about yourself.

I’ll start – I’m Elizabeth; my mother calls me Eliza, and my friends call me Beth. I’m fifteen, but I’ll be turning sixteen at the end of the month. I love languages, culture and art. I have a private tutor here in London and when I finish my education here in London I’d like to go to Oxford and specialise in linguistics. They really do have some profound figures lecturing over there. One of them recently published a children’s story called The Hobbit (though I don’t really believe it’s a childish text at all). I’d really recommend reading it if you haven’t already.

I’m eagerly awaiting your reply.

Yours sincerely,

Elizabeth Edwards.

August 5, 1939, Marsa, Malta.

Dear Elizabeth,

Thank you for writing to me. When your Uncle told me that he had a niece about my age who’d surely like a new pen-friend, well let’s just say that I didn’t really believe him. And I most certainly didn’t expect to receive a letter from you so soon. But here we are, and I couldn’t be more excited.

Malta is such a beautiful place – we don’t have many beaches. But the water here is as clear as the water in heaven. I’m glad you’re curious about my home. Your Uncle is right in what he says – our island has been occupied by the Greeks, Phoenicians, Romans, and Arabs among many others. Our native language here in Malta is, of course, Maltese. It’s a harsh cousin of the Sicilian dialect that has been heavily influenced by Arabic. It is derived from an older language called Siculo-Arabic; which was once spoken all over Sicily. Of course I speak English as well but that isn’t so common here in Malta.

I live in a town called Marsa, quite close to the capital city, Valetta. My father moved our family here from Siggiewi when we were quite young, to work down at the docks, loading and unloading cargo. Siggiewi is nice because it is quiet; with fields and paddocks and large cliffs that overlook the sea. When we were children; I remember running along the sunburnt roads and picking fruit from the cacti that grew along the stone walls of the farms with my older brother Luigi.

But Marsa is nice because it is close to Valetta. I often go to Valetta with my friends to drink and play cards. There’s a street in Valetta known as The Gut. It’s usually quiet during the day; but at night it’s quite loud and rogue.

I’m not sure what I’d like to do when I finish my education (not that it’s anything fancy, I go to a regular public school), but I had thoughts of joining the British Military. Though my teachers tell me that I’d be more suited to something academic. I’m not quite sure.

I’ve not read the Hobbit, but I’ll keep an eye out for a copy.

Looking forward to reading your next letter,

Kind regards,

Mikiel Aquilina.

September 29, 1939, London, England.

Dear Mikiel,

Your island sounds lovely. Oh, I would love to visit someday. And I don’t care too much for beaches anyway.

Unfortunately that may be much harder now, than it would have been only a few months back. Yes, you’ve probably already heard that England has declared war on Germany after they invaded Poland. France has also pledged to join England in the war – and I’m sure many other countries will too. I’m hoping this whole thing will blow over before too long; and that we can all get on with our lives and go on with business as usual. It’s so bothersome. My father, on the contrary, believes that this war will more than likely go on for longer than we think. He says that Hitler, the leader of the fascists, is psychotic, and that psychotic people don’t see logic or reason. But I disagree. My father is part of a generation that have already once lived through the horrors of war, and so, he is of course predisposed to assume the worst. As power hungry as Hitler may be, you cannot lead a country if you’re an idiot. I’m sure Hitler would prefer to surrender than to see Berlin leveled to the ground. Which is what will happen if he finds himself in a war with the rest of Europe, Australia and America.

Your hometown sounds absolutely lovely; and it looks as though you’re making the most of being so close to the capital city. But aren’t you too young to be gallivanting around town at night? I certainly enjoy a glass of wine at home, but my father would never let me roam the streets of London on my own. Although I must admit, your lifestyle does excite me a little. I might have to try sneaking out and seeing London at night. My heart is fluttering just thinking about it.

Please, tell me a little more about how Malta is coping with the news of war. It may soon get harder to write to each other with all that’s happening – but let’s do try to write to each other when we can.

Yours truly,

Elizabeth Edwards.

P.S Call me Beth.

July 20, 1940, Marsa, Malta.

Dear Beth,

Sorry it has taken me so long to write back to you. I met a British soldier while I was out in Valetta with my brother Luigi, who was due to return to London within the week. I paid him a pound and fifty pence, and he assured me that he’d see this letter properly delivered to your address. I hope it finds you well.

It seems this war has drawn out much longer than you had originally thought – your father may have been right. And things may be looking a little more dire now that France has fallen, and both Italy and Japan have formed the Axis Powers.

The war had only affected us very minimally for a while; that was until Mussolini formally pledged his allegiance to Hitler, and at the same time, declared war on Malta. We didn’t really believe it at first; I remember reading the headlines of the newspaper ‘Mussolini’s Cowardly Act’. The newspapers berated him heavily for joining the war at a moment that seemed opportune to him; it was seen as a traitorous act.

Not long after this declaration, the first Italian aircraft appeared in our skies, dropping bombs over Valetta. There have been a few unfortunate casualties, a school bus was hit with a bomb a few streets down from where I live, and there have been some interesting air skirmishes, but for the most part, the Italians drop their bombs from such a height that I can’t see how they can be accurate and do any significant damage. They don’t worry us too much. Although it is hard for our anti-aircraft guns to shoot any of them down because of how high they fly.

The British are doing all they can to defend us. Apparently our island is critical to their campaigns in Northern Africa; and crucial to the war efforts. They’re trying their best to keep our spirits high – but they don’t really have to. Well, they don’t have to keep my spirits high, anyway. My spirits were never brought low to begin with.

My brother got married a few months ago, and went to live with his wife Rita in Siggiewi. I went to visit my brother during the feast of St. Nicholas. Here in Malta each town holds a feast dedicated to their patron saint. There is a lot of celebration during these feasts; a lot of eating, music and singing. Some people wanted to cancel the feasts. But the priests said that we needed to hold tightly onto hope during these hard times, and, well, to be perfectly honest, we hardly see the Italians as a threat anymore – some of us don’t even retreat into our shelters when the alarm rings. During the feast, my brother and his wife took me to a grotto called Ghar Lapsi. I had been there before, but never at night. It was so beautiful. The full moon shone silver light, which reflected onto the rippling water of the sea.

You asked me in my last letter if my parents have any problems with me going out to Valetta. My father doesn’t mind, and my brother often goes out with me. My mother, however, does get quite worried – but I don’t often tell her when I go. I do apologise if I’ve incited a rebellious attitude in you, though. I’m sure your father has his reasons for keeping you inside at night. The streets of London, from what I’ve heard, are a lot more dangerous than the streets of Valetta. Make sure you take care of yourself. Especially in these times.

Looking forward to hearing from you soon,

Mikiel Aquilina.

May 15, 1941, Amersham, Buckinghamshire, England. 

Dear Mikiel,

I was surprised when your last letter arrived. I really didn’t believe there would be any way for you to get anything over to me until the war was through. My Uncle is being re-deployed back to Malta; and I decided to follow your logic and send this letter over with him (and I didn’t have to pay him any money). I’m sure he will get it to you safely.

Things over here in England have gotten much worse since I last wrote to you. The Germans have been blitzing our skies and leveling our buildings. My father sent me out to live in the countryside with my cousins. Everything is much quieter, much greener and much safer out here. But we still listen to the radio every day. It attracts us and daunts us at the same time. Churchill continues to give his day-to-day updates, though we most often look forward to Lewis’ broadcast talks on the BBC. He is a professor in medieval literature at Magdalin College in Oxford; though he speaks a lot about the Christian faith, and why we should all trust and believe in God. In times such as these, faith seems to be the only thing we have to hold onto. Because things do really seem dire. But Lewis has a way with words, he has a way of lifting us up, and making us feel united. If we get through this war, he shall get as much credit as Churchill.

Out in the countryside, there isn’t too much to do apart from listen to the radio. So we try to keep ourselves occupied. I often play cricket outside with my cousins. Once, I smashed a window with the cricket ball. When I went to fetch it, I stumbled upon an old spare room I hadn’t ever come across before (the house really is quite large). I found a large old wardrobe in the spare room, but unfortunately it had nothing interesting inside it except for large fluffy coats. But it’s imagination that really counts.

I also enjoy taking long walks among the trees and the hills. It’s so different to London, and maybe a little more like your Siggiewi – I am coming to understand more and more of why you like it so much.

Sneaking out? Oh no, I was never able to work up the courage. Every time I thought about it, I began to imagine the kind of trouble I’d be in if I was found out. Or worse – what may happen if I found myself in the wrong street with the wrong people. No, you’re right in what you say. The streets of Valetta are much safer than the streets of London.

Be sure to send a reply back with my Uncle, whenever that may be.

With love,

Beth.

April 3, 1941, Marsa, Malta.

Dear Beth,

I cannot begin to describe the horrors that we have seen over here in Malta. It turns out, as we had all suspected, that the Italians were doing very little to advance the forward lines of the Axis Powers. Their air raids were a spectacle more than anything. But the Luftwaffe and the Stuka are different matters entirely. The Italian air raids and the German air raids are as different as night and day.

It happened almost overnight. I saw it with my own eyes. Whilst I was visiting a friend in Senglea, there came into our port the large British naval ship Illustrious. It was half torn apart and the German Stuka were still bombing it. Those planes fly so close to their target that I am surprised they do not get caught in the blast of the bombs they drop. By some miraculous luck, and by no doubt the divine intervention of our father in heaven, the ship survived the German attack. But the German raids continued to come, and they dropped bombs onto our houses, in our streets and along our ports. And they continue yet still. I cannot count how many times I’ve sat inside the shelters, with my hands over my head, feeling the earth shake and watching the dust sprinkle down from the roof – wondering if this might be the end for me.

As if to continue to stamp out our morale – they bombed our farms and food supplies. Very few of the British re-supply ships were able to make it past the German bombers. Most of our country was on the brink of starvation. Things got so desperate that my mother found herself cooking up a rat that she’d caught in a trap, and dividing it between us for lunch – however disease ridden it may have been. We didn’t care. My father worked at the docks. Each day when they unloaded cargo, he took a pinch of oats and snuck it home to us in the hem of his shirt. A pinch may not sound like much, but when you are as hungry as we were it is indeed a lot.

When a large shipment of food did finally manage to get past those Stuka, half the country was at the port to welcome the boat with a loud cheer. It was a relief but things still aren’t jolly here over in the Mediterranean. We still have some way to go before this war is over. Sorry my letter has been so downtrodden. I’d like to write of happier things but there is a lot playing on my mind as of late.

Love,

Mikiel.

September 20, 1945, London, England.

Dear Mikiel,

It has been some years since I have written to you; I hope you still remember me. You must be so thrilled this war is finally over. I know I am. I have plans to move to Oxford, to study at Exeter College at Oxford University; but before that I would love to pack my bags and journey across Europe. Of course I also have plans to visit Malta. I’ll keep this letter short. There is so much to say, and I have very little words to say it in. But I’m looking forward to meeting you and telling you everything when I see you.

Love,

Beth.

January 6, 1946, Marsa, Malta

Dear Ms. Elizabeth Edwards,

It is with much regret that I write to inform you of Mikiel’s death on May 28, 1943. A stray bomb struck a building which collapsed on top of him. I know you had been writing to him for some time, and I thought it best if I write to you to inform you of this unfortunate event. Mikiel, although not with us anymore, held on to hope. And it was hope that helped us see this war through until the end. You may think his hope was in vain, for he did not live to see the end of the war. But I assure you it was not, for my dear son Mikiel held onto himself, onto his morals, and onto who he was, all the way up until the very end of his life. And that is what counts the most. I do wish you all the best Ms. Edwards, and if you ever find yourself visiting our country, you are more than welcome to stay with us. We have a spare bed, plenty of food and a lot of love to give now that we have one less child.

Yours sincerely,

Mrs. Maria Aquilina.

August 24, 2023 16:40

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