My first view of Skera was of a single, verdantly green hill, streaked purple with blooming heather, rolling down to an almost perfect horseshoe cove. Nestling neatly at the foot of the hill, sat a picture postcard village, consisting of neat rows of redbrick cottages.
As the little boat that ferried us across from the mainland pulled in to the jetty I could make out whitewashed doorsteps and cleanly swept cobblestone streets. Gingham curtains hung in windows with brightly painted shutters. Window boxes were filled to the brim with flowering blooms. It seemed a bit fabricated – but at the same time contrastingly welcoming.
As Mari and I passed through the village it became very apparent that the inhabitants had indeed formed extremely close relationships. Couples walking hand in hand along the narrow streets would smile in harmonious unison as they stepped side by side to the pavement to allow us to pass. On one of the doorsteps a couple not much older than Mari and myself sat together sipping wine and enjoying the afternoon sun. Through the windows of a little café I saw more couples, all seated side by side, arms enfolding each other. I found myself beginning to believe that everything Mari had told me might be true.
Mari’s parents turned out to be as close as any of the islanders.
That evening I marvelled as they worked in complete concord, preparing a light meal in the kitchen of their little cottage. They glided around the worktop and the stove in such sensual synchronicity that they appeared akin to a pair of seasoned ballroom dancers, each anticipating and mirroring the other’s moves.
Mari introduced me to her uncles, Hector and Dougal. They stood grinning before me – Hector with his arm around Dougal’s shoulder, Dougal with his arm around Hector’s waist. They were as rotund and red faced as Tweedledum and Tweedledee, a dash of gregarious Cheshire cat thrown in for good measure.
“Gay marriage was accepted by the community from the outset,” said Mari, as I shook their proffered hands.
Later, as I strolled down to the seafront with Mari, I found my fears being slowly laid to rest. We watched the young couples seated side by side on the benches that bounded the perimeter of a beachside playground where their kids were racing around from seesaw to swing to roundabout.
“That could be us in a few years time,” said Mari.
As the gulls wheeled in the blue sky above I realised I had been warming to idea settling on Skera. The pace of life was slow and unhurried. Everyone seemed so happy and contented. There was so much unashamed intimacy all around.
I turned to Mari.
“Maybe I could actually see myself laying down roots here,” I said.
Mari smiled and stroked my hair.
“I love you, Luke,” she said. “You won’t regret it.”
And again that unexpected shiver of warning washed over me.