Most exciting of all, though, was the emergency exit. This was right in the middle of the village, at the top of one of the tallest trees, and it was shown to Billy and Nicola by the Bubblegummie boy.
‘We have to have a way of getting down to the ground in a hurry,’ he said. ‘Like if somebody fell, or if there was a fire. This is what we do.’
He showed them to a platform to which a thick pink rope was tied.
‘You hold the end of this rope,’ he said, ‘and then you jump.’
Billy inspected the rope. It had a very strange feel to it.
‘This feels like bubblegum,’ he said.
‘And that’s just what it is,’ said the boy. ‘We use bubblegum for all sorts of things.’
He took the end of the rope from Billy’s hands. ‘Let me show you,’ he said. ‘Please stand back.’
Billy and Nicola watched as the boy tucked the end of the rope into his belt. Then, without any further warning, he leapt over the edge of the platform.
The two children gave a gasp as they saw the boy plummet down.
‘He’s going to hit the ground!’ screamed Nicola. ‘Oh, look out!’
But Nicola was wrong. The long bubblegum rope played out swiftly, but then stopped, and began to stretch. It was just like a great piece of elastic, and it brought the boy to a stop just before he hit the ground. Then, with a loud twanging noise, the rope jerked him back up, shooting through the air, to land on his feet on the platform.
‘There you are,’ said the boy. ‘It’s quite simple. If I had wanted to get off at the bottom, I would just have slipped the rope out of my belt. But it’s just as easy to come back up again.’
Billy laughed. ‘It’s just like bungee jumping,’ he exclaimed.
‘Gumgee jumping,’ the boy corrected him. ‘We invented it you see. The Bubblegummies were the first to do it – not that anybody knows about that!’
Alexander McCall Smith, The Bubblegum Tree