It’s quarter past eight in the evening. Outside the wind is raging almost as much as the commuters who were forced to endure today’s tube strike, and will have to do the same tomorrow. Only tomorrow’s nightmare commute will be wet as well as windy, for the weather reports speak of more torrential rain and flooding on the way. It is February. It is cold. We Brits are not, it must be said, at our best under these conditions. And yet we know them all too well.
I’m sitting in a state of panic-induced inertia; surrounded by ‘to do’ lists with a thousand thoughts careering around my head, like rockets let off by mistake at a fireworks display. In this state it’s hard to think in a rational way; what to do first, where to start. So tonight I’ve taken a new approach and lit a candle. Apple pie scented. As I type this I’m watching it burn, the wax becoming molten, like lava: My own Vesuvius. But when will it erupt?
Life is like a Sudoku puzzle; you reach a point when you think you’ve got it sussed, and then you realise that you haven’t and have to start all over again. So many questions, yet so few answers. So many options, yet so little time. I sometimes wonder if the God in whom I place my faith of there being an afterlife is watching us from Heaven and laughing at the tangles that we get ourselves into, weaving thread upon thread into impenetrable webs; fortresses of our own making.
My hands are cold.
Still, the candle burns.
Trauma can do funny things to a person. Some say when people have suffered unimaginable horror it’s like a fire – their life force, perhaps – goes out inside them. But Jen’s flame, far from being extinguished, took hold of her and turned into a blazing inferno. Almost overnight her personality changed so severely that she became almost unrecognisable to those who knew her; everyone except John.
He alone understood the enormity of what had happened to her on that autumnal day. He alone had seen the fear and confusion in her eyes as she turned her face upwards from the mud to look at him. There were other emotions in that look besides fear and confusion, the memory of which John pushed to the back of his mind, though sometimes they would rear their ugly head and catch him off guard. He’d seen abject terror. He’d seen shame. And, worst of all, he’d seen the loss of hope.
As he’d pulled her up from the mud she’d been insistent that no one must know what had occurred. She’d asked him to look away while she restored her modesty, had wiped her eyes with the back of her hand – leaving muddy streaks across her cheeks that he didn’t have the heart to point out to her – and that was that. As they parted ways outside her house she had embraced him tenderly but firmly, looked him square in the eyes and told him they would never speak of this again.
Some weeks later he found out she’d moved away, to where he didn’t know although her parents said something about a scholarship. He knew deep down she’d run away, and was devastated that she hadn’t confided in him, devastated that he hadn’t tried to help her. But, more than anything else, he was devastated that she hadn’t taken him with her.
Slightly tenuous, I know, but I’ve chosen this photo because it represents someone becoming a shadow of their former selves, which is essentially what’s happened to one of the protagonists in my story. It was actually taken on Mamutik island in Borneo in what were, conversely, very happy times for me.