‘YOU WILL NEVER GUESS WHO I SAW ON THE STREET…’
I saw him on the street today. My breath caught in my throat when I saw him, because for so long I had forgotten what it felt like to see a physical version of my soul- everything I was and everything I knew, right there, oblivious, walking along the street.
He is my mind. He worked his way slowly inside at first, apprehensive, testing the water, but soon he was fluently weaving around my every thought and taking it for himself. It didn’t take long for my mind to become a garden of him, blooming and bursting with the energy and passion and blinding bright light that was his soul- a garden of us filled my head, and the rest of the world was hidden under the soil.
The garden we grew so recklessly together thrived for a time, until it was almost exploding with this love which was so pure and honest and real, and perhaps it became too much. Perhaps the vine leaves and the trees became too tall, and where the inability to look beyond the space we had created to me seemed like safety, seemed like home, to him it became claustrophobic. Perhaps that’s why I woke up one morning to an empty space where he once lay. One day we were everything, and the next, there was nothing at all.
In a way I’ve been trapped in that morning ever since.
Describing the emotions created by seeing a year of your life standing in front of you would be near impossible, but one could better describe the way in which a single shared look impacted the garden of us, which for so long had been frozen in memory. A flicker of recognition in his eyes as he saw me first and the leaves rose from the grass to stitch themselves carefully back onto their branches, streaks of vivid green travelling through their veins as they began to regain colour. His eyes widened slightly as he focused on my face and the garden burst into spring, an eruption of light and tones of orange and silver and blue which sent my thoughts into a rush of brightness and hope. One look at me then and our garden had awoken in my mind, as all of the warmth and intimacy and pure unmoderated joy of our year together flooded my mind all at once. One look and my mind had already made a home for him again.
No sooner had I registered his presence than a million questions interrupted my abstract thoughts: three years had passed since he left and I’d assumed him out of this town he used to loathe so sincerely, away from these painfully familiar cobblestones and buildings and sounds which surrounded and trapped him inside. And yet he was here.
Time did not stand still as we drew closer towards one another, but seemed to increase its speed tenfold- the bustling, dimly lit street was a blur of faces and the sound of conversations mingling together to create a warped chorus made my ears ring and the only thing in focus was him as the space between us slowly vanished. We met under the artificial warmth of a street lamp as our paths crossed, and a million possibilities were in reach in that moment and we could have seized any one of them and the outcome would have been completely different- and we did not seize one.
A deafening silence occupied the air between us as we both stood, unable to say a thing. I watched his face as he studied mine as if taking note of every detail, and I took the time to study his: beautiful imperfections as a constellation across the sky. Tiny freckles, almost unnoticeable, danced over the bridge of his nose as if trying to reach his cheeks; lines carved down his lips as if holding on, relishing their chance to be near his skin. His eyebrows lay haphazardly above his eyes as if the two first strokes of an artist’s brush on the way to creating their final masterpiece, shading his eyes- planets if I had ever encountered planets, steel blue with flecks of grey and silver surrounded by the deepest teal. His eyes were honesty- you could look into them and through them to read each word carefully written on his heart when he looked at you. He was every part as beautiful as he had been three years before, but I remember recognising in that moment of silent appreciation that he had grown tired. Dark blue shadows were cast below his eyes, his skin when closely inspected seemed to have aged by more years than had passed, and the lines across his forehead which once appeared when he laughed and which I had so adored had deepened into his skin to make them a near-permanent feature. I wondered what time could have done to cause his youth to be stolen away.
We stood there for what felt like eternity, until his hand slipped into mine and prompted the question which had been flying through my mind to finally leave my lips:
‘Why are you here?’
‘It’s good to see you too.’
He smirked at me and it felt like three years before, like not a second had passed since we last walked this street together. It felt for a second like everything could so easily return to the way it was, and he’d be back in my arms, but then the playful shine disappeared from his eyes, and his lips lost their smirk as he took a slow breath.
‘I haven’t been doing well.’
I tried to search his eyes but he averted my gaze. I wanted to push for a further explanation, I wanted so desperately to understand what he meant, but he looked so fragile in that moment that I stayed quiet, taking his hands in both of mine and holding them gently, trying as best I could to put all of my love for him into that delicate hold. When he spoke again his voice broke, and he seemed to have broken too.
‘I’ve been ill, Esme. I insisted it was nothing at first, that I was losing a little weight because I was eating less, that I felt so weak and so tired because I was overworking myself. The bruises on my skin were small accidents I’d forgotten, I’ve always been so reckless, but mum didn’t buy that one,’ he laughed softly, shaking his head. ‘You know she doesn’t lose an argument. And so I let her take me to a doctor because I got sick of her begging, and Esme I’ve never seen a face fall so fast. He knew straight away. He made me go for these tests for two weeks anyway before he’d tell me.’ His eyes fell then, his head turning away from me slightly, and I could feel fear running through my veins and consuming my body as I waited for him to speak.
‘Leukaemia, Es. Acute Leukaemia.’
My heart stopped. Everything around me slowed and I forgot how to breathe for a minute as I searched his face, waiting for a laugh, for a declaration that he’d been joking and that I’d looked like a fool, God, for myself to wake up. Instead I found him, just him, tears falling down his cheeks as his gaze came to meet mine.
I threw my arms around him then, and we were a mess of sobs and apologies and a sudden existential understanding of one another as we held each other so tightly that we almost became a single entity. And suddenly I didn’t need to know any more. I knew, in his sobs and the way he’d looked at me and his hands running up and down my spine, that in his reflection on the time he had spent and still had left to spend his thoughts had found our garden again, that he’d found me. I knew that if I could let him in to share our garden once more, if the vine leaves could once again surround us and keep us safe inside our home, that would be enough for him now. We would be enough.
West Kirkby Grammar School
Frank Moran Young Writers Competition Winner 2016-2017