Impact’s Esther Kearney brings us a beautiful short story about change and new beginnings to welcome in the next academic year.
I remember the Malaysian sky being an ombre of crimsons and pinks stretching along my windowpane like the fingers of a lost lover desperately trying to make me stay. It called to me as I sat back in my seat, my eyes clinging to the very last fragments of the life that I was leaving behind.
Leaving had been surreal. It was as though I had been watching somebody else’s life through a screen rather than my own. The panic had almost overwhelmed me in that moment as a sudden rush of memories broke through from my old life. I wondered if I was only doing this to prove that I could?
Tucking a stray curl behind my ear I tried to zone out the montage of reactions from my friends at home, their shocked faces filled with doubt that haunted my mind. Their faces were distorted reminiscent of an Edvard Munch painting.
Tears threatened the edges of my eyes and a handful of pearls escaped, cascading down my face leaving chaotic silver trails.
But those were the only ones I allowed that day.
Malaysia gradually became a handful of colourful lights, then a mere dot in the distance and after that nothing at all. It was replaced with warships disguised as rainclouds and miserable rain that spattered the glass of my window like a toddler’s dribble.
I let sleep take over at that point. Morpheus cast a blanket of stars over my fatigued body and deposited me in a place filled with sunflowers and rolling hills that eradicated all my doubts.
It had felt like an entirely different world right on my doorstep that evening I first found myself at the canal.
The quiet filled the space around me as I watched barges float downstream gracefully, like beauty queens in some pageant I was lucky enough to be watching.
They were beautiful old wooden beasts. Painted and peeling rosy reds and canary yellows – it felt like English summertime wherever they were.
I had ridden on my bike to get to my old spot. Dressed in a loose pink shirt and my favourite old dungarees, my evenings those days were spent on the same indigo bench dedicated to a man I would never know.
Taking out the creased writing paper which was the colour of high school blushes I wrote to my boyfriend, detailing all the things I had encountered on my adventure and every shade of summer that grew around me.
My legs were stretched out before me as I let my pen glide across the paper. One of the best passing comments that I had ever heard was muttered on that bike ride.
Twenty minutes earlier I had been graciously asked by an old wooden sign to abandon my metal steed. Walking, I took in the sight before me of merriment as canal goers took a break from their sailing to drink and eat in the little cafes that dotted the banks.
Like old friends, people gathered together on long benches to chat and exchange stories about their journeys. It felt to me like a scene out of some long-ago pirate novel as they bumped drinks with easy smiles and informal chatter.
And then it was uttered as perfect as childhood summertime and endless July nights.
“It’s scientifically proven that it tastes better with the umbrella in it!”
To this day, reader, I have no idea who the man was who said it but I found myself along with the rest of the populace of that evening all bobbing our heads in agreement.
And that was how I found myself completely overjoyed to have found a place like Nottingham to spend my student years.
Sitting on the bench, a smile tugging at the sides of my mouth, I couldn’t help but feel relief for fitting the pieces of my own jigsaw back together again.
Twiddling the ends of my short strawberry blonde hair I thought back to the summer before. It had been a scribbled mess of emotions, anxieties and bad encounters. Back then it had felt as though the entire world had been against me in that small town. But now, looking back on it, it was clear that it was simply a series of unfortunate circumstances.
For which had they not happened I would not have been where I was in that instance.
My pen sat idle in my lap as my thoughts temporarily paralysed me. My past felt unreal, like something I had read about somebody else. The clouds rolled by, getting greyer and greyer as time careened on and the sun slowly disappeared.
With a melancholy sigh, I began to pack my books and notepads away. Slipping my helmet back on I grunted a little as it caught my skin and hopped back onto my bike.
Riding back, I found myself fighting an invisible battle with the night time flies and dodging daredevil rabbits that skirted in front of me before then diving into the undergrowth.
In the distance, my headlights betrayed the faint outline of somebody sitting on a bench. It was as though my shadow had run ahead and decided to wait for me Peter Pan-style.
As I drew closer I took in the features of the girl before me. She had long curly brown locks and matching conker coloured eyes cast downwards as she concentrated on whatever it was she was sketching.
She only saw me at the very last moment, her earphones obviously blocking out the turbulent noise of tyres on gravel and the dull hum of my backpack which bounced on my back over even the slightest of dips in the path.
Her eyes lost their dreamy haze as she jolted out of her artist’s daydream as I whirled past, a blur of old denim and sun dappled freckles.
The English countryside was exactly how I imagined it and more. It was an unusual and intricate watercolour painting of rolling hills, canals and greenery.
I had taken my shoes off, loving the feel of the crushed velvet grass between my toes.
Watching the sky change shades like a mood ring the hours ticked by uninterrupted.
That was perhaps by far my favourite thing about the country I inhabited now. How the sky was actually visible rather than being hidden by imposing skyscrapers and how the weather seemed to have more mood swings than an irate teen.
Living in Malaysia had been like being in a perpetually crowded concert hall. In the way that you partially understood what was going on around you but rarely got the full picture.
It was easier to draw here as well, that’s what I remembered thinking as I squinted at the everlasting sky with the only sounds being the rush of water and reeds dancing in the wind.
I stayed like that for hours, having accidentally drifted asleep. I had dreamt about the girl on her bike again. She had looked so free and enthralled, tumbling down the country lanes without a care in the world.
Seeing her in this haven had made me feel a little less lonely. I had been silently searching for her through the back log of marshland and nature reserves. On occasion, I had seen her in the distance but had always been too nervous to approach her as she scribbled away in any number of notebooks.
And then later that day it finally happened. I had been sat on a rusty blue bench, sketching a crowd of pungent pink flowers. They looked as though mother nature had ruched and pruned them herself, so neat and uniform in their design. I was contemplating this whilst shading the edges of my drawing when I became aware of somebody to my side.
My body hunched up as they slid onto the bench beside me. In such a place of solitude I felt a rush of anger overcome me for whomever it was that was disturbing me.
Then out of the corner of my eye I saw it was bicycle girl sitting beside me with her myriad of notebooks and writing paper all lined up on her lap like soldiers standing to attention.
“Hi there,” She chirped, craning her neck to gather my expression.
“Hi,” I replied shyly and watched as she leant over to see my drawing. A smile spread across her face when she saw the flower.
“Those are my favourites. Hydrangea Macrophylla.”
“Oh, I just thought they were quite nice to look at in all honesty, I had no idea what they were.” I blushed and ducked my head, suddenly wishing that I was back in my halls away from any onlookers.
I had longed for company to make the new country I had been thrown into feel a little less foreign to me but now I was worried that my fantasy of making this easy-going girl my friend might not match up to my reality.
“Luckily for you, flowers are my forte,” she looked at the plant thoughtfully before carrying on. “It’s funny that you chose to draw those in particular. They’re what I like to call Flowers of Change.”
“Really?” I asked, the suspicion evident in my tone. I had been certain by that time that this girl was having me on, ridiculing my drawing and making me wish that the floor would swallow me up.
“I’m serious,” She said in earnest. “These flowers are one of the only things that got me through my fresher’s week. You see they change colour depending on the acidity of the soil they’re in, from blue to pink.”
She held my gaze and smiled. In that instance, I remember thinking that we were one and the same. Both dealing with the abrupt change that growing older had forced us into, even if I crossed a sea and she the motorway we were both making it work in our own way.
We spoke for ours about our lives prior to university and our mixed feelings of adrenaline and fear on first arrival. I remember staring at the pink flowers and thinking of my own evolution.
At the end of the day, sometimes a change of soil is necessary for growth.
Featured image courtesy of ‘Kathryn Yengel’ via Flickr.
Article images courtesy of ‘Markus Trienke’, ‘Quinn Dombrowski’, ‘Thanh Pham’, and ‘Forest and Kim Starr’ via Flickr.
Image use license here.