I stand at the stove in the evenings, stirring whatever we’ve thrown into the pot that night, with the back windows flung open so that, sometimes, just sometimes, a sooty-nosed kitten with a spring in its tail flings himself inside and winds his young spine around our ankles. Sometimes, just sometimes, we let him fall asleep on our chests and we wonder aloud, lovingly, only half-jokingly, if this is what having children is like – this unfounded affection, a deep-rooted love, for a small creature and its touching ways.
Preparing Saturday supper – coconut dhal and a hearty vegetable curry – for old friends, visiting from our city soulmate in the west. How simple it is to talk with familiar friends. And, oh, how we plotted our return to the city on the hill!
The joy I hold close as I walk from the station beneath a canopy of green, admiring the tulips and daffodils – vibrant as stained glass – sprouting in the gardens beside the Thames. The soft whisper of sheets waltzing in the breeze. The swimming pool, and its scrubbed pure air, and the small blue-grey (weather-dependent) rectangle of city sky I swim beneath thrice weekly. London plane trees. Coffee-coloured brickwork.
I tune the radio to the classical station and hang my head out of the bathroom window, watching the laburnum’s yellow chains flutter and fly. There’s a hint of the spiritual about it – cheekbones turned to the sun, feeling the grace of warm light on my nose. Freckles will erupt soon, my hair will turn yellow, his shoulders tinged pink. We are on the cusp, teetering, and there’s something so exhilarating about the run-up – hurtling as we must be (in spite of this late-spring freeze) towards warm nights and warmer days, seedlings exploding as water, light, dust, earth ally.
A week which passed in a smudged blur of work, deadlines, furrowed brows and (what felt like) eternal nights in the office on the Strand made better by my grandfather down the telephone line, a conversation snatched in a ten-minute pocket to stretch my legs. You’ll be proud of me, I started to say, ready to regale my green-fingered Gramps with tales of my horticultural triumphs, when he interrupted in his North London brogue with the heart-stopping ovation I’m always proud of you. I always have been.
Other envelopes of glee: my sweet peas, green and growing, arching towards the sun. A flowering strawberry plant, a trust fund invested, banked, ready to be looted come summer. Snatching minutes to knit, fingers fast and furious, on the tube. Colleagues. Packed lunches. An unexpected encounter with most of my man’s family, lovely things. The acknowledgement that with difficulty comes growth, like the nasturtiums and anemones that thrive in poor soil, each obstacle seeming to push them to strive, to grow, further.
Four-day weeks. A sojourn to the West Country, my kindred land, where my soul feels home, and the cross-country drive to reach the village. I gazed out of the bus window, nose almost pressed to the glass, inhaling the familiar crumbling hills and sandstone terraces, plant nurseries cut into steep hillsides and fields of rapeseed glimmering even through the bleary-eyed goggles of travel sickness.
Twenty-four hours with forever friends, stomping up slopes and talking as we do. Family feasts and Easter hunts. My grandparents schlepped the bagatelle board to our kitchen for Easter Sunday for a tournament and my aunt a set of Møllky, which we played – competitively, of course – before the rain started. A slow stroll on Easter Monday, soothing sad hearts just a little with faded camellias and fragrant wisteria. His hand in mine.