I was too much of a hurry to answer the scruffy elderly man who grabbed my sleeve and asked,
“Any spare change? Help save a life?”
I had no time to stop if I was going to make my train.
“What! You didn’t hear me?” he shouted indignantly as he let go of my sleeve, “just walk by now.”
At first his tone seemed aggressive, but I was struck by a hint of refinement which made me question my dismissive reaction. I paused and took the few coins I had from my pocket.
“Sorry, I am in a hurry, but here.”
As I handed him the coins he caught my hand and, with a critical tug, compelled me to turn around to face him. His eyes were oddly bright green and his stare was penetrating as he took the coins. I would not normally notice a stranger’s eyes, but there was something strangely piercing in the way he stared, and the vivid green colour of his eyes. As he seized my hand he shook it, smiled, winked inexplicably and said:
“You could miss that train now”.
Below ground I joined the queue for the ticket machine, I needed £4.10 in coins to buy my ticket and I had just given the vagrant all my loose change.
I got to Paddington just in time to see our train pulling out. It would be an hour and a half before the next train and I headed for the bar.
The news unfolded on the large-screen TV in the bar. Twenty three people killed, dozens injured and the death toll rising. The train I should have been on with you had crashed. I kept thinking, “I should have caught that train”.
The next day I was numb as I wandered over the moor.
The top of the slope was high above sea level and the air was cold and thin so the ancient woods were haunted by stunted trees that grew gnarled and lopsided; leaning in concert in the direction spitefully chosen by the harsh, cold winds which gusted all year. The atmosphere was cooling now, but throughout the day the summer sun had urged its heat deep into the earth, now still warm under-foot. The air in the wood was calm, too sleepy to move the leaves that elegantly draped the branches. The potent scent of grass and moss-covered bark defied gravity to hang in the air.
The sun was low above the horizon as I rambled to the top of the hill where the dazzling light of the early evening sun skated low across the terrain, casting long crooked shadows. For a moment my heart stopped as, through the still air, intense rays of light skimmed along the ground from where penetrating shards of green light reflected off the grass and flashed through the lush foliage. I was struck by an explosion of light which ambushed my senses and, through squinted eyes, the wood looked like it was decorated with diaphanously thin translucent shapes wrought from the colour green, enigmatically familiar.
The rush of senses was almost audible, as if the whole realm resounded in chromatic thunder. The green of the tableau reminded me of the green eyes of the vagrant that yesterday had said, “Help save a life”, and left me alive without you.
Read the whole of The Gates of Ytan