When he heard the song of the magpie, he was instantly transported back to the most romantic winter's day he had ever experienced.
Young love is the most pure of loves, fresh and unencumbered with the tyranny of experience. For we know, as we grow older, that broken hearts can be vanquished, and life will move on. He often wondered if this was why he had lost the power to experience romance in his latter years, as his hair thinned and his shoulders rolled forward with age. He knew it was never about the physical attributes. It was all about the scar tissue that repelled base emotions from invading his personal space.
Yet the magpie's song, drifting from afar above the trees, reminded him of the time that he once felt love and romance without fear. When he was a teenager he fell in love with a girl at his school. To begin with they were friends and nothing more. He never would have guessed she would be interested in him. The previous year, he had been afflicted with braces and glasses all within the span of three weeks, and was convinced he was only another month away from receiving his first hearing aid and walking stick. Why would you have any thoughts of the opposite sex when you looked in the mirror and saw yourself slowly falling apart?
Looking back on it now, it was probably this very reason they connected. He wasn't trying too hard to win her over and she, being a pretty girl, was possibly relieved to have a boy who just talked to her without any interest in attempting a clumsy seduction. They spent their free lessons together and over time went from being acquaintances to friendly to friends. He'd accompany her into the city every Friday night, riding the train as her pal, exchanging stories and school based gossip. Sometimes in the city, they'd play arcade video games together but most of the time she was in a rush to meet her mother and he would say goodbye and then ride the train back the way he came. He always over shot his stop by two stations just so he could spend more time with her.
Eventually the braces came off and the confidence of a relaxed smile returned. They spent more and more time together until he started to wonder if something was about to happen. He confided in a couple of friends who gave their best advice but considering none of the teenagers had any real life experience, it was in truth, a lot of speculation based on nothing. He wanted to let her know his feelings but was so afraid she would be repulsed by this turn of events, that he'd lose a friend in the process, and that was too much to bear.
On a sunny winter's day, the type of day where the grass is an emerald green and the sky a pale blue, he rode the train with her into the city like he always did on a Friday. It turned out her mother would be meeting her later and so therefore there was time to kill. He was very excited by this prospect and rather than visit the arcade or a food court, they decided to head down to the river and relax. It was the type of day that inspires that type of choice.
They sat on the cool grass and joked and laughed about the normal subjects they shared, and he noticed they were sitting close to each other, much closer than they normally would. He could almost feel her arm touching his, and this made his breathing shallow, his heart race just that bit harder. Eventually their conversation came to a stop, a situation that had never occurred before. He was uncertain what to do next, and instead looked to the river, the sun shining across the still surface. Behind them, a magpie sang.
Listening to the bird's song, they watched as a pod of pelicans came gliding into view. As they glided past, one of the pelicans suddenly took off and flew into the sky, followed by the rest of the pod. They flew high into the sky, and then turned sharply, flying in the opposite direction to the slowly setting sun. At this moment, he noticed her hand was in his, their cold fingers entwined, and before the pelicans had disappeared from view, they had shared their first kiss, down at the river on that winter's day.
Now older and walking alone, in a city far from his original home, he heard the magpie sing and remembered that moment. He was uncertain if he had ever experienced such romance again but he was grateful that he had experienced it at least once in his life. With his collar pulled up around his neck, he returned home, and thought about the time when he truly believed love and life would go on forever. And he hoped, wherever she was now, that she was happy.
Copyright Justin Hamilton 2018