Downhill From Here

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Exactly why I came back to village I couldn’t say, but after twenty years nothing seemed to have changed. I’d had a hard week visiting angry clients and was considering finishing early today when I found myself driving almost inevitably towards Worth Matravers.

I left my car in the deserted car park and made my way downhill towards the village green. The air shimmered in the July heat, while the gentle sounds of crickets and birds mingled with the smell of nettles in the sun - a lost world at peace. As I rounded the corner I suddenly remembered the last time I was here, aged fourteen. My brothers had been marched off across the hills with my father, while I stretched out on the warm grass watching the ducks bullying each other on the pond. The grass, the pond and the grey stone buildings round about were exactly as they had been. The only difference was a man sitting on the wall, his lunch in one hand and a book in the other. My own lunch was a sandwich, bought at a garage nearby, and as I settled on the grass, I opened it, eyeing the contents without enthusiasm.

‘That looks nice.’

I looked up at the man, who was grinning at me over the top of his book.

‘Want to swap?’ I asked, pointing to his baguette, which looked far more appetizing.

‘Tempting.’ He went back to reading his book, making a show of enjoying his lunch. I took a bite, grimacing at the soggy texture of the bread and the tasteless filling, conscious of the man’s eyes on me. Looking at him out of the corner of my eyes, I saw that he was quietly chuckling to himself.

‘Something funny?’ I asked, my eyebrows raised.

‘Not at all.’ He closed his book, placing it next to him on the wall, ‘Glad to see you like the sandwich. Is it as horrible as it looks?’

‘Worse!’ I returned the half eaten sandwich to its packaging in disgrace. ‘I’m not that hungry anyway.’

‘Fancy a stroll?’ I was so taken aback by this sudden question that I just stared at him with my mouth open. ‘Just down to the sea.’ he continued, ‘It’s not that far and it’s all downhill from here.’

I was suddenly horribly aware of how I must look, sitting here in my work clothes in this heat, my face flushed and my hair all over the place. Self-consciously trying to smooth it out, I wondered what to say. This sort of thing did not happen to me. Handsome men - and he was handsome I now noticed - did not usually offer to take me for strolls. In fact, they didn’t usually offer me anything. But I didn’t know this man. What if he was some psycho who would attack me in the quiet of the countryside.

‘Yes, please.’ I said, starting in surprise at my own words.

‘Good.’ he said, standing up and unzipping a bag that had been slouching at his feet. He placed his book and the remains of his lunch in it, then held out his hand. Assuming he was offering to help me up, I placed my hand in his. ‘Your sandwich.’ he corrected, pulling his hand away and pointing to the item question, ‘I’ll pop it in my bag for you.’

We made our way across the hillside towards the sea. Here and there sheep were grazing, occasionally staring at us suspiciously, and the air was alive with the buzz and chirrup of insects. As we walked, we talked - not about anything in particular, but the easy sort of the conversation that flows from one topic to another. We chatted about everything from our culinary likes and dislikes to the way the clouds cast strange-shaped shadows across the fields. What we did not talk about was work or family, not here where the sun lanced through such mundane and tedious concerns and where the breeze snatched at the cobwebs of our daily lives. I didn’t even know if he had a job or family, nor did I care. We were just two people, enjoying the beauty of our surroundings and each other’s company, far from the cares of real life.

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