I moved to this area of North London about six months ago after my job with the Law firm, ‘Hixson and May’ fell through when Mr. Hixson was found to be in possession of information that was not attained in an entirely legal way. This discovery resulted in the liquidation of the company and the redundancy of six of the junior lawyers in its employ – myself being one of them.
The small amount of savings I had put aside, coupled with the generous redundancy package given as part of the insurance taken out by the, much more astute, Mr. May, gave me the freedom to take a year off from gainful employment, and also helped me put down the deposit I needed for the two-bedroom flat owned by an elderly couple who had rented it out previously as extra income for their retirement.
It wasn’t the Ritz hotel, but it was warm and comfortable and afforded good views of the surrounding area, including the local park as seen from the kitchen window, and it was from here that I first encountered the young woman I came to know later as August Rain.
Every day, at around 5.30pm she would walk her dog, a golden retriever I believe the breed to be, along the footpath that ran around the lake.
From the moment I saw her I was captivated.
August Rains’ appearance shunned any image of what society demanded as perfect. She was short, plump and wore an assortment of brightly coloured summer dresses that would cling to parts of her that other, less confident women, would hide away from the world. This, along with the oversized sunglasses she habitually wore against the gaze of the warm mid-summer sun that set low on the horizon, added to her charm.
As she walked she happily chatted away to her companion, seemingly about this and that, almost as if he were a person in his own right. Occasionally she would stop and sit on the park bench and looked out over the pond.
At these times I would fancy that she was looking directly at me, for the bench was situated in such a way that it faced my kitchen window.
This fancy would come to inspire a world created of my imaginings, bringing to life images and stories of which we played the lead roles.
Forged by destiny — a couple in love.
I would wait for her to notice the odd-looking man gazing at her from afar and to be intrigued by him to such an extent that she would look over the top of her sunglasses and smile, beckoning him over to join her on her walk, and to maybe be a part of her life.
Such fancies kept me happy for a while, but the more my imaginary world grew, the more my heart ached for her, until I decided that I would give fate and fancy a helping hand, for it was folly of me to expect her to notice me from so far away. So I went into the park and walked the same path as she, only in the opposite direction. My plan was to smile at her as we passed, and hopefully, she would return it with one of her own, and maybe our story would begin with a simple – hello.
It was on a Friday evening when I made my first attempt to gain her attention, and with my heart in my mouth, I began my casual stroll in the direction that I knew she would approach from.
I bought a newspaper from the local shop, as an aid to nonchalance, for this would be the reason I had taken this route, strolling with an air of someone merely enjoying the balmy summer evening. As I walked towards her my heart began to beat faster, for she seemed more beautiful than she first appeared to me from my window so far away.
Everything about her was perfect.
Her dark, rich red hair bounced along with every step she took and her usual attire of summer dresses showed the world that she was confident and comfortable in her own skin. Her voice, that I could now hear, was soft as she spoke to her canine companion, seemingly about her day, the smell of the flowers and of how the sun felt so warm on her face.
Such a perfect face.
As we passed I looked up and smiled at her – a smile that was not returned. My knees actually sagged a little at this silent rebuttal, shocked at the realisation of the apparent yawning gap between my fantasies and what was shown to me as reality. I sat on the bench where she sometimes rested and watched her carry on by, taking with her my hopes and dreams.
Dreams of which seemed to fade with her into the glare of the setting sun.
Maybe she hadn’t noticed me.
I sat for a while as I tried to re-kindle this small ember of hope that still burned within my breast. Was I being so foolish as to let my imaginary world crumble because the focus of that world had not returned my smile?
Yes, I was.
Tomorrow I would try again, and maybe this time I would say hello.
But tomorrow came and went, only to produce another unrequited smile, coupled with the loss of my nerve to speak to her.
The tomorrows stacked up until they amounted to weeks with nothing to show but a mute smile and an aching heart.
The weekends obviously had other plans for Ms. Rain, as she never seemed to appear on these days, but I had formed the habit of buying a newspaper every day from the small shop at the entrance to the park, and so I continued this habit, stopping only at the bench that faced my kitchen window in order to watch the world go by – a world that seemed oblivious and uncaring at my loneliness.
I had woken up early on one such Sunday morning and so I decided to fetch my paper before breakfast. At the start of the day seemed quite clement, I stopped at my usual resting place. I found myself half –heatedly reading the news as I soaked up the early morning rays of this hot summers day, and as I read I heard the familiar voice belonging to the object of my obsession.
I had not seen her on the weekends as she had a different pattern from the rest of the week, and it appeared that my love for her had been so blind as to assume that she walked her dog at the same time every day.
As she approached I realised that her sudden appearance had not given me enough time to ‘nonchalantly’ get up and walk towards her, and so I remained seated and satisfied myself with just watching her walk on by.
But she did no such thing.
Instead, she sat at the opposite end of the bench.
My heart was beating so hard that I feared it would leap from my chest.
From past experience, I knew that she would only rest for about five minutes or so before continuing on her way. I had to end my torment by finding out, one way or another, if this woman who had captivated my heart so, would engage me in conversation.
I cleared my throat, at which point she turned towards me.
“Hello,” she said, “what a lovely warm morning. I shall miss the summer, won't you”
Her voice took my breath away, so much so that I stammered my reply.
“I-I will indeed miss”
“Rain,” she said, “August Rain – how do you do Mr?”
“Richmond – Albert Richmond”
I proffered my hand but Ms. Rain did not reciprocate, causing me to awkwardly retract it.
“You walk this way every day Mr. Richmond”
It was a statement rather than a question.
“I do,” I said.
“Yes, Sammy and I come here every day too, just as a bit of exercise”
“Sammy? – Oh, that must be this young man here” I said, and with that, I moved a little closer in order to pet her dog. In doing so I noticed how sweet she smelt. Her perfume was as the summer flowers that grew like an infestation all around us.
She laughed and easy laugh at my poor attempt at humor.
“Not so young now, are you old man”
She reached down and petted him, and with that our hands briefly touched. I quickly snatched my hand away with instant regret at my haste and at the message it possibly sent.
“Do you live or work around here?” she said, appearing not to notice my apparent reluctance to our physical contact.
“I live across the way – just opposite the park actually”
August Rain smiled.
“What a wonderful view you must have”.
“Oh yes,” I said, “most beautiful”
The conversation paused a little, a gap that she filled with a sigh as if she were imagining what I saw from my window. Never realising that the beauty I spoke of was hers.
“I feel we are so lucky to have such a small slice of paradise as this”
Her comment was wistful and seemed to be addressed to the world in general, and not just for my benefit. A warm breeze chose that moment to play with the trestles of her hair. It moved easily as it danced with the wind, and I marveled at how this simple action of something so mundane could enrapture me so. She herself seemed to be lost in the moment and my foolish whimsy imagined a connection between the two of us. After a while, she brought herself back to the present and turned her attention to her dog.
“Are you ready to finish our walk old boy?” she said. Sammy looked up with obedience in his happy face, at which point she turned to me.
“It was very nice to meet you Mr. Richmond – Albert,” she said as she stood up.
“And I you” I replied.
“I hope you enjoy the rest of your day”
And with that, she began to walk away.
I stood also and stole myself — reaching down inside for the courage I needed to tell her how I felt, how much I had fallen, and how much my heart beats for her.
“Miss Rain” I called.
She turned to face me once again.
“August – our paths have crossed for the past few weeks, and I must confess that this was not an accident”
A look of confusion crossed her face, but before she could voice any concern I plunged on with my confession.
“You stated that my view of the park must be one of beauty, and indeed you are correct, for the view I have seen for the past few months is of you. I see you every day August, but I fear that you do not see me”
With this, she smiled.
She took a step closer to me and removed her sunglasses so that I could see her eyes for the first time.
They were pale.
“I have not seen you, or anything else for that matter since I was six years old – but this doesn’t mean that you have gone unnoticed to me”
I didn’t know what to say.
I stood silent as this revelation sunk in with all the new feelings that came with it. I looked at Sammy and noticed, for the first time, that he was wearing a harness – how had I not seen this?
My silence must have sent the wrong message because as a result of this lack of response, August Rain put her glasses back on.
“Do not fret Albert – you are not the first to react this way”, and with that, she sadly turned away. Calling over her shoulder she added,
“It was good to meet you, Mr. Richmond”
My future was dissolving in front of me, and my world was becoming a colder place in spite of the warm summer sun.
“You may not be able to see me – but I still see you”
The words left my lips – blurted out like some lovesick teenager.
Awkward and clumsy.
She stopped in her tracks.
I hurried over and faced her once more.
“What do I have to do to make you see me?” I asked.
August put her hand to my face.
“I see you every day,” she said, “The sound of you slowing your step as we pass one another.
The smell of your aftershave.
The crinkle of your newspaper.
The sound of you stopping after we pass, and the imagining that you stare after me – watching me leave and hoping that we meet again.
All these things are visible to me – and to Sammy, who slows his walk in order to prolong our meeting. He knows more than you think”
I placed my hand over hers.
“Then let this clumsy fool start again,” I said, “My name is Albert Richmond, and I am in love with you Miss August Rain – and my love is blind”