The Long Walk Home
I`m eighty-seven years old now, so I guess time enough has passed for me to tell my story. After all, if only one person listens, then at least that single person may get the benefit of some of the things I have learnt, and that has to be better than dying having taught nothing.
They say a leopard cannot change its spots, but that`s a stupid saying. I mean, how many eighty-seven year olds do you know who still act like they may have when they were sixteen? Besides which, it is not a Chinese saying. And I should know. I was told most of them.
Years ago, back when I was sixteen - however many years ago that is - I lived with my mother. It was a small village/town (always a mute point in that area) but my mother loved it there, felt it safe. We lived above the store she owned, a small dressmaking shop called, imaginatively, "Sew and Sew". Next door was a Chinese take away, the only one for miles around. Had another opened, the worst would undoubtedly have had to close.
Mr Hing and my mother did get on as neighbours, lending tea and sugar, looking out for the others` property if one was away - general stuff. Yet my mother had no time for their customs. Mr Hing never, ever (as far as I can remember) got in a bad mood. He always smiled and said hello, asked if everything was OK. I know my mother was undoubtedly rude to him sometimes, but he never seemed to take it personally.
Every so often Mr Hing would take me to one side and tell me an old saying. Surprisingly, my mother did take this personally, and immediately set out to invent her own, blatantly contradictory, saying. One particular example was when he told me "Though the road you travel may be long, every step you take brings you closer to the end!" My mother pondered on this a moment, then told me, "When you get your drivers licence it`ll be even quicker!"
Anyway I digress, and the drivers licence comes into it later. After Melinda anyway. It`s not only a Chinese belief that there is someone special out there for you, a soul mate - many people from all religions believe that. Well I was neither Chinese nor religious, but I did find Melinda. Or rather we found each other. Before that night we had found a particularly good batch of scrumpy, and when we collided, literally, on the outskirts of town, we immediately started laughing. As I was only sixteen, herself only seventeen, and both unused to drinking, we both later threw up. But Hell, even as an old man, I don`t hold that sort of behaviour against youngsters. We`re here to live and learn, and God knows there`s little enough time to enjoy ourselves on the way!
There I go again. Forgive an old mans rambling, and please, bear with the story.
Well, Melinda had quite recently moved to the town (I always called it a town, so let the term `town` suffice for now) which explained why I hadn`t met her before. Her parents had been brought up in the country, had tried city life, earned a fair fortune, then decided to moved back to the quite, stress free life. She lived about ten miles from me, which put a fair restriction on our relationship. But hey, every step taken brings you closer to the end!
Well seventeen wasn`t a long way off, and, consequently, nor was my driving licence. Mother was right. God above, I could spend an extra three and a half hours with her! People, youngsters, degrade it nowadays and just call it sex. Hell, they call it a lot worse than that too. I never liked that. It never applied to what Melinda and I had. We`d smoke cigarettes and make love for hours, secreted away either in the orchard somewhere, or in the hay barn if we could build ourselves a room out of the bales that remained. Her father went mad one day when he caught us smoking. We were naked, but all he cared about was us not smoking!
I complain about the kids of today sometimes. I suppose that makes me a grumpy old man now. Well it sneaks up on you, let me tell you that! I moan about the stupid things kids do, but yes, I was one of those kids. And I did it too! Drunk on scrumpy I drove to her farm. Lost my licence that night, some time when I was nineteen, though I`m glad now that nothing more serious happened.
So then it was walking again, that long lonely ten miles to see my sweetheart. Only for some reason my mothers health declined shortly after I lost that licence. Of course I lost my job as well, not being able to get out of town and across to the mill. It seemed like I had failed my poor mother once too often, so I always had to walk home the same night. In then end I could do that walk in two hours, if I was sober.
Well one day I turned up at her farm, hot and sweaty despite the cool autumn evening, to find a police car in the driveway. The policeman asked me if I was all right. I was fine of course, I`d done this walk countless times now.
Who was I there to see? Well Melinda of course! I never realised at the time what that look on his face meant. I`m older now, and at this age you`ve seen it a few times, believe me. He got out of the car, and to my dismay, he came and hugged me. He held me tight, my arms by my side, as he told me. If he hadn`t have held me like that - well I don`t know. I certainly would have fallen, maybe I`d have just died on the spot there and then.
She`d been smoking. On her own, waiting for me in the hay barn. Well, hadn`t her dad warned us, told us off for that very thing? He`d died too, trying in vain to save her. They took her mother away to stay with some relatives for a while, whatever - she wasn`t there. Five or so minutes later and I would have been there on my own, wondering where everyone was until I`d found the burned out barn!
Mr Hing always told me that life has a few surprises up its sleeve. My mother always told me that I could be, and have, whatever I wanted. Mother was wrong!
I turned down the lift from the policeman. I started the long walk home.