Janie hears the footsteps steadily approaching. But turning around was not an option, so determined was she to leave the past where it belonged – behind her. Her vow? To never again look over her shoulder – to only look ahead, only move forward towards the light – the light that now tugs at her heart strings and tries to draw her forward.
A pattern of dappled sunlight spread across the straight, unwavering path. The woman stood perfectly still, determined not to wipe the tears that trickled as slowly as a dying river down her silken cheeks. The only sounds that registered in her crowded and overloaded mind was that of the splashing fountain now directly behind her, the three tiered fountain she had just dipped her hand into then leaving a short trail of water on the floor, the birds singing their cheerful songs of spring and the crunching footsteps. The faceless footsteps closed in and began to overpower the tranquillity of the sounds of water. It was time.
Head held high, she focused on the stone steps at the far end of the long path, way in the distance, steps she hoped would take her to a world of light and eternal warmth. All that was needed now was a deep breath and the courage to take that first stride. She knew that after her first foot had been planted firmly onto the gravel, her walk along the avenue of silver birches would be steady and confident. There would be no hesitation. She would head in the right direction – towards the light.
The walk of a thousand hopes, dreams and unknowns was about to begin. The anticipation was exhilarating. Just as the looming strides behind were almost upon her, her own beating heart seemed to drown them out or was it that they had perhaps stopped or simply became too quiet for her to hear. Or was it that they had just melded together with hers so that they had become as one. Perhaps it was that Janie just didn’t care and the perceived threat of the approaching footsteps held no fear for her so she simply did not need to hear them any longer?
Was she imagining it or were the silver birches bowing as she passed each pair of freshly leaved trees? Was there a whispering sadness within them that she could not decipher and the leaves would not reveal as she walked beneath them? Janie breathed deeply and nodded with reverence to nature’s true and honest beauty. The splashing water became a distant sound, a trickle that faded as she continued her journey onwards. The crunch of the gravel was constant, a mark of her new found steadfastness, each step marking a memory of the life that lay behind.
A short way before the avenue’s end Janie pauses. She longs to turn – to look behind her – to view her past and all its sadness. But the temptation weakens and dissipates and she focuses instead on the four worn stone steps ahead of her. Stone steps that she knows, can tell stories of journeys past, of wearied travellers whose aching feet have smoothed the stone over the centuries and worn dips in the centre of each. The steps fit snugly between a high evergreen hedge that arches high above the stones and Janie now makes her way towards the light that shines beyond the archway.
The light draws her in and already she longs to reach out and touch it’s warmth and to be cleansed by it. On reaching the first step she treads carefully and rests her right foot upon the contours and feels a sense of journeys previously trod. Might it be one of Janie’s unending dreams of escape that during times of fitful sleep overcame her and told her not only of the past but also of things to come and paths that would be walked.
As she climbed the remaining steps these feelings became more intense until she reached the top and exited the thick hedge and entered a dazzling light that robbed her of all her senses. She moved forward but was not really sure if she was actually moving at all. She continued endlessly without sight, hearing or touch. Was this it? Was this everything? Had all her hopes and dreams been for nothing? Perhaps this was it – eternity may be here in this blinding whiteness, wandering indefinitely with no senses to call upon. Janie wasn’t even sure if her eyes were open or not until she blinked. For all she could tell she might have been on an eternal conveyor had it not been for the sensation of crunching beneath her feet that gradually reached her hearing and normal levels of sound were reached. Janie began again to feel steady as she emerged from the overwhelming brightness, eyes squinting as she slowly takes in the wonder surrounding her. Tears no longer stain her cheeks, new life is felt as she observes the freshness springing up all around her.
After what she had just come through Janie felt that she could stand in this spot forever just taking in the warmth, the colours, the aromas, the newness and the staggering beauty she had happily walked in to. At that moment a raging thirst began to grow inside her with each unfaltering step. Her mouth became dryer. Ahead, the gravel path continued on it’s relentless straight lined journey but Janie knew there was no hurry. She slowed down – she would take all the time she wanted to savour this new life she had discovered. She saw well tended lush green lawns abutting each side of the wide path upon which she stood in it’s centre. Neat edges ran perfectly parallel with the path as it tapered into the future. Within the lawns were diamond shaped flower beds with plants reflecting the colours of the myriad rainbows overhead that arced in the kindness of the peaceful blue sky. Janie’s heart skipped a beat with every turn of her head, there was so much to look at and to be mesmerised by. She noticed that this world was one of perfect symmetry, as it looked as if it could be folded in half down the centre of the path and the whole scene would be viewed as though looking into a mirror.
Moving again now along the gravel path, Janie continues to enjoy the sights that surround her. The fresh smells of cut grass, the late spring warmth on her face, the joyous sounds of nature all bring a long missed peace to her heart. In the far distance Janie could make out a shape, a tall structure from which she can just about hear the refreshing sound of water or she thought she could. As she gets closer she realises that the structure is actually a fountain and the raging thirst she had felt earlier now turned into a desperate and overpowering need for water. Her pace quickens as this thirst needs urgent quenching. As she gets closer she can see beyond the fountain. There is a shape that is masked by the sun-sparkled spray of the fountain’s cascading water. But upon further viewing it becomes clear that the shape is a person, stood with it’s back to the water. Janie is intrigued by the figure, its stillness, but her overwhelming urge is the pursuit of water.
When the ornate structure is reached, the large circular bowl of the bottom tier is full of crystal clear water. Silver stars dance and skim across its surface like a million sun fairies playing beneath blue skies, dancing joyously, flittering this way and that, bathing forever in the happiness bowl. They slide from the tiny rainbows and splash and sing and flicker and dart in between each other and they invite Janie to join them – to drink, to refresh, to quench. The woman dips her hand in to the coolness and stirs the water with a gentle swirling motion. She then removes it from the water and holds it in the air and watches the water slide and escape back into the pool. She repeats the movement but this time she lowers her head to sip the refreshing liquid from her cupped hand. As she drinks the fairies scatter playfully until her thirst is sated, they then return and once again splash and dance to the springtime birdsong. They join together to bid her farewell as she continues her journey.
Revitalised, she looks up and tries to make out the shape of the stranger on the other side of the fountain. She walks around half of the stone bowl towards the front and allows her right hand to trail listlessly through the water as she goes leaving a gentle wake behind. As she moves around the fountain, the curtain of water flowing from the second to the third tier gradually reveals to Janie the perfectly formed shape of the individual ahead. She slowly moves towards the person but does not want to startle, her hand drips water onto the gravel as she approaches. A confusion surfaces as the person ahead does not move an inch and doesn’t even seem to notice that someone is approaching from behind or if they do they are not showing it. Janie realises that the person is a woman and at this moment her feeling of tranquillity is shattered as a dark cloud of dread begins to descend and a feeling of recognition comes to the fore.
The overbearing weight of darkness consumes her completely. An all-consuming fear begins to needle her. Janie’s skin starts to chill as the recognition is puzzled over. As she reaches out to the shoulder of the woman in front she tries in vain to speak but no words of kindness would escape. No words, no noise of any type would escape her mouth despite the strain of the effort. Just as Janie’s wet fingertips are about to rest gently on the left shoulder of the woman, she notices that the woman in front appears to hold her head up. She then takes a deep breath and makes her first step forward. Janie continues slowly forward herself with her arm still reaching out until she comes to a halt in the footprints that the woman is just about to leave behind.
Janie stands and waits and watches. As the woman walks beneath the silver birches she sees them bow in a slow salute to the woman beneath them. She hears the fresh green leaves whispering in the breeze. Two at a time the trees slowly return to their upright position – until the next time. Janie feels the return of warm tears running down her cheeks as she watches herself disappearing into the blinding light beyond the arched hedge. Will I ever see her again she wonders?