I’m sat on the train returning from a business meeting in London and I assure you that I’m trying my absolute best simply to rest. Events appear to be in my favour, I am exhausted, Chiltern Railways know how to provide great seating and the gentle rocking motion of our carriage should have me off to nod in no time. I am however hopelessly and annoyingly distractible. The sound of a crisp packet within 50 feet will leave me spending the day reflecting on what type of crisps they were, who was eating them and why were they unable to eat them quietly. On the average train journey I therefore absorb mountains of utterly useless information. It appears that my return from London is to be no different.
We pull out of Banbury station and I have the words of a nursery rhyme annoyingly and audibly circling my mind. A mother and daughter combo join me around the table at which I am sitting. The mother is mid forties with a daughter in her mid twenties. I breathe a sigh of relief as I realise there is not a shopping bag in site. These pair don’t look like annoying non stop selfie addicts so maybe I will get some shut eye. As I begin to drift towards nod I over hear the pair slowly making their way through the usual catalogue of train journey tedium; ‘What are you doing tonight?’, ‘I like your eye liner’, ‘Isn’t your dad getting fat’ etc etc etc. Nothing remotely remarkable just annoying noise invading the foreground of my easily distractible mind.
‘Have I told you about Emma?’ enquires the mother of her daughter as she leans forward in excitement. Not only has mothers posture changed but the tone of this question is markedly distinct from the preceding nonsense. Who ever Emma is and what ever Emma has done there is a genuine tone of anticipation filling the air. I fear another great story is about to hold me back from the land of nod.
Several months ago and on a warm Sunday afternoon a happy and contented Emma decided she’d go for a bike ride along the local canal. This particular stretch of canal bank was well known by locals to provide an excellent opportunity for a little safe off road cycling and with the sun high in the sky it seemed like a perfect choice of activity.
For several miles Emma rode alone occasionally pausing to take sight of the incredible beauty which surrounded her. Herron’s nesting in the tree’s, rabbits scurrying through the long grassy banks, butterflies gently floating in the breeze, could life ever be better?
Following a short detour around the local woodland Emma returned to the towpath pausing only to catch her breath. As she pedaled along Emma becomes slowly aware that another cyclist is now following on from behind. They exchange pleasantries and their conversation slowly builds. As the path widens the gentleman behind pedals alongside Emma although much to her surprise he makes no attempt to over take. For mile after mile they talk mainly about nothing in particular, they laugh even when their jokes are poor and they pause only to delay the inevitable end to this journey.
Laughter joins the chorus of creation and today is a good day.
Emma soon arrives at her point of departure. The pair pause shake hands and Emma bids farewell.
Riding home Emma’s mind is filled with a million questions,
‘Who was he?’
‘Why didn’t I ask his name?’
‘Where the hell did he come from and where on earth was he going?’
‘Why didn’t I invite him for a drink?’
‘When did I last laugh so much?’
‘Why do I suddenly feel more alive than I’ve ever felt?’
‘Why can I remember so little and yet so much about this man?’
'Are these the most ridiculous set uf questions a human being has every asked of themselves?'
It dawned on Emma that behind those large shades she had little idea what her joy filled companion even looked like.
The questions do not go away, instead over days they build like a cacophony of noise invading every moment of every day. Standing in the shopping que Emma finds herself once again distracted by the events and none events of a glorious Sunday afternoon. She returns to the canal again and again only ever to be joined by the song of her memories. Whether or not Emma dreamt the entire episode becomes an unescapable question.
With nothing to loose and everything to gain Emma carefully designs a simple poster.
“On May 22nd I cycled along this path and shared the journey with a gentleman. I apologise that I did not enquire as to his name and did not exchange phone numbers. If this is you please call me. Yours Emma 07. . . .. . ”
Racing to the canal Emma wonders whether her use of “Yours” is too formal. “Should it be “love”? No, surely ‘love’ would be too familiar, maybe ‘see you soon’, but then what if she didn’t see him soon? Maybe she should have signed off ‘God bless’ but what if he does not believe in a God who could bless”
One by one Emma ties three posters to three separate posts at various points along the tow path.
“Is three too many?” she wondered.
“Am I appearing repulsively desperate?”
“Is any too many? Am I mad, deranged, infatuated?”
Sure only that she had nothing to loose Emma returned home and to the ordinary routines of life. Having done what she could the questions which once filled every waking moment slowly begin to fade. Every time the phone rings Emma jumps in hope and expectation only ever to be eternally disappointed. Days turn into weeks and Emma slowly reconciles herself to letting go of questions she is simply unable to answer.
Summer fades away and the dank days of autumn set forth. Fewer and fewer people ride the canal path and the once neatly laminated posters hang like weatherbeaten souls limping on a post.
Freezing cold and in need of a good stew Emma called into the local butchers.
“I saw your poster Emma” remarks the butcher.
“I think it may be Dave. Thelma’s son. He parked outside the shop a few times and I’m sure I remember seeing his bike on the back. I’d been meaning to ask Thelma but I just kept forgetting”.
Unwilling to enter into the endless cycle of hopes dashed Emma thanks the Butcher and simply heads on home feeling a little embarrassed .
Weeks laters Emma is standing in the Tesco’s que and her phone vibrates.
‘Hey Emma. I owe you an apology. We shared a bike ride together and I think you may have been trying to locate me. I’m normally a road cyclist and haven’t returned to the canal since we first met. The local butcher passed your number to mum. If you fancy meeting up for a drink please reply, if not apologies. Take Care Dave’.
Needless to say that Emma and Dave did meet for drinks and have since moved in together. Life is good, really good.
As I over heard this story I couldn’t help but smile.
Here’s to the bicycle, friend of every hopeless romantic!