Against The Tide
By the time he set off, he had wasted half the morning.
He re-read the notebook, relishing the way it connected him with her dreams and intentions. Packing and re-packing took an hour on either side of the hearty breakfast the old man brought in, the quiet silence between them now restored. All that had needed to be said had found its voice two nights previously.
There was a curious jumble of thoughts scampering around his brain. It was almost impossible to remember the months, not long past when all he could think of was the commute into the marbled hall, the piles of index cards, and his part in other people’s downfall. The haziness of those remorseless days had been replaced by a fresh perspective and all the richness of the Autumn colours. The greys of his urban existence had been banished. Everything about this place had lifted him. In his quiet, understated way, he was inspired, and ready to act.
The Porter had knocked quietly, not wanting to disturb the younger man who stood at the window, gazing pensively across the lawns to the spires beyond. The leather notebook was held in both hands, behind his back. He must know it off by heart, he thought, but he understood the need to cling to that connection to her. His own heart ached but he had work to do now. He knocked again, louder this time, conscious that he needed to get Tide on the road.
He was no good at farewells, never had been. He spoke gruffly, quickly. “Time to move on, lad. Time to shorten the road”. He held out a hand, stiffly and formally getting it done. Tide watched him as he shuffled out, an unexpected sadness catching in his throat. The brown paper parcel was secured by twine, clumsily wrapped. He slid up the leather flap to reveal the brass casing of the vintage compass. He had never owned anything so beautiful and the thoughtfulness of the unexpected gift brought tears to his eyes.
Tightening the straps on the rucksack, he hefted it over his shoulder, took one last look around the room, and finally headed out the door. His heavy boots echoed down the corridor and crunched over the gravel pathway as he made his way through the manicured gardens toward the Lodge gate. The movement of the curtain was barely discernible as he turned towards the railway station, retracing the route he had become all too familiar with. The old man coughed to cover the unexpected surge of emotion as he watched the man she had invested her hope in stride down the road.
At the entrance to the station, he paused, looking up at the clock forever frozen at 3.23. He thought for a moment about the work to be done in the Central Zone; the risks, and the struggles. He thought too about the brave souls who would fight there for a better future … he paused, thinking how close that all was, but how far removed he felt from it.
He turned away from the station, setting his sights on the countryside beyond.
The grass was out of control the closer he got to the border crossing. He watched for a long time, an hour or more, from the safety of his hidden vantage point. There was no movement. At first, he was suspicious. He was always suspicious; that caution had served him well. So he watched and waited. The ground around the base of the fence was scruffy, and unkempt. Weeds grew between cracks in the concrete. There was still no movement in the tower or in the vicinity of the portacabin.
He shuffled forwards, to the very edge of the taller grass, his vision blurring as he took in every detail while the strengthening breeze blew dust into his eyes. A movement in the window of the cabin stopped him short as he rose to his feet. Slowly crouching, he fixed his gaze on the window, alert to the possibilities. The metallic clang startled him. Another ten minutes slid by. This is stupid, he thought to himself. The day was drifting; the Autumn chill was numbing his muscles and he could feel a tell-tale ache in his bones. He had to risk it. Pushing himself to his feet, he quickly covered the open ground. The portacabin creaked in the wind, the filthy window flapping now where it was unlatched. He crouched by the two oil drums, craning his neck awkwardly to try to improve his line of sight. The window started to open; if anyone looked out, they’d see him immediately. A creak, a thump on top of the oil drum; the face looked at him curiously, trying to puzzle out why he was even there. The ginger tail flicked as the stray cat looked him up and down, before jumping down off the barrel, never once losing a grip on the inert mouse held in place by its prominent fangs. The tension broken, he laughed uproariously, the first time he had let himself go since meeting the man who would become so close to his daughter.
His thoughts turned to them. Their plans were inspired by a purpose that could only be served by friction and challenge. He admired their fight, envied it perhaps. But it wasn’t for him. For them, every step would be a struggle, and every moment of progress would be a triumph of will overcoming obstacles put in their path by the very System he was escaping. He had seen the fire in their eyes, the passion that injustice had sparked in them. It lifted him to imagine what they might achieve. But, for him, there was a gentle purpose. Her dream was of a different path, one that led to peace and calmness at one with different surroundings, far from the urban sprawl at the dark heart of the world they were destined to resist.
He felt the breeze whispering quietly to him.
The book sat in the breast pocket of the jacket he wrapped a little more tightly around himself; unconsciously he reached for it, drawing strength from his knowledge of what sat between the covers. He tightened the heavy rucksack, securing the belt so the weight sat comfortably on his hips.
Just then, he heard them.
Voices. Loud, confident voices. Getting closer. Approaching from the other side of the border. Songs? Were they singing? Songs he didn’t recognise; words of protest; words to strengthen resolve. They appeared, the front rank carrying the banner, row after row of people gathered on the road behind them. Marching. Moving towards a different future, their destiny wrapped up in protest and resistance. The fire was in their eyes too. They would fight for their future. It was in their nature.
He stepped out from behind the cabin, feeling the reassuring weight of his pack bite into his shoulders. Wave after wave of them flowed across the border. Smiles and waves. They would receive a warm welcome here, of that he was sure.
But for him, there was a different path to follow and he had to find it on his own. It was in his nature.
He stepped out, turning into the crowd, pushing against the tide.