Against The Tide
He mostly listened.
He wanted to see something of himself in her, but she was an independent free spirit entirely of her own making. He loved her energy, her drive, and her bravery. Sitting open-mouthed listening to stories of her double life at the heart of the regime, he could only imagine the pressure she had withstood. There was something of her grandmother’s steeliness in her; a generous dash of her mother’s joie de vivre too. He was transported to that Summer, over 20 years ago. His thoughts drifted to stolen moments on the riverbank, a mutual coming of age. She noticed the smile; paused, and asked him what he was thinking.
He opened up to her. He spoke freely of the impetuosity of those heady days; he spoke too of life afterward. There had been no word to him; an agreement between two close friends to protect him from the sadness of loss and responsibility too young. Not his choice, but theirs. The care for him projected by his grandmother onto the little girl, this young woman; her own grandmother wrestled with guilt and loss and grief, realising too late how much she had to give the lonely young woman who had grown up before she had even noticed.
They talked too of her plans, and their part in them. The notebooks set it all out. The details included the names of former students and the skills they would bring to the community; the ripples spread further, and family members are drawn into the fold because of their strengths and qualifications. It was sad to read about her own wish to guide and mentor the group; a village elder, perhaps; that beautiful dream brought tears to their eyes.
She looked at him. Peering intently, grey eyes fixed on him. “She would want you to take on her role, no question”.
He paused, ready to demur, ready to withdraw into the shadows where he felt comfortable, where he felt safe. He had always been reluctant; he’d always been most at ease following.
“Ah, yes”, she said, “but you would be following; you’d be following her plan”. He smiled once again at her sharpness. He saw what she was saying. The handwritten notebook had written him into the script; he was centre stage in the imaginings of her ‘screenplay’. She knew that. He knew it too.
He tried to change the direction of the conversation. “And what about you, Jasmine?”. It was the first time he had used her name. So evocative. The stirring of memories for them both. The fragrance of the creeper around her cottage door, forever locked into his remembrance — remembrance is so good, he thought. The name was given to her as a mark of the deep love and respect her grandmother felt for her friend. A treasured connection to the woman who showed her unconditional love in a childhood mostly starved of such emotion.
She thought for a long while.
Her heart sang with the ideas in her grandmother’s notebook, her notebook. She craved the community that it described; a community that needed to be founded, grown out of sight, at peace with itself and others.
And yet …
There was a fire in her soul too.
His words had touched her deeply.
She felt an instant connection with his community. Enraged by how they had been downtrodden, and dismissed, she railed against the injustice of it.
And then, of course, there was him.
She was stirred, and not just by the issues, community, and the need to fight back. The emotion had flickered on first sight, caught flame before she had time to dampen it down — before she had caught herself and talked her way out of opening herself up, staying in her safe space — it had engulfed her, sweeping through reason and cold calculations.
She knew, of course.
She had known since that very first moment.
But now she was being invited to consider it out loud. Saying it out loud would make it real and she hadn’t even opened up to him about it.
She needed to play for time and find the right moment.
He sensed he had overstepped. This young woman was connected to him but was wholly independent of him. She was forever joined to him, but separate too. He drew himself back, creating space that he instinctively understood she needed. A joke about an old man’s tiredness, and his need for some fresh air: perhaps they could meet for a coffee this evening. He looked over to the Porter, who nodded; he would arrange it, of course.
When they parted, the hug was genuine, tight, and heartfelt.
So much was left unsaid.
Several hours later, as darkness fell, he stood by the window, watching with the old man. The young man, fully recovered now, shouldered the heavy rucksack. Tide watched as the two of them made their way past the ornate College gate, craning for one last look at his daughter as she left to build her own future.
He didn’t think the Porter had ever spoken to him before that moment. “I think, perhaps, I should make those coffees into something a little stronger, Mr Tide”.