‘Muuuum!’ I hear her even before I see her ‘Mum! Auntie Cindy!’
And she dashes toward us, arms wide open and grabbing hold of both our necks, one on each side. She kisses first me, then Cindy, and then takes a step back, studying us.
‘You two are stunning. Mum! I mean, wow!’
Lucy is not used to giving many compliments, and I am certainly not used to receiving many. These are enough for me. She takes my suitcase and pulls it along behind her as we are making our way to her car. She is taking us back to Oxford, and she is staying the weekend to catch up.
I love having her around, I just hope she won’t be too probing. I don’t really want my daughter to know I have fallen madly in love with someone 10 years younger than me.
Luckily, Lucy has her own impending news to share with me, and we spend two full days discussing the furniture and redecoration of her soon-to-be new flat. She has been granted a mortgage, and with Ben’s help, she will be able to move into her little nest next month. She is super excited, and I am for her too. We scour the internet for suitable items and colours. I love the enthusiasm she brings to the house, it makes me concentrate on other things. I don’t really notice the same old rooms, with the same old colours and the same old memories. Not until she leaves to go back to London.
Then it all dawns on me. The grey winter light doesn’t do much to help my sombre mood. What the hell am I doing here? I can’t answer that question, and I keep asking it ad infinitum. I need to find a reason to be here. Much as I have been looking for one, I’m still at a loss as to why I am stuck here, in a house I don’t love and with not very much to do other than shivering at the cold, blustering wind.
I have started my volunteering at the advocacy centre again, and that keeps my head busy and gives me a sense of purpose, but winter is a drudgery. A real sad affair for the down and lonely.
Kiri is ever present in my head. His millions of texts are keeping a smile on my lips. He started bombarding me with sweet words the minute I stepped off the plane in London two months ago, and he has been a constant daily companion ever since.
I look forward to his Good morning honey, and the endless I love you. I know he has been busy, the season is at its height but he seems always to find time to send me a loving message. I miss him so much, I’m physically in pain at times.
It is early evening when my phone rings. I can hear a party blaring in the background, and his voice comes over the phone. He sounds happy, says he misses me, exchanges some words I don’t understand with someone I don’t know, and comes back on the line.
‘I’m on the beach, there’s a big party here. A lot of people. How are you, Maddy?’
I try my best to suppress what feels like jealousy. I wish I were among those people. I wish I were there with him. We talk a bit, but the line is bad and the noise around him too loud. When we say goodbye, I feel I need to start putting a plan in place. I really want to be with this man.
‘Well, I have a lot of work to do on the new account I got when we went there. I’m not promising anything but leave it with me.’ That is enough for me, I know if there is anything she can do to help, Cindy will make it happen.
’Okay, how are you fixed for the 28th?’
It has only been a few days, but Cindy is back already with a solution for my pain.
‘What? Of this month? Next week you mean?’
‘Yes,’ and Cindy sits back on her chair with a smug look on her beautiful face, picks up her cup and sips her strong double espresso.
We are sitting in a bar in town. The place is jammed with people trying to get out of the cold wind. The door spits them in at an incredible speed. They all seem to go through the same ritual. Rush in, give a mighty all-over shake, a quick ’brrr’ clap of the hands and start taking their gloves off and loosening their scarves. We humans are so predictable!
‘I... yes...of course...’
My initially shy smile widens into a full-toothed grin I can’t control. I lunge forward over the table and grab her hands.
‘Really? Are you sure?!?’
‘Sure, I’m sure! I need to meet up with this client again. It’s a big account, I think I told you when we were there. Meeting them in person would give me a big advantage. So, I’ve booked our plane tickets. Hope it’s okay.’
Okay? Okay?!? It’s the biggest present she could ever give me! We’re off back to my beach next week. I can hardly think straight. I will be seeing Kiri soon! My heart seems to have been pumped up with hot air; it soars in my chest. I grin from ear to ear.
We meet Polly and Eddie for dinner. They are in Oxford for the day. Seeing them brings me back to where it all started. They witnessed my rise from the walking dead to the daring height of the not-so-young lover. In my head, they will always be a connection to the place where I feel alive.
’We’ve been working our socks off. I think we’ll be able to take off again soon. We’re thinking a couple more months, just before summer. Although we are not totally sure yet, are we love?’ Eddie looks lovingly at his wife.
‘Well, we might stay till after the summer and just make sure we have enough to see the winter out somewhere a bit warmer. And how have you ladies been?’
Polly is looking well. She has put on a little weight, which suits her. Her hair is longer and tied up at the back of her head. She looks more mature, I’d say.
We talk about Greg, who has been to Oxford to stay with Cindy on several occasions already. They are getting very close, she admits, with a slight blush only I can notice. Greg is working on a plan, but Cindy is cagey and not letting any of us in on her secret.
‘Not yet, not until it’s a bit more certain,’ she says stopping, all our questions at once.
They ask about Kiri. I’m embarrassed to talk about the way I feel, so I just stick to the facts.
‘We are in touch every day. He’s always very sweet. Did Cindy tell you? We’re going back there next week for ten days. Well I am anyway; she’s going to spend most of her time in Colombo.’
They congratulate us on the imminent trip and are so warm and genuine, I feel I have known them forever.
The evening flies by, and we have to say goodbye to the friendly couple. We walk them to the coach station. We hug tight and see them onto the coach.
Then we march briskly back to Cindy’s car. ‘Do you need to borrow any summer clothes, Maddy? You know I have tons.’
I laugh fondly. Of course, she has tons of clothes, and of course, I would love to borrow some.
‘I’ll be around in the morning. You can help me choose.’
I kiss her on the cheek and close her car door. A small tap on her roof, and I cross the road to make my way home. I love walking home from town, even in the winter. This sleepy, nerdy city, trendy yet conservative, with beautiful, though somewhat disturbing architecture, tortuous history and endless charm, always makes me feel as if there is somewhere I can belong.