We ran together through the trees. So far away from everything that could cause us harm, we were free. There were no parents to call us home for tea, no bullies to steal our pencil cases. Just the trees, the wind, you and me. It was perfect. Sitting by the old oak in the centre of the forest, we would write letters to our friends far away while we ate sandwiches in the shade. Our youth was a happy one. But I guess that changed when I went to boarding school. My father went and so did his father before him. It was tradition, a family necessity he told me as I packed my case that would last me til Christmas. I needed to learn about the world and I could not do that in the forest. Even if you were there. I disagreed but I’d learnt to hold my tongue. I didn’t need worldly knowledge from a large, cold school with loud, obnoxious old men. You taught me everything I ever needed to know – and more. I knew languages that school didn’t see as important. I knew how treat a broken wrist and which berries I could eat and which would poison me. Nature was our professor and the Mother Earth was your guiding light. And soon she became mine. We both learned from her, surrounded by the greens and browns that made up our world. Happiness. That was what those times were. Pure, childish happiness. And if my father hadn’t been so forceful, it could have been our adult happiness too.
I would have asked you to marry me. I know that now. We would have grown closer, intimate, hiding between the crab apples and the figs. A green, summer wedding. It would have been wonderful. You did always look pretty with flowers in your hair. And we would have been happy, natural and free. A small cottage in the foliage would have been built where we would have raised a family – as wild and free as we were. But that is only a fleeting memory now as I shake in time with the late train back home to London as I finish another shift in the office. Numbers and taxes are less fun when you were no longer my teacher. A droll pompous professor could never intrigue me like you could. But I had no choice. I could never disobey my father like you could yours. I never had your courage. This cowardice found me in Oxford studying accountancy with other men just like me – forced to be business drones by their fathers, and their fathers before them. A dull existence. And I could have been so colourful.
I think about you from time to time. I wonder how you are doing. Have you managed to stay free? Or did your mother force you to marry a wealthy visitor like she had threatened for years. What would you have done if that was the case? Would you have accepted your fate like I did? Or would you keep that childish strength that I knew you to possess and run away? Did you keep your freedom or did you let them take it away?
If I ever saw you again, would you recognise me?
Would I recognise you?
Or has life changed us too much that nothing can be reversed to the way it was before? I like to think that our purity is still there somewhere. Between the taxes and the cross-stitch, that forest still blooms within us – the trees still stand tall. Maybe one day I will go back to that forest, to that oak where we wrote our letters. And I would write one to you, asking you to join me once again. For old times sake, I would write. And you would laugh like you used to and demand me knock on the door then post the letter under it. I would laugh back and take your hand, as we ran together through the trees.