The autumn of ‘06 was when I met Lily. It was an extraordinary cold autumn that year, I remember because every morning when I walked to school I would exhale loudly, and watch the white puffs of air evanesce into the air.
Well, to be exact, I met Lily on a Sunday because it was the only day of the week where half the town would be at mass. You see, that was the kind of town I lived in. But mama didn’t care much for God, since praying didn’t pay the bills or put food on the table. So it was usually then I went out to the forest, when it was quiet.
And I could hear the birds, the wind, feel the cold sharp slice of morning air puncturing my nose, and lips. Autumn was the best season for cloud watching, cool winds whipped them into fantastical shapes framed by leaves, dyed red by the season. Then I’d walk along the Silda river, listen to the quiet burble of the river which separates the forest in half. The halves were somewhat connected through a series of stepping stones no bigger than a man’s foot. For that reason I never venture to the other side for the fear of drowning, but mostly it was Mama’s instruction to never ever cross to that half of the forest.Though it beckoned me, with its tall conifers and evergreen trees. It beckoned me with mystery, unfamiliarity and most of all, the unspoken adventures. Yet rules, beaten into you since you were little were hard to override. Or at least it was until I met Lily.
She was walking on the steppings stones when I met her, or maybe, jumping would be a better word.It was obvious that she was used to this, her body moved in the natural rhythm of one used to nature. Pausing to give way to the current, adjusting her body to the wind to avoid being thrown off balance. Her movement wasn’t perfect of course, but it showed the hallmark of someone accustomed to exploration. I watched half in horror but mostly entranced as she slowly advanced, her dark auburn hair as brilliant as the carpet of leaves on this side of the forest.
I jumped, half startled and half out of embarrassment. “H..hi, sorry for staring at you.”
She made a waving motion with her hand and asked, “What’s your name?” And before I could answer, she continued, “ Mine’s Lily” She flashed me a grin, and took another step forward.
“Uh, mine’s Linda...shouldn’t you watch where you’re stepping you might fall in.” I stuck my hand out hesitantly and we shook.
“Probably.” She stuck her tongue out before taking another two quick steps in succession, “both of our names start with ‘L’,” she paused for a second, and held my gaze for an intense second before nodding decisively, “I think we’re going to be the best of friends Linda.”
And so, it was decided then the two of us were going to be the best of friends right here and then. She was right of course, it wasn’t hard. I was a quiet child by nature and didn’t get along with the other kids whose mama went to church every Sunday, and had daddies who held respectable jobs at banks, firms or hospitals. My mama instead chose to rest on Sundays, declaring working 5 days a week was already hard enough. My father was not talked about, for he has never been a part of our lives. Besides, Lily didn’t give two jacks about church or jobs.
We met as often as we could, and most of the time that meant the weekend. On weekdays we each had our respective lives to attend to, she never asked about mine and I never asked about hers. Our time was not a narrative, it needed no history to create coherence, to hold itself together. It was a precious capsule of space, in which we existed purely in a space of our own making.
We explored the hidden paths I had been too scared to venture down before. She led the way, brushing aside ferns and stepping over undergrowth like a soldier marching into battle. We slid down slopes covered with rain-wet leaves whooping to the wild rhythm of our beating hearts, and everything was alive, alive, alive. Whereas it had been a place of respite and peace before, under Lily’s touch the forest was magical. Each turn sparkled with possibilities of another adventure, of swinging off branches, hooting into tree holes to see which one of us resembled owls the most and laughing, laughing till our eyes watered and our breathes turned into staccato beats. The forest became our terrain, and our home as the months grew by we learnt to construct basic tents from the huntsmen in our town. With the permission of both of our mamas, provided we never ventured into the other half of the forest we began to spend the nights in the forest. And so at night, we’d contemplate about the future and trace out possible routes in the constellations. Orion, we’d go explore the amazon forest. Cassiopedia, we’ll sail the world and leave a mark on every continent we visited. Of course, in every iteration there was always a ‘we’.
At the time, we lived in absolute certainty that nothing would disrupt our rhythm of life. As it is with most things in life, we were wrong. I wish it had been something dramatic, something catalytic and life-changing like what you see in the movies. A story of how we went to the other side of the forest, rebelling against my mama’s wishes. Of how we found some grand yet terrible secret hidden in the depths of the darkness. A conspiracy perhaps, that would be exciting. Or maybe it was the base of a secret army, an organization. It would have been better I think. We would have felt better if some unforeseen yet necessary supernatural force had separated us.
But of course, nothing of that sort happened. Life merely happened as it does to everyone. Lily’s mother found another lover in a bigger city and so, they were gone. We didn’t cry when we found out, instead the sadness manifested in a sort of vigorous energy and madness we applied to everything we did between finding out and Lily leaving. In those brief weeks, the forest endured our endless sliding, walking, we violated my mama’s rule and crossed to the other side. Heaven didn’t fall, thunder didn’t strike but it fueled much of our happiness during that period of time.
It struck me, years after Lily’s departure that perhaps part of the beauty and magic lie within the brevity of our friendship. Its joy unparalleled because it was sustained on the absolute immersion of both of us into our shared source of happiness. Of how sometimes, the briefest of encounters can leave the deepest footprint.