One evening in a distant late summer, there had been the sound of voices in the still air. Walking up the steep hill climbed by Long Street, the light of a candle illuminated the faces of four people sat around a table. Two couples sat in conversation, their exchanges punctuated by bursts of laughter. Empty plates and a bottle of wine sat on the table, a meal had been shared in the warmth of the latter days of August.
It seemed a picture of perfect contentment. To someone growing up in a deeply rural community, it seemed a picture of urban sophistication; villagers were not given to sitting outside to eat, nor drinking bottles of wine in those times when it was not the commonplace thing it has begun.
Walking Long Street on an April evening, there was a wish to remember exactly which house it had been and who were these urbane people who lived in a way so removed from the rusticity of most of us. One thing was certain four decades later, the meal and the conversations will have been forgotten and no-one remained who might tell me who they were.
Further ahead, a front door opened, a woman stepped out and walked through a garden gate into the road. About fifty yards distant, she set off up the hill. Having chosen the route because the asthma nurse at the local surgery had said to me that exercise that left one short of breath was important to good health, I was attempting to keep up a pace brisker than the customary amble. It was not long before I was about to pass the woman.
As I drew alongside, she looked up, “It’s Ian, isn’t it?”
“It is,” I said.
We talked about the health of our parents and the work of our children, as I struggled to recall her Christian name. Only when we separated at the crossroads did it come to me. A contemporary of my younger sister, she might still be in her forties, not that I would have presumed to ask such a question.
There seemed something almost magical in the ability to see someone not seen in forty years and instantly recall their name. Perhaps the context is the secret, seeing people in familiar places.
Arriving home, there was a sense of an opportunity missed, she might have known who it was that had eaten outdoors on that far off summer evening.