My hair was dripping. Droplets trickled off my fringe into my eyes. My sweater hung sodden and heavy on my shoulders. My jeans swished, and my socks squelched.
I trudged miserably along the country road, swearing at myself for not bringing a raincoat, or a brolly, or a damn plastic bag. Anything to fend off this downpour.
I saw him in the distance, sitting on a fence under a tree, a dog by his feet.
“Nice day for it,” he said, as I drew closer.
“For what?” I thought. “Drowning?” But I laughed politely and said, “If you’re a duck.”
A smile spread across his face. “Not even ducks would go out in this shit.” He pushed a sopping curl from his eyes and peered up at the heavy sky. “It’s a little better under here, if you want to wait it out with us?” He dipped his head towards the yellow lab leaning against his leg, looking wretched.
I nodded and watched as he shuffled out of the tree’s protection and patted the wooden railing beside him.
“Now you’re in the rain,” I said, as I clambered onto the fence.
“I don’t mind. Besides, my mum would kill me if I made you sit out in this deluge, while I was getting somewhat less wet.”
“Well, thank you. This storm came out of nowhere, huh?” I felt like an idiot. Who goes for a walk, in weather like this? I tucked a bedraggled strand of hair behind my ear and gazed up at the branches offering me their meagre protection. “Apples,” I said, spying the red fruit for the first time.
He jumped down from the fence, his feet landing in a puddle and spraying mud up his jeans. He grinned. Wide and toothy and dazzling. “Whoops.”
Leaping into the air, he snatched an apple from a branch. The bough flicked back and sprayed us with more water.
We both screamed. Then laughed.
“Sorry about that. Like we needed to be more wet.” He rubbed the red fruit on his soaked t-shirt and handed it to me with a bow of his head. “For you, Milady.”
He blessed me with another stunning smile as I took the apple, then pushed himself back up onto the fence.
“My mum planted this tree,” he said. “This is where she met my dad. On this very spot. On a day like today. Apples were his favourite. He died a couple of years ago.” He gazed at the dog by his feet, reached his hand down and scratched the pup’s ears. “She died yesterday. My mum.”
I drew in a sharp breath. “Oh gosh. I’m so sorry.”
He shrugged. “Thanks. You’re the first person I’ve said that to. “She died. My mum died. It sounds so weird.”
We sat wordlessly for a time, as the patter of raindrops on the leaves above us filled the silence. Two strangers side by side but a million miles apart.
On another day, we might have exchanged names. We might have gone for a coffee. We might have become friends, or maybe something more.
But he was at the beginning of a storm that raged beyond the one churning in the skies above us. A torrential, lashing, sunless storm.
He breathed out a weighty sigh and dropped onto the road. “Anyway, I guess I should go, I’ve got a bit to organise. Thanks for sitting with me. Enjoy the apple and your soggy stroll.”
I watched as he jogged away with his dog by his side.
I looked up at the gloomy clouds that hung dark and pendulous above me, closed my eyes and let the rain pour down over my face. Then I wandered back towards the village, no longer bothered about being soaked. If getting rained on was the worst thing that happened to me today, I was lucky.
©Amy Hutton 2021