“How do you know when you’re in love?’ she said.
‘The traffic improves and the cost of living seems very low.”
I had long given up all hope of ever finding the perfect man when I finally met him. He told me in gentle, erudite tones that he found ‘re-reading Muriel Spark to be pure gold’.
I murmured that I adored Dame Muriel, trying to control my eyelashes that fluttered as they drank him in. With tired face and messy hair, he was no Rupert Brooke. But he had the widest smile, the kindest expression and the gentlest voice as made mundane pleasantries sound like poetry. Every glance, every gesture, his every word was pure gold.
I wished myself six years back in time when we might have walked into each other on a cold winter morning in another part of the world. I wanted to take a walk with him along the banks of the Cherwell, listening to the birds and talking about Dame Muriel’s fiction – the possibilities bloomed in a vision that was pure gold.
I felt neither regret at parting from him, nor longing to turn back though I spied him from the corner of my eye and thought that he looked like an angel in a crumpled cerulean shirt, as our eyes met inadvertently for a fraction of a second before I turned away. I had lived a lifetime within those few minutes of pure gold.
He vanished from my thoughts as I stood talking to my friend for the greater part of an hour afterwards. But later as I went for a walk by the Cherwell, he beamed at me from the dappled autumn sunlight, and I heard him in the whispers of the river breeze that caressed my face. Imprints on the mind and heart, impressions of pure gold.
By the banks of the Cherwell, I sat down and wept, more out of joy for having seen him at last than because I knew that I would never see him again. The moments with him were akin to the happiness that descends upon a girl when she tries out a diamond tiara that she can ill afford to buy. But those moments were enough, for they were pure gold.
There is always the next birth, as my friend Millie would say. In my next birth perhaps, on a joyous spring or balmy summer day, I will walk with him along the banks of the Cherwell with the birds singing to us as we talk about the novels of Dame Muriel. From across time and space, I can see that those moments, all of them will be pure gold.
At the Cherwell boathouse, I sat on a rough bench facing the river and stared into the green waters. It was a fifteen-minute walk from my college room, a very pleasant walk through a treelined path with the boughs overhead making a wide canopy through which the sunlight fell in cool green beams on the ground. It reminded me of one of my favourite places in literature, the world between worlds in The Chronicles of Narnia, which, as we all know, is one of the most beautiful metaphors for a library.
I had booked a punt through the college site, and then cancelled it at the last minute. One look at the boats and I was glad that I had cancelled it. I would have looked like a fool trying to handle the punt by myself. But I felt a deep sense of peace sitting there watching the ducks float past. The summer crowds, mostly students and locals from their appearance were a jolly lot, floating across the river in laughing groups, the little boats swaying. The background sounds blended into the silence and I sat there in peace, contemplating the last two years and the darkness that had threatened to seep again into my mind in the spring, among other things.
I remember someone’s quote that happiness was a library and a garden. Which is true. But to sit by the banks of a river in silence gives something more valuable than happiness – tranquility. Watching the placid green waters of the Cherwell (which the college warns is infested with water-rats, among other things), I felt an immense sense of peace.