Today is a pleasant, albeit chilly, mid-autumn day. Almost exactly just like the day I first met him. The mild breeze gently strokes my bare face and coaxes dark strands of hair out of my once perfect bun to play with. Not content with its find, it now calls to the crisp golden leaves that have fallen from their old protectors to dance idly around my shoulders and away across the open parkland where they brush eagerly against the legs of elderly couples who meander hand in hand by the lake. Or float gracefully into the wild flying hair of teenage girls who mutter and fish them out, annoyed by their sudden and obtrusive presence.
A golden-haired woman and her young son pass slowly by my lonely bench. The boy is wrapped so thickly in an assortment of brightly coloured jumpers and a tight plastic coat that I am astounded that he can walk under the weight of it all. The young child watches me curiously as he waddles by and I scrunch up my nose and stick out my tongue to tease him. He smiles then giggles and mirrors me by showing me his own tongue and wiggling his nose like a bunny. His mother glances down and scolds him for his unsociable behaviour. His face falls, crestfallen.
Shit. Now I feel guilty that I have upset the poor kid. It wasn’t his fault. I enticed him into a game that he shouldn’t have played, that I am now too old to play. I should have known better. I consider, for a moment, whether I should apologise on his behalf and explain but as soon as the thought has entered my head I realise that they have already left the park, crossed the road and have disappeared into the bustling crowds of the grey city.
I turn back to continue watching the citizens of the city lead their everyday, ordinary lives and to silently marvel at the wonders of nature. I push back the sleeve of my coat, check my watch and sigh heavily; he is late.
I stand anxiously in a long queue, impatiently tapping my foot as I wait. I sigh heavily and check my watch again, even though it must have only been seconds since I last looked. It is still a quarter past the hour and yet I am still slightly surprised that time hasn’t slipped past me.
I am late, very late. I have only one day to see her and I have already screwed it up. I shake my head with annoyance and almost swear aloud. I refrain, though; as I am not sure the elderly lady in front of me would appreciate such foul language.
The queue edges forwards which allows us to shuffle just a little closer to the till. Soon, however, I am standing in front of a greasy haired teenager who barely seems competent or sober enough to work the damned till. It takes him three attempts to scan my two items through and I smile to myself; I was right.
I pay, grateful to be on my way and leave the warmth of the shop. Wrapping my thick grey coat around me I continue on towards the park.
I scan the gates of the park, one hand above my eyes to keep the weak autumn sun from blinding me. I see him, wondering aimlessly through the park looking for me. He looks just as young as when I saw him last, accept that now his once shaven ash blonde hair hangs about his shoulders. I notice that he is carrying two sandwiches in his hands and suddenly I am grateful as I realise just how hungry I am.
I spot her, sitting alone on a bench, a short distance away. A lonely, tiny figure wrapped up in a long and thick jade coloured coat and fluffy black scarf. Her beautiful raven black hair has been pinned up into a bun although now it is sliding out of place because of the wind. She turns her pale face to me - her emerald green eyes flash with eagerness at the sight of me and a look of relief washes over her face.
‘Hi,’ I say as I approach.
‘You’re late,’ she tells me.
‘I know. I’m really sorry. Can you forgive me?’
She smiles. ‘I’ll think about it.’ I hand her the tuna sandwich which she opens immediately and begins to eat. A flock of pigeons gather around us, their beady eyes hopeful, watching and waiting for their prize.
Once we are finished, and the pigeons have disbanded, we sit hand-in-gloved-hand in comfortable silence, watching the world evolve around us. An assorted group of teenagers are playing catch amongst themselves, despite the cold. A skittish Yorkshire terrier dashes about, weaving through their legs and watching the flying ball eagerly, hoping that it will land near him. It is not paying attention to where it is running and collides with the legs of one of the older boys who yells out in surprise. The terrier yelps loudly and backs away.
She squeezes my fingers gently to grab my attention. She is staring down at her gloved hand; her fingers are woven with my own.
‘I wish we didn’t need these gloves,’ she sighs sadly. ‘I wish we could touch – skin on skin.’
‘Well, we can’t,’ I say, somewhat stiffly. We have had this conversation almost a hundred times. I shift my position slightly so that now our knees are touching, albeit through our coats and jeans. The warmth from her body is comforting. ‘You know the rules.’
‘Screw the rules,’ she says softly with a slight smile. I return her smile. For a moment we are staring at each other, drinking in every last detail of each other before we must part again for another year. She breaks away from my gaze and stares out across the parkland. I follow her gaze to where an elderly couple are feeding breadcrumbs to a party of hungry ducks.
‘We could be them,’ she says wistfully, and almost inaudibly.
I sigh heavily at her insistence to return to this conversation.
‘No, we couldn’t,’ I say, irritation clear in my voice.
‘Of course we could,’ she replies, indifferent to my tone.
‘We would have to be mortal. We have discussed this before. The elders would never agree to it.’
She hesitates. ‘I have spoken with the elders. They’ve agreed to change me.’
My heart skips several beats. My mouth is suddenly dry. ‘Why?’
‘Because watching is not enough anymore,’ she explains simply.
‘But I love you.’ I cringe inwardly as the words leave my mouth. I sound like a whining child. ‘Isn’t my love enough?’
A faint smile washes across her lips. I watch her carefully as she continues to stare out across the parkland. Her face falls into an expressionless mask as she watches as mothers struggle with their offspring and various loved-up couples laugh and stroll along by the riverbank, planning a future which must seem so far away.
Finally she speaks and says, ‘How long have we been doing this?’
‘For years,’ I reply.
She nods. ‘Thousands,’ she says softly. There is sadness in her voice that I have never heard before. ‘Don’t you ever think we deserve more than this?’
‘More?’ I scoff. ‘We are Gods. We have everything.’
‘No, we don’t. I want to have what they have,’ – she waves a hand towards the elderly couple feeding the ducks – ‘I want freedom. I want to live a life that is entirely my own. I want to be loved and touched. I want to grow a vegetable patch in a garden and lie in bed until noon on cold winter days. I want to have children and to see them grow old. I want to grow old, and I want to be with you.’
‘You are with me.’
‘This isn’t real,’ she whispers miserably, gazing down at our gloved hands. ‘Physical contact is forbidden between Fates. How can we last?’
I frown. ‘My love for you is real. I have never loved any other more than I have loved you. I risk everything every year to see you.’
‘I am not denying that,’ she says. I am at a loss for words.
‘It is too risky,’ I say. ‘We’ll have no memory of each other. And what if we never meet?’
‘I believe that we will.’
I shake my head disbelievingly. ‘You believe we will? I am to risk everything based solely on your belief that we might meet?’
‘Isn’t it better to take this risk and hope we meet as mortals than be forever resigned to a life of meeting in secret; unable to touch and love each other?’
I consider her, brushing my free fingers through her hair and down her cheek tenderly. ‘I can’t watch you die. I don’t have it in me.’
‘But we deserve so much more than this,’ she argues.
‘I’d rather live alone and immortal than be changed and watch you die.’
‘You will watch me from home. It will be no different to watching on Earth. You might as well join me on Earth,’ she reasons. I remain silent and she continues, ‘I cannot persuade you?’
‘Then I guess I should go.’ She uncoils her fingers from mine and cups my face in her hands. She leans in to me until our lips are barely a centimetre apart. Gazing into my eyes she whispers, ‘I love you more than there are stars in the sky.’
‘I will forever love you,’ I reply, my voice scarcely audible.
A fleeting smile sweeps across her face, lighting up her green eyes. Slowly, she stands, removing her hands from my face. And then, with one last loving smile, and as silent and as swift as the wind, she is gone.