By Ceci Browning
I am wearing my mum’s wellies. They are navy blue with thick white stripes. They are also far too big. Between them and my feet there are three pairs of socks, and yet there is still an inch of empty space at one end. But my gloves and my coat and my scarf match perfectly. They are all navy too. I couldn’t wear my own wellies because the left one has a sizable hole. And it has snowed.
I’ve ventured outside. It’s still early, hours until lunch, but the streets are already full of footprints, dark shapes in the white landscape. Every few minutes I pass herds of small children or wet dogs without their leads or booted hatted grown-ups like me. Good morning, they smile. Hello, they chirp. Everyone seems to be friendlier in the snow. Perhaps it is because nobody can go anywhere. Nobody is in a rush to do this or that. Nobody has anyone to see or anything to get to.
I have always liked snow.
The previous day I had been looking forward to seeing a friend of mine. Well, a ‘friend’. A friend that isn’t really just a friend, but also isn’t quite anything else yet, and probably won’t be. Someone I like, a lot, someone I particularly enjoy the company of, but someone who isn’t the kind of someone that means when your aunt or your friend or your godmother asks, have you met anyone, you say yes. I’d say no. I’d definitely say no. Because while he isn’t just anyone, he’s also not really that kind of someone.
Anyway, we had plans, Mr Someone and I. I hadn’t seen him in a few weeks and I was looking forward to catching up with him. I wanted to hear what he’d been up to. I wanted to ask how his Christmas was, and his new year, and everything in between. Because while I didn’t really care, I cared quite a lot. Sadly, however, Mr Someone had other things on. I wasn’t top of his to do list that day. An hour or so before when he was due to pick me up I got a text. He wasn’t going to make it. Another time, he says. Sorry, he adds. I remind myself I’m not really supposed to be disappointed.
The next morning, with my feet sliding around inside my wellies, I’m still thinking about him. I’m thinking about how everything seems to have slowed to a halt at the moment. Everything has given up, spluttered to a stop. And I’m thinking about how the things that haven’t stopped are awfully complicated. I sigh, and my breath forms a small cloud in front of my face.
In the daytime I’m studying for my degree from home, with my dad in the next room hitting his keyboard in a way that makes it sound like he is chopping wood. My brothers are both upstairs, talking loudly to their teachers, tapping out long messages to their classmates. They are doing their very best to educate themselves from their bedrooms. My friends are miles and miles from where I am. At the end of the phone, yes, one call away, perhaps, but it’s not the same. And Mr Someone? Your guess is as good as mine.
Young people are meant to be striding forward into the sparkling most exciting parts of their lives. Together. In pairs and in groups and as a generation. Twenty-somethings are all hovering at the precipice of something brilliant, the days that should someday be looked back on as the glory days, but have been stripped of the time and the energy and the space to leap over it. We all appear to be going backwards.
I turn the corner, an almost hairpin bend around a fir tree, and the hill rolls out ahead of me, white and glistening in the sunshine. My mouth drops open into a little o shape, like a penny.
Tiny coats of all colours race down the hill. Raspberry pinks and rubber duck yellows, pea greens and postbox reds. Parents in khaki green and dark blue with black rucksacks and sensible shoes chase after them, tripping over their feet, and each other. Bobble hats wobble and then plastic sledges tip over into the snow. Giggles and shrieks and yells drift up from the bottom of the slope, where a row of misshapen snowmen stand to attention. Teenagers scrape the thick branches of low trees with gloveless hands and hurl snowballs at unsuspecting siblings. There is laughing, there is hugging, there is joy.
For months and months, I have not seen so many people all in one place. But most of all, for months and months, I have not seen this many people having fun. Families are staying apart from one another, socially distancing as they should be, but it is still glorious. I have forgotten quite how important this coming together of strangers is. This is what Christmas was missing last year. This is it. This is what we, collectively, all of us, thought we had to leave behind forever, when in fact this is the thing that matters most.
We are not going backwards. Of course we’re not. We are still pushing on into the future, however uncertain it may be. It’s simply that we are not moving in a straight line. Like the sledges of the children on the hill in all their bright colours, we are swaying and wavering and stopping and starting, but we are still moving forward. I will get my degree. I will see my friends again. Have a pint with them, watch a film with them, cook dinner with them. And who knows what will happen with Mr Someone? Maybe we’ll see each other. Maybe we won’t. Either way, I’m sure I’ll get to where I’m meant to be going. We all will.
Photo taken by the author.