Colours - red, blue, yellow, the blue sky, people running, shouting, warm, sunshine, laughter. It’s too much to take in at first, so I simply close my eyes and wait, then open them later, I’m not sure when. The sky is blue, there are children running, some are wearing masks. There are colourful flags flying, buildings are draped in bunting, red, yellow, so I think it must be some sort of carnival or festival today. I look down at my hand, and see that something is written there. “St Martins, 3pm, Stephen”. I am puzzled by this, as I don’t remember writing this, and I certainly don’t know who Stephen is. Or Saint Martin, but I did know a Martin once, I used to sit next to him in the maths class. I liked Martin; I remember I used to move up close to him, so that our legs brushed as we sat together. He even kissed me once, by the old tree in the orchard at the back of the village. I wonder if this could be the Martin the message means, but I don’t think I’ve seen Martin for a long time now.
I notice that I’m sitting down, and the sun is warm on my face. The sky is blue, and there are people laughing nearby. I stand up, and start to walk, I’m not sure yet where I’m going, but that doesn’t seem so important right now. I have my stick with me, and it makes a loud click-click as I tap it in front me with every step I take. I think I must be in the market square, as it’s very wide and open here, and lots of people are moving around. Yes, I knew I was right about the market square, because here is the post office now on the corner. I used to work here, people used to come and ask me for stamps, or ask me how much it would cost to send a parcel to so and so who lived in London or Manchester or somewhere else far away. I look at the post office now and see that it is draped in colourful bunting, red and yellow. Maybe there is a carnival or a festival happening today, but I don’t think anyone told me about this.
I turn right at the post office, and start walking up the hill, click-clack. Somewhere a brass band starts up, one of my favourites, so I try to march in time, but it is too quick for me, so I get all jumbled up and have to stop. The sun is very warm, so I have to get out my handkerchief and mop my forehead. As I put my ‘kerchief back in my pocket, I notice that someone has written something on my hand, at least, I assume someone wrote it, as I can’t for the life of me imagine how it get there otherwise. I bring my hand to my face and read the scrawled handwriting. “St Martins, 3pm, Stephen”. I wrack my brains a while trying to decipher this, but come up a blank. I think Stephen is the vicar of the local church, he does a very good sermon on love and the power of redemption, I think I’ve heard it three times now, or maybe ones which were very similar. I like our parish church because there is a beautiful graveyard you have to walk through to get to the main entrance, and sometimes you can see robins perched on the gravestones, or squirrels scuttling along the path to jump into the next tree. I have my favourite seat in the church, towards the front on the left-hand side, where I’m near enough the hear properly, and I’m next to the alcove with the stained-glass window of Saint Christopher carrying Christ as a child across the river.
I start as a brass band playing loudly passes by me and carries on down the hill to the market square. I watch them for a while, then carry on walking up the hill. The sky is blue, and the sun is warm on my face, and my cane makes a click-clack noise as it taps the ground in front of me. Children run past me with painted faces, one is a tiger, the other a bird, perhaps they are going to a fancy dress party and are running to join their friends. I stop at the entrance to the church of St. John, where a woman is handing out leaflets, and a chalked sign next to the door says that the tower is open for viewing today. The woman smiles as she sees me reading the notice and tells me I can simply go up the staircase to the right after I enter the church, and I will reach the tower.
I thank the woman and enter the church, the coolness welcome after the hot sun, the quietness refreshing after the loudness of the street outside. A door is open on the right-hand side and I find a staircase that leads upwards. I’m supposed to do something and I can’t remember what, so I start climbing the stairs one by one, holding on to the bannister rail on the left, my cane making a hollow tock-tock sound on the wooden staircase. I reach a platform where I can see a huge bell hanging in a space next to the staircase. A man and a girl are waiting patiently for me to pass so that they can go down.
“You don’t want to be here at four o’clock,” the man says to me smiling, as he starts to go downstairs.
I smile back, though I’m really not sure why I wouldn’t want to be here at four o’clock. I carry on climbing, the stairs are getting steeper now, spiralling round, and I think I must have been climbing for hours and hours. I arrive in a room with stone walls and a wooden floor, and there is another shorter staircase that seems to lead outside. I climb these few steps, and my breath is taken away as I emerge into bright sunshine. I am at the top of a tower, on what I assume is a walkway which probably runs all the way around. There are gaps in the tower wall where one can look through, and I walk up to one of these now. Looking down I can see the town and the market square far below. There are flags all around, and the buildings are decorated with colourful bunting, red and blue and yellow, as though there is some sort of celebration on today. My attention is caught by a man running from person to person. He is showing something to the people he talks to, and I think maybe the poor man has lost something, like the time I thought I had lost my new purse. I searched the playground in tears for hours, until I remembered that I hadn’t taken the purse to school at all, as I was afraid I would lose it. Maybe it is the same for this man, and he will discover that what he is looking for isn’t lost at all.
Suddenly a terrific noise makes me jump, and I grasp the wall for support. It sounds like a huge bell is chiming beneath me – one, two, three, four – then it is quiet again, although my ears are still ringing from the incredible sound. I look around in confusion. I appear to be at the top of some sort of tower, as I can see the town far below me, but I don’t know where I am or what I’m doing here or even how I got here. The sky is blue and the sun is warm on my face and I am alone. I start to walk around the tower, and my cane makes a hollow tock-tock sound on the wooden platform. I come a narrow doorway with stairs leading down. This is the only way down that I can see, so I must have come up this way. I turn around and carefully start to climb backwards down the steps, one step, then the next step, clutching the bannister rail in one hand and my cane in the other. In the small room I can see another staircase, wider this time so I can walk facing forwards, round and round until I come to a platform where I’m astonished to see a huge bell suspended in the space next to the stairs. This must have been the cause of that awful noise, but I’m still mystified as to why on earth I would have come here in the first place. I carry on walking carefully, round and round, down and down until I reach the bottom stair. I peer to my right and see what looks like a church, judging from the rows of pews, but which one? I turn left, and walk outside.
A young woman smiles at me as I leave, then I am outside. The sunshine is blinding as I walk out, but I believe I know where I am. The slope of the road seems familiar, so I turn left and start to walk down the hill. Yes, I am certain of where I am now, there is the post office where I used to work, and here is the market place. I walk across the market place to the statue of the girl and the fountain. I’m quite tired after all that walking, so I sit quietly by myself, lulled by the gentle tinkle of the water, and ignore all the hustle and bustle that is going on around me.
I become aware of a man walking towards me. I think at first he is just heading in my direction, but now I am sure he is approaching me, as he seems to walk faster now that he has seen me. He looks slightly familiar, and I have the feeling I have seen him somewhere before.
“Mum,” he says as he reaches me, “where have you been? I’ve been looking everywhere for you!”
“I’ve been here the whole time,” I say somewhat defensively, clutching the head of my stick with both hands.
“I told you to meet me at St. Martins at 3 o’clock,” he says, and I sense some exasperation in his voice. “I even wrote it on the back of your hand so you wouldn’t forget.”
I look at the back of my hand, and I’m astonished to see “St. Martins, 3pm, Stephen” written there. I feel very silly now, and wonder why I hadn’t seen this before.
“Never mind, Mum,” Stephen says, holding out his hand to me. “I’m just glad you’re safe, and that nothing happened to you.”
“What should happen to me?” I say as I take his hand and he pulls me up.
We walk together through the busy market square. The sky is blue, and the sun is warm on my face. I notice for the first time that there are flags flying, and that the buildings are draped with colourful bunting, red and yellow. Perhaps there is some sort of carnival or festival happening today.