47 Random Fragments of Unauthorised Hope and Despair


WHEN the train had pulled away and left Richard alone on the deserted platform, he stood still for a full five minutes listening to the birdsong and savouring the sweet taste of woods and fields.

He was determined to make the most of every moment of his trip.

It had taken a hell of a lot of preparation, after all.

It wasn’t as if you could simply wake up one morning and decide to head off into the countryside for the day just on a whim.

In fact, even with advance planning, most city-dwellers like him would never get permission to come here alone - a tour party was the most they could hope for.

But then not everyone had an old mate in the Ministry of Nature who could plausibly get you on the books as a consultant surveyor and then get you all chipped up and authorised for a whole day’s unaccountable wandering in the forest.

“Thanks, Mark,” whispered Richard to himself as he stepped off the concrete of this tiny railway halt and onto the soil that was to be his companion for a day.

He glanced at his map and confirmed to himself where he was going, where he’d pictured himself going so many times over the last few weeks.

East, across the forest and away from the railway and the road.

East, up into the hills where hardly anyone lived anymore, where the polluted plastic world he knew crumbled away and something real and old still lived and breathed as it had for a billion years.

In the hours that followed, as Richard plunged further and further into the woodlands where even the paths were not made by man, he had the impression that he was alive for the very first time.

Rustling at his feet, scrabbling in the trees, the sight of a panicked deer bounding away from him across a clearing - this was the oxygen he had craved.

The intoxication grew as he at least reached the hills that had guided his progress on the horizon all day and vast vistas opened up beneath him, while the air seemed still fresher and more nourishing to the soul.

As he sat on the trunk of a fallen tree high up on a wooded ridge and surveyed the land, he felt that the pleasure with which he had been imbued had also reached a peak.

Finally, he had the impression that he had slipped free from whatever it was that had held his heart captive for so long.

Then he noticed it, snagged up on the very top branch of the very tallest tree in sight. A plastic bag.

Now he understood that he would never escape.