At the top of Redland Road in Bristol, just where the road begins to flatten out at the top of the hill in between Luscombe Park and Woodstock Road, ten minutes walk down from the Downs a bit further up, there is a bench situated just so that you can see the entire of Bristol spreading out beneath you like an enormous fan or ream of water poured out into the valley. From there you can see all the little lights of the city blinking secretively at you, as if every last one of them is hiding some distinct portion of human revelry that, for tonight, you are only permitted to dream of rather than experience yourself. On the far side you can see the velvet darkness of the enclosing hills that hold the city in its watery place, and they are outlined by the slightly brighter shade of the night sky peering out behind them like the slow transformation of a spectrum of light from one dye to another. Just behind you is Redland Chapel, a grand, neo-classical church fronted by pilasters and ionic columns that is nonetheless hidden modestly behind a canopy of trees and a round stretch of grass, to remind you that the Christian spirit is the foundation of the place, whether or not you can see it. At the right time of day it is a pleasant spot to sit at, say at mid-afternoon when you can see the eccentric mix of students, young families and pensioners that inhabit the Redland parish passing by like dragonflies do by rivers. It is a very nice spot indeed.
At 5am one morning, however – a very different time to the time most people choose to sit on this bench – a young couple, a boy and a girl, had placed themselves there. They had come from up near the university, fresh from a night out at one of the big clubs. They had got home at around 4, and had then made the decision to go for a walk. From Cotham they walked down to the centre of Redland, down Cotham Lawn Road and in between the Victorian, wrought-iron street lamps that laid down descant amber light along Lover’s Walk by Redland railway station, then left up Redland Road to where they now sat. The sky had begun to gently filter through with those red tendrils of light that told them morning was coming, and soon the sun would be high enough for them to see themselves in the true colour of day.
‘I think this was a good idea,’ said the girl, and the boy agreed. They both sat with their feet together, sitting as straight as the gaze they sent out over the city.
As the sun continued to rise, however, one thought was pressing on them more and more. For a while it remained tolerable, but then quickly it became too much to keep inside.
‘So it’s over,’ said the girl, and she flung her hand over her mouth as she said it. The words clung to her like a catastrophe; they seemed the worst, cruellest and most terrible thing she had ever said. She flinched with tears even as they had barely been spoken.
The boy too flinched with pain, though he did not show it. He continued to stare on into the valley.
‘Yes. I suppose it is.’
‘Oh god, Charlie…’
The girl breathed in deeply and shook with tender fear. Her eyes were suddenly very red, mirroring the first morning light.
All through the night this feeling had been hanging over them, and they both knew it was only a matter of time before it came out. They had been overflowing with high spirits just hours before, and now they had come to this dark moment, this total, dank misery. They had both known it was coming, but there was nothing they could do to prepare themselves for it.
Suddenly the girl broke down in tears. Charlie reached both arms around her, as much to quell the feeling in himself as in her. He stroked her hair and shushed gently into her ear.
‘Rosie, Roz, please,’ he whispered, ‘it’s okay – it’s not over, it’s not-’
‘But it is!’ Rosie cried between fits of sobs. ‘It’s all over, completely… We’re leaving today. Oh, Charlie!’
Now the tears came hard and fast, and all either of them could do was grip each other tightly until they ended. Charlie was trying as hard as he could to stop himself from doing the same, but after a few minutes he found it was useless as his eyes were already streaming with sadness.
‘I just can’t believe it’s over,’ sobbed Rosie. ‘How has it all gone so fast… How have we got here?’
‘It was always going to happen, we both knew that.’
‘I know, I know. But it’s horrible.’
It certainly was horrible. Although Charlie tried to appear restrained, Rosie was really just saying what they were both thinking. It made him more uncomfortable than he could bear. They both sat on the bench and cried and cried until the morning had come upon them fully.
Finally they sat up, their arms still draped around each other, gazing down into the city that had been their closest friend for what felt like so long. To think that those grand Georgian terraces and winding, cobbled alleys, those painted streets and green, gorgeous hillsides were no longer going to be part of their life was too much for either of them to take. They would no longer walk out of their house every day and find all those familiar characters in the street. All their friends would be gone, and this knowledge filled their hearts with grief like they could not explain.
‘What are we going to do now?’
‘I don’t know. We could do anything.’
Rosie laid her head on Charlie’s shoulder. ‘You won’t know how much I’ll miss you. Really. I won’t be able to tell you how heartbroken I’ll be.’
‘Oh, Roz, please… I will be too.’
‘I just can’t understand the whole thing… It’s too much, too big a thing for me to take in. That we were here together and now we won’t be. And I don’t think I’ll be able to come back here. This place is haunted for me now. Everything about it, every person I’ve met and thing I’ve done here, I associate with you. You have been university for me, Charlie. You do know that don’t you?’
‘I know Roz, I know. I can’t even tell you how much I love you. You know that.’ He paused as his mind flew over those well-known memories of falling in love. Just like her, he associated falling in love with the experience of being in a new and exciting city; and just like her, he was going to be absolutely heartbroken that he was leaving this episode of his life behind. He gently stroked his hand up and down her arm as he considered how the past was slipping away from them, and how the future suddenly seemed so bleak. That was what was so painful, the feeling that they were attempting to cling to a past that they could not take with them and was falling away behind them faster than they could blink. And all around the city they were aware that their friends of the last three years were leaving today, and they would never all be together again.
A bird began singing somewhere in a tree behind them. Charlie drew his girlfriend in closer to him and sighed. ‘It’s been quite a three years, though, hasn’t it?’ He smiled into Rosie’s face and she clung to him even tighter. ‘It has,’ she whispered.
(To be continued… Possibly…)