© Oonah Joslin
Ben had seen her first at the edge of the bluebell field in May – been captivated by her slender gracefulness, her utter oneness within the wood. She'd worn a skirt of purple-blue and a pale green top that had rendered her almost invisible by means of camouflage. In fact had it not been for his mongrel Jess, he might not have seen her at all. But Jess had gone running over with his uncontrollable tail fallolloping from side to side and nuzzled her hand as he did to everyone. She'd looked and caught him gazing at her and stopped. “Jess!” he'd called and guiltily hurried away like some peeping tom, even though the woods were free to all.
He was very annoyed with himself when he got home, for feeling shifty. He hadn't done anything wrong – she had. It was illegal to pick those delicate blooms - not that the likes of her would care about that, he thought. It was clear she was one of the travelling people. He'd passed a dilapidated caravan on the edge of the allotments. It was barely road-worthy. She wasn't a real Romany, with skills and a rich cultural history. She was a tinker and everybody knew their reputation. Yet he couldn't forget her long dark hair that cascaded in waves to her shoulders and curled wild about her face. And he couldn't forget her eyes, bright as sapphires, light as a watery, blue sky. He kept wondering what her voice sounded like. Was it delicately accented? Did it have a husky tone?
Ben found himself frequently at that end of the wood over the next few weeks. The caravan was still parked up. People had put notices up, ‘Gypsies Go Home' , one said. Ironic, he thought, but he'd never seen any sign of the girl. Other plants replaced the bluebells with splashes of colour according to the season. Some he knew, cow parsley, ragwort with its nurseries of Cinnabar Moths. In July came the long stems and spear shaped leaves, soon festooned with familiar, pink-purple, malformed crosses of flowers. He hated to see these. By September they would be bearded with seed heads – harbingers of a season of berries and a winter to come.
It was the last day of August. Jess ran on ahead.
“Rosebay Willowherb,” said a voice behind him.
Ben turned. There was a charming catch in her voice.
“That's what them flowers is called,” she explained. “Well, flowers is what I call them although most people would classify it as a weed. It's a traveller too – likes to go along railway lines.”
He couldn't think of anything to say. But he didn't need to.
“That's the way with people isn't it?” she went on. “One man's flower is another man's weed but half the time they can't be bothered to learn anything about them.”
“I didn't mean to…” he began but then couldn't think what it was he was going to say he didn't mean to do because he hadn't actually done anything to offend her.
“That's okay. You kept coming back every day with the dog, so I just thought I'd say goodbye.”
“You mean, hello.”
“No, we're moving on now,” she said, “heading south.”
“That's a shame. I wanted to get to know you.”
“No you didn't. Jess has found me almost every day. If you'd really wanted to, you could have too I even told my Dad you might be round but you didn't come.” She turned to leave. “It's a pity, for I liked the looks of you too.”
“Wait a minute…”
“Wait? I think there's been enough waiting,” she said. “You know one day, you'll get a beard too, Mister. It's always best to follow nature. That way, you don't miss out.”