As I rode across the bridge, a woman walking a huge white dog looked at me, her face half hidden by the light green summer foliage of a weeping willow tree on the other bank of the river. She had an expression of blankness or maybe one of hatred. At first I didn't recognise her mainly because my eyesight without glasses is awful, but once I was on the same side as her, I could see it was my Ex-wife. Even now after being divorced for so long it sounds so strange to say, “my Ex-wife.”
We sat on a bench huddled up against the icy cold wind that always seems to blow across railway platforms. These nights out had become a bit of a ritual. First we would catch a bus to Camberley where we would grab a quick drink in a pub. Then onto the cinema for a scary movie. Although I’m not so keen on slasher films now, back then I loved them. I think we even went to see Nightmare on Elm Street twice over two evenings.
After the film had finished it was a race to catch the last train home, but on the way we would stop and get fish & chips or our favourite Kentucky Fried Chicken. We’d sit at the train station in the cold darkness eating the hot food until the light from the front of train appeared miles down the track.
Life was so simple then. It revolved around going out and having a good time. Not to say that things didn't get tougher after we had children. Especially when little Ann came along. We were so poor then. I can remember the fridge packing up one day. The Ex-wife looked through the local rag and found a place that was selling off second hand fridges. We went over there and it turned out to be an old people’s home that was closing down. In a huge empty building we found a pile of TVs, fridges and old brown furniture all for sale. We picked our fridge for £10 and took it home in the back of my works van. A few days later, because the door didn't close properly on the fridge, we noticed a puddle forming on the floor. Eventually the ice-box in the top of the fridge filled completely with ice, leaving a packet of fish fingers encased and inaccessible.
The fridge fitted in quite nicely with our second hand TV that you needed to turn on 45 minutes before you wanted to watch anything. The TV screen would be snow at first, until gradually a picture would form. But I don’t think we cared. We just accepted it and got on. At the time we lived in a tiny 1 bedroom flat that we had made home.
On Sunday afternoons we would walk up through the park and back down past the big posh houses on the main road. Gazing up the drives of the houses that had no door numbers, only names like The Oaks, Views or Parkway House. I would tell her that we would live in one, one day. I would promise her. We would plan what changes we would make to the house and garden once we moved in. Just simple stuff that young couples plan together.
But I won’t pretend that it was all good times because it wasn't. She had to live with me suffering from severe depression for years, although I didn't know it at the time. I just thought I felt low and fed up. It must have been so hard going through that with someone.
Here and now.
Her face changes as she looks back at me. She returns my smile, but carries on walking along the path next to the river. I am the one who’s stopped to talk. Watching her for a bit, I then get off my bike to walk the rest of the way in the opposite direction, downstream. She turns right, I go left.