the English rose

20 October, 2017


Steve was a biologist. I kept wanting to call him Barry, but his name was Steve. I reckon he was about 70. He wore tracksuit pants with socks and boat shoes. He was headed for Milton Keynes, then Oxford.

He got on the bus at Berwick. ‘Nice view, isn’t it?’ he said, as I was taking a picture going over the bridge. ‘They started building that bridge in 1611.’ For the next few hours, every time we neared a bridge, a castle, a town, a wall, even, Steve would give me a sort of potted history. His mother had been an abstract artist who had spent a lot of time in Italy. We talked about capitalism (he was anti: developers should be hung from lampposts, he said), Mussolini, Buddhism, Thatcher, North Korea, sea snakes, how to raise kids, and worm-eating toads. And we talked about Florence, liked I had yesterday with Ana, the Ecuadorian jeweller, and Brigit, the Canadian with the Irish passport. She was travelling Europe teaching yoga and had taken my morning class in Edinburgh. But she’d lived in Florence for five years too.

Steve/Barry seemed happy to have someone to talk to and carried on even when I ummmmed and ahhhhed for too long for lack of something to say.

When we got to Newcastle he leapt up. ‘There’s a wild rose here, I know it, wait and look in that garden.’ And in the middle of the grey English day in the grim Newcastle bus station so there was.

He went and pulled three flowers off the bush, putting two aside in his bag. The other one he handed to me.

He gave me his email address alongside a handwritten reading list.

The roses had wilted a bit by the time we got to Milton Keynes. ‘Don’t forget to try and plant those seeds,’ he said. And he was off.

Athanae Lucev

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