Sunday, August 10, 2008

Meeting Myself

I used to visit this spot whenever my parents were arguing when I was younger. It was my escape, my secret den. I would sit among the overgrown grass, hidden from the world, and think about things. My gaze would rest on an old mini car that lay half immersed in the murky water and ancient litter in the ditch below. I would wonder how it got there, since there were no roads anywhere near this place, and my young imagination would create a history of adventure and mystery for the metal corpse that had found its final resting ground in such an out of way spot. Every now and then a train would roar past me on the bridge and I would turn my imagination to the future and picture all the places I could go when I was old enough to leave.
When that time had come instead of taking a train out of here I had stayed to get married. The next ten years have taken me no further than a honeymoon in Scotland and three caravan holidays in North Wales. My house here in Liverpool is only a few streets away from where my mother still lives.

As I approached my favourite spot, unvisited but not forgotten for at least 15 years, it gave me quite a shock to see the figure of a person in my place. For a moment I felt like I had gone back in time and was spying on myself as a child. As my mind processed the information, I realised it was not the huddled shoulders and tilted head of a child, but of a grown woman. I wanted to turn and run, but she had already heard me and was turning her head towards me.

'Hi', she called.

I was too stunned to answer.

'It's ok, I don't bite,' she added with a smile.

I knew I was being childish and stupid to think I was the only person ever to go here, and so I forced myself to speak. 'I just didn't expect to see anyone here, it's pretty hard to get to.'

'You're telling me! I'm sure that fence used to be easier to climb. Mind you, I didn't wear high heels and pencil skirts when I was younger.' she laughed, 'I found this place when I was playing hide and seek as a child. I grew up just on the other side of the railway.'

'Oh really? Me too. So what brings you here then?'

'A kind of visit to my old haunts. A nostalgia thing I suppose. I haven't been back to the old place in eleven years!'

'What, right here?'

'The whole city! I went straight off back-packing around Europe after finishing my degree in Leeds. I kind of got sidetracked and never came back.'

I noticed a black box nestled in the grass beside the woman and wondered what it was. It could have been her handbag, but it didn't look right, and besides, she had a fairly big rucksack to the other side of her.

'It's a camera', she said following my gaze, 'I brought it along because I thought a photograph of that old car would look good in my next exhibition. But now I think I'd rather leave it alone.'

'Is that what you do then? Photography?'

'Yep! I make more money on the commercial stuff really. Arty photos may say a thousand words, but I get paid better for an exclusive shot of Madonna on holiday.'

I contemplated the glamour of a life spent capturing art and chasing celebrities.
'I wish I had got to do something more exciting. Gone travelling or learnt how to paint or something. It must be great to have been everywhere and seen everything. It looks so sad and deserted, doesn't it? That little car sitting useless and abandoned in the mud.'

'I don't see it like that. That car gave me the inspiration to follow a career in photography. The way the blue paint contrasts with the mud, how it looks so out of place and yet belongs here and nowhere else. Even as a child the scene fascinated me, and it definitely influenced the themes I've chosen to follow in my work. The arty stuff that is, not the celebrity chasing. Although even that has it's reflections here. The commercial sinking into the mud of reality and all that.'

'So why not take the photo then?'

'I suppose some things are best kept secret. I could go for the perfect angle, frame the picture to catch the perfect mood, but I still couldn't get it right. This place belongs in my memory, not on an art gallery wall. I need it here, untouched, so that I can still move on.'

I sat down a couple of yards from her, and for a time we both stared in silence at the rusting vehicle, still here after all these years. I watched the movement of the water nudge the metal with debris, crisp packets and twigs. The car remained still. The distant roar of a train began to creep nearer, and as it thundered overhead my eyes met the glance of the other woman and we both smiled. As the noise subsided, she began to pack up her things and then stood up.

'No rest for the wicked!' she said, 'I have lunch with a newspaper editor.'

'It was nice meeting you', I replied,'my name's Nathalia by the way.'

We shook hands.

'Mine's Tia. Maybe we'll bump into each other here again in another ten years!'

'Maybe.' I laughed and watched her fight her way back into the undergrowth.

I turned back to the little car and thought up a story of how the car was mysteriously placed there, like the pyramids, or stonehenge, by an ancient civilisation.

I would go home later and cook the dinner.