“We’ve got to get out of here, Kim.” He said, thrusting a tatty rucksack into my bleary face. I hardly knew which way was up as I rummaged around for my alarm clock. It was 3 am. THREE AM! Goddamnit, I’d only gone to bed at one-thirty in a haze of cheap alcohol and a kebab that had seemed like such a great idea at the time but like all great ideas one has when drunk, it turned out it isn’t. As I started to fully wake up I felt the first grumbles of indigestion.
James launched himself onto, rather into the bed with a glass of wine in his hand, hovering just over the edge.
I was still lying in bed; my eyes trying to readjust to the glare of the light from the door. I moved myself around his lithe frame in order to give myself a bit more breathing room. Ugh, this was not fair! “And you can put that down. Mind the hair straighteners!” He rolled his eyes.
“And that is why. You, my dear, need to learn that there is life outside of straightening serums and Digital radio. That Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays out on the town aren’t the be-all and end-all. That one of these days you will have to slow down and look around and see all of it; the good and the bad.”
“Whaaa?” I said in confusion, this conversation was making the tiny part of my mind that was still sober work overtime to understand what was going on. Do we have to do this now? I was still half asleep and definitely still drunk, and there is he is yammering on about serums’! Leaning slightly towards him, with my eyes partially shut, I made a swipe for his wine, collapsing centimetres short, much to his amusement. The prat.
Laughing at me, he sat the wine down in the process of standing up, wagging his finger at me. “No, my wine and yes, we’re going now. Pick your warmest clothes, some underwear and get on with you!” Grabbing the blankets he dragged me out of bed, kicking and screaming, landing me on the cold harsh wooden floor. Scrambling for the switch, the moment I turned it on, I regretted it as the light shot daggers through my eyes. Bugger. Now, where were my warm clothes? Did I even own any? My wardrobe overran most of my room, tops and shirts and skirts and the occasional three-quarter length jacket but could any of it be described as warm. Whilst I was rummaging I was acutely aware that James was laughing at me as I scrabbled around.
“What is it?”
“All this stuff. What use is it? It can’t keep you warm, which is arguably the purpose of clothing.”
“Yeah, yeah. So I have a lot of clothes. Bite me.”
“You’re missing my point. Do your clothes make you look classy? Do they make you look good? DO they serve the purpose for which clothes are intended?”
“Yes I think they do?”
“Well, I argue they don’t, why waste you money on something that doesn’t keep you warm and makes you look cheap.” That stung. They make me look cheap? I didn’t dwell on it long because I found an old jacket and a beanie, jeans and a jumper. I showed them to him for his approval.
“Better?” I asked, scooping my hair into a ponytail and plaiting it.
“Much, you look almost warm!” He said taking a slug of his wine. “Now do you have any trainers?”
“Oh my god yes!” I opened the door to my other closet and displayed the piles of boxes within. About half were trainers. James sucked his teeth in consternation.
“Oldest ones?” I pouted and went back to my other cupboard.
“These.” I loved them, but they’d gotten discoloured very quickly.
“They’ll do nicely” He drained his glass and got up. Now grab some underwear and a few t-shirts and shove them in the rucksack, oh and don’t forget a book or two. “Come on.”
“We’re off.” James said sticking his head round Emma’s door. “Don’t know when we’ll be back, don’t let anyone in our rooms.”
“It’s three in the fucking morning, shut up.” She threw something at our heads.
“Yup, this is why we’re going. Tied to times and routine. “He muttered as we headed out the door.
The moon was high and bright in the sky above us as we left. It let its beams fall softly and light our path ahead. I’d always wondered what it would look like in our neighbourhood at this time of night. I’d never bothered to look though. Why? Laziness I guess, it always seemed easier just to not look and go to sleep. Now it saddened me to see what I had missed. The other houses in the street took on a totally different aspect with the softer lighting upon them. It wasn’t sinister or creepy, just tranquil. As if, like their occupants, they were resting too. I guess James figured what I was thinking about, because he chirped up with “Magical isn’t it?” as he bounced along beside me.
“It really is.”
If I missed out on this, what else have I missed out on? As we walked, we heard the rustlings of various animals around us. It was hard not to be jumpy which James thought was hilarious. City girl afraid of the animals and all that. The streetlights became fewer and further between, and then the houses and then we were out into open country. The road became rough below my feet and if it wasn’t for the alcohol I guess it would have hurt a lot more than it did! I’ve got to hand it to James, it made it a lot easier to bear than if I had been sober!
“So... where exactly are we going?” I asked after we had been walking for about an hour and a half.
“Well...” He said, with a smile in his voice, “There is this place that I used to go when I was younger to get some perspective on things.”
“Cool. How long until we get there?”
“About another hour on foot.” I shivered, wishing I had a warmer jumper and jacket.
“A little.” He hugged me close as we walked.
Eventually we were out in the open country and all around you could hear the hum of the world alive with creatures awake and busy. This wasn’t a world asleep and resting like suburbia. Occasionally foxes ran across our path; throwing us cursory glances. Then we turned a corner and the moon threw the world into sharp relief.
“This is where we stop until morning, Kim.”
I could make out a mountain looming on the edge of the horizon; with multiple peaks pointing like accusatory fingers towards the black skyline. Near us, there was a body of water, bordered by rocks. We had been walking for hours and I was exhausted and so sat on the rocks with relief. James slipped his rucksack off his shoulders and went about setting up his tent. He hummed songs gently as he did so, and I could feel his eyes on me now and again in the dark.
“Right missy, in we get; let’s have some sleep after that trek.” Never have I been so relieved to hear those words! I climbed in and he wrapped me in his arms and covered me in his sleeping bag.
“I promise you Kim, the view you will see tomorrow morning will take your breath away.”
* * *
I came to, cold and stiff and wrapped fully in the sleeping bag. Outside James was singing at the top of his lungs, all manner of camping songs, whilst he cooked something over a fire. I pulled my hair out of its plait and climbed out of the tent.
“Oh my god!” I screeched as I looked out. Even what I had seen the night before had not been anywhere near as amazing as what was before me now. We were camped on the very edge of a vast lake, with clear blue water. On the other side was a forest full of coniferous trees; tall and proud it stretched on as far as my eyes could see like rows of soldiers. And all of this was at the base of a mountain, its peaks grey and occasionally dotted with snow, the lower levels green and lush. It felt so very big, making me feel so tiny and insignificant. I sat on the rock and with the sun shining down on me I soon warmed up. James brought me a cup of hot, boiled water, fresh from the lake. It felt so refreshing and good to drink. He then gave me some beans which I hungrily accepted. It didn’t even matter that – as they say – beans are the “musical fruit”, I was just grateful for some form of nourishment.
“What time is it?”
“About lunchtime, I’d say.” He wiped his forehead and pulled his fringe back out of his eyes. James was one of those guys that everyone should have in their friendship groups. Strong and sincere he desperately wanted you to experience everything in life, and to be the best you can be. For me, apparently, there was a lot I could be doing in that department.
“What are you thinking about Kim?”
“About you actually. How you want the best for everyone. For me.
I do, I really do. You may not see it or, get me, but all the things that you’ve become, you’re missing out. Look at what you’ve seen today and tell me it isn’t true. If you would’ve stayed asleep at home, drunk and drowsy you would have missed the beauty of this place.” He came over and sat down beside me on the rock, stretching out like a cat in the sun and smiled.
“There’s too much beauty here to comprehend missing. I haven’t brought anyone else here. Tomorrow though, tomorrow we’re going to watch sunrise from up there.” He said pointing to the top of the mountain.
“You’re having a laugh!” I was giggling at that. Me! Climb a mountain!
“I’m serious. It’ll be good for you. It’s more of a large hill, it’s not a hard climb really and I’ve done it before; many times in fact. I’ll be beside you every part of the way, Kimmy.”
“Okay, okay... whatever”
We packed up the tent and I washed my hair in the clear water and French plaited it whilst it was wet.
“Whatever shall I do without my straighteners?” James mocked “I know I’ll braid my hair into a style that makes my hair wavy!”
I shot him an evil look.
“Enough of that! I know it’s ironic but it’s the easiest style.” I whined. Finally we were ready to move on and we started to make our way around the rocky area around the lake and towards the mountain. It was quite hard going, trying to stay upright and not fall or twist ankles on the shards of rock that hard formed mounds. It took us about an hour to reach the covered ground in the woods. My back had started to ache slightly from carrying my bag, so I hate to think what James’s was doing for him! He had the tent, sleeping bag, his clothes, food and more. I bow down to the superior will of the expert camper. It was a lot easier going in the forest. The pine needles had fallen and made a soft carpet on the floor and aside from the lack of light there weren’t too many issues. It just took a long, long time to reach the other side.
We spoke as we walked; of childhood, dreams, failed schemes and all sorts. Soul bearing stuff; things that we should have shared before but never had because of the constraints of our other friends, drinking and vacuity. I don’t really have an excuse for it, I’d lived with James since university and we were in our late twenties now. We’d done so much together and seen so much but to all intents and purposes until today we had so much been just flatmates. I felt a bit ashamed as I realized this. All this time I’ve had this fantastic man around and I’d never really paid attention.
It must have been about three when we reached the bottom of the mountain. James decided it was time for us to have a break and eat lunch. More beans unfortunately, but we’d live on worse as starving students. If you can call what we were starving! We just drank our food money instead. After we ate we got cracking on the climb. It was hard going and we walked long into the evening. Eventually James realised I was flagging behind.
“You alright, Kimmy?”
“I’m a bit tired. I don’t want to stop us getting to the top though.” He hugged me and lifted the rucksack off my shoulders.
“Well my dear, we don’t have to get to the top. We’ve come this far, which is the real achievement... If I’d said to you yesterday night ‘You’ll climb a mountain by a lake without using a car’ would you have believed me?” I shook my head. “Tell you what. We’ll see in the sunrise from here and finish the climb tomorrow. Then we’ll go home.“
“Okay” I smiled and gave him a hug.
We sat and chatted all evening, about things we’d seen and done, and things we wanted to do. Deep and real conversation – nothing to hide behind. I felt so strong and revitalised and real, more than I have ever felt before. Now I know why James comes here! We went to sleep early; warm in the sleeping bag and woke up as the first rays were hitting the horizon.
We watched as they crept across the lake, turning the surface to gold, as they raced across the forest; setting it on fire and listened as the whole area burst into the song of a thousand birds. As we watched James put his arm around me and I felt safe and elated knowing that I wasn’t experiencing this beauty, this power alone. I had really learnt from this experience; that this beauty was just out there begging to be witnessed, and that people are out there, begging for you to go witness things with.
We ate breakfast and carried on up the mountain.
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