The sky was the colour of gravestones. A light rain was falling, the kind that is imperceptibly fine but leaves you wet through. I had neither a hood nor an umbrella but nevertheless was committed; it was too late to turn back.
My journey takes me past an old stone church with a small graveyard. I always intend to get closer to better inspect and take photos of the medieval building but alas! my shyness restricts me. It feels wrong, intrusive, disrespectful somehow. People wander in and out of the building whilst I stand observing like a curious specter; concealed and tucked out of the way.
I float around the graveyard, taking note of how neatly the stones are placed and how meticulously the grounds are kept; an enormous amount of care and precision has been given to the maintenance of the headstones and flowers.
My friend recently took me to a cemetery in North East London for my birthday. The permanent residence of many a rebel, thinker and atheist; the final resting place of those the church scorned and deemed unholy. The scenery perfectly reflected how I imagined these people to have been in life; wild and overgrown. The stubborn roots had pushed their way above ground had knocked over and cracked many headstones; nature seamlessly integrating itself and bringing new life to death.
A bright green parakeet was perched on a branch next to a weather eroded statue of an angel. In the blue grey light of winter the bird looked very much at home and blissfully unaware of its unsuitable environment. I observed it for quite some time whilst it delicately preened its beautiful plumage, occasionally ruffling its feathers and making gentle chirruping sounds. It was surreal to hear the song of a tropical bird instead of the cry of a lone crow. In front of the statue grew a single red rose in full bloom. The contrast to its austere backdrop made it stand out like a bloodstain.
A very energetic squirrel dug in the loose soil near where we stood, occasionally glancing over in our direction. The animal would turn out to be our guide for the remainder of our mysterious excursion, hopping happily in front of us as we made our way around the labyrinth of knotted roots, twisted trunks, cracked stones and parakeets.
It was easy to forget that we were still in a major city surrounded by noise and activity. It was almost impossible to believe that just outside those crumbling walls and iron railings was a busy road complete with high-street retailers, restaurants and a herd of bustling people going about their day. Our shoes now sodden and our frilly socks splattered with mud, we made our way through the maze, following overgrown paths and mossy paving slabs in attempt to return to the world of the living. Our squirrel friend still accompanying us and guiding our impatient steps. “Would anyone think to look for us here?” I pondered, suddenly anxious that we might never escape.
Eventually we reached the familiar wrought iron gates that we had entered through. We bid our furry friend a fond farewell. He considered us for a moment before turning and hopping away; disappearing into the tangle of knotty branches and weeds. We were suddenly struck by the bitter cold, as though our bodies had only just become apparent. Our extremities now numb we believed the very blood in our veins to be frozen solid. A nearby coffee shop was a welcome refuge as we celebrated life with hot chocolate and laughter.