I came to find her
It was Easter Sunday. I was riding a horse through a back lane in the Surrey Hills when I came across a young man in hiking boots and a waterproof jacket, standing at a fingerpost.
He was trying to decide whether to walk along a single-track road between two sheep fields, or another single-track road that led past a lone cottage into a bristling wood.
‘Can I help?’ I asked.
‘I’m trying to get to Westhumble.’ His voice rose anxiously as he pronounced the name, as if he feared I might tell him that Westhumble didn’t exist.
Westhumble did exist, but it was a few miles away. I was riding in that direction, so we walked together. Me on my equine. Him strolling beside.
Travellers must have done this from time immemorial.
‘Where have you come from?’ I said.
‘I’ve walked from Leatherhead station, but I got lost. I’ve come to meet a girl I’ve been writing to.’
His face had a twinkle. The girl was special.
But Leatherhead was quite a trek from the rural lane we were on. He must have been walking for at least an hour. And there was a much easier route, but it wouldn’t help to tell him that.
I said: ‘Couldn’t she have picked you up?’
He smiled, nervously. ‘She doesn’t know I’m coming. It’s a surprise.’
Heavens. That sounded a bit risky.
My horse is very tall. His sure, regular stride and my lofty position made me feel entitled to interrogate.
‘She doesn’t know?’
‘I’ve never met her. We’ve been writing letters and emailing for six months. We get on very well. So I thought I’d come and visit her. I got out at Leatherhead Station and I’m now a bit lost.’
‘You didn’t bring a map?’
‘No. I live in Somerset.’
Somerset. For those who don’t know the UK, Somerset is more than a hundred miles away. Quite a lot more, in fact, and probably even further if you attempt the journey on Sunday trains. He must have been travelling since sunrise. On nothing more than a hunch.
‘What if she’s out?’
‘She said she was spending Easter at home with her parents. They’ll be having lunch now.’
She was at home with her parents. I’d figured she had to be school or college age since they hadn’t managed to meet already.
He confirmed she was in the sixth form. And he was at catering college.
‘I really like her so I thought I’d surprise her.’
Well he could certainly be sure of that.
I imagined how this would play. Doorbell rings. Who could that be? A parent goes to open it. Kate (I decided she’d be called), it’s a boy and he says he’s come to see you. Kate comes to the door. Hi. It’s me from the letters. But I thought you lived in Somerset. Yes, I came all the way today. I’ve been walking for hours. I thought I’d surprise you.
I said: ‘But what if she doesn’t want to see you?’
He wasn’t fazed by the question. He must have already had that conversation with himself, in the hours on the trains, while walking the lanes into the endless countryside, questioning the very existence of Westhumble.
And now a voice was telling it to him, a voice floating down to him from a level above his head. But still he was walking.
‘I know. But I had to see. We get on really well.’
I rode with him to Westhumble station. I wished him well and watched him walk on, forever in that moment, in a bubble of determination and anticipation and hope, on the brink of romance.
Excerpt from: Not Quite Lost – Travels Without A Sense of Direction (Publishing 2 October 2017, Spark Furnace)
Roz Morris’s novels have been finalists in the People’s Book Prize and the World Fantasy Award. She has sold 4 million books as a ghostwriter, mentored award-winning writers, teaches masterclasses for The Guardian and is the author of Nail Your Novel. For more info, visit RozMorris.wordpress.com.