It was a glorious autumn afternoon, one which made you believe in fairytales and fairy godmothers. The fidgety wind blew gently, rustling the mellow leaves and collecting them in a heap here and there and then suddenly sweeping the heap away. The warm sun percolated through the flaming autumn leaves adorning the gigantic trees creating patterns of light and shade on the green carpet of the peaceful park.
For a moment, the heart of the park skipped a beat, when a beautiful English rose stepped onto its lonely existence. Oblivious of her surrounding, Cameron’s coal black eyes searched for a familiar face whom she longed to see after so many years. Lifting up her beige long skirt with small red rose buds all over, she treaded the cobbled path almost smothered in patches of green searching for a secluded corner where she would meet the light of her soul after five long years. Her clouded dark eyes stood out on her delicate pretty face shaded by an elegant straw hat with a bunch of blue orchids adorning its brim. The delicate eyebrows knitted into a frown as she pursed her full rosy lips inspecting the bench to move away a lone autumn leaf with her long shapely fingers. Finally, she sat there expectantly with her parasol perched on one end. “I hope he keeps his word, please God,” she prayed in earnest.
Mr. Brown was immersed in The Daily Mail when his solitude was disrupted by a beautiful young lady who looked around her unfamiliar surroundings with a tinge of trepidation as she treaded the grassy cobbles and sat on a bench almost hidden by rose bushes. It was not everyday that an exquisitely beautiful lady sits ten steps away from you and old Mr. Brown couldn’t help glancing furtively at her. A cluster of colourful Dahlias, lilac asters and rose bushes laden with blossoms hid him. Yet, through the maze of green, spangled with colours he could partially view her. You could sense her nervousness as she twisted and twirled her fingers around a blade of grass, recently plucked.
The solitude of the quiet afternoon was broken by the unbroken pecking of a spotted woodpecker busy building a nest in the bark of an oak tree. A group of Jay and Gold crests bathed in the waters of a small fountain which silently gurgled in delight as the birds splashed water on their rainbow wings. Nature lay at its best witnessing a restless, anxious young heart and a curious old man who couldn’t concentrate on his Daily.
The Club House of the fledgling Camelia Tea Plantation dressed up in its choicest finery to welcome Mr. Robert Fortune and his assistant, Mr. Keith Fletcher. They had gone to China to learn about growing tea and had spent two and a half years there. Mr. Fortune and Fletcher returned home two days ago with some Chinese tea plants, seeds and a group of Chinese labourers who would train the Indians workers. So, all the ladies and gentlemen were invited to a fun filled gala and Mrs. Cameron Banks accompanied her husband Mr. John Banks, an officer at the plantation, to the party. All kinds of stories about the brave adventures of Fortune and Fletcher floated in the air and everyone waited with a baited breath for the Guests of Honour. The band struck up a crescendo as an aged rugged gentleman and a tall and handsome young man walked the red carpet laid out for them. With the advent of the two, the party began in earnest. Shy Mrs. Banks sat in a corner while Mr. Banks got busy with his glass. Soon the dashing Fletcher became the cynosure of every woman’s eye and he flirted around dancing with all the beautiful ladies in turn. Suddenly his eyes fell on Cameron and after seeking permission from her husband, they began to dance. The moment a pair of smoky blue eyes met her jet-black eyes, they knew that destiny had brought them together. One dance followed another and then many more. That night the drunken Mr. Bank couldn’t walk to his jeep and Fletcher carried him and dropped them home. He laid Mr. Banks on the couch and left with a curt goodnight.
Fletcher was late. He entered the park in daddy long strides while his eyes searched for the love of his life. The tall handsome man with a cloud of blonde hair, almost ran around to find her. At last he found her on a lone bench, hunched over a little wild flower, deep in thought.
Her train of thoughts were broken by the sound of treading feet of the all too familiar figure with smoky eyes as he walked towards her in slow and steady steps. She didn’t want him to hear her pounding heart as she stood up from the bench with hues of crimson flooding her cheeks. Before she knew, Fletcher’s arms engulfed her, and his passionate lips locked into her rosy petals. They stood there for what seemed like eternity as the years of separation peeled away in a moment. “My love, my love,” he murmured while Cameron’s throat was choked in a barrage of tears. They sat there on the bench in a poignant silence wrapped tightly in each other’s arms amidst the noisy rustling leaves, chirping birds and rivulets of warm salty tears.
The magic of the moment was broken by the sound of a hammer. They looked around to find a man fixing a broken fence around the flower beds. Last night’s storm had broken quite a few branches along with some green fences. The man nailed the fences into place rather noisily.
Very near to the worker was an overturned dustbin thrown away by the menacing storm scattering the litter locally. They messed up the otherwise neat and beautiful park.
“How are you?” Fletcher managed to whisper. “To see you buying flowers in England, miles away from India, was pure magic,” he said.
Cameron gazed at the face she loved. Running her fingers into his messy blond hair, she replied, “Banks passed away four years ago, and I returned to England. My parents had left their cottage to me, so I am here,” she replied with a sigh. “After you left Darjeeling, why didn’t you contact me?” complained Fletcher.
“Banks was very ill. He could hardly go to work. I looked after him as best I could. The man had changed. He gave up on alcohol, but it was too late.”
Fletcher held her closely thinking of how they fell in love that night at the club. He visited her often when Banks was out drinking. Cameron waited for him everyday and they made love sometimes on the couch or in the guest bedroom. All of a sudden, the Calcutta office of the plantation called back Mr. Banks and the young lovers were devastated. Maybe, Mr. Fortune had smelt something, for the transfer was executed almost overnight.
Cameron drifted off to Kolkata for a moment where Mr. Banks was holding her hand for the last time. “Tell me that this baby is mine. I will die in peace knowing that a part of me is growing in your womb,” he enquired while gasping for breath. Cameron hesitated for an eternity before nodding her head. Mr. Banks closed his eyes drifting off to the shores of death. She wept bitter tears of regret not just that day but in the days to come. His last words tormented her almost every day.
“What about you?” asked Cameron. Fletcher looked away since he couldn’t meet her earnest probing eyes. “It took me a long time to forget you. However hard I tried, I couldn’t. You visited and revisited every waking moment of my life and all my nightmares and dreams. Yet, I had to live,” he said with aeons of weariness in his voice. “I had to work, carry out my responsibilities and most importantly, I had to act normal which almost killed me every moment. After about a year, I met Janet, a plain and simple woman who doesn’t expect much from me. Not beautiful, but faithful and reliable and definitely, not a distant dream. So, we married, and little Lucy is our world”. “I thought you were a ghost of my past till I saw you at the flower market. How wrong I was!”
There was a crash and a worker fell down from a ladder as he was trying to fix a light broken by the storm. Both of them ran to help the man. Thankfully there was no injury and the man thanked them profusely.
Mr. Brown sat there listening to the snatches of interesting gossip. The newspaper could wait. His heart went out for the beautiful girl.
They walked side by side along the cobbled path. Cameron saw her dreams dying once again with the dying sun. “Won’t you tell me anything?” enquired Fletcher. Cameron shook her head. “I have to go home, it’s getting late,” she said. “Where do you live?” he enquired. “How does it matter!” she said. “I wish you and Janet a very happy married life,” she said, mustering all the pride she had. Fletcher stood there rooted to the spot as he watched her walking away unaware of the little photograph hidden in her bosom of his son Alfred.
Written By – Papia Ghosh