It had now been over ten years since Verity had last seen the village she had grown up in and she missed it. She remembered walking around it before she left, she had this sense that it was the last time she would ever see it that way. Before she went to Australia, Verity had moved to the nearest town. She remembered going back home at weekends to see her parents or to visit Elise or Jenny. She had been desperate to move out of her little village when she was young, it was a very small village and that had limitations that did not suit someone like Verity who wanted to experience the world and everything in it, but she never stopped loving it and driving back there always made her feel very content.
Verity remembered driving there after work to visit Elise when the sun was just setting, early in the year. She had that quiet, calm feeling that comes with dusk and although the light was fading, there was still enough to see the valley stretch up to the sky from the road into Darvel. Verity loved that road, you turned a corner and you were suddenly in the country in the middle of a beautiful valley. It felt like you were driving into a little hidden secret. One minute all you see are shops, houses and supermarkets, worn and tedious looking and then around the corner this valley opens up on either side of you with rolling hills of fields and forests. It has a good feeling about it. It is the last village in that valley and it always seemed less touched than the other villages, it seemed much quainter.
Verity had climbed those hills many times as a young girl up to an area where people used to go camping with a stream and a deep dark pool that the kids jumped into. Verity jumped into it once and never felt the need to repeat the experience. The pool was shaded by trees, never got any sunlight and it was high up in the hills. The boys had jumped in first and said that the water was fine, but when Verity finally jumped in and hit the cold water, she thought her heart had stopped. She could still remember how cold that water was, it stung. You could feel it on your legs as though someone had slapped them hard, it was all you could do to move to get back out again. Verity gasped for breath and got out as quickly as possible. The boys all thought it was hilarious.
The valley was a beautiful place, with many lovely walks along the river and up into the hills that Verity had walked along time and time again, as a child, as a teenager, as an adult. Her parents stayed in a small house in a quiet street that used to have a big tree facing it that was cut down which had made Verity sad at the time. Verity remembered her mother had kept one of the seeds that it discarded and planted it in their back garden. She had had to take the tree that grew from it out when it started to get too big and the roots started growing under the fence into the neighbour’s garden.
The village had a small high street with several old fashioned pubs of the kind you used to see all over Britain as well as the usual Indian Takeaways and chip shops. It had a big playing park that Verity used to play in as a child which was also along the river. There was an estate open to the public with a path leading to a forest that had deer and pigs. Verity had loved going for long walks in the country there and as a child they had all marvelled at the punching tree; a single tree with strange soft bark that you could punch without hurting yourself. Verity and her friends used to ride their bikes up there. It was a slow climb uphill with a couple of steep parts where you had to get off your bike. Once you had climbed to the top though, the hill back down was great to cycle down really fast into the neighbouring town and the second damn. It was worth swallowing a few flies on the way down to feel the force of the air against your face and the thrill of speeding downhill.
All the kids used to swim in the river that coursed through the valley, and Verity could remember pictures of her dad standing on the it when it had frozen over on a particularly cold winter’s day; he looked so happy with a youthful face and a big Arran sweater on. At the park you could go down to the river using “the big steps” and swim in a deeper part of the water there. Verity remembered the time where her seven foot cousin leaped down the stairs and jumped into the river to save a boy who was drowning. She remembered climbing down under the bridge to a secluded spot down at the river collecting tadpoles; she took them home and put them into a basin in the back garden to see them turn into frogs, they were in the shade when she left for school but her young mind did not realise that by the afternoon the sun would be on the opposite side of the hut and when she came home they had all died in the water that nearly boiled with the heat of the sun, she felt terrible that she had killed them. She remembered the time Elise fell off the roundabout and got concussion and Verity ran all the way from the park to Elise’s house to her dad. Elise got taken to hospital in an ambulance. Verity had been very frightened at the time although they always laughed later about how Elise had kept trying to take her braces out. She remembered accidentally breaking Elise’s nose with a golf club when she swung around too hard and spun in a full circle into Elise’s face. Elise was too nice to be mad and just kept saying she was fine.
She remembered going down to the woods with her friend Kirsty and seeing a couple spread out on a blanket making love. She remembered the year of the millennium celebrations when they had a street party at the village square, she remembered clambering about the ground at weddings outside the church collecting money from the scatter. She remembered the gala days and drinking down at the football club with Elise and Jake. She remembered the time they were running away from the police and a cow chased Elise, her new jeans ripping on the fence as she tried to climb to safety. She remembered when the football club was open, her aunt had been the manager there and her mum used to work there. She remembered drinking bad lemonade and the smell of the beer kegs. She remembered smelling smoke from her mother’s hair after she had been working in the bar. She remembered the day she had found a four leaf clover on the playing field and showed everyone but one of the boys had taken it out of her hands and ripped it up. She had been so upset, but found a pound on the way home and later that night her dad won the pools and they bought a new washing machine. She remembered sleeping in her room at her parents’ house with the window open and lying looking at the moon, listening to the silence of the village. She remembered it being so quiet she could hear a hedgehog moving around under the hut. She remembered camping out on her front lawn with Elise and performing plays at the swing park next to her house singing songs from “Grease”. She remembered the day she had decided she was running away when she was probably about seven years old, packing her Thomas the Tank Engine lunch box with who knows what and walking around the block a few times.
It was beautiful in every season, rich greens in the summer; lovely orange and red colours in the autumn and often sparkly white in the winter.
She had often thought how lucky she had been to have spent her childhood somewhere like that and she had always thought that when she was older she would retire there in the peaceful quiet. That was not likely to happen now, Verity was not sure when the world would feel real peace again; it all depended what had happened to everyone and what could be done to fix things. Right now though, Verity had to get back there to see if there was any sign of the people who used to live there and of her parents and sister. She was afraid that she would either find no trace of them, or find death and she was not sure what would be worse.