This was written in response to Sue Vincent’s photo prompt. The word was RETURN and here is the photo.
Leaving the Land
“I want to go to university and study economics.” I sat with my fork poised to put a piece of Mum’s delicious roast beef into my mouth.
My father put his knife down and looked at me. “I always thought you’d take over the farm when you left school. You’re a good farmer. You love the animals and they like you.”
“Yes, Dad, that’s true, but there’s no money in it. You know that better than anyone.”
He sighed. “You’re right there. But it’s still a good life. Out in the fresh air, growing food for people to eat and being your own boss.”
I nodded. “And getting up at the crack of dawn every day. Sometimes during the night when a cow’s calving. Then working hard all day, so that you’re too tired to do anything in the evenings. And you can’t go on holiday without arranging for someone to come in and feed the animals and milk the cows.”
Mum stood and took our plates. “It’s home-made treacle tart for pudding. Your favourite.”
I grinned. “What do you think, Mum?”
“You should do what you want, darling.” She carried the plates through to the kitchen and called back, “I only want you to be happy.”
Dad called back, “So do I, Lily. If he want to go to University then he should go. He can earn a lot more as an economist than a farmer.”
“Then why did you say that about thinking he’d take over the farm?”
Dad shrugged. “Dunno, really. I think I always knew he was cut out for something more than we’ve got here.”
Jenny, my sister, interrupted him. “Are you being sexist, Dad? What’s wrong with me taking over the farm?”
Dad raised his eyebrows. “I’d not thought about that. I kind of assumed you’d marry and not want to.”
Jenny pressed her lips together. “Well I can do just as well as Tom. And I’ll prove it if you let me.”
Dad agreed to let Jenny help. She was only two years younger than me, and strong. She also loved the cows and had recently been raising a few chickens and selling the eggs.
After my A-Level results came in, I had done well enough to be offered a place at the London School of Economics, and so that October I packed my suitcase and set off for London.
The excitement I felt as I waved to my parents, standing on the station platform was like nothing I’d felt before. I was off to the capital city. All the freedom in the world was mine. I no longer had to tell anyone where I was going or why, nor when I would be back.
I had found a place in a Hall of Residence only half a kilometre from the College, so felt lucky.
Freshers’ week began. I joined the rugby club straight away, and was persuaded to join the hiking club and rock climbing.
I had brought my clarinet in anticipation of there being an orchestra. Of course, there was, and a jazz band too. I joined both.
In spite of all the people trying to persuade me to join their society, I thought I would have enough to do with my course and the societies I had already joined, so I declined the others.
Well, the academic year began. I went to the first orchestra rehearsal with some trepidation. Would I be good enough? What if I couldn’t play the works they chose?
I took my seat with the other clarinets and looked at the music. Gershwin. Yes, I liked that. They were doing Rhapsody in Blue, of course. Then there was Beethoven and Mozart. Good I’d be able to cope.
I looked around at the other members of the orchestra. One cellist caught my eye. She was beautiful. Black hair cascaded to her waist. She tossed her head to remove it from her eyes as she tuned her instrument. I found myself staring. Then the conductor tapped his baton on her lectern and the rehearsal began.
At the end, I looked for the girl with the black hair, but she was nowhere to be seen. I would have to wait for the next rehearsal to see her again.
At least, that’s what I thought. But as I entered the canteen at the College, I spotted her. She was sitting with another girl. Luke, who I had met on my first day, and who had become my friend, followed my gaze.
“She’s lovely” His eyes lit up.
I was about to say, “Hands off, she’s mine,” when he added, “I love blondes. Let’s go talk to them, but remember, the blonde is mine.”
That was how I met my beautiful Mandy. After we introduced ourselves, I asked Mandy out. She accepted and soon we were inseparable—except for when we had lectures, of course. We had so much in common, besides music.
It turned out she was also a member of the hiking club and we went on walks in the city. There is a thing called the London Loop, and we walked much of that besides other walks in and around the capital. I was surprised how much ‘countryside’ there is in London.
We played in the orchestra, of course, and I gave up the rock-climbing. It took time away from Mandy.
Three years passed quickly. I got my degree, a 2:1, which I was pleased with. Now I needed a job, and so did Mandy. Eventually I found a place with an investment bank in the City. Just what I was looking for.
Mandy found a research job at Imperial College.
We decided that now was the time to move in together As new graduates we could not afford to live in London, so managed to find a flat in Croydon on the main line into Victoria.
We went into London as often as we could. We met for drinks with collegues on Friday evenings after work. Visited museums and art galleries, went to concerts, and the theatre and, of course the clubs. Life was good.
We married eventually and bought a house in Tandridge, near Reigate in Surrey. By now we could afford a large house in a sought after area. We had expensive clothes and cars, and holidays. We had friends of like mind and entertained a lot.
Then Mandy became pregnant. We had twin boys and it seemed our lives were now complete. We made plans for the boys to go to private schools, and put their names down almost as soon as they were born to ensure their education.
I stood looking out of our kitchen window one day at our garden. We paid a gardener to come and do it, but I suddenly got the urge to get my hands dirty.
I opened the back door and walked along the path. I spotted a dandelion. Now I know how difficult it is to get dandelions up, so I went to the shed and found a hand fork. Kneeling by the offending weed, I probed the fork into the soil by its side and wiggled. I felt it come loose and then, suddenly, it shot out of the ground. I almost fell backwards.
Grinning, I took it to the compost heap and began to look for other weeds.
The next hour I spent weeding the garden. When I went back indoors, Mandy exclaimed, “What have you been doing? You’re filthy, Look at your trousers.”
I looked down. Soil clung to my knees and when I looked at my hands, under my nails was black soil.
“I was doing a bit of weeding, my sweet,” I answered.
She put her hands on her hips. “We employ Geoff for that job so we don’t need to. Are you trying to get him out of a job?”
Well, I’d now got the gardening bug and I did tell Geoff we no longer needed him. Mandy was furious. She did not think we needed, or should, be doing what she called ‘menial tasks’ when we could afford to pay someone to do it for us.
But I felt satisfied—no, happy—to look at our garden and know it was all my own work.
The boys grew fast and went away to school. I missed them. Mandy said it was best for them. It would teach them independence, and besides, we could carry on with our lives as before we had them.
I began to spend more time in the garden. I dug up a patch of perennials and turned it into a small kitchen garden. Mandy did not like the time I spent out there, but did appreciate the vegetables I grew. She said they were much better than those from the supermarket.
“That’s because they’re fresh,” I told her. “Speaking of fresh, why don’t we have a few chickens? Then we could have fresh eggs.”
But Mandy drew the line at this idea. “And how would we be able to go away on holiday? We can’t ask our friends and neighbours to come and feed our livestock.”
Then one day Mandy felt a lump. “It’s nothing,” she insisted. “It’ll go away.”
No matter how much I argued, she would not go and have it checked out. Then, of course, it was too late. She died in my arms. The boys came back from school for the funeral. They were only fourteen and were devastated at their mother’s death. I looked at them. They were the image of her.
I walked around the house where we had been so happy for all those years. It was dead. It no longer belonged to me.
As soon as the legalities had been completed I put it on the market. I gave up my job in the city, too. What to do now?
Six months later I got of the train, suitcase in hand, at the railway station I’d departed from so long ago. I called a taxi and gave the address of my parents’ farm. As we turned into the long drive leading to the house I wondered what reception I’d get. Oh, I’d phoned often, but hadn’t been home for years.
The taxi drew up and I paid him and strolled up to the door. As I reached for the handle it flew open and my mother grabbed me in a bear hug. I thought she’d never let me go.
“Tom, Tom, Tom,” was all she seemed able to say.
Then she called out “Brian, it’s Tom. He’s come home.”
Dad came out of the cowshed wiping his hands. He looked around. “Where are the boys?”
“At school, Dad. Remember they’re at boarding school, but I’m going to take them away, I think.”
He nodded. “Of course, it’s still term-time.”
“How long are you staying?”
“As long as you’ll have me.”
“Well, get yourself changed, you’re just in time for the milking.” He smiled and turned to my mother. “Cook a special meal tonight. Our boy’s come home.”