Those Who Wait

Let’s look at Pete, and the way his life changed, all in one day.  Look, down there, as we descend beneath the cloudscape, Pete has begun his day.

It is sunny and as Pete exits through the door to the block of flats where he lives he raises his hand and shields his eyes from the sunlight.  He’s headed into the city to meet a friend and as he walks along he looks at people and objects with a calm innocence, taking in everything around him.

Of course you might notice that it’s lunchtime, and many of you may think the day begins in the morning, perhaps not as early as dawn but certainly before lunchtime.  Pete, however, likes to think his day doesn’t start until he has done something significant.  It harkens back to when he was younger and used to claim that the next day didn’t begin at midnight but began once he had slept, he lost a whole Tuesday once staying up all night.

His mornings are uneventful anyway, typically he will wake in his bed, toss and turn for a moment then leap out and dash into the shower.  He never fully awoke until he’d showered and hated to do anything before his shower.  Pete would then emerge from the shower and dress before going to make his breakfast.  Usually a bowl of cereal or toast, but sometimes if he felt like treating himself he’d cook a full English breakfast, which he would play with using his fork and turn the food into a smiling face.

He’d eat whilst watching morning television, comedy programs of course, flicking straight past anything reality or news related.  And then for the rest of the morning, or day if he had nothing planned, he’d play his computer games and take great pleasure in creating his characters and fighting incredible monsters.

Leaving the main road, where the large multi-coloured buses roam, Pete turns into a small cobblestone street.  It has a rustic look to it and several times he’s encountered film crews here filming for period dramas and medieval fantasy films.

He turns into a café, one furnished inside an old church.  On entering he walks to the counter and orders himself a hot chocolate.  He doesn’t drink tea or coffee, something inside Pete never let go of his inner child.  He turns and sees a girl waving him down.

“I’ve had a really crappy morning, you wouldn’t believe how many things went wrong.”

“And how are you Susie?” Asks Pete, aware that his participation in this conversation was entirely optional.

“So my printer wouldn’t work this morning, I was only trying to print out this bloody essay, which by the way, meant that I’ve only had two hours of sleep.  My printer is out of coloured ink, well I don’t need colours I only need the black stuff and I replaced that only a week ago.  But no!  My arsing computer won’t print if the coloured ink is out.  How ridiculous is that!?  So I rushed to the library to try there’s, and you know how busy they are,” Susie said leaning across the table as if this emphasised her point, “and when I finally get on one I’ve only gone and forgotten my bleeding password.”

Pete sipped from his mug and let his mind wander.  He was thinking about this morning and what had happened to him, so while Susie continues her ranting I’ll fill you in.  When Pete woke up this morning, it wasn’t the same as every other day.  There had been a pleasant change.  The smell of frying bacon had wafted into his room, and as the scent tapped dance across his stomach Pete had roused himself and meandered into the kitchen.  It’s important to know that Pete lives alone, and briefly in his tired state he forgot that there could be no one cooking in his tiny kitchen, except perhaps a particularly friendly burglar.

And it was hard to be shocked or afraid when the man who was stood in his kitchen offered him a plate of bacon and fried eggs on toast, particularly since the eggs were cooked on both sides as Pete liked to have them.  So it was with a weird sense of familiarity that he found himself sitting at the table and tucking in.

The strange man, though I should not call him strange since it took Pete mere seconds to recognise him, sat opposite Pete.  Out of the corner of his eye Pete saw the man smile, the short hairs of his beard clustering together as the skin wrinkled beneath.

Pete had found himself smiling back unconsciously, but then he would have anyway.  He’d recognised the man, though having never met him before.  He hadn’t dreamed of him before either, not as such anyway.  It was his imaginary friend as a kid, a boy named Darren, a boy he knew wasn’t real and yet he’d grown, he was an adult now, with a beard to prove it.

That was all it had been though, Pete looked down at his plate for a moment and when he looked up Darren had disappeared, that was the nature of imaginary friends.  Pete wouldn’t have thought much more of it than the workings of a sleepy brain.  He almost convinced himself of being in that half-dream state of just waking, except, the breakfast was still there.

“So I showed her, and I got my essay in in time, barely.  Anyway, what’s your morning been like?”  Susie grabbed the coffee in front of her and drank it in one go.

“Hmm?  Oh same old,” replied Pete brought out of his day dreaming.

“Not been up to much then?”

“Nah.”

“I went out last night, it was brilliant there was this guy who’d had a bit much and he was-“

“Did you ever have an imaginary friend?” Asked Pete.

“Oh…um…no I don’t think I did.  At least not that I can remember.  Why?”

“Oh it’s nothing, I was just remembering something.”

“Alright,” said Susie looking a bit concerned, “Have you given anymore thought to what you’re gonna do?”

“About what?”

“Your life Petey, you don’t really want to be a waiter forever.  Come back to education.”

“Oh I don’t know, I didn’t know why I was doing it the first time, and I’m too old for it now.”

“I’m doing it, do you think I’m too old for it.”

“I’m five years older than you.”

“Oh yeah…Well that’s still not too old, there’s people in their fifties doing it.”

“And I don’t want to be one of them, no I don’t know what I want to do, just drop it Susie.”

“But-” Susie was interrupted by her phone beeping.  She whipped it out of her bag, stared at it for two seconds and began typing out a reply with her thumbs.  “That’s Eric, he’s leaving this evening, I’m gonna miss him sooo much,” she said.

“He’s only gone for the week.”

“And this is my last chance to see him before he goes, I hate to leave you like this, will you be okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine.”  Susie gave a nod, pulled on her jacket and left the café.  Pete watched her go and sat alone at his table he drifted into thought, staring around at all the other people meeting their friends and partners.

He looked down at his mug of hot chocolate and lifted it to take a sip but stopped startled.  Floating on the surface of the liquid was a large flower, it’s long, white petals dangling over the edge growing a deep pink colour towards the centre of the flower where shoots of bright pollen waited.

“Hi,” a deep voice said.  Pete looked up.

“Darren.”  The imaginary friend stood tall beside him, with brown eyes looking out from behind glasses.  Pete had needed glasses as a young kid, he’d always found it comforting to know that someone else wore them too, real or not.

“Are you finished with that?” Darren asked.  Pete blinked.

“What?”

“Are you finished with your drink?” the waiter asked.  Pete looked down at his mug, which had been drained leaving a few brown flecks at the bottom.

“Uh, yeah.”  Pete left the man cleaning the table and darted outside into the street, thinking he needed some fresh air, that his head needed to be cleared.

He stopped on the street, just outside the café, people bustling past him, ignoring the sunny day to get their business done.  Pete took a deep breath, and another, and then he felt something tap his shoulder.  He turned to look at who it must have been but saw no one.  Then he saw something out of the corner of his eye, a small thing descending through the air like a feather and landing on the ground, where it was stepped on by someone and disappeared.  Another caught his attention, this one was closer and he could see it clearly.  It was a petal, the same white petal with pink flecks as the flower that had been in his drink.  More of them appeared and he found himself gazing in wonder as a swarm of petals enveloped him.

No one else reacted to the petals, they walked on with them landing in their hair, obscuring their vision treading on a carpet of the petals and not one other person batted an eyelid at the phenomenon.  And as suddenly as it had begun the fall of petals dwindled and stopped.  Pete stepped into the middle of the street, breathing the sweet fragrance.  The shops lined along the street hid from the sunlight, darker inside where bored assistants served busy customers.

Slowly the sound, the voices, the footsteps, the television displays and in-store radios began to fade away to a dull murmur.  A man on his mobile strolled past silently and began climbing up the slope of the street towards the remnants of the city walls.

Pete could see, in a worn away alcove of the flint and stone wall, a serpent, curled and sleeping.  He watches it opening an eye revealing its azure iris and it stares back at him for a moment.  Then, uncurling, it revealed two feathery wings, rainbow coloured like that of a parrot and with a mighty flap took flight.

The crowd didn’t notice the snake weaving in between them, gliding through the air.  It flew down the street, Pete chased after it.  He pushed past people, shoving them aside and reached a bridge over the river at which point the snake gave a massive flap of its wings and launched its emerald green form into the sky.

As if in response a great surge of water leapt skyward and arched over the bridge. It stayed airborne, flowing normally over the bridge instead of under.  Pete stood beneath it, feeling cool flecks of crystal clear water tap across his face.

Pete looked back down the street and saw it empty. As he watched he began to see vines crawling up out of the cobbles, squeezing through the cracks in the street, rending up through the shop walls, on the ground flowers began to sprout, among them the white flowers Pete had already seen.

In the distance the terraforming continued, great swathes of water, distant rivers, lifted into the sky. Gigantic trees launched through the earth in great clouds of scattered dirt.  Animals emerged into this world, large lizards with sleek fur like a dog, red coloured bears, insect sized dragons and more of the rainbow winged serpents circled the sky bound rivers.

He stepped off the bridge onto the rocky remains of the upturned cobblestone street.  His view of the landscape became clearer as some of the buildings began to collapse, their foundations disturbed.  The ruined city wall bordered an exotic jungle and soon became engulfed in a tangled of green and purple vines.  Pete walked further up the former street towards one of the gigantic trees passing a group of dark blue cats prowling the city remains.

The roots of the tree, thick as a man, sprawled over a wide area, covering what used to be a roundabout.  Pete clambered over the roots climbing towards the trunk.  The elevated position gave him a better view of the new world.

“Are you okay?”  A hand gripped his shoulder firmly.  Pete smiled and turned to face Darren.

“I am.  Very much so.”  He embraced Darren, felt the coarse hair brush his cheek and wrapped his arms around Darren’s waist.

Moments later Susie will return to the city street having watched her boyfriend off at the bus station.  She will walk past the shops and down the street until she crosses the bridge over the water where she will see only one unusual thing.  Pete will be sat on the bridge, back leaning against the railing unaware of his surroundings.  Susie will try to rouse him unsuccessfully.  She’ll phone an ambulance and the paramedics will declare him comatose.  Susie will never know.  Pete is happy.

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