Some people think that nature is good and that industry and pollution is evil. Some people see nature as an enemy to be conquered, reclaiming untended gardens and sending moss and strangle weed into unused buildings. Nature is raw force. Not good or evil in itself, sometimes the gentle spring sunshine and breeze and sometimes the tsunami and tornado. Only those who can unlock its mysteries and tap into its power determine which it is used for.
Sep was feeling pretty smug, how could he not be, now an opportunity like this had presented itself. He strolled to the little cast iron fence and swung it open with a squeal of protest, scanning the allotments for people. The sky was turning more violet by the minute, the sun had already set and there was a single man in a checked flat cap locking up his shed for the day.
‘Excuse me’ Sep called over ‘Could I trouble you for some rhubarb?’
What an absurd request, it made him laugh to himself to ask it.
‘Rhubarb? Sorry son I’ve packed up for the day, I got a few carrots you can buy if you like.’
‘I’ll give you a tenner to dig me up some Rhubarb, about four or five pounds if you’ve got it please.’ Sep proposed, eyeing up the healthy rhubarb crop. No point beating around the bush, the man clearly wanted to leave.
The allotment owner took off his hat, scratched his head, and replaced it. ‘Fifteen’ he said shrugging as if to say ‘that’s the best I can do.’ ‘And you can help me pull them up. Like this’ he motioned to Sep to come look. Grabbing the rhubarb close to the ground he pulled the stems, twisting as they came up, cascading little clumps of soil back to the earth.
‘And don’t pick all the stems on each plant, leave about half.’
Sep copied and in no time at all there was a considerable pile of pink sticks on the path.
The man straightened up and stretched out his back. He wasn’t as young as he used to be. He took his rucksack off the nail where it hung and felt inside before pulling out a well used but sturdy carrier bag.
‘Fifteen pounds please’ He said passing the bag to Sep. Sep took a twenty out of his wallet, handed it over and then set about gathering the rhubarb into the plastic bag.
‘I don’t have any change’ the gardener said as the two men set off toward the gate together.
‘That’s ok’ Sep replied slapping him on the back as they reached the gate. He pulled it open to allow the older man to pass. The sky was a deep, inky purple by now. ‘You’ve done me a big favour, you keep the change.’
‘Thanks buddy’ the gardener smiled, passing through the gate and striding off down the street in the opposite direction.
Sep rubbed his hands loosely together to detach any lingering soil from his fingers and walked the short distance to Christina’s flat. He knocked on the door and waited a while, he could hear someone moving slowly towards it, shuffling inside, just as her heard them getting close to the door he knocked again, harder.
‘Oh hello!’ he feigned surprise when she opened the door moments after his second knock. Then he made himself more serious when he saw the streaked, black make up smudged down her cheeks. ‘What’s the matter?’
‘Nothing’ She replied, automatic, unconvincing.
He pulled a face that said ‘I don’t believe you.’ And rustled his bag at her.
‘My grandmother send me around to a guy she knows at the allotments to fetch some rhubarb, he had loads, way more than she can use, and you live close by so I thought you might’ve liked some.. but I can see this is a bad time so you want to just take half and I’ll get out of here?’
‘Of course not’ She wiped her face with a woolly sleeve, which still left her with black, puffy eyes. ‘Come in Sep.’
'Pomegranates are also in season this time of year, but i couldn't find any at the allotments!' He gave a nervous laugh. 'Sorry I babble when I don't know what to say.'
She half smiled at him and started to walk away from the door. As they went down the hallway Sep peeked into the living room, it looked like a mess. The DVD and CD collections stripped to a few remaining discs. A picture had been taken off the wall leaving an ugly looking tack protruding. Draws had been left open, where Ricky had hastily scanned its contents grabbing for anything that was his.
‘Ricky’s gone.’ Christina said to Sep wistfully, catching him looking over the disarray. ‘The only tidy room here is the kitchen, he never had anything in there.’ She spoke with a sad laugh.
‘Honey’ Sep said sympathetically, he looked convincingly shocked as he put an arm around her shoulder. ‘Lets go in there.’
She sat down at the table while he deposited the big bag of rhubarb in the sink. He turned around to face her, while she sat looking at her hands.
‘What happened? No, no don’t even tell me what happened. It doesn’t matter, the man is a grade A muppet to leave you.’
That sad laugh once more.
‘You want me to go?’ He offered again.
‘No she said, while you’re here I have an excuse not to tidy the destruction that man has left in his wake.’ There was obvious venom in her voice.
‘You want to get out of here then?’ He offered ‘Get drunk or do something wild?’
She finally looked up at him, a confused expression danced across her eyes, and though she was barely smiling, smiling she was. He seemed to just turn up when things were bad and make her feel better. Septimus the stranger.
‘Like what?’ A hardly perceptible playful edge to her voice.
‘I don’t know, lets just go out and see shall we?’ He offered his hand to her across the table and she took it. Grabbing her hat and scarf on her way out, she felt a thrill in her belly. She knew this wasn’t healing all the hurt, but for now she needed the escape.
‘I left my car at work.’ He said, so they began traversing the slippery pavements back in that direction. They giggled each time someone lost their footing, and he reached out to catch her every time she slipped.
They dropped into the front seats of the car with a huff, breathing out the cold air in misty little puffs. Sep turned the key in the ignition and flicked the heaters on.
‘I know somewhere where we can have some fun in this heap of junk.’ He flashed her his best smile. ‘And if you’re a really good girl, I might let you make me some rhubarb crumble when we get back.’
‘Oi!’ She punched his arms and they both laughed as they pulled out of the parking space.