When You
said You
were Leaving

by Sheena Patel

Yesterday I brought a bed sheet in a tote bag and too many books to the Heath. He said to me, choose somewhere I can find you. I walked up and down the high street and bought us a picnic. I went into a shop where the sandwiches were too small and the prices too large, £10 for two. I walked up the high street and chose a café where all the servers were very bored men who did not smile. A sandwich for £5.25 but they were bigger. I bought two, they warmed them up and I asked the man to cut them both in half. I walked down the high street, bought a pot of fancy olives for £3.80 and fruit for £5, a packet of sour cream and jalepeno crisps for £2.50 even though I know he doesn’t like chilli. I go back into the first sandwich shop with the too small sandwiches and buy an inside out chocolate cookie for £2.90. In the bookshop I asked if they had Martin Amis’ Money in stock and the girl who worked behind the counter said they were waiting on a reprint so I picked up a hardback and paid £18.99 for it, forgetting that I had a book voucher in my bag even though I was very deliberate about packing it. The girl tells me she is writing a script and I say, make sure people see it, is there a community of people you have? Make things with your friends that’s the only thing you can believe in, is friendship. She says she knows some people and one of her friends stopped reading her script because he said he was jealous. I put the book in my tote bag with the bed sheet and the two sandwiches cut in halves and the crisps, the olives, the fruit and the inside out chocolate cookie. I walked up the path into to the park, bordered by knobbly thick trees. I was wearing a peach slip dress, a green see-through top over the top of it, pink socks and Birkenstocks which slip on my feet when I walk fast. My body doesn’t burn off the food I eat like it used to but I’ve noticed young girls on the tube wearing something similar, layering a sheer night dress and I feel young and in tune with them, I get it, I’m cool. Tell me where you’ll be he said and should I bring anything and I said round the back of Kenwood and maybe a fun drink and he said, that’s too far and is that it then I said, yes there’s an old oak tree I know, it’s near the ponds. I held down the camera button on my phone because I’d learnt I don’t need to put in my keycode and then go into the camera app to take a photo. I swung my phone from the path, to the pond and then pointed toward a knot of trees and I said I’m going to be there and sent the video to him.

        I laid the white sheet down but it kept on gathering and the square was smaller than it promised to be. I put the hardback in one corner, my tote with my lunch on the other and lay down on top of it. I read Sheep’s Clothing by Celia Dale. She writes about cold, sad, wet rooms in London and women trying to survive in post war Britain and how a place can corrupt you no matter how hard you try. I watched a couple, a woman in a hijab laying down with her husband. They were turned towards each other with their child in a pram. He had a phone to distract him while they kissed, both laid out on their arms. I caught their eyes because I like watching people kiss and I hated them for it too. I turned my back on them. Once they left, a group of friends took over the tree. They hollered at one another, what’s your name, where do you live? And the answers floated back that they were living in student accommodation round the corner and the other said, oh I’m from Stoke-on-Trent. This lovely low hanging tree is like an armchair and very easy to climb, the branches split open like a terry’s chocolate orange. The boys left to play frisby and one boy and one girl were sat facing each other in the crook of the trunk. In the shade they were talking about having children and how love triumphs over money. I caught their conversation in wisps when the wind blew over me. I wanted to tell them sometimes love isn’t enough but they would not listen to me. They looked gangly and very young, I couldn’t tell how old they were and I realised this meant I have crossed over in some very specific way. The friendship group gathered back together and had conversations of clear eyed discovery – no one has had conversations like this before them, no other generation has understood the world, has anyone loved like this before. The group seemed to be one person in many avatars, like slivers in a terry’s chocolate orange. And I thought back to the first time I was here, when my friends were gathered like slivers within an orb and the sun was shining just like this and we were starting out together. And I thought of the last time we were here, when my friends were gathered like slivers and the sun was shining just like this and we were starting out again, together.

Sheena Patel is a writer and assistant director for the film and TV industry. She is part of the 4 BROWN GIRLS WHO WRITE collective and her debut novel I’m a Fan won a British Book Award in the Discover category, has been longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction, shortlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize and the Jhalak Prize.