I glanced at the reflection of the clock hanging on the wall above my desk. Great, I am going to be late for school again. I quickly adjusted my hair, grabbed my backpack and rushed outside.
The street was quiet in this early morning. A car passed silently every now and again. There were light gray clouds floating in the sky above. It was drizzling. I wasn’t bothered by the cold raindrops falling on me as I walked towards the woods. The temperature was comfortable and I welcomed the occasional chilly breeze.
Even though I knew I was going to be late, I didn’t bother rushing. Instead, I decided to take a shortcut through the woods. There was a clear dirt path which lead exactly to the back entrance. It is usually locked but the fence surrounding it is low enough for me to climb safely.
I reached the woods and paused to appreciate the fresh air coming from it. I am not usually into nature but there was something about the woods today. It felt alive and dead at the same time. Droplets of water were dripping from the vibrant green leaves of the trees. The greenness made the place appear very alive. However, except the sound of the dripping water, the place was dead quiet.
I continued walking on the muddy path, silently cussing at myself for wearing white trainers. I stopped in front of a puddle and stared at my own reflection. My thick black hair was slightly out of place. It was parted sideways as always, but some shorter strands of hair invaded my forehead. I pushed them back in place with my left hand. My dark gray eyes stared eerily back at me.
I started walking again. The woods felt unusually secluded today. Then again, it’s never really a busy place. The cold breeze felt sad as it came and went, making the leaves move ever so slightly. The wet leaves appeared as though they were weeping. Raindrops continuously dripped from them.
Relief washed over me when I reached the lake in the middle of the woods. It was only a few minutes walk to the school from there. While I was passing the lake, a voice stopped me, ‘are you leaving?’
The voice was soft and sad. At first, I thought the person wasn’t talking to me. But when I looked back I saw a girl looking at me. She looked both young and old at the same time. She was soaking wet. She gazed at me with deep set eyes filled with sorrow.
‘Are you alright?’ I asked.
‘How can I ever be alright? HOW? They don’t know! They will never know!’ She started sobbing.
I was seriously concerned at this point. Was she crazy? Was she in danger? ‘Who won’t know what? Are you in danger?’
She stopped sobbing, gaining more control now. ‘I am sorry. It’s just that nobody wants to help me. Will you help me? Will you listen to my story?’
I knew I shouldn’t be talking to strangers and I was already late for school. But I couldn’t just leave her. She appeared distraught and ill. There was something helpless about her. What kind of human being would I be if I abandoned someone in the middle of the woods?
‘I couldn’t go out for work that whole day because of the war outside. Neither could he return with food and money. I had two children. Twins. A boy and a girl. I loved them more than anything. Just like any other mother would, maybe more.’ She sighed and took a moment to stare at the sky. I wondered why she was telling me this. Her face appeared very pained and I didn’t have the heart to interrupt her.
She continued, ‘The weather was exactly like this. We had no food in our little wooden box we called home. My children went hungry the whole day and never complained once. They were such little sweethearts. They would tell me, ‘Don’t worry mummy, daddy will bring food for us soon.’ I couldn’t just let them starve. They were only four!’
‘So, when it was getting dark and there wasn’t any sign of him returning, I went out to search for food. I sneaked into the military camp in this woods where they had more than enough food. I knew it was a risky decision but I was desperate.’
Poor girl, I mean woman. She is not from here, I guess. Wait, she said this woods. There was a military camp here? When was this? I thought to myself, feeling a bit confused.
‘I stole some of their food. But someone saw me and raised the alarm. They blocked my way out. They chased after me and I ran as fast as I could. And I never saw them again.’ She finished and started sobbing.
I was confused. This must have happened a long time ago. I couldn’t remember hearing about any such events ever taking place. But my heart swelled with sympathy for the poor woman. Her countenance was so distressed, it appeared as though she carried the world on her back. Maybe she mistook this woods for some other place. ‘I am really sorry about your loss. I believe the police can help you find your children.’
She suddenly grabbed my shirt and shook. ‘Oh my babies! Tell me what happened to them? Will they ever remember me? Will they know that I didn’t just abandon them? Did they survive? Did they live a full life? Did my husband return? Would he know I didn’t just leave them? Would he tell my babies how much I loved them? Would he? Tell me! Please!’ She pleaded, sitting on her knees and sobbing uncontrollably.
I didn’t know what to do. Nothing I could say would lessen her grief. So once again I suggested going to the police to which she answered ‘Don’t you understand, I can’t!’ I was more confused, ‘Why not? How did you escape from the army camp?’
She looked at me with red, swollen eyes. ‘Because I never did. I didn’t surrender myself to those animals. I chose to die with dignity. I drowned here.’
It took me a few seconds which seemed like an eternity to process the information. Wait if she died then…this must be some kind of joke. Then why was I filled with dread? Her hands were so cold when she grabbed my shirt before, I could still feel the coolness.
‘We named the girl Lina Ashdown and the boy Keith Ashdown. Someone should remember my lovely babies.’ She said smiling a bitter smile. Her face became paler than ever. She stared at me with those heavy, melancholic eyes and vanished into thin air.
I was too much in shock to do anything at all. All I could do was stand and stare at the empty spot where she once stood. My brain only registered the word Ashdown. Ashdown. My name was Delilah Ashdown.