… (cont)… “Who is this lovely lady Ben?” I turned to Mrs Calder. “I don’t think we have ever had the pleasure of meeting. I’m Kate. And you are?” I couldn’t believe how calm I was. Right then, at that very moment, a switch inside me flicked. Normally I would have been in floods of tears wondering what was wrong with me, but instead I was acting abnormally cool and calm. On the inside, I was filled with a level of anger that I had only felt once before. That was about two years previously, when I went psycho on an ex for hitting me then threatening me with a knife. I have to say, it was so nice to see him back off for once. It was the kind of anger that kills you inside though, the kind that changes you. I hadn’t wanted it to ever happen again, yet here I was, reliving those same feelings. Minus the going psycho, especially in public.
“Ben! Honey, who is this?” Mrs Calder was tugging at his arm like an impatient child. She turned to face me. “Kate you say your name is? I’m sorry but I don’t think my husband has ever mentioned you before.” She looked confused and worried. I looked over my shoulder to see Diane just standing there with a disbelieving, sorry look on her face. She was frozen to the spot, which was hardly helpful. I looked back towards Ben, and his face dropped when he saw my steely glare. He knew his game was up.
“Oh he didn’t? I’m not surprised really because he didn’t tell me about you either and I’ve been sleeping with him for five months. He’s obviously been at home with you when he has told me he’s been away working. And vice versa of course. Very convenient. I hope you two have an enjoyable night. It was lovely to meet you Mrs Calder. Ben, goodbye.” With that, I turned around and left Ben trying to console his screaming wife. I ran towards Diane and we took off, neither looking back nor stopping until we were halfway back up the high street where the taxi rank was. Thankfully, as it wasn’t late on in the evening, there was a line of taxis waiting for the mad rush of drunk men and cackling women to fall into their back seats. We jumped in the back of the first car in the queue. Our cabbie was overly cheery for my liking, but Diane did an admirable job of keeping him company up front in his choice of small talk for the evening. I just sat there looking out of window behind Diane, watching the streetlights, the buildings and the road merge into a continuous stream of lights. I only came to when I heard Diane ask me if I was ok and did I want her to come up to the flat with me. After convincing her that I would be perfectly fine, Diane, who had asked the cabbie to wait a few minutes whilst she saw me to my door, gave me a massive bear hug and got back into the taxi. She waved me off with a look so forlorn and full of hopelessness, the tears were streaming down my face before I had even managed to unlock my door. Once inside, I dropped my bag and headed straight for the kitchen. I knew exactly which cupboard I was heading for. There, behind the bottle of rather expensive wine that Ben had brought me back from his last ‘work trip’, was my beloved Gin. I hadn’t felt the need to open the bottle until that night, and as I held it in my hands, I knew there was something missing. I went through to the lounge and switched on the television, scrolling down the menu until I spotted my go-to selection of soppy ballads.
That was all it needed. I cried so hard, and for so long, downing my Gin at a rate of knots. But the tears weren’t just for Ben anymore. I’d had enough of everything in my life. I cried for all my lost babies that I’d never see grow up; for the family I didn’t have; for the loss of my parents earlier that year and for past relationships that had fallen apart. I cried for all the pointless arguments I’d had with people; for all my beloved pets that had been and gone over the years; for happy memories long ago and for sad memories that I could never seem to escape. Then, somewhere between a feeling of complete emptiness and feeling that I could no longer go on, I started crying tears of anger and frustration. How could I have been so weak and stupid? Not just with Ben, but with the others too. Had I really come across so desperate to be loved that I was easy prey for every egotistical predator I came across? What an absolute idiot! Looking back over the previous five months, it became so obvious. The long work trips and allotted call times on his ‘personal phone’. I never met his parents or saw his apartment, (if he even had one), and he never picked me up in his own car, always the latest hire car from work. I rummaged through my handbag for my phone and I texted Ben; ‘You don’t deserve me or your wife. Poor woman. NEVER contact me again.’ It made me feel better if nothing else.
After I left the message for Jean, I crawled back into bed and slept off the gin properly. When I finally woke up it was after midday. I checked my phone again. Still no messages from Ben and I still felt ok about it. Diane had rung me six times and texted twice though, so I replied just to let her know I was ok. I had a long, hot shower, got dressed and went downstairs. I put the kettle on and opened the fridge, only to find there was absolutely nothing in it that I wanted to eat. Great. Supermarket shopping hadn’t been on my to do list. Mind you neither had finding out my boyfriend had a wife, getting drunk and crying over my many misfortunes. There was no way I was going to go to the supermarket at the end of town where I lived as it was right next to work and I clearly had nothing wrong with my arm. So I drove across town and abandoned the car in a row of empty spaces near the entrance to the shop. I went in and wandered round in a hungover daze, got my supply of pizza, crisps and chocolate and made my way back out to the car. I glanced up, just to check I was going in the right direction and saw a well-worn white camper-van had parked next to my car.
At first I didn’t think anybody was there, but then I saw him, sitting on the floor of the van with the side door pulled wide open. He was smoking a cigarette, holding it in hands that were dry and cracked through decades of hard work. I tried not to stare but it was impossible to look away. He oozed contentment and satisfaction, like he didn’t have a care in the world. He was a tall, handsome man with a deep Mediterranean glow. He wouldn’t have looked out of place sat outside a taverna in the mountain villages of Greece. Yet there he was, sitting in a car park, in the middle of the Scottish countryside, watching the world go by. His hair was a perfectly balanced mixture of youthful, jet black strands and tell-tale greys that glistened in the sunshine. He wore a white linen shirt with short sleeves, a soft half collar and brown buttons that were only half done up, revealing wispy, wiry, grey and black chest hair. His khaki coloured shorts sat just above his knee. They were the kind that had more pockets than was really necessary, although they hadn’t been filled. I often imagined people wearing these type of shorts, with all the pockets full, wondering how they could possibly be comfortable in them.
I glanced inside the van as I neared my car, and caught a glimpse of his living quarters. It was very compact, but fit for its intended purpose of providing him with a sheltered place to lay his head. I managed to see part of a small row of cupboards, which had books stacked neatly on top of them, alongside a torch and some open packets of batteries. I took another few steps forward and spied the corner of a pile of bedding. His whole life was in the back of a camper-van. I felt a pang of jealousy shoot up through my stomach and into my chest. Could it really be that easy to escape? I’d thought about it so many times. I’d dreamed of what it would be like to sell everything I owned, pack a few essential belongings and go wherever the mood took me that day. Of course, I’d also always talked myself out of it because the very idea was ridiculous, wasn’t it? Nobody could really live like that; it just wouldn’t be viable. Yet this man looked completely happy. I was filled with admiration and found myself smiling at him, wanting to tell him how lucky I thought he was, how I admired him the instant that I saw him, and how I wished that I had the courage to do what he was doing. To live. By the time I’d started the car, the man in the camper-van was gone, leaving just a fleeting image imprinted in my mind of what my life could be if I wanted it.
Later that night, I sat eating my cheese and tomato pizza, thinking about what had happened over the previous twenty-four hours. My mind flashed back reminding me of Ben and his wife together, then fast forwarded to Diane hugging me on the doorstep. She’d kept repeating to me that it would all be ok, that I would be ok and she would be there for me. She’d told me that Ben didn’t deserve me and he had been an absolute scumbag, who obviously had a lot more money than sense. It had felt so warm and secure to have Diane’s concern, especially as our relationship had been pretty strained all our lives. When we were young we had never really gotten along, but now we were older and making some sort of effort with each other. However, it was sadly apparent that we were not going to be bosom buddies any time soon. We were just two completely different people who had nothing in common, and there was no depth to our relationship. It was truly lovely of her to offer a caring shoulder to lean on and I did appreciate it but in my heart of hearts, I knew I didn’t really want to take her up on her offer. It was time for me to take charge of my own life and do what I wanted to do. The impression of the man in the camper-van from earlier that day came to mind and my decision was made in that instant. For the first time in my life I was one-hundred per cent certain of what I was going to do.
I had Diane to thank really as, when we were standing on my doorstep, she had haughtily mentioned all the expensive jewellery that Ben had bought me. The guilt gifts. How right she had been and how foolish I had been, I thought momentarily. I didn’t berate myself too much though. Instead I wandered through to the bedroom, and opened the top two drawers of my dressing table revealing gift box upon gift box full of the jewellery that Ben had given me every time he came to stay. I opened one box and then another and another. Every single box, lined with silk or velvet, gradually opened like clams in the sea revealing their valuable pearls. My valuable pearls were sparkling necklaces, bracelets and earrings in silver and gold. Some had diamonds and sapphires, others had rubies and emeralds and some had no stones in them at all. Once I’d finished I started laughing, and stood back as I admired my treasure hoard spread out all over the bed. I laughed so much that I couldn’t stop myself laughing. I was hysterical and my sides began to hurt, but even that didn’t stop me.
“Thank you Ben! Thank you so much!” I squealed in delight.
So here I am in my very own camper-van. She’s called Gertrude and is a lovely shade of lapis blue, with great big white and yellow daisies all over her. Just looking at her makes me smile. So do my surroundings. I’m not sat in a supermarket car park in the middle of a town like the man I saw that Monday afternoon. Instead I’m sat in the front of Gertrude. I’ve parked her on top of a cliff, beside a ruin which has become overgrown with vibrant purple thistles. The wind is howling past, just adding to the drama of the dark, angry storm that I’m watching coming toward me over the North Sea. It is such a fantastic sight and it’s the fourth storm I have seen like this in as many days. There really is nothing quite like it. I have a little pull out bed in the back along with a cute row of units where I can stack my own books, torch and batteries. My bedding is piled high in the corner next to Doodle, my faithful yellow Labrador companion, who is fast asleep on his own pile of bedding. I still have to pinch myself every morning, to check I am actually in my camper-van when I wake up. It seems to have been all too easy to get here, so it’s no wonder I still think I’m dreaming.
The two months that followed my hysterics were so therapeutic and cleansing. I dispensed with pretty much everything I owned, finally clearing out my clothes, with at least half of them being donated to the clothing bank. I sold all of my furniture and all that glitzy, expensive jewellery. I’d finally woken up to what an absolute fool I had been to let myself be taken in Ben’s arms when they were already wrapped around someone else. To get rid of his guilty conscience was such a great, purifying feeling. I really would recommend it to anyone. The only hard part was building up enough courage to contact my landlord to tell him I’d be moving out two months later. I was a model tenant and he had been a kind landlord, never invading my privacy or making any demands. We had a good relationship. I suppose I felt a bit guilty at the possibility of leaving him without a tenant in the flat. It turned out to be beneficial to us both because, at seventy-two, he’d been pondering the idea of selling up and retiring to the country. My announcement had made his mind up for him and I told him I’d visit him at his country retreat in my camper-van. Diane was more of a hard sell though. She was so serious and sensible that it took her a fortnight to accept my decision. After that she was full of good wishes, even coming along to the garage to help me choose Gertrude, and to a farm on the edge of town to pick up Doodle.
I’ve only been on the road for a few weeks and it is very easy to see why the man I saw in the camper-van that day was so content. There’s no expectations to live up to. There’s no pressure bearing down on me. I can be who I truly am, and feel what I truly feel. Every day is my own (and Doodle’s of course) and anybody that I meet is my friend for the short time I see them. And I know, that when people see me they see what I saw in the man in his camper-van. One day I know I will have to return to ‘normality’, whatever that may be. But for now, I’m truly alive.