You Needed the Forest

by jessicaewragg

The jungle is not the same as Streatham Hill, but the birds are as loud.

We left the city intermittently and hardly ever. You were jealous of your travelling friends in Thailand and South America, finding what it means to exist in the world and leaving you to exist only in this country. We both wished that we had the money to do the same, although you more than me. Something in your stirred often enough; it was the desire to get out and to leave – to feel the earth beneath your soft bare feet, the dry bark of hot trees splintering your fingers and the rain of a foreign country cold on your face. Our room was too small for you, though it was all we could get for our money; four metres wide and half as long, with a bed for me and you and our drawers beneath the window. We looked out on garages; grey, brown, black doors, a line of angular hatchbacks parked in front. You wanted mountain-scapes, thick cities rich in colour, oppressive canopies of trees.

That afternoon we took the bus west to the park and hovered on the concrete boundaries where the cycle path turns red. Space was what you needed – trees and grass what you had to see. The rise and fall of your chest became steady and colour flushed your thin cheeks. Wildness was a strange word and I didn’t understand it, but I understood it to be you.

You loved to discover things. Searching for things un-done, never tried, never touched, you exhausted yourself. The only forest we had was Tooting Bec Common. That day we walked through it in minutes, listen to the dead beige grasses beneath our feet. We came out of the other side, faced with the tower blocks behind Bedford Hill. We turned back East and tried again. Still nothing. Car exhaust on our tongues, pigeon shit, stagnant water, iron gates.

Staring up at the red bricks and tiled rooves we opened our palms, let the tepid sun kiss them. We showered in cool, golden sunlight. We couldn’t drink from the lido, so we drank Evian water and pretended it was the spoils of a small stream trickling down a sheer rock face.

I’m not sure if you were ever there with me, in the city.