They were so loved up, bubble wrapped in their perfect world. Arm in arm they gazed into each other’s eyes, abdicating all responsibility for possible collisions with a carousel of walkers, joggers, skaters, bending parents and careering toddlers, all enjoying a bright, crisp Valentine’s Day on the Windsor Long Walk. They followed the straight, long, tarred pathway in the direction of the George Monument, leaving the imposing walls of Windsor Castle behind them.
Ben looked up. The volume of noise around them had suddenly increased. There was a group of loud American tourists hogging the middle of the path ahead, a scissor-legged roller skater swerved around them to his right. The way to his left was blocked by a squawking couple, arms wind-milling in a public display of anger. He held Annie firmly by the waist and manoeuvred her away from the mayhem. “Do you thing the Queen watches all this from a castle window?” Ben quipped, drawing a giggle from her.
“Let’s find somewhere to sit,” she said; “my legs are a bit achy.” They found a vacant bench and plonked themselves down.
“I don’t think I can make it all the way up to the Monument,” she sighed, whilst squeezing Ben’s arm tightly as if to make sure he didn’t run off.
“That’s OK, it’s like a ski slalom course out there. I’m tired of dodging people. Let’s watch them for a bit and then stroll back.” The tourists shuffled off in the direction of the Castle, robotically following a tour guide with a raised umbrella.
Another loved-up couple sauntered by. Ben said: “Look…they’re in love, just like us.” He squeezed her shoulder and looked into her eyes, hopeful of a favourable response.
“Yes, isn’t it nice,” she replied, smiling sweetly, with an angelic but somehow detached air. Her phone buzzed and she quickly checked the screen to see who had texted her. She angled the phone away from Ben and hurriedly pushed it into her handbag. He fidgeted and looked straight ahead. A herd of red deer grazed in the distance. Don’t make an issue of it.
The wind picked up and a mini tornado of crisp packets, chocolate wrappers and paper cups spun crazily towards them. Annie shrieked and Ben turned to see a hooded youth run off with her handbag. In his haste, he slammed into a dog walker and went tumbling to the ground, ankle caught up in the yelping dog’s lead. “Help! That man’s got my bag!” Annie pointed at the struggling figure on the ground. A large Dad flopped on top of him, winding the much smaller youth, and soon a crowd had gathered around.
Annie and Ben pushed their way to the front, and the large Dad, now on his feet, was holding the wriggling youth with one hand and her handbag with the other. “Is this yours?” “Oh yes! Thanks very much, you’re so brave!” A small round of applause rippled through the crowd. As if to magically solve the next problem, two Royal Parks Police officers arrived on the scene, mounted on large chestnut horses. One of them dismounted and seemed satisfied with the various eye witness accounts, handcuffing the forlorn youth and leading him away.
Annie thanked the big man, who blushed and picked up his adoring daughter. Daddy the hero. Annie checked the contents of her handbag, and satisfied, took Ben by the arm and led him away. “That was some speech, Ben,” she said happily. “Just to let you know, the text messages are from my sister – our mum has a health problem. There’s no one else for me – only you. Of course I love you.” The faced each other on the busy path, embraced and kissed. A moment in time, two specs on the earth, as it moved slowly through space. The pale winter sun inched fractionally across the wide blue sky as the carnival spun gaily around them. They were just starting out on the Long Walk.