I went back to my room and wondered whether I should take a book or some music, but decided against it. For some reason, my thoughts wanted to be alone with me, so I let them.
Before I left however, I slipped out of my jeans and replaced them with a knee-length blue skirt that matched my white shirt and indigo tank top. Then I put on my favorite sandals and walked downstairs, the light fabric of my skirt flapping around my knees.
The sun was at its highest point now, sending its warm rays down at me. I smiled up at it before I decided on path that would lead me in the opposite direction to the farmhouse. I ambled around, watching birds and bees whizzing past me. My path was flecked with golden sunlight that skipped through the gaps between the leaves.
When I had been on my way for about five minutes, an old wooden fence caught my attention. Without thinking much, I left the path and approached it slowly. I was nearly there when I noticed someone behind the fence and quickly hid behind a broad tree trunk. I glanced out from behind it to watch. It was a boy around my age, leading two horses in the direction I had come from. The horses were beautiful. One of them was huge and brindled with a long fringe that covered one side of its face, the other was a gleaming chestnut, slender and nervous. A third horse, a palomino, followed them for a while, before losing interest and trotting back to its other companion, a plain brown horse. Longing trickled through my body as I watched them graze. I loved horses.
When the boy had almost reached the end of the end of the paddock, I crept out from behind my tree, a broad plane, and approached the fence. Twigs snapped under the pressure of my feet. One of the horses looked up and wiggled its ears at me, but then gave me up as a bad job and continued to munch grass. I stood at the fence watching it, my heart thumping. Last time I’d been that close to a horse…. Well. I rested my hands on the fence. It was almost exactly the height of a bare (you know, the things you use for ballet-exercises). Automatically, my posture became more elegant. I raised my head and stretched my back. The temptation to go for a few arabesques was close to overpowering me, when there was distant movement at the other end of the paddock. The boy was coming back. Oh shit!
All elegance forgotten, I skipped away from the fence and back behind my plane tree. Stupid me! But maybe he hadn’t seen me anyway. Now that I was safe again, I leaned against the thick tree trunk and watched the boy. He was skipping too, singing merrily and at the top of his voice. It sounded like an Irish song. The strange words left his lips like creamy caramel. Charming.
While he advanced along the paddock, I regarded his short coppery hair that stuck up at the back and his long, slender nose that gave him something of a Greek bust. Lovely.
He approached the horses carefully, but without fear. The brown one raised its head when he called it and trotted towards him, nudging the boy’s cheek with its nose as a welcome. Oh my god… extremely cute.
“Hello you”, the boy said affectionately. “Ready to go inside?” He fastened a cord around the horse’s halter and turned to do the same with the palomino, but the little mare wasn’t quite as easy to handle. She skipped away from him, beating her long white tail playfully.
“Aw, come on Persephone, you don’t want to get wet.”
He sounded a little unnerved as he glanced up at the sky. Should I go and help? But what if I couldn’t handle the situation and made a fool of myself? No I should just – at that moment, the little mare neighed excitedly and leapt over the fence. Acting on an impulse, I jumped out from behind the tree and grabbed her halter. The palomino stared at me, too surprised to be frightened, shook its pretty head and gazed at me reproachfully. I grinned at it, savouring the feel and smell of its warm body, until I remembered the boy who was staring at me. He was obviously shocked. My face turned tomato-red. Stupid, stupid me!
“Hi.”, I said rather dumbly. “Need a hand?”
The boy nodded slowly, not taking his eyes of me. “There’s a gate over there.”, he said, pointing to the left.
“Ok. Come, pretty.” I gave the mare’s halter a little tug. She didn’t move a muscle. All of a sudden, the fear that hadn’t had time to act before, kicked in. My heart beat even faster and my lips started to tremble. Sensing victory, the palomino shook its head again, but I didn’t let go.
“Are you ok?”, the boy said gently. He actually said it the way you talk to mentally diseased people. I nodded. And shook my head.
“Well, last time I came that close to a horse, it broke my ankle.” Why was I saying this?! “Is she dangerous?”, I added, glancing at the palomino. Could I get even more stupid?
“No.” The boy looked strangely helpless, twisting the cord in his hands. “I mean, she’s not. Just a little cheeky.”
My cheeks were burning with embarrassment. “Just show me to the gate, will you?” I hadn’t meant to sound so harsh, but now the words were out. So I took a deep breath and pulled the palomino along with me, trying to make very clear that I was in charge right now.
Inside the paddock, I let the boy fasten the cord around the mare’s halter and stepped back, not sure how to act. I ended up staring at my sandals. My toenails were painted indigo-blue.
“Anyway.”, said the boy after a very uncomfortable pause. “I’d better take them inside. Thanks for… you know.”
“No problem.” I kept staring at my feet. The birds were still twittering like mad and I was sure they were laughing at me.
“By then.”, said the boy, clicking his tongue and leading the horses away. When he was halfway along the paddock, something clicked into place inside my head.
“Why are you taking them inside?”, I called after him. The boy stopped, turned and called back “There’s a storm forecast. Don’t you see the clouds? By the way: I’m Fred, and you?”
I was tempted to say I’m not, but then I just shouted: “Mathilde!”
The boy had resumed walking, his step light on the prickly grass. “Won’t remember that.”, he called, shrugging. “It’s too long and too French. See ya!”
“Idiot!”
He burst out laughing and started to sing again. I watched him until he had reached the stables, torn between severe embarrassment and amazement at the strange boy I had just met. Amazement at Fred. Then I turned and left the paddock, noticing the threateningly dark clouds for the first time.

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