The room on the first floor was her favourite. It was always warm and smelt of books and memories.
“Alanah,” her mamma called from the kitchen, “come on down now lassie, you will be late.”
She collected her things and swept another look at the room, taming her wild, red hair into a presentable form, she flew down the narrow steps to the kitchen for breakfast. The others were already halfway through the first meal of the day.
“Late again, my little one,” smiled her father, “now you will hurry with your porridge and leave it unfinished.”
“Look at all your friends, this summer they have all shot up and filled out. And look at you- all that is getting any nourishment is your hair,” said her mother from the counter packing apples and bread for her children’s lunch.
“Rapunzel,” teased her siblings. She had two older sisters.
The little town of Ashbourne was where the O’Rourkes lived, a regular, religious, working class Irish family. The usual banter of the morning always had Alanah taking part with witty repartees but things were a bit different now. She had met Pegaso. He was from beyond the land of her text books. He was from Greece. Tall, dark and unimaginably handsome, Pegaso was foreign to her part of the world. The mystery along with his looks was intoxicating.
Pegaso worked at the nearby garage. She saw him every day on her way to school. He was exciting, nothing like the boys in her class and he always had a ready smile for her. One day as she passed the garage, he stood there with a bunch of wild flowers.
“For you pretty girl,” he said in a faraway accent.
Unsure of herself and conscious of her friends, Alanah walked away without a backward glance. Evening saw those flowers on her doorstep, a sweet reminder of the morning. His words played on and on in her mind as she helped her mother set the dinner table, as she studied, as she sat listening to her father talk about his day. Never once did the smile or the blush of her fair skin abandon her.
There was nothing much that interested her since then. Her world started spinning around the morning smiles. She hoped to have a lone chance meeting with this stranger, but never once did her cackling friends leave her side.
“I am running late today, you all carry on, won’t you? Will meet you later’” almost begged Alanah to her friends
“It’s alright lovely; take your time, it’s just school we have to go to, not a party. There’s no hurry,” said her friends.
With a sigh and a grunt she met them for her walk to the school. Love can be many things, it can affect the young heart in many ways, but it is always beautiful in its first tentative steps. And so it was for Alanah.
On days she saw him cycling behind her, at a safe distance. On certain nights if she looked out of her window she spotted him looking up at her. She often imagined a meeting with him. She thought about all the things they would tell each other. She wanted to know so much about him and yet it never happened and she didn’t know how to arrange a meeting with this mysteriously beautiful man.
Irish winters are known to be mild. But that year the nights turned icy. It had been quite a few days that Alanah had not seen him. She was worried. Had he left? Was he ill? She could not stop thinking. On a cold, dreary night Alanah gathered her billowing skirt and her courage and swept across the streets from her home with a blanket tugged under her arm. She reached the garage and knocked at the side door with a drum beating in her heart. The door opened and Pegaso filled its frame.
He smiled, a lop-sided grin that crinkled his eyes and she was at a loss of words. Her imagination left her. Holding onto the blanket she stood there; a funny, little picture.
“What have you here little woman?” asked the strange accent. “Come on in, let me make you a cup-o-tea, its cold out there,” the voice continued.
Alanah managed a shy smile and thrust the blanket towards him and ran into the darkness, her hair a halo behind her.
Unknown to her, life had taken a turn that night. She would grow with this, she would learn, she would travel outward and deep inside, she would gain, she would lose, she would reach her core and grow again. She did not know all this then. She was not even 18. Her pale cheeks had a glow in them. Her eyes shone like emeralds and her hair carried the spring of Ireland in them while her heart carried the love of a stranger.
Spring turned to summer and before she knew it, the school finals were looming in front of her. At times when you love someone, you distance yourself from every other relationship. It’s sad, but it happens. Love can be selfish in its naiveté, love can be ruthless in its single mindedness and love can be foolish in its blindness. Alanah had set her mind on travelling with Pegaso to Greece. Exams were not on her list at all. Her friends tried to talk her out of this, but to no avail. She fought with her mother. Her father was quiet, ashamed that his offspring could betray his trust in such a manner. He distanced himself from Alanah. It hurt her to see this and yet she continued.
“What is Greece like? Is it as beautiful as Ashbourne?” asked Alanah one day.
“It is like the bluebells I pick for you,” said he as he clipped one on her hair “Like the sky of the summer afternoons here”
A dream was being spun on a spindle with blue and white yarn. Alanah was determined to start her life in Greece.
Every evening at 7:30 a bus left for Belfast. The summer of 1970 saw Pegaso and Alanah take that bus out of Ashbourne. He had a small case, he gathered no moss. Alannah had a big bag plus a case. She had taken all the money her father, a school teacher, had saved for her university education and marriage. She would return them, of course, as soon as Pegaso's petrol pump became a success in Lipsi, the island in Greece he called home. The island that would be home to Alanah much more than Ashbourne ever was. Her friends and also her sisters had come to see her off that day; they gave her cakes and sweets for the journey and wished her well. Her journey began the summer she turned eighteen.
To be continued