They met again after three years. Beside them, in a half empty coffee house, were two cocktails, still scrupulously untouched, lying there opposite them in a solitude and lonely appearance. Both stared at each other, speaking no words and uttering not a faint sound between them.
Three years ……Three long years had passed during which they had not seen each other and only occasionally heard news of each other. Now, there they sat in a war-torn London coffee house, not knowing where to begin. They had met again by chance under the statue of Eros in Piccadilly. A Londoner with an aristocratic family background, was on a three day rest leave from his Royal Air Force base in Scotland. An American girl from Missouri stranded in London during the war, intended to meet a colleague with whom she was to finalize schedules for the evacuation of children from London.
Jane Hammond was now nearing her late twenties while John Arnold was in his early thirties. He noticed that she had retained the same glaring characteristics and the same supernatural way of looking deep into other peoples’ eyes. He had never forgotten the long black hair gathered neatly together behind her neck. She had always worn her hair that way, reminding him of the lightness of cool summer air. It was still there, this long black hair falling back and tied with a broad, red coloured ribbon. There it was, as it had always been, as he had always dreamt it would be. Also he could not forget the blue glaring eyes. They always had a particular attraction to him, a particular beauty unmatched in his imagination. He could never dream the like of them anywhere else.
They had both gained a bit of weight. Both added some wrinkled lines around their eyes and mouth…………lines of experience, of that inner wisdom, so much unknown in youth.
They were now beside the low table in the far corner of the coffee house. On their left, pairs of lovers were drinking amicably, talking and laughing their young hearts out. Some cuddled and hugged in a loving embrace of affection, while above them, through the open-roofed ceiling, the moon was bestowing the right setting for the execution of love. A white glaring moon was clearly visible in a light blue heaven.
John was a spitfire pilot carrying out nightly air raids over Germany. He knew that it was a highly dangerous job but he and his colleagues were determined to safeguard their country and their countrymen. The missions over Bremen, Cologne and Hannover were what were called, a ‘death run’. Many of his colleagues did not return from their sorties. Some were brought down on foreign soil by heavy enemy gunfire. Some went down in the channel lacking fuel to reach the cliffs of Dover. Others hobbled back, damaged and injured, to fight another day.
Jane was still looking forward to return to America. Meanwhile she stayed with friends in London, helping in the war effort. Presently she was assisting in the organization of evacuating children from bomb-targeted London to safer towns and villages in the north. “John” she stammered. Her fingers fumbled with the light yellow handbag in her hands, her eyes were lowered and excitement was telling on her. She could bear it no longer. “It’s nice to see you again Jane”, he said. They evaded each other’s eyes, shamed from neglect and lack of foresight in their personal affairs. She, in particular, felt a strong emotion within her, an inner feeling of happiness and joy that follows ultimate excitement.
Three years ago, before the war, John Arnold was very much in love with her, and she was none the less with him. They courted assiduously but although they were not yet engaged they had made plans for tying the knot. Jane was a lonely American girl, while he was engaged as a free-lance sports writer. Their love was great within itself. How often had they pledged to love each other until their last dying breath? How often had they vowed that there would never be any other person in their lives? Very often he used to hold her strongly in his arms and whisper in her ears that he loved her as much as there are waves in the ocean sea, as much as there are sandstones on the beaches. They often kissed passionately under the very moon they were looking at today, the very same moon of three years ago.
On Sunday mornings, rain or shine, they used to walk aimlessly arm in arm along the uncultivated paths of the neighbouring villages. He would compare her beauty with the lovely colourful flowers along the way. He would recite her poems. She would laugh at his exaggerated mutterings. They had pledged to love each other eternally. But then all young lovers do so. Then he joined the RAF; was posted in Scotland; started piloting the new Spitfire aircraft. And they lost touch. War, unfortunately, does not leave much time for love and romance.
During the Battle of Britain he formed part of the aerial defense, meeting the German bombers and fighters as they came in large formations across the channel. Now, as the RAF began to retaliate, he was with Bomber Command accompanying the Allied bombers in bombing missions over Germany.
As they sat drinking cups of bad-tasting coffee, they recounted on their lives these last three years and on their aspirations for the future when the war is over. They found their old love back and promised solemnly to keep in touch with each other. They walked the streets of London, hand in hand; sought refuge in damp shelters during air raids; kissed under dim street lamps and embraced in dark corners. Then he went back to Scotland and she continued her work in the city.
Their love blossomed over time – by letters, post cards, phone calls and occasional meetings. During one of their meetings they looked for a place of their own. They found one of their dreams – a cottage in the Kentish village of Leith Hill which they rented and prepared for their marriage.
But Jane had first to return to America, see her parents, obtain important papers and documents, get some personal things and return back to London to prepare for her important date and sharing life with John. They knew that they would be separated at first because of their war commitments and with both being far away from each other. But as soon as the war ends they would move to the cottage and be together forever.
As Jane stood on the dock in Liverpool harbour waiting to board the ‘SS Berkshire’, she assured John that he would always be in her thoughts. He kissed her passionately and watched her mount the gangplank. When she reached the deck, Jane turned, waved her hand and blew kisses towards John. The porter picked her bags and accompanied her to her cabin. The ship left harbour early in the morning and John took a train back to his base in Scotland.
Immediately he got back to base, John was entrusted to lead a special mission over Germany. His mind was still on Jane and his marriage on her return. After returning from their successful sortie, the crew relaxed over cups of tea and biscuits in their quarters listening to the radio and reading books and newspapers.
With his hands behind his head, his long legs sprawled on the table, his mind wandering, he looked at his co-pilot reading yesterday’s ‘News Chronicle’. Then he saw the headline – “The SS Berkshire torpedoed in the Atlantic. No survivors!”
Shocked and speechless, he gathered his flying gear and went to his private place. He sat down, head in his hands and cried. He laid there for some time, his mind bringing memories of his Jane, one episode after another. Then he went to sleep.
The following morning John was assigned to carry out a raid to the Ruhr valley, twenty bombers and ten fighter escorts. The target was the steel works. They dropped their heavy load but they met with heavy ground fire from all sides. The Germans were defending their ground desperately.
As the badly-damaged raiders returned to their base, there were several casualties. The crews looked out for their colleagues – those who returned and those who did not. John, who again led the raid courageously and without fear, was listed as ‘Missing, presumed dead’. The men went silently to their quarters. They felt tired, sad and angry. They had lost so many of their colleagues today among which was their own brave leader.