Laura was taking a strong cup of Earl Grey tea in her small kitchen, thoughtfully and calmly. The family photo, mounted on a small silver frame, looked down on her from the mantelpiece. It showed a beaming man posing on a sandy beach. A woman beside him was holding on to his arm. A ten year old girl, in a red bathing costume, was perched on his shoulders.
How well she remembered that day. It was in Blackpool, during their summer holiday some twelve years ago, when her father was on leave from his naval base in Portsmouth. She used to look forward so much to her annual holiday by the seaside. What a happy family they were then. How time flies!
It was now two years since both her parents had died within a few months of each other leaving her alone in this house in Chester. Both her parents would have approved of Daniel, especially Dad who was, like him, a keen football follower. She had met Daniel Johnson six months ago when they were both following a short computer course at the Polytechnic in her home town. She had then just turned 21. They used to have coffee together during lesson breaks. They opened up to each other and talked about a hundred and one different things. They knew, after only a short time, that it was the beginning of something special for both of them.
Daniel was not a handsome man. Hardly! His nose was large, his mouth stretched too much and his eyes drooped on both sides of his face. But he had a winning smile. Every time he smiled his face shone, changing its configuration completely. Being a keen singer herself, they attended karaoke nights at the Carlton Club where she would enjoy herself singing ballads and other songs especially ‘Danny Boy’ which was undeniably Daniel’s favourite. He told her about Edinburgh, his home town in Scotland. It is, he said with pride, one of the most beautiful cities in Europe draped across a series of rolling hills overlooking the sea.
Their romance prospered and, after a short time, he invited her to come with him for a short visit to his birth town. There he showed her around this historic capital city which was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1995. Daniel drove her around quaint little villages that nestle around the city. They walked hand in hand along narrow country lanes; window shopped in busy main streets and looked around lovely public gardens. She enjoyed it immensely especially because she was close to the man she had grown to love so much. She vowed that she will continue to remember that day forever. When the computer course ended and he had to go back to Edinburgh, he promised to phone her and continue their love story. Days, weeks and months passed since his departure. She waited for the promised call or letter. Her new-found happiness was slowly ebbing away. But he never phoned and he never wrote.
Laura did not believe that he must have met another girl and that their own love was over. Their love was short but it was too genuine for him or for her to forget so easily. She was sure that there must have been a plausible reason for him not to contact her. But, subconsciously, she was certain that Daniel still loved her. In time, which is a great healer, she put her love experience behind her and immersed herself in her work. There was so much to do. Following the computer course she was appointed as supervisor and was having great satisfaction in her work. She made new friends and had dates with different young men from her office. Six months passed. She decided to go on a holiday. But where? London was very metropolitan and too chaotic. Blackpool and other seaside resorts would be too crowded and full of children. No, she wanted somewhere else. Edinburgh? Why not? It would give her the chance to see the sites which Daniel had shown her and which she had loved so much. And maybe look him up or make enquiries about him somewhere.
She arrived at Edinburgh station on a cold January morning and, following directions from a tourist map, set out on her visits – Princess Street, the Castle, the Royal Mile, the magnificent monument of Sir Walter Scott. Daniel had told her that Edinburgh was very closely connected with Alexander Graham Bell, the engineer and telephone pioneer; Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of the famous Sherlock Holmes; J.R. Rowland, the author of the Harry Potter books; Robert Louis Stevenson, who wrote Treasure Island and other classical books; Sean Connery and others.
One evening, while strolling down Princess Street, she heard singing coming from a pub sited nearby at the end of the street. A Karaoke was on. She entered the place filled with jovial Scots lads and lasses singing their hearts out and enjoying themselves immensely. The announcer was shouting through the microphone. “Any one here game for a solo song?” Caught in the joyful atmosphere of her surroundings, Laura went up the stage, whispered to the band leader, took the mike in her hands and said – “This song is for one who is very close to my heart, wherever his is today !” Then she began to sing Daniel’s favourite song.
“Oh Danny Boy, the pipes are all now calling,
From glen to glen and down the mountain side.
The summer’s gone, and all the flowers are dying.
If you must go, then go and I must wait and bide,
But come you back when summer’s in the meadow
Or when the valleys hushed are covered white with snow,
I’ll be here waiting in sunshine or in shadow.
Oh Danny Boy, Oh Danny Boy, I love you so.
And if you come when the flowers are all dying,
And I am dead as dead I well may be,
You’ll come and find the place where I’m lying,
And kneel to say an ‘Ave’ there for me.
Then I shall hear how soft you tread above me
And all my dreams will warm and sweeter be
If you’ll not fail to tell me that you love me,
I’ll simply sleep in peace until you come to me.
Oh Danny Boy. Oh Danny Boy, I love you so.
The crowd was enthusiastic. They cheered, clapped and shouted for more. They had not heard such a lovely voice for a long time. Everyone was familiar with the powerful words of this song but never before had they heard it sung in such a way. There was not a sound while Laura was singing. Even the barmen stopped their service and, spellbound, concentrated on the heavenly voice. Laura’s caressing words bathed the cool night in soft gentle warmth, weaving a magical spell all around. “But come you back when the summer’s in the meadow, or when the valleys are white with snow.” Her lovely voice rang out clear and fine, as now the folks began to sing along with her, until the chorus swelled so strong that it could have been heard many miles away. “For I’ll be here in sunshine or in meadow – Oh Danny boy, Oh Danny boy, I love you so ….”
The song had never moved her so deeply. Where was her Daniel? If only he could hear her sing his song. When her sad eyes scanned those faces all reaching out to her, she saw one other who stabbed her heart. It was an old man who appeared to be isolated from the crowd – a small solitary figure lost in his thoughts, his face creased with anguish. But through the tears which ran heedlessly down his face, there shone a defiant pride which lit up his features with a haunting beauty and which made Laura wonder whether he also was thinking of his beloved one, now gone away from him. When the song drew to a close, the crowd stood transfixed, then, of a sudden, the silence was broken. The cheers that had caught in the choking fullness of their thoughts broke through in waves of shouts and cheers, all praising Laura and all wanting more. She thanked them all but went down the stage and sat at a table to compose herself. The melancholic lyrics of this beautiful song had brought up so many memories of her Daniel that she needed to rest. Then slowly and discreetly she went out of the side door.
On the last day of her visit, tired from her walks, she entered St.Mary’s Cathedral and sat down admiring the architecture and paintings of this lovely church. Then she followed other visitors who wandered to the churchyard alongside the same church. The grass here was green and fresh. A place that spoke of peace and rest. She passed the time reading the epitaphs mounted on the rows of graves, people who had lived and died in this northern town – “Shaw”, “Gilbert”, “McCulloch”, “Spencer”, “McTavish”, “Williams” …………….
Then she saw it. The epitaph on a white marble headstone – “Daniel Johnson, born 20.6.1986. Died in a car accident on 15.4.2009. Rest in Peace.” She gasped. Daniel was dead! This was his grave! At that very moment she realized what had prevented him from writing or calling her. She turned blindly away, the tears, stemmed for so long, flowed unheeded down her cold face.