The thunder grew louder and the lightening stronger, as the rain lashed against the windscreen, making it impossible for me to drive any further. I pulled over and switched off my engine. I was hopelessly lost! I cursed my stupidity for taking a wrong turn earlier and wondered where I was.
My mother was in hospital, and had insisted I take her friend Janet her birthday present for her. I had been away at university for three years and had never met mother’s friend, but agreed to make a detour on my way back to uni today, as it would only add a few extra miles to my journey. There was no sign of the storm abating, so I decided to ask for directions at the big house across the road from where I had stopped. I pulled my coat tightly around me and stepped out of the car, just as all the streetlights went out and a clap of thunder shook the ground.
“That’s all I need, a bloody power failure.” I shouted loudly into the darkness of the night. The relentless heavy rain soaked me to the skin as I stood beside my car. Undeterred I ran across the road and driveway of the house, hardly visible now in the darkness and driving rain.
An old man, holding a lantern, answered my urgent knocking. He peered out of the doorway leaning on his walking stick, as he held the lantern up to see my face and asked what I wanted.
‘I am lost’, I blurted out, trying to shield my head from the rain. ‘Please can you help me?’
‘Better come out of the rain young lady’. His smile seemed to light up his face. I was glad to be out of the rain, as I stepped inside he closed the door behind me.
‘Thank you for your hospitality. I am sorry to disturb you. My name is Rosa and I need to find my way back onto the road to Mallidini’.
‘That’s all right young lady, my wife and I don’t get many visitors these days. ‘Here.’ He handed me a cloth as he spoke. ‘Dry yourself, you are soaked and you must be cold.” Before I could answer he was walking down the hallway toward an open doorway, where I could see the inviting glow of firelight. He turned and beckoned me to follow him.
‘Come and meet my wife Clara, she will be pleased to help you.’
‘Bill, is that you?’ A frail voice called out as we entered the room.
‘Who else darling? Bill replied gently. ‘I am never far away dear, but I have a visitor here with me. Her name is Rosa and she is on her way to Mallidini and got lost in this storm.”
Bill placed the lantern down on the table close to his wife and I could see Clara was blind. She was very old and frail, but she was smiling and told me to sit down. She asked Bill to make a hot drink for me.
‘You must be so cold and wet dear, do say you will stay for a warm by the fire for a while.’ I accepted her offer and was glad of the warmth, as I sipped a hot cup of cocoa and sat down in a chair close to the fire.
Clara and Bill made me very welcome and it was easy to forget the storm raging outside. Even the glow from the fire and lantern only seemed to make it cosier as we chatted. Bill told me he had been a policeman before he retired and Clara had been a nursing sister in the local hospital until her eyesight began to fail. I was shown pictures of their two sons, Rob and Stuart, they had both been killed during the last war. There was sadness in Clara’s voice as she spoke of them, yet an unmistakable pride also. I became aware of a clock striking and glanced at my watch.
“My goodness.” I exclaimed. “I never realised it was so late. I really must be going soon.”
“You are very welcome to stay if you wish Rosa.” Clara offered. “ We don’t have many visitors these days and we have really enjoyed our little chat.”
‘Thank you Clara. I have enjoyed our chat too, but Janet is expecting me, as I phoned earlier to say I was on my way. She will start to get worried if I don’t arrive there soon.’
‘All right dear, but do call in next time you are this way won’t you?’ Clara asked, as I gave her a hug goodbye. ‘Now Bill, you make sure you give Rosa clear directions to Mallidini won’t you?” she called out as Bill walked me back to the front door.
“Yes I will Clara love, Now don’t you worry. I will be back in a minute.” Bill called back.
He had written down directions for me and handed me the piece of paper as we reached the door.
“Oh, I can see I wasn’t too far off the road then Bill?” I said as I glanced at it.
“No Rosa just two more turns left would have got you back onto the main road”. He smiled as he added, “but then we would not have had the pleasure of your company would we”? Before I could answer he continued. “You have made two lonely people very happy with your unexpected visit Rosa. Do call in if you are down this way again won’t you?”
“Yes I will Bill”, I promised. “Thank you both for everything”. Just then Bill opened the front door and I breathed a sigh of relief to see the rain had eased down, though the streetlights were still out.
‘They won’t get the lights on again tonight?’ Bill muttered as I left and ran back across the road to my car. He was waving as I drove off.
I soon found myself back on the right road and the rest of my journey was uneventful. Janet was pleased with her present from Mother, but I was so late I did not stay for long. I breathed a sigh of relief, when I finally made it back on campus.
When end of term came I decided to drive the same way home and call in to see Clara and Bill again. I found the street easily and looked for the big house. There was no sign of it! There was just a very overgrown vacant block. I was sure I had the right address, so I knocked on the house next door and asked if they knew Clara and Bill. They had never heard of them. Now I was even more puzzled. I drove around for a while but there was no sign of the big house and I decided to try again another day.
When I reached home and told my mother about Bill and Clara she asked why I had not enquired at the police station. So I decided I would do so on my return journey.
The police were very helpful and checked for me, but what they told me will stay in my mind as long as I live. The house had been bombed just before the end of the war. Bill and Clara had both been killed in the bombing! The police directed me to the local library, where I read the full account of the bombing. Clara was registered as blind and Bill had joined the police force. There was also the record of the two sons, Rob and Stuart’s deaths in WWII. I was stunned! There was no mistake possible. Bill had gone back into the house to try to rescue Clara, because she could not see and would need his help to find her way out. What was left of the building had collapsed as he entered.
There seems no explanation for the phenomena that occurred that stormy night. Maybe it was a combination of the power failure and the storm? Maybe my desperate need for help? I will never know the answer.
I have one more year at university and every holiday I drive that way home, just in case they come back for a visit. Never know do you?
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