To Rosedale Valley
By Larissa Morshed
Posted on December 28, 2022
Cover Image Title: To Rosedale Valley
Cover Image by: EK
Classification: Digital Art
Specifications: Digital; 3000 px by 3000 px, 600 DPI
The train stopped at the busy metropolitan station as the dying hum of the engines stopped with a final sigh. I slowly opened my eyes, aroused by the whole ordeal, slightly annoyed, and frankly feeling aggravated. My sore shoulders smarted with pain from sleeping disfigured, and the revolting smell of a dirty station after the rain wafted into our coach.
The atrocious people in the busy Manchester station scurried around like rats, pushing past each other without dignity or the least bit of elegance! How truly sad it must be to be like them, I thought. Reflecting a few hours back to when Maman and I boarded there certainly was no pushing, shoving, cursing, or stealing…?
My still blurry gaze rested on a man staring pensively at a railway guide while a dirty little boy propped his small grubby hand into the man’s pocket and swiftly disappeared with his coin pouch. A truly pitiable sight, I thought as I rested my head against the cushioned seats of our first-class coach. Judging by the state of the man, it would take a few weeks for him to recover from such a theft, humbly reminding myself that not everyone was as well off as us. I resisted an upcoming sigh with brute willpower since Maman says it was not ladylike.
I looked around to see Maman fast asleep and briefly fell into a thoroughly philosophical debate in my mind as to how someone could sleep through all this noise. I decided that it would be better to focus on the brighter side of this annual vexation, our destination Rosedale Valley, and more importantly, Grandmere.
Rosedale Valley - what a sophisticated escape from the smog of London. True to its name, it constituted many valleys of roses, planted each spring and pruned throughout the year by my dearest Grandmere. Maman and I spent every summer holiday and every Christmas at Grandmere’s estate, at which Grandmere would boast her roses. The grand dame’s roses constituted almost 30-40 acres of land, which were tended to by villagers. It was the signature of Rosedale Valley, and all its inhabitants were required to uphold it. Of course, Grandmere had her own roses on her estate, and her roses were like no other. Her own flower orangery had collected all types of roses out there, including her most prized Juliet rose, which she was gifted by her sweetheart David Austin. That was the year I was born, so Grandmere insisted on naming me Juliet, a very romantic tale indeed. Grandmere was very peculiar about her roses, she would never let the gardener tend to them and insisted on grooming them herself even at her age. She never let me see a single rose until I was six years old when she took me to her orangery and gifted a juliet to me, something I never forgot and to this day preserved.
Going each year to Rosedale Valley was like dying and going to heaven. The happy sunlit countryside, brimming with aromatic blossoms, danced in the warm breeze as if celebrating the romantic weather. The rays of the sun played from one delicate petal to another like bees searching for nectar. Grandmere made perfumes for me out of her roses which she presented each year on my birthday, a present a yearned for all year. Just imagining the morning of my birthday when Mama brings out the silk-wrapped box containing a small crystal vial filled with the highest of earthly bliss. Never have I ever yearned for the vial as much as I was right now amid the stench of the train station. I contended with the knowledge that we would be there in a couple of hours and the redolence there would revive me. I went back to sleep.
I woke up a couple of hours later and sat up with an aching stiffness in my back. I looked up to see the sky bloodshot and the draining light of day emitting its final glow. Maman had rearranged her hair and sat powdering her small nose, motioning for me to do the same, a sign that we were almost here. I plucked my ivory comb from my handbag and gently brushed through my careful curls as Maman powdered my nose and applied some coral rouge on my cheeks, a fashionable colour that matched my frock.
We stopped at the station of the town nearest to Rosedale, where Grandmere’s chauffeur and Annie, Grandmere’s maid, escorted us into the Aston Martin DB5 Vantage Coup, something Grandmere had to pick up right away after we saw it featured in James Bond’s movie Goldfinger. Maman seemed upset that a more fashionable one hadn't been sent, after all, Grandmere had plenty of those, but it meant more to me than she could ever know. Grandmere and I used to joke that this car was like a handsome knight in shining armour, so she’d sent the bravest knight to escort her most precious rose home. I pleasantly noted that our off-board of the train was just as dignified and graceful as our on-board, nothing like the down-and-outs I previously witnessed. Comfortably settled in the backseat beside Maman, I watched as the train chugged away into the distance and bid it goodbye, no matter how unpleasant it was.
Maman sat upright and didn’t move a hair; she couldn’t fix her hair or powder in front of people. I tried to replicate her for a while, but the nap on the train had left me feeling sluggish and tired, and I’d rather be in the right spirits than in the right look when I saw Grandmere. So I leaned back comfortably despite Maman’s glare and found myself unable to sleep despite the heavy feeling in my eyelids. I stared into the countryside view, which, thanks to the car moving at a roaring speed, looked like a canvas that had been brushed from end to end with green paint. I kept a lookout for the first hint of rose bushes, but we were yet too far.
Sighing and receiving a disturbed look from Maman, I closed my eyes and imagined my long last reunion with Grandmere. After I’d arrived, Grandmere would rush me to the bath, undress, and wash me, all while complaining about how dirty the trains have become nowadays. I could just imagine sitting there surrounded by the warm, foamy water, as Grandmere threw in bath salts, dried flowers, oils, fragrances, and vials of pink liquid that smelled glorious, as if I were the main ingredient in a divine curry. The gentle, repetitive slosh of water as the grains hit the water and melted into my skin. The distant rumbling of her going on and on about how in her days… as her hands gently but frantically scrubbed my skin and tickled me. And when she sees me flinch from the tingle, she’ll smile a mischievous grin and tickle me until I’m crying and begging her to stop. Afterward, she’ll dress me in one of her beautiful Chinese silk robes, and we’d sit down for tea, biscuits, scones, cookies, and lots of sugary goodness and chat about her newest flower acquisition, or the latest floral competition she won, or about how that “horrible, horrible Madame Katherine had copied her cutlery set from Iran and presented it at tea as her own.”
I drifted to sleep with these thoughts wrapped around me like a blanket.
The glaring sun was the first thing that struck my rousing eyes. The noise, first dull and jumbly, slowly amplified until my brain thundered the thought, Oh dear Lord. I’m going to miss the evening rush! I jutted awake, quickly aware of every sound and every movement around me. JASPER, that rascal!
I quickly swung to my feet, and the heavy, ragged coat fell briskly from around me into a pool of dampness just near where I had been sleeping. What else could go wrong today? I snatched it up and shielded my bony body with it, in spite of the humidity of the summer train station. It felt disgustingly mushy and cold instantly, and my stomach did an involuntary lurch. I brushed the edge of the remaining sleep away. The game was about to begin, and to play the game, you have to be at your peak wits.
Turning my attention away, I surveyed today's contenders. Much of them were the usual- Roman, the eagle-eyed; Jonah, a bit thick that one but a good person nonetheless, the thick ones usually are; Ronnie, he was good with the hand stuff; Lana, annoyingly a girl, which gave her a whole realm of undeserved advantages; and so on.
In his usual corner, I spotted Jasper. With his messy black curls that framed his face making him look deceptively innocent, and the dimples on his chocolate smile, he was a crowd favorite.
I thought of my own plain looks. A puny, underfed-looking boy with the kind of blonde hair that always appeared dirty no matter how well it was washed (which, to be fair, wasn’t very often) and a rather startling pair of blue eyes. There was nothing extraordinary about me. Jasper was older than me, stronger than me, and looked tougher than me, but I was smarter. That's why we made a good team. Because in the game, you have to choose your friends and foes with shrewdness.
The ‘game’ is an art form. Rich people express art in paint strokes, hidden meanings behind scriptures and poetry, dances, wine, myths, and legends. Poor people like us, our art is wild and raw. It's the slight waves of a seductive hand, the careful language of nods and whispers, of a searching eye, hungry prowling dance, and working out every angle. It is a challenge of illusions and imaginative deceptions. While rich people made art for expression and leisure, our art was for strict, cold survival. The eclipsed art of larceny.
Suddenly the distant chugging emerged with mountainous volume out of a curtain of gray vapor and unwillingly came to a pained stop with a moaning screech. The train from London had arrived! Suddenly the station burst forth with exciting activity and color. The smart people of the busy city bustled in and out, and porters rushed to offer their services. Families, couples, and individuals of different nationalities and languages gather with nothing but the mutual intention of getting from place to place quickly- there was an amazing unity and contrast in the situation.
I focused on the field. Time was ripe for the best fruits. It was summer. When the population drained out of the city, their pockets were brimming and spirits high. Drunk on excitement, laid back at ease, and ballooning with a wistful sigh of brewing warm romances, they strolled without much concern.
My eyes followed a group of fashionable women, clicking their bright heels and their rhythmic swaying hips as they departed the coach. They sat together on the station benches with the air of the creme de la creme of good society. This time of year, they head away from London to bask in summer and soiree at their lavish country homes. They giggled in their matching Parisian frocks, hats, gloves, and pointy-toed shoes, and gossiped in hushed humorous tones. The perfect first target.
Slowly I crept towards the party, like a lone leaf in the wind that happened to fall gently on the granite beside them. Every bone and tendon in my body was perked with heightened senses. With a skip in my step and a boyish smile on my face, I approached them meekly, giving a performative bow. Their sparkling eyes fell on me, and a humorous look cast on them. I entertained them with a gawky attempt at a little dance, skipping from toe to toe and flipping my head back with good-humored chuckles. Their tinkling laughter followed like wind chimes at my gauche expense.
When I saw in a minute Jasper’s impish face peeking out from behind ladies’ expensive hats, I bowed a surprisingly elegant bow and ran like the wind through the station behind my comrade. Our feet slapped the cold station platform in rhythm with our shooting heartbeat. We had made a good distance before we heard the whistle of the coppers in the distance and the moaning wail of the beautiful damsels in distress. By the time the coppers could ‘do anything about it,’ we were much too far away.
“How much?” I asked breathlessly, as adrenaline took over my system, filling me with a strange burst of energy, I didn’t have the strength for. He laughed.
“Enough,” he hollered, presenting the two leather pouches jiggling with invaluable clinks. I felt alive. I danced through the merry bands of people, and finally, their happiness resonated with me too.
We finally came to a stop before the other end of the platform. Panting, we slumped on the station bench to catch our weary breaths, and our sweaty backs stuck to the seats as we hit it. “Do you think He’ll let us keep a bit more this time?” I posed after we’d sat up. I hated the part that came after this, every time I watched as my day’s sows were reaped by Him, I couldn’t help the painful sinking feeling that latched along.
“Don’t get your hopes up,” he replied. Seeing my face darkening, he added, “besides, it’s not all bad. He protects us from the coppers and gives us food. We’ve got it better than a lot of them out here, remember?”
I sighed, why do I ask questions I know the answer to? I tried feeling for the dark purple stains of punishment inflicted on my back, they were lightning running down a tan, freckled sky. They were still raw, screaming warnings of the last time I had been ungrateful. I slumped back down on the bench and vaporized the rebelling drop of agony that tried to escape my tired eyes with a swift motion of the hand. I closed my eyes. No, it wasn’t all bad, I repeated in my head.