As I had a lot of positive comments about my first story post inspired by ‘The Meeting Place’ at London St Pancras, I thought I would continue with my storytelling. This time, we go north where a famous wall separates a closer friendship between two nationalities throughout a lifetime. It’s the ‘Pact at Hadrian’s Wall.’
‘You’re late,’ John simply laughed as he watched Archie catch his breath back. John leaned across the wall and clapped Archie on his back enough for him to splutter. Watching this stranger of a friend, John saw time has not been too kind to him since the last time they met at this spot last year. He wondered what was wrong but they made a pact not discuss their life but as he saw Archie looked paler than usual, his eyes looked more sunken, lips cracked and his skin looked too tight over his already visible bones. He was about to ask what was wrong but the question was caught in his throat. They had made a pact to never discuss their lives since they first met forty-three years ago as nine years old. John had run away from home after arguing with his mother and he thought of the first place to come where he enjoyed being away from the stresses of home. It was Hadrian’s Wall. With only a kiddie’s backpack, he sat on the ancient wall, meant to separate the Celts from the Romans, and simply became lost in thought what to do next. That is until he heard a sunny voice, rich in the Scottish accent, pipe up from the other side of the wall,
‘Hi! You wanna play?’
He turned to see Archie grinning broadly at him, his strong large body posturing to throw a ball for his Labrador that wagged its tail by Archie’s side. Forgotten about his woes at home, John simply said ‘Ok,’ never uttering a word about their lives and just living in the moment. Soon, the afternoon was late. Archie had to go home and asked John if he would be coming back to the Wall next year as he was just visiting his Grandpa on a yearly visit from the Highlands. John agreed and as he watched Archie walk home with his Labrador yapping about him. He didn’t realise it but he helped John to calm down and return home to his already upset mother who found a note in his bedroom.
Since then, in all the forty-three years they have known each other, they have never missed their yearly meeting at the Wall even when they left school. This unlikely duo, each from England and Scotland, would become friends just for one day of the year. They never told where each other lived, nor confided in each other or even know what each other’s surname is. They would tell each other what they saw in the clouds, go hunting for rabbits, throwing pebbles at the beer bottles they drunk sneakily when they were 15, going on a double date with two girls they met hiking along the wall, and the last few years as they got older, they simply chatted, perhaps straying close to breaking their pact.
Now John stared at Archie, who groaned as he lifted himself on the Wall and swung round to sit beside him. John wanted to tell him that he was the friend he most valued, always there ready for John to forget his turbulent life back home; perhaps they should meet again soon but with their families. Perhaps they should break the pact right now. He really wanted to. Better late than never. Their lives were only separated by Hadrian’s Wall and they should smash through it. But he didn’t want to ruin the mystery and their own singular and unique friendship.
They were both quiet for a change, simply staring southwards at the sun-lit countryside with only a cool breeze rustling the trees. Archie shuddered at the breeze and pulled his coat round him tighter and leant sideways to John smirking and a knowing wink,
‘What could I do to see Janice again to keep warm!’
With that memory of the double date, they laughed resoundedly and reminisced the days they had spent together. The afternoon rolled by and John saw Archie was getting more and more tired by the hour. As their time together came to an end, Archie swung himself round again and landed on the Scottish ground unsteadily. He faced John on the other side of the wall and dug his hands into his pocket.
‘Well, that’s it for this year.’
John really wanted to give him his address, which he had written on a piece of paper ready to give to Archie. It was burning a hole in his pocket. But dare he break the pact? Archie leant forward to shake John’s hand, which John grasped firmly feeling the clammy skin and stiff bones. John felt a piece of paper, neatly folded in the palm of Archie’s hand.
‘Don’t open it until I’m out of your sight, okay?’ Archie warned him.
John nodded and took the paper. With a brief smile at each other, John watched Archie walk over through the field and slowly disappear over the horizon. With a lump in his throat, he opened the note and it said,
‘Archibald O’Reilly, 17 Brick Lane, Inverness.’
The note didn’t finish there.
‘You were quite possibly my best friend.’
John laughed bittersweetly. He thought he would be the one to break the pact! John left Hadrian’s Wall knowing that if Archie has broken the pact, John wouldn’t see him again next year.
A year later, he returned holding a letter, to the same spot, where a grey haired woman awaited him on the other side of the Wall. It was Archie’s wife, holding an urn. She smiled at meeting John for the first time,
‘He wanted to scatter his ashes here so he could still be with his best friend every year.’
Loved it, it was moving and rang a personal bell.