Some years ago I tried to settle down for a while. I’d met a blonde German girl who was prepared to take on the task of domesticating a traveler and we moved into a little apartment together in Berlin. I got a job teaching English, we had a cat, a dishwasher and we took turns cooking each night. The winter was long and dark and I struggled with a life of routine but as my girlfriend patiently reminded me, love and stability came at the price of responsibility, and for every action there was a consequence.
I even had to sit down when I went to pee.
I couldn’t wait for spring to come and at the first sunny weekend that presented itself I suggested to my girlfriend that we go for a walk in the forest. She nodded slowly in approval and said that I might join some of her friends who were planning to go hiking not far from Berlin. She said that while she wouldn’t be able to come (she had to prepare for an exam on the Monday – responsibilities!), in any healthy and functional relationship it was good for a couple to spend time apart.
And so it was I ended up walking through the forest with a party of Germans all dressed up in hiking gear with sturdy boots reserved for the occasion, waterproof ponchos, windproof fleeces and, of course, extensive maps of the area. They grinned at the sight of my deck shoes with a hole at one end, dirty jeans and faded suede jacket but I could see them wondering just what kind of idiot they’d been saddled with.
My idea of walking was always to just take whichever path seemed the most interesting but I was assured they had everything ‘all worked out’. They had determined where we would go, how long each part of the trek would take and where and for how long we would take our rest stops. They were all engineering students and though we tried some cheerful smalltalk it soon became clear that we had little in common. They fell to talking and laughing among themselves in German, looking behind them ever now and then to see if I was keeping up, much as if I was a dog trotting along at the back.
Still, I was happy enough to be out of the city and to have the space to follow my own thoughts. I must admit I was a little amused when their maps let them down though. It appeared that the route we were due to follow had fallen into disuse and was now covered with brambles and ferns. After a quick consultation of GPS on their cellphones, I was assured there was no cause to worry and that we would simply take another path that would only put us 15 minutes behind schedule.
I rather liked the look of the overgrown path, however. The walking had all been a bit too straightforward along wide, clear trails too well-marked to ever risk getting lost. My suggestion that we just try to hack our way through was met with polite smiles and then impatient complaints as I began to scramble over the thorns.
“Don’t worry about me!” I called back, “I’ll just meet you at the car.”
I heard sounds of exasperated German behind me but they were already running precious minutes over schedule and they hurried off down the alternative path to make up for lost time.
It was their loss because once beyond the initial brambles I found myself walking in some of the most gorgeous forest I’d ever come across. The grass was soft and spongy beneath my feet, clumps of moss grew on trees and twinkled with moisture and a stream ran along one side, the water trickling over the quartz crystal like liquid bells.
A purple flower hung down from a vine over the path and as I pressed it to my nose I felt all the dizzy promise of spring, the intoxicating scent of the forest and… the distant sound of voices? But probably it was just the sound of the stream to my side. Still, as I released the flower and walked on I felt a little dizzy from its aroma. The trees seemed now like sombre guardians granting me access to the place, songbirds announced my arrival and I nibbled on wild strawberries that grew amid clumps of star grass – a plant that had fallen so much in love with the night sky that it had decided to reflect it.
The forest seemed to have come alive around me; I could hear the trees breathing; spiders whispered to each other on the branches; and I could feel the pulse of the forest, ancient and deep, the voices of a thousand birds and insects coming together in harmony.
“Blue eyes!” I heard a female voice giggle to my left but when I turned to look all I saw was something flutter behind a tree.
“Messy hair!” Another voice shrieked and I span around just in time to see a flash of light disappear into the shadows.
“Doesn’t know where he’s going!”
“Then he’ll probably get there!”
The voices came from all around me now and I gave up trying to see where they came from. But out of the corner of my eye I could see tiny twinkling forms flying alongside me in the forest as I walked.
I came to a grove of beech trees and up ahead was a hill of fallen rocks, a mysterious light coming from the top, a glowing illumination that drew me irresistibly closer.
“Hurry up! You’re late for your date!” Mischievous voices tittered as I jumped up the hill from rock to rock, arriving at the top out of breath and quite blinded by the intensity of the light. Gradually, though, I began to discern a form; sitting on a rock with her feet dangling playfully in the air, with sharp, pointy ears and nose, pouting mouth and large restless eyes, I had no doubt that I was looking at a fairy.
As I stepped forwards her eyes seemed to drink me in and at first I thought she was growing in size but I later realised it was I who began to shrink until we were both of the same size.
“Where have you been?” she suddenly demanded, “Don’t you know it’s rude to keep a girl waiting?”
“But I didn’t know-”
“Blah blah blah blah blah – in Fairyland there are no explanations!”
“Then why did you ask?”
“Oh, hush!” she sniffed and as she stood up and drew closer I noticed with surprise that she had only one wing, silky and translucent.
“What happened to your other wing?” I asked, “Were you in a fight or-”
“ You really don’t know anything, do you?” she laughed gaily, “All fairies only have one wing.”
“Then how do you-”
“It takes two to fly.” she replied simply and, reaching out one hand, her little fingers stroked my cheek, ran down my neck, across my shoulder and… out onto a shiny, gossamer wing extending from my shoulder blade like it had always been there.
“Blah blah blah blah blah! Let’s go!” she cried and before I knew it I was running hand in hand with her towards the edge of the rocks. My head span at the drop below and as we leaped I braced myself for a rocky landing and the terrible crunch of broken bones. But instead something else happened – our wings began to beat in unison and I found myself flying through the forest as if I had been doing it all my life.
The trees were enormous now and I began to perceive entire societies of imps and insects living among the branches and leaves; there were centipede kings holding court in the ferns, armies of marching ants declaring war in the high grass and orchestras of crickets playing symphonies in the reeds of the stream.
We arced and swooped and looped through the air and I had not a single thought for the past or the future. Flying through the forest with a beautiful fairy at my side, there was nowhere on earth I would rather have been.
We then flew up through the roof of the forest just in time to see the sun going down in a blaze of glory. We rested on a branch and the sunset lit up the fairy’s eyes and made them dance in a thousand colours.
“I don’t know your name.” I murmured.
“Neither do I!” she sighed dreamily, “But then fairies change their names every day. I think today I’ll call myself… Lala.”
Despite the magic of the moment I felt a wave of disapproval stir within me. 6 months of living in Germany had had their effect after all.
“That’s not very responsible?” I suggested.
“Since when were fairies ever responsible?” she laughed.
“Well, love and stability come at the price of responsibility,” I stammered, “And for every action there’s a consequence…”
Lala just smiled and, leaning close, she whispered: “In Fairyland there are no consequences!”
Then we kissed.
If you’ve never been kissed by a fairy before then, well, words can’t begin to express it. But imagine a thousand streams flowing through you. A thousand birds singing inside your mouth. A thousand stars born on your lips and lighting up something deep inside you.
When it was over the sun had gone down to let a crescent moon and a gang of stars try their follow up act on the stage of the night sky. The forest below glowed in the remaining light and I knew that whereas I’d been a guest before, now I had returned home.
We swooped down and shook old, wise owls awake. We danced with imps and elves around pine cone fires and dined on moon berries and crystal nectar on islands of lillies in the stream. We attended counsels of witches, chased willo-the-wisps through the trees and teased dim-witted giants who tried to swat us out of the air like mosquitoes.
I felt utterly weightless and knew that in Lala I had found my true soul mate. One with whom I could share the greatest joys that life had to offer,
“You know, Lala, I think the reason we can fly is precisely because we take ourselves to lightly!”
But Lala wasn’t listening. I followed her eyes to where a male fairy stood on a branch, proud and independent as he tied the lace of his boots. He caught Lala’s eye and in the same moment that she let go of my hand he jumped from his perch to meet her. Their wings beat in unison and they soared up through the forest.
“Lala!” I screamed as I fell through the branches and leaves – but she either didn’t hear me or had already changed her name.
I plunged into the icy stream, gashing my head on a sharp rock and was swept along by the current towards some white horse rapids, neighing furiously as their hooves galloped on the spot. I prepared to be stampeded to pieces but just then an enormous hand came out of nowhere and scooped me up.
When I gathered my senses I found a little old man in a waistcoat and hat peering into my eyes curiously. I seemed to be returned to my normal size and the forest looked not so much enchanted any more as dark and damp.
“Your first time was it?” the old man asked and then nodded to himself, “Well, the wound on the head will heal soon enough but the bruises on the inside might take a bit longer.”
“Excuse me, but who are you?” I asked, sitting up quickly and regretting it at once. I felt like I had been badly beaten up.
“Ah well, that’s not an easy question – see, I change my name every day.”
“Do you mean to say you’re a-”
“Oh no!” he laughed, “But let’s say I’ve had the pleasure of their acquaintance from time to time. I first met them 40 years ago and, well, there was no way back for me after that. Job, wife, home – I gave it all up and came here to build a little cabin for myself. Amazing how well you can get by on moon berries and mushrooms.”
My phone began to ring in my pocket and withdrawing it I saw my girlfriend was calling but I wasn’t ready to face reality just yet. Before I turned it off I saw that I had missed 16 other calls from her.
“Best get back. People will be missing you.” the old man smiled and turned to walk off into the woods. Before he disappeared into the trees he paused and called: “But if you ever want to come back , don’t worry about finding them – they’ll find you!” And with that he walked off into the shadows and I could swear that I caught a glimpse of a bulge beneath his jacket, just where… a wing would be…
When I got out of the forest I found 4 tired hikers explaining to a police officer in the glow of a flashing neon light what had happened. When I walked up, the policeman took one look at the cut on my head, heard me stammer something about fairies and at once called for an ambulance to come and take me away.
I was treated for shock and concussion and after a good night’s sleep I had enough sense not to mention anything more about my night in the forest. I was escorted back home by my girlfriend but she sensed I wasn’t telling the whole truth when I declared that I had simply slipped and hit my head. We both knew that there was now something unbridgeable between us now, a gulf that would never be crossed. So when she awoke one morning to find me with my backpack and guitar already packed, she nodded, kissed me on the cheek and escorted me to the door.
I stepped out into the street, took a deep gulp of fresh air and began walking off in no particular direction, lighter than I’d felt in months. Lala was only half-right – a night in Fairyland had its consequences, after all.