Out of Lancaster Gate tube station into noisy glare, her text was answered before she had crossed the busy road to the park gates.
‘Twins. Chinese figures. Beautiful. Going to Reservoir now. Talk in a while xx’
Peter’s late interest in art was a surprise. Always rather practical, he had hardly been the family romantic and Lara wondered, yet again, how far her precious brother, currently hot-shotting it in New York while she was still kicking her heels in London, was being pulled away from her.
This consistently recurring shadow cast across her thoughts but it couldn’t dim her delight as she entered Hyde Park to the glories of the Italian Gardens. Familiar fountain jets greeted her in hazy summer afternoon sunshine and she twirled in a jig of simple pleasure before taking her well-plied Serpentine path east towards the bridge.
Symbols of fraternal harmony and union ever since spying them on a chance visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art some months back, Peter pocketed his phone grateful once more to the two, little red Quing dynasty characters. Despite the two so-named hehe twins holding lotus leaves being boys, they had come to represent the eternal bond holding him and his twin sister together. And today being special, he had wanted another peek at them before heading off across Central Park to share a sentimental tradition that, with every year passing, had become very important to them both.
Six years ago, after Peter moved to the Big Apple and on alcoholic whims, the twins decided to call each other on their joint birthday from their favourite city park spot. Lara’s choice was easy. Her pet place since a child had been the panoramic view looking across Hyde Park’s Serpentine all the way up to the Round Pond and The Orangery. Triggered by more hormonal reasoning, her brother had kissed his first American date alongside Central Park’s huge Reservoir not far from the Met so he had plumped for that.
And the ceremony had stuck. So, every 19 August, come rain or shine, brother and sister took it in annual turns to call from their respective park benches and wish each other ‘Happy Birthday’. The inseparable separated by an ocean - except for two years ago when the little sister by fifteen minutes flew over for a wonderful surprise to share celebratory glasses of champagne on Peter’s bench.
‘A while’ he had said, so still pondering the genesis of his uncharacteristic art phase, Lara was eager to sit in her treasured spot for a few minutes before the call. She felt she needed to muse more on how things stood between her brother and herself. Six years was a long time, and although they phoned, texted, emailed and Facetimed continually, she was very aware of the great distance between them geographically, and increasingly, as the years went by, in cultural and emotional senses too.
‘Peter’s Pangea’ she had dubbed it. Tectonic plate twins inching away from each other over time.
Their fundamental ties were unbreakable, of course, but they lived such different lives now. Once so mentally as well as physically close (they had shared a flat and worked together in an utterly unromantic family business – a haulage company), this art thing was yet another symbol of their growing apart. Add to the mix Peter’s incredibly successful job (he had taken mundane haulage to the nth degree as a big cheese in some huge American logistics conglomerate), his massive salary, ridiculous expense account and swish high-rise-to-die for apartment, in comparison Lara had come to consider herself a complete failure.
She could join the company with him tomorrow, she knew that, he’d asked her enough times, but for some reason it didn’t feel right. Twins were equals, and in New York she might be slightly the younger but feared she would be considerably the lesser of the two.
No, she would stay in England. Lara was still a large cheese in the family’s happily very going concern, she called enough shots, and she liked the pace of her life. But that didn’t stop her constantly wondering what her bother was doing ‘right now’ and wishing he was as close to her physically as he was in her thoughts.
Arriving at her pet bench along the path a little way from the Serpentine bridge, Lara looked up to a ripple of disappointment. She had wanted to muse alone but a woman was already sitting to one side of the seat. Yet seeing the incumbent, who looked about the same age as her, quietly weeping, natural compassion took over and she sat down close asking what was the matter and could she help.
“Thank you. Nothing really. Just thinking about someone… silly.”
Lara dug deep in her bag, took out a tissue from a new pack and handed it over. Two people on a park bench thinking about people.
The woman managed a bent smile at the tissue and wiped her nose.
“No. Don’t have either. Something completely different.”
Over on the Serpentine’s far side there were hardy joggers, parents with small children, pushchairs being pushed and in the middle distance the familiar sight of a man leaning back riding a huge horse - Watts’ Physical Energy statue Lara knew so well having passed it numerous times en route to the Round Pond. She even kissed a boy beside it once. Peter didn’t have a monopoly on park kisses.
“Do you… want to talk about it?” Laura probed further, surprised at herself.
Compassionate maybe, but she was rarely so forthcoming.
The woman didn’t speak for almost thirty seconds before she turned her head to face her gentle inquisitor.
“My twin, actually. I am thinking about my twin.”
… the co-incidence hit home hard and suddenly the bench seemed a very intimate world. Green spaces, footpaths, water, the Met and even art seemed a long way away. Two strangers coming together with thoughts of those closest to them. Swallowing deeply, the confidant tracked a few birds in the air before responding.
“Your twin? How strange. I’m a twin myself. Who would have thought it?”
The confider took comfort in the serendipity of meeting a kindred spirit. A smile broke through, lighting up an attractive face as words started to spill out into the heat of the day.
“The thing is, my twin and I lost contact many years ago, when we were about eight. I have no idea where she is now or what became of her. All I remember is she was called Sarah… beautiful blonde hair, like mine but finer, shinier. But she had such a lovely, unique voice. A singing voice. I can still hear it sometimes. Then one day she was taken away, I don’t know how or why… our parents were dead you see.”
Orphans. The same as them. A few things remained. Photographs, one with the twins beside a haulage lorry, the odd piece of jewellry and a battered wedding certificate.
The confidant put an arm around the confider’s shoulders in an automatic gesture of concern and even tighter unity. Leaning in, lips touched a blonde head and an elderly couple passing by at that moment looked on registering disapproval at such a dubious public display of affection (although their ‘tut-tutting’ was quickly drowned out by oncoming joggers gunning them down).
“And you still think of her, your twin, Sarah?”
Sweaty, panting and trainer-thudding jogging receded before a considered response came.
“Always have. But, somehow, it’s got more intense over the last few years. I can’t explain it. A sort of mounting loss. It hurts, really hurts. My heart actually hurts. Got to the point where I’m thinking about her every day, all the time. We’ve been apart for so long, yet I fear it is only now, just now, we are beginning to lose whatever we were. The twin… thing.”
The confidant suddenly ached to be a confider too. How remarkable. Two strangers meeting only a few minutes ago and they were already sharing emotions and secrets locked deep down inside their fears.
“I’ve been separated from my twin for some time too. We talk a lot, call, you know, but it’s not the same. There’s always the tug there. A want, a need, an absence. Very painful. But to lose each other at so young an age, how awful, that’s really tough.
You’ve no idea? No clue?”
The first confider’s shoulder slumped a little under the second’s arm.
“Nothing. No paper trail, no evidence of any kind. It’s as if she just disappeared in a cloud of smoke.”
“But you feel you have to keep looking?”
“Yes, yes I do. And it’s why I’m here now, today, as a matter of fact. Can’t put it into words but I woke up and thought I should just come and, I can’t say, be here I suppose. Something came to me.”
“Nothing. Been walking around for ages. Covered every bit of the Park. A complete blank. Must stop fooling myself I guess.”
The bench went quiet on that downbeat and the two sat together, huddled, listening to the far-off hum of the city and the closer sounds of people passing by. An elderly man behind them was throwing a ball to his dog and further down along the path roller-blading teenagers were weaving in and out of a small group of oriental tourists.
Then something clicked.
The Met… twins… Chinese.
Lifting an arm free, the second confider suddenly remembered.
“Hey! It’s my birthday, or our birthday I should say. My twin …”
Uncoupled, the other twin on the park bench sat up to offer congratulations.
“Oh! Happy Birthday! Many happy …”
“Yeah, we have this thing. We go to our favourite park and call. It’s become a sort of twin tradition as we’re now thousands of miles apart. Hang on, got to introduce you…”
Adept fingers tapped out a fast-dial, the phone was answered in two rings and an excited voice burst through with the background rush of another country.
“Hi! Happy Birthday twin brother!”
Peter smiled as he looked out across the languid water of Central Park’s massive Reservoir.
“Hi Sis! Happy Birthday from across the pond! I wish I was there with you!”
“What’s with the Chinese?”
“Oh! Two red, look-alike figures in the Met. Made of horn. Apparently inspired by Tang dynasty Buddhist monks Hanshan and Shide. They make me think of you and me!”
“Get you professor! Anyway, good… keep thinking about us, you native New Yorker!”
“I will, I will.”
Lara turned to the woman sitting on her bench with her and nodded a confiding nod.
“Hey listen bruv … someone here I want to you to say hello to. Just met. Right now, on the bench. Amazing. Her name is Sarah and she’s sad. Lost her twin when she was eight and came here today in the hope of finding him. Here she is …”
Lara handed the phone over and, pulling an ear-ring off for comfort, Sarah laughed a ‘Happy Birthday’ into it.
But the Birthday boy wasn’t on the line.
Without knowing it, she was listening to the sound of stunned revelation across the Atlantic.
She wished a ‘Happy Birthday’ again.
… a beautiful, unique voice singing from the past. A voice that used to excite and soothe. A voice not heard for many years. Blonde shiny hair, two children wrenched apart. He knew, he knew completely, who it was.
“Sarah? This can’t be. Sarah? Is that really you? It’s me, Bobby…”
© Keith Bradbrook 2020