It was a cold December morning when I met her. I was walking to the office through a tired industrial estate, down a long, thin path wedged between two large factories: one made chocolate bars and the other made jewellery. I walked along the path every morning while the factories polluted my lungs and I often saw the factory workers pass me on their way home and they looked drained â ready for the knacker yard â and I wondered how they do it, and how itâd certainly kill me in one way or another. If the physical stresses of working in a chocolate factory for twenty years didnât kill me, then the mental stresses would result in an innocent dog walker finding me swinging from a tree one morning. I suppose to make the chocolates and the necklaces and the cars and the coffees and the phones and the designer clothes, a lot of people have to die.
The wind was silent and the cracked path was covered in a frost that made it look as though it was coated with a million small diamonds. I heard a soft voice cut through the stillness from behind me:
âExcuse me, sorry my English is bad. I look for chocolate factory, can you help?â I heard her ask with an eastern European accent.
I turned around and the voice belonged to a tall, slim woman with long blonde hair that was bursting to break free from the hairnet on her head just as her perfect body longed to break free from the rags she was wearing.
âEr, yeah, itâs, er, itâs that big factory just there, erm, the gate is at the end of this, errrr, path.â I stuttered and pointed to the factory at the side of us. I sounded like I was having a stroke. My English left broken and my heart left shattered on the floor with the frost diamonds below us.
âYou work there?â She asked.
âNo, I work in an office block about 10 minutes away. What brings you to England?â I asked after I managed to compose myself.
âI work to send money to my family back home in Latvia. This my seventh job in factories. I stay here so my family have better life.â She explained.
An angel in Hellâs factories, I thought.
We started to walk down the long path towards the factory gate where sheâd leave me. My footsteps had slowed down significantly. We walked in sync, crunching the diamonds together.
âDo you enjoy your life?â I asked her.
âItâs hard.â She replied.
She told me about her 2 year old daughter she had to leave in Latvia when she left for England; I was overcome with sadness. I wanted so much to tell her how beautiful she was and that she didnât deserve this shit and that she should be with her daughter and that the world is fucked up and that she should live with me and Iâd look after her and her daughter and how I didnât make much but I made enough, but I was just a stranger on a path of diamonds and she was just a lost angel. We arrived at the factory gate and though the words were bursting to get out, I remained silent.
âMerry Christmas. It was nice talking to you.â She said and shook my hand.
âMerry Christmas to you too. I hope it all works out for you.â
She was gone. Forever. She was gone.
Though the encounter lasted no longer than five minutes, it remained on my mind for much longer. I arrived at the office and a colleague brought me a cup of coffee.
âYou look like shit. Are you all right?â He asked.
âDo you believe in love at first sight?â
It wasnât a lie. I didnât believe in love at first sight, I wasnât even sure I believed in true love at all, but what I experienced with the Latvian woman was something. A special something: the sadness in her eyes, the diamond path, the factories that towered over us, the loneliness of the winter, the softness of her voice and the silence of the wind.
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