Sasha paused to enjoy the sea lapping at the sand. It was early and deserted except for her and her grey and white Staffie, Benji. She swung the ball launcher and sent the well chewed tennis ball flying across the beach. Benji pelted after it, leaving a scattered trail of paw prints. Sasha smiled as she watched him. Benji had been her saviour whilst navigating her grief. He had loved the move to Filey three months ago– lots of places to explore, water to splash in and seagulls to chase. Sasha had vowed never to take her new and spectacular local scenery for granted. It was just a shame not everyone valued such natural beauty.
Sasha huffed with annoyance at some litter bobbing in the sea. Why would anyone just discard a coffee cup? As well as looking ugly it could cause some serious harm to wildlife. Sasha walked closer to the water’s edge, but it was out of reach. She wasn’t one to give up easily though and a plan began to form...
The next morning, before most people had risen, Sasha and Benji made their way along the beach. Sasha now sported recycled material wellingtons with huge yellow daffodils on, that allowed her to wade into the sea and pluck out any debris that was tarnishing the environment. The owner of the new eco shop she had purchased them from had also been very enthusiastic about helping her start a petition demanding a levy on disposable coffee cups sold in the area. If she had been looking for friendship she’d probably have gotten along well with the smiley man with curly hair, but Sasha was still reluctant to make friends. You shared stuff with friends, so she’d have to tell them about being recently widowed. She just wasn’t ready yet. It was still too raw and fragile.
She was happy with just her and Benji for now. She threw his ball and watched him charge off, a bundle of energy. Sasha walked on, shedding a bit of her sadness every time she picked up a piece of litter and made a wonderful place that little bit more pretty.
As time passed and the weather worsened Sasha was warmed to notice that the beach was beginning to look tidier. Sasha liked to think she had made a difference. Even on cold days when the sea was rough and the wind howled, Sasha still found it comforting being outside – as did Benji.
They started exploring the coastal walks, with Sasha bringing her gloves and rubbish bag with her to tidy up as she went. One day they unexpectedly found a cracked china cup! Benji had been fascinated by it, seemingly convinced it was a creature. Sasha laughed at his playful antics.
As they made their way back Benji sat in front of the community noticeboard and refused to move, which was most unlike him. He seemed happy enough, tongue lolling, tail wagging. Then Sasha saw the poster he was sat under – advertising a tea and coffee morning at the local hall. “Are you trying to tell me the cup we found was a sign?” Benji grinned back at her sappily. Sasha hadn’t been expecting an answer, but the fact that she spoke to her dog so much and barely anyone else, was probably a sign she should start socialising again. So, as nervous as the thought made her, Sasha vowed to go to the tea and coffee morning.
Despite initial anxiety, Sasha found herself speaking to a lot of her neighbours over a cuppa. Most had seen her walking Benji so he was a great conversation starter. Talking about him instead of to him also felt like a step towards recovery.
So, a week later when Benji started messing around with a jam jar that was bobbing about in the sea, Sasha took it as another sign. She baked scones, purchased some locally made jam and plucked up the courage to invite her neighbour, Lucy, round. Lucy turned out to be lovely and chatty and when she lefi Sasha realised that at some stage grief had turned into loneliness. It was hard to push herself out of her comfort zone, so much easier to resort to walks with Benji. Sasha did manage to make coffee mornings and chats with Lucy part of her new routine though. She also kept litter picking and looking for signs from the more unusual items she and Benji found.
Sasha didn’t realise how much ‘the litter picking lady in the daffodil wellies’ was catching people’s eyes until the following summer. She won an award for her impact on the community, and her suggested coffee cup levy was imposed.
The day of the award presentation Sasha felt excited, but nervous. She wished her Tom had lived to see this, but then she wouldn’t be doing this if he had not been snatched away so cruelly. Sasha knew what would help settle her anxieties, “Benji, walkies!”
Within minutes they were out enjoying the sea breeze. There was barely any litter – attitudes were changing and eco-friendly choices were more abundant. Benji found something to collect though. He came bounding over with something brown in his mouth, looking very proud of himself. Or the grin and furious tail wagging may be to do with his new friend. Hot on his heels was a brown and white spaniel.
Benji splashed water up Sasha’s wellies as he dropped his find at her feet. It was a hat. As she bent to pick it up, the charging spaniel almost crashed into her.
“Ruby!” Someone bellowed. Sasha looked up and saw a man in his late 40s, flushed in the face walking briskly in her direction.
“I am so sorry. Is my dog bothering you?” He asked.
“Not at all, she’s happily playing with my dog,” Sasha reassured him, pointing to the playful pair who were tumbling around in the waves together.
“Thank goodness. I was worried she had run into you. I’m still trying to get her trained. My kids chose her, they thought having a dog would distract me from my grief.”
The man suddenly flushed scarlet, “Terribly sorry for oversharing. I don’t tend to socialise much anymore. Think my conversational finesse has waned somewhat.”
“Don’t worry about it. I tend to be a bit of a loner myself,” Sasha reassured him. She flinched as the boisterous dogs charged past, spraying her with water.
“I am sorry; my Ruby appears to be an appalling influence on your dog. He normally looks so well behaved.”
“Normally?” Sasha asked, confused.
The man blushed again, “We tend to walk early to avoid the crowds. You’ve usually beaten us here; I can see your daffodil wellies from a fair distance. I like my own space and you seemed perfectly content with your own company. So Ruby and I started varying our routes.”
“You shouldn’t have let me keep you off this beautiful beach – its public property!” Sasha was mortified that she had inadvertently been keeping this widow away from a place she found so healing.
“It’s fine, a bit of variety is good for the grey matter. Not your usual time to be here though?”
“I’m receiving an award later and I’m pretty nervous about it. I wanted to calm myself before setting off,” Sasha admitted.
The man’s face brightened, “That’s you? The lady receiving the award for all she’s done for the local environment that I saw in the paper?”
“Congratulations. You took something as soul destroying as bereavement and used it to make the world a better place. You’re a very strong woman. I just about manage to get up and walk Ruby. You should be proud of yourself.”
Sasha was astounded. She hadn’t felt strong, she had just picked up litter. “I just thought I’d tidy up as I walked. It’s no big deal,” she mumbled.
“Nonsense, don’t talk yourself down. Enjoy receiving your award. This four-legged whirlwind and I will get out of your way.”
Sasha realised she was still holding the hat, “Is this yours?”
“It is, thanks for rescuing it. I’m Geoff and you’ve met Ruby.”
“Sasha, and this is Benji,” she gestured down. Benji was giving her an imploring look. Trying something new if he found some litter had served her very well before. Did a hat count as litter? Judging by the look on Benji’s face he certainly seemed to think so.
“Would you like to join Benji and I for one of our morning walks?” Geoff seemed momentarily taken aback.
“That’s very kind. If you’re sure we won’t be intruding?”
“Not at all. It even means I have an extra pair of hands to carry the litter bag!” Sasha joked. “I look forward to it.”
“Here tomorrow at seven?” Sasha asked. We will be there!”
Geoff ambled off after a bouncing Ruby, Billy’s new friend. Sasha watched them go. Maybe Benji’s latest find would also lead to a friendship for her too.