I remember the first time I saw her, it was mid-March and just before sunset. The door to the barn was thrown open and she stood in the doorway. She could have been no more than three foot six and her bright auburn hair danced around in little circles, kissed and licked by the evening sun. Her name was Lily, she was an impish little Belgium gypsy girl. Her eyes were as wide as saucers as she rushed into the barn.
Lily was not smiling, there were tears gushing from those deep green saucery eyes; eyes that I would come to love more than life itself. Her breathing was ragged and raspy as she slammed the door shut behind her. She raced across the barn, and tripped over a rake and tumbled into a stack of hay bales, scraping her elbows raw on the coarse straw. I still remember her almost childish, voiceless, breathless cries as though it were yesterday.
Lily was looking for somewhere to hide because somebody was chasing her. As she came towards us my mother started barking aggressively, I guess she was trying to protect us but I remember pleading with her to STOP because I could tell that this barking was not going to help Lily; and although in my life I’ve been afraid of many things… I was never ever afraid of Lily
Anyway mother kept barking and Lily kept on running, looking for a place to hide. She ran right past us towards a large old broom cupboard that was leaning against the wall. She jumped into that cupboard and pulled the squeaky broken old door closed to within half an inch. What I did next changed my life forever.
I went to Lily. I wobbled across that room on my little wee puppy legs; I still had four of them at that time remember. There’s always been something about a girl in distress that I can’t resist. Some dogs are born cowards and some dogs are born brave. I may have been small for my age but I had the good fortune to be one of those who was born brave and I would have done anything to help that little girl.
I was half-way across the floor of that barn, when I heard the voice, it is not a voice I will every forget. “Lily. Lily. Where are you?” It was a gravely, old Flemish voice that even then caused a river of shivers to trickle down my spine.
I was so close to the cupboard now that I could see one of Lily frightened green eyes peering out through the crack. Suddenly that eye was looking down right at me; we stared at each other for the longest time. I don’t want to get too romantic or nostalgic on you, but right from that moment there was special knowledge, a mutual understanding that existed between the two of us.
In the background my mother was still barking the house down and I heard the voice again, much closer now almost at the barn door. That was when Lily did something that would change her life forever she opened the barn door and pulled me inside…