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XXVI
THE FIG TREE


After that particular supper where Tommy surprised me with his words, the morning discovered me curled up in the tartan blankets, much quicker than I would have expected. The physical and mental exhaustion of having left my whole life behind me so suddenly took its toll, and as soon as I put my head on the pillow, I fell into a deep sleep.

When I opened my eyes, I saw that I was alone on the cot, and as I sat up, the cold embraced me, and I felt how much I missed the warmth of Thomas's body beside me. As I hadn't brought a change of clothes with me, I had to sleep in my underwear, and when I got up I covered myself with a blanket so as not to succumb to the cold outside.

I climbed out of the caravan, covering my face. The sun bothered me and the twigs on the ground dug into my bare feet.

"Good morning".

Arms wrapped around me from behind before I could even open my eyes. I felt Thomas's lips on my neck.

"Good morning, Tommy", I greeted him hoarsely.

"I'd ask you how you slept, but I know you slept wonderfully well", he said mockingly. "You snored all night".

I forced myself to look at him furiously, even though the sunlight burned my eyes.

"I don't snore", I said, annoyed. "And it's not the first time we've slept together, so if I snored, you'd have told me by now".

"It never ceases to amaze me how easy it is to make a woman angry", said Thomas. He was barefoot like me, and his nightshirt covered his chest. The braces clung to the fabric of his trousers. "Just tell them they snore or they have a moustache and they'll have reason enough to kill you", he lit a cigarette.

"You're in a very good mood today", I scanned him with my eyes as he picked up something he had left resting on a rock and, before I could identify what kind of fruit it was, tossed it to me.

"It's a fig", Thomas said after I had barely caught it. "I found a fig tree a couple of feet from the caravan, which is strange. The fig tree is not a native tree; it had to be planted", I heard concern in his voice.

"What does that mean?"

"It means that someone else lives on this land", he explained. "Someone rooted enough to this soil to take the trouble to plant a tree". Tommy took a puff on his cigar. "We have to get out of here", he concluded.

Lost in thought, he circled a couple of times around the remains of the campfire that had warmed us the night before. I, for my part, caressed the purplish skin of the fruit and began to peel it with a certain sadness: I had loved the place and, although it was too close to the border with England, I didn't perceive any danger in it. The particular taste of the fig intoxicated my taste buds with its sweetness and I approached the waters of the river, still chewing.

I freed myself from the blanket, my blouse and undergarments, and dipped my feet in the icy water. The cicadas were chirping in the trees.

"Ollie?", Thomas called me when he saw I was reluctantly stepping further and further into the river.

As I turned my face away, I saw him gazing at me with astonishment and almost admiration.

"I need to take a bath", I said as I felt my breath catch in my throat from the cold.

Thomas flicked what was left of his cigarette into the grey ash and removed his braces, shirt and trousers with impressive speed.

"Me too", he concluded, finally stripping down to his underpants.

He dove headfirst into the water, splashing me in the process and making me groan. When he appeared at my side, he grabbed me by the waist and pulled me close to him. Without a sentence, he pressed his cheek to mine and we stayed like that for a couple of seconds, feeling the river flow around us and our heartbeats seeming to synchronise.

"I'm a millionaire and I have a mansion, Ollie". Suddenly, he began to speak. His deep voice caressed my earlobe. "A fucking mansion, and I've never been as happy in any of its fucking rooms as I am on this river".

I stroked the back of his neck and replied with that gesture. I knew Thomas didn't need me to tell him anything and that I was simply enough for him with a demonstration of affection and understanding.

Before he kissed me, he looked me in the eyes and slid his hands from my lower back to my thighs, lifting them and inviting me to wrap my legs around him. We melted into a quiet kiss that soon gave way to vehemence as we were both aware of each other's arousal.

With his chin resting on the junction of my collarbones, Thomas pushed inside me and I felt a warm sigh brush my neck. We gazed at each other as we gave ourselves to pleasure, and the coldness that initially overwhelmed me was replaced by the warmth of passion.

It was the second time we had indulged in such a union and I can say with certainty that, although the two experiences were extremely different, they both coincided in the level of devotion and the amount of things Thomas was able to transmit to me using only his hoarse gasps and eager caresses.

Thomas leaned his head on my shoulder and tightened his embrace even more to gather momentum as the need clamoured for him to accelerate his thrusts. I gave him that right and helped him by twisting my legs around his hips.

It was at the exact moment when I felt myself climaxing that I caught a glimpse of a figure on the riverbank, watching us. At first, I thought I had mistaken a tree branch for a human silhouette, but dread contracted all my muscles as I identified that what the sight was returning to me was real: a stooped, lanky old man, leaning on a long wooden pole, stared at us over the side of what had been our campfire, eyes narrowed and gaping, utterly bewildered.

"Tom!", I shouted to get his attention and tried to stop him. Unfortunately for me, Thomas was dazed with lust and interpreted my exclamation and the tension in my body as a sign that I was reaching orgasm.

"Ah, Ollie", Thomas replied in a grunt, not ceasing his thrusts.

"No, Tom! There's someone... watching us!"

As if I had activated some kind of mechanism, Thomas stopped moving and looked towards the bank, ready to strike. When he caught a glimpse of the old man, he turned away from me and started to climb out of the river.

"What the fuckā€¦?", I heard him mutter between his teeth.

The old man took a few steps back when he saw Thomas approaching him, furious and naked. With water up to my chin and my face hot with embarrassment, I got as close as I could, in case I had to stop Thomas from doing something crazy.

I heard the old man paraphrasing nonsense and for a moment I thought he was insane. I soon realised that he was speaking in another language and, to my surprise, Thomas seemed to understand him. It was not Welsh, for I knew what Welsh sounded like.

Thomas covered himself from the waist down with the blanket I had left lying on the floor and answered the old man in that strange language. He no longer looked angry, but rather sympathetic, and nodded his head frantically as if demonstrating his understanding of something. Then he pointed at me and pointed at the caravan; the old man let out a friendly laugh and Thomas smiled at him.

I didn't know what the hell was going on and it made me very nervous.

The old man retreated, losing himself in the thicket of trees. Thomas beckoned me out of the water and with some trepidation, fearing that the old pervert was still lurking in the bushes, I climbed out, taking cover as my hands would allow.

"It's all right. He's gone", Thomas took off his blanket and draped it over my shoulders.

"Who was that man?", I asked, still embarrassed.

"The one who planted the fig tree", Thomas could barely contain his laughter. "I told you people lived here. He is the patriarch of a family of gypsies who settled here years ago. Apparently he noticed that his tree was missing figs and then he knew there was someone else hanging around".

I let all the air out of my lungs, a victim of the concern.

"I still don't understand. What does the fact that he's camping nearby have to do with the fact that he's watching us?"

Seeing Thomas shrug his shoulders indifferently, my anger increased.

"He's a poor old man. Maybe he's so blind that he thought what he saw in the water was some kind of aquatic creature, or maybe he's so lonely that discovering a couple fucking in the river brings back certain memories". He looked around for his clothes. "I'd love to pick up where we left off, Ollie, but we have to go now. The man doesn't want us on his territory".

"He was very nice to you", I said. "At least from what his face showed me, because I didn't understand a bloody thing he said". I dried my body with the blanket and started to get dressed.

I was annoyed by Thomas's impassivity at the fact that someone had been watching us perform such an intimate act. I was annoyed that the old man had appeared just as I was reaching ecstasy, interrupting it and depriving me of that satisfaction. And it made me very angry that I couldn't continue what had been half-finished.

"We were speaking Shelta", Thomas filled me in. "Our language". He took a cigarette and was already dressed.

"You'd better teach me Shelta, Thomas", I attacked and headed towards the caravan. "Don't you think it's ridiculous that a 'gypsy princess' doesn't recognise her own dialect?". I heard him chuckle before I pushed the curtains aside.

The rest of the day was spent in riding, moving further and further into Wales and thus away from England. We stopped for the same meal we had eaten the night before and continued our journey, first through a vast forest whose ground could be dangerous for the horses, then across long green meadows. On the horizon I identified mountains whose bluish silhouette blended with the midday sky.

Night came and with it, our need to camp. We stopped in a clearing, which was in the middle of a not very leafy grove surrounded by a stream. The moon was shining brightly in the sky, and as Thomas boiled water in a saucepan, I decided to talk.

"How do you think they took our escape?I asked.

"Badly", Thomas began plucking a quail he had caught when we had stopped for lunch.

"I know, but how badly?". I snatched the bird from him as I realised he was struggling too much with it. He was a hunter but not a cook. I began to remove the feathers. "Do you think they'll do anything?".

"Do what, Ollie?", Thomas shrugged. "We could be anywhere".

"I have a feeling, Tom", I said. "I'm sure they'll find us. The escape was too impulsive, we didn't think it through. We probably left something behind that will lead them to us".

"It was impulsive for you", Thomas corrected me. For a moment he looked almost offended. "In my case, I've been planning this since I got back from Small Heath that night". He wouldn't let me speak. "Yes, I know what you're asking yourself: 'why?' and I'm saying, 'why not?'". Thomas smiled to himself. "Ada once told me that the day I was killed she'd put that on my tombstone: 'Tommy Shelby. Why not?'". He shook his head as if he suddenly wanted to forget about his sister. "I had nothing tying me to Birmingham, Ollie. Nothing".

"Not even your business?", I had to ask. "Not even your children?", I insisted.

"I had been considering leaving the Peaky Blinders for quite some time but, as I told you once, I was prevented from doing so by the fact it was the only thing I knew. I was born into a family of gangsters. I was brought up to be a mobster and it's the only thing I know how to do. As for my children...". Suddenly he stopped talking as if his throat was lumped in knots.

"You didn't want to leave them", I concluded.

"But I couldn't bring them with me either. What kind of life would they have in the middle of nowhere, with no home, no education? I know this, Ollie, and I'm an adult. They are children born in a mansion. To take away everything they know would be selfish".

"So, why?", I wanted to know.

"What do you mean?" Thomas reached for his cap and pulled out a razor from inside it. He held it up to me and looked me in the eye. "Are you gutting it or am I?", he asked about the quail.

I accepted the razor with determination. For a second I was offended that Thomas wanted to spare me even having to clean the inside of a bird.

"I mean, why did you give it all up", I explained. "I didn't want to dig too deep when you suggested we run away because I really thought it was a decision taken lightly and I too was carried away by the impulse, the emotion of the moment and the knowledge of what you were capable of doing for me. Now you tell me you planned well in advance and I want to know why, of all the options, running away seemed the right one".

"The other option was to being and to stay as we were, Olivia". He put a cigarette to his lips and lit it. "Me being what I was, living the shitty life I was living, and you suffering because of it, knowing you'd never be anything more than my mistress, putting your life on the line for a man who can't even divorce a woman he doesn't love for you".

The razor slipped on the flesh when I heard him say that and I inadvertently cut the tip of my left thumb. I jumped and Thomas immediately realised what had happened. He came over to me and inspected the wound.

As Thomas wrapped his handkerchief around my finger, I replayed his words in my mind at least two hundred times and, taking him by surprise, I kissed him. Rather confused, Thomas responded to the kiss. At some point I can't recognise now, perhaps because I was intoxicated with joy and desire, I put the remains of the quail aside and we began to undress.

The only thing that comes to mind now, and which was, in my case, the point where the memories come back, is the tingling sensation of his lips on my right breast and the stinging of the grass on my bare back as he laid me on the ground.

"Are we far from the fig tree?", I asked jocularly, as Thomas positioned himself on top of me and pushed my legs apart.

"Very far away", he assures me, kissing my neck. "Far away from the fig tree. Far away from Birmingham. Far away from everything".

Thomas entered my sex with a brutality he didn't bother to camouflage and without any kind of protection.

And while he was fucking me under the starry sky, I prayed to the moon above me not to conceive a child that night because, it was no longer about giving birth to the child of a mobster who was also a married man, but about how terrible it would be for me to give birth in a caravan far from any medical care.

The sounds of the night merged with our gasps and exclamations, and I swear I didn't need anything else at that moment. Although I had begun to miss the comforts that came with a home, Thomas's caresses and affection seemed enough to make up for those luxuries.

As he climaxed, he looked into my eyes and allowed me to witness his expression contract and relax in a second, his eyelids dropping in ecstasy and a deep, agonised moan leaving his throat. I recognised the warmth inside me and stroked his chin in delight.

Suddenly, still on top of me, Thomas turned his head and looked over his shoulders into the darkness of the night.

"Ah, it's that old geezer again".

"What?!", alarmed, I shook and tried my best to cover myself with something.

Then I heard Thomas guffaw and felt my cheeks light up with both shame and anger.

"Did you really think he was here?"

"How should I know?", I turned away from Thomas. "Perverts will do anything".

"I know, Ollie. I defended him once, but if he was really spying on us again, I wouldn't hesitate to shoot him". Thomas stood up and walked over to the pan where the water was boiling. "You didn't finish cleaning the bird," he observed. "The water will evaporate before it's fully cooked".

I didn't answer as I had been thinking about something. Thomas watched me for a few seconds with narrowed eyes, as if he knew I was going to make a proposal and, for that reason, I think he decided to keep quiet instead of asking.

"Tom, I want you to teach me how to use a gun", I said.

"No", the denial was emphatic. "You don't need it".

"Don't I need it, you say?", I questioned, annoyed.

"You have me, and that's enough for you", Thomas was blunt in his words and didn't want to give me a chance to protest.

"What if one day I'm alone? You know very well that has already happened", I said. It was practically impossible for me to forget what had happened with Mosley in my secretariat.

"If you'd had a gun when Mosley attacked you, you'd be on your way to the gallows by now", Thomas said, and I bit my lower lip as I realised he was right. "You have no idea of the responsibility that comes with wielding a gun".

"Do you think me irresponsible?", I asked, standing up. He seemed distracted by my nakedness. "Tom, I'm not going to go around shooting people. I just want to learn".

Thomas sighed and looked up at the sky, as if begging for patience.

"God, you're stubborn".

"Is that a yes?", I approached him provocatively and put my arms around him.

"No. It's not a 'yes', it's a 'I don't want to deal with your bad mood tomorrow morning' ", Thomas tried to sound sullen, but he kissed my neck gently.

"I think you're more afraid of me not letting you fuck me". I acknowledged his hands cupping my buttocks.

"Well, I won't deny it". He looked me in the eye and, with a haughty half-smile, shrugged his shoulders. "It must be torture to sleep with you and not being able to fuck you".