First there was an atmosphere.
Then a few short words. Looks. Then some vigorous chest-poking.
"Go fuck yourself." The words cut through the air.
I (one of several others) put my head down, ashamed at my cowardly unwillingness to get involved.
I discussed this and the subsequent events with Len the Fish in the Village Pub later on. "That wasn't the sort of thing I really expected," he mused, "when you persuaded me to take up playing bowls."
"I'm still not clear how it all kicked off," I shrugged.
Len the Fish launched in to a long explanation that didn't make things measurably clearer. His dog listened dutifully; beside me, Eddie perched on a stool, supped his beer and laughed.
Gaps appeared behind the bar, where the Well-Spoken Barman and the Unfeasibly Tall Barman used to stand. They had left during my absence from the village, like traitors and worms. The conversation moved on to the weekend's big village party, which I'd missed due to removal duties and not being entirely sure whether I was invited. Everybody had had a good time without me.
I wondered whether to stay for another pint. It seemed that I had been away for so long - eight months going on fifteen years. There were some faces in the bar that I did not recognise. New chairs and décor had appeared.
The pint appeared in front of me anyway, via the Chipper Barman's automatic pint system. Four more, and I was strolling down the road, gazing in wonder at the stars.
Past the memorial, past Eddie's and Tall Alf's, down towards the cottage, walking in the middle of the road because it's more fun that way. The air entered my lungs, like air should. I took it in with deep happy breaths.
Wherever you go in the world, there is never, ever, ever, anything better than being at home (unless you live somewhere really shit).