Summer in the city

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This morning’s tour of duty; boy’s room first, open the blinds.  Nearly a teen and he’s still my baby boy, my puppy dog.  Two weeks today since I last saw him.  He’s off round Europe in a motorhome, playing Max to his dad’s Paddy. Not long till the weekend is my mantra.

But for now, I’m alone.  Girl in Africa, boy in Europe.  Sister on some island in the Med, friend in Scandinavia.  Utterly alone.  Even Les next door has escaped to Blackpool for a few nights.  In general, I think I do quite fine with alone, but these are testing times and I’m feeling kinda forlornely.

I consider taking Regina’s advice and finding a protest, to rub up against strangers; but this is a tiny city and its best offering is a rerun of Macbeth at the independent cinema. I settle, it’s ok.  Reminds me of when my boy nudges and says come watch the rugby with me, Mum; I get the gist but not the finer points and when I tire of concentrating, the scenery is easy on the eye.

Back at the car park pay-station, I find my plastic park-card and hold it out ready to slot it in, but there is no slot.  I wave it around in hope.

Just hold it up there, duck, where them three lights are.  A head peeks out from under the paymachine and a grimy finger points up to guide me.  Right up there – look, says the crosslegged imp, patiently.

Right, thanks I say.  I show the card to the buttons and like a jackpot in reverse, they flash rainbows and tell me how much to pay.  I feed a note into the machine and it spews out a few paltry coins, which I press into the grubby hands below.  Spend it wisely, I counsel, I hear wet wipe washes are the way forward.

Walking to the car, my phone rings.  My boy tells me he will be home in about an hour.

But you’re not coming home till the weekend.

Change of plan.

Well, that’s great, but couldn’t you have let me know?

I told you Monday didn’t I?

No, you said the weekend.

Hmmm… oh yeah, I wrote it on the postcard.

I see.  And when did you send the postcard?

Well, I couldn’t find anywhere to post it.

So, you’re bringing me the postcard that you wrote to tell me you’re coming home?

I could hear his grin, the sweetheart.

*

*

Missing my daughter

I close the curtains and breathe the air.

I sit on my daughter’s empty bed and close my eyes.  I see a tiny girl in a high chair.  She wears a tangerine playsuit, her dark hair is split into short, mischievous bunches, and she is play-frowning as she sits waiting for me to make her peanut butter sandwiches.  As a toddler, she had beautifully expressive feet: oh, how indignant they could be, and again so joyful.  She smiles at me as she theatrically furrows her brow, but the angle of those feet; the tension in them, let me know that a real tantrum is not far behind if I don’t hasten.  Just in time, the sandwiches are served and the feet relax; a first bite and her toes wiggle happily along with her jaw.

Always so independent, she developed her own individual smell from an early age.  Now older, stronger-willed and even more contrary, the perfume of her in this room seems to grow more powerful the longer she is away.  Or maybe I just breathe deeper.

It was two weeks ago that she sent her last, nervous, text before flying off to spend three weeks on the plains and deserts of southern Africa with a group of people she’d not met before; it is another nine days before I see her again.  In the meantime, we glean what we can from the weekly group-blog.  The first was heartening; we’re here safely, evenings are spent singing round the campfire and stargazing (generally speaking, the only stargazing my daughter does is watching TOWIE, but first for everything and all that).  The second was slightly more unsettling; we’re off trekking in search of elephants, it’s up to 40º most days and there are no showers – wet wipe washes are the way forward.  And while someone’s son is living on Tabasco sauce, someone’s daughter is a natural breadmaker and someone else’s snores, my daughter – after a week – spoke.

Next update is due tomorrow.

You win some…

I am driving my daughter to the nurse, for a jab that will delay the onset of mouth-foaming should she pick a fight with a rabid dog on her trip to Africa.  We wait at a red light on the way to the surgery.  Beyond the traffic lights, on the opposite corner, two narrow upstairs windows have compost bags for black-out blinds.  Between the plastic and the glass, blotch-leaved tomato plants wither in the glower of the sun.

Below, two red stripy poles hang outside the blind-shuffled windows of a barber’s shop.  A young girl – looks the same age as my daughter – pushes herself off from the barber’s door-frame and onto the street.  She is wearing tight black jeans and a big red sweatshirt with just do it written across the front, and she is swaying.  The girl attaches herself to a passing man, steadies herself on his arm, talks as they cross the road.  He doesn’t reply, and when they are back on the pavement, he pushes her away.  As she totters down the side-road, he stands on the corner, hands on hips, watching, and when she stumbles into a cluster of bins, he shouts.  She turns round, the lights turn green, he holds out his arms.   I drive off, not knowing if his arms were spread in exasperation, compassion, or acceptance of a proposition.

The receptionist tells us to take a seat.  My daughter sits, and looks fiercely at me.  She knows I have issues with sitting in waiting rooms; it seems to me like surrender.

Sit, mother.

I stand next to her.

Mother, sit.

Let’s sit at the back then.

I sit in the middle of the back row, and she stomps to join me.

Why couldn’t you just sit at the front?

When we came last week, that chair had urine on it.

People are going to think you have serious problems upstairs if you carry on like this.  Especially when you wear those ridiculous shades.

We sit in seething silence until her name is called.

*

That evening, as I am driving my son home from rugby practise, we see an old man clutch the wall, fall to his knees and lie down on the pavement.

My son and I look at each other.

Do you think he’s ok? I ask.

He’s still looking at me as I stop the car.

What should we do? I ask.

My son looks back to the distant lump on the pavement.

Should we check? I ask.

Yes, he says.

I turn the car around and drive back.  As we pull up, a man and his son walk round the corner.  They look at the old man, who is now curled up, hands tucked under serenely sleeping head.

Alright Derek, says the man.

Do you know him, is he alright? I ask.

We all know him round here.  Derek, you alright mate?

Derek opens an eye.

Are you alright, Derek? I ask.

He sits up.

Am I alright? he asks.  No I’m fucking not alright.  Shall I tell you for why, shall I?

Anyway, always nice to see you Derek, says the man with his son, but we’re a bit late for.

They walk on.

Derek stands.

Are you sure you’re okay?  Should I ring an ambulance?

Yes, ring the fucking ambulance, I want them here, and the fucking police too, get them all here, I’ll tell them fuckers.  I’ll tell them all, the fuckers.

As he speaks, he moves closer to the car, to the open window where my son is sitting.

Glad to see you’re feeling better Derek, take care, I shout as I wind up the window.  I drive off and in my mirror I see him settle down to sleep again.

We drive in silence for minutes, until my son says we did the right thing, Mum and we smile and he tells me about the awesome army guy who made them run ten times round the pitch and do a hundred press-ups.

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