When we were kids, Dad used to say “And you don’t take a shower in the high street,” whenever we did something patently stupid. It became a family phrase, one of those private idioms that you take for granted between yourselves, but which raise an eyebrow or a question when used with strangers.
What I loved most about the phrase though, was how it made Mum laugh whenever he said it. She didn’t laugh much, and very rarely indeed at anything Dad said. That phrase, and whatever history had created it, sometimes felt like the glue holding their marriage together.
Walking on the high street is daunting. The signs, the chatter, it’s all alien. I understand so little, and nothing is familiar. I long for home, even knowing I can never go back.
It gets worse when I learn a few words: sound combinations that stick in my throat and taste strange on my tongue. I am certain I’m saying them all wrong. People cast glances to their friends, ask me to repeat myself, tut and mutter “bloody immigrants”.
I shrink just a little more each time, longing for a place that no longer exists. A place where I belong.
I saw something the other day, that said “respect staff who don’t speak perfect English, most of us would have neither the skill nor the courage to take a job in a language that wasn’t our first.” As an immigrant myself, I cannot imagine moving to a country where I not only had another culture and accent, but a whole different language (or linguistic system in some cases). Brenda’s beautiful photograph fills me with that sense of foreign, and respect for those people who choose to or are forced to come here and must feel similarly daunted… but make it through and thrive.
School closed, then opened, then closed for 8 weeks,
Then opened again; the future looked bleak –
For the old woman, because every time one kid got croup,
She’d to keep them all home – which threw her for a loop,
She had only 2 children, one dog, a cat,
But it felt like a dozen to the poor old bat,
And the longer it went on the battier she grew
In her 3-bedroom house that felt like a shoe.
Extroduction – don’t read this, I’m just ranting.
Tricky day today. After finally getting the kids back to school in mid-February, I felt like I might get some sense of normality back. Some chance to ramp up work and start earning money again, to put the house back to rights, to lose the lockdown weight, to regain my sanity and theirs. Last week, S got a cold. We staved off the croup that threatened with it, but still had to keep them both home for the rest of the week pending covid tests. Negative. All clear. Back to school Monday and I felt the hope rising again, then yesterday lunchtime the call came – positive case in D’s class. Come and pick them both up. They could be home up to 2 weeks. Just in time for “March break” for a week from 12 April. After which we have no guarantee that schools will reopen.
I’m bracing myself for having them home now until September. For the loss of time and work and sanity for me, for the loss of education, socialisation and sanity for them. I know we have so much to be grateful for, I know it could be so much worse and I know that we will make the best of it. But that’s the back story of today’s post and why I’m sure the gingerbread woman is hiding tears behind her painted on smile.
Lucy shivered. The afternoon had brought snow, but it was the darkness that chilled her. Streetlamp shadows crept through the trees around her, occasionally rustling.
On the path ahead, she noticed a figure clutching an umbrella and an armful of parcels. Lucy’s mind began to calculate. Company could be reassuring, but how many girls had been trapped by an apparent saviour? Better, perhaps, to remain in his wake.
She hadn’t decided, when he happened to glance over his shoulder and saw her. The surprise made him drop his parcels, and Lucy had no choice but to rush over and help.
They met each night beneath the banyan tree under his hotel balcony; their young bodies entwined like its endless roots. He quoted Romeo and Juliet and she wondered if there could be anything more romantic than forbidden love. But a week later, only his initials remained, carved beside hers on the thickest of the spindly stems. She borrowed the book and read to the end. The fate of her Verona self shocked her. Was love just a death sentence? She swore off boys and returned to her studies. Junior High was too important to miss.
“Miss Rudy says I should audition. She says I might enjoy it. She says being in a play is like becoming somebody else. But I don’t know. What if I forget all my lines? Or fall over? And one of the girls you have to kiss a boy at the end.”
Mrs Mwanna is doing that thing where she wanders around muttering and you don’t know if she’s listening or not. Sometimes she is, but this time I know she wasn’t because she looks right at me and says “You’ll never enjoy swimming if you’re busy looking out for jellyfish.”
“I love talking.” Mum would say, “And he listens better now, especially when he’s got his pipe.” A lifelong non-smoker, Mum had cleaned and refilled that pipe every day since Dad’s death, then placed it unlit on top of the blue carved box that held his ashes. A habit of devotion.
Maria stared at the pipe and box and wondered what she should do with them now. Should she add Mum’s ashes to the box, or scatter them somewhere together?
Maria emptied the pipe into the bin. The tobacco smelled like Mum. She opened the pouch to fill it again.
Lyla woke with a start. The room was dark and quiet. Gentle breathing from her left the only thing to hang onto. The world wasn’t ending.
She wrapped herself in a blanket and padded into the next room. The baby was sleeping soundly, her mouth slightly open, her face calm. Lyla’s mind spiked again with the vision of that same face contorted in terror, dropping away into the abyss and her own arms reaching desperately through the air.
Lyla’s face touched the baby’s hair as she climbed into the crib. “You caught me,” she whispered, finally able to relax again.
Louise remembered all too well that telltale red stain on Ayah’s white pants last week… the looks, the comments. She felt bad now, for laughing along. She stumbled into the washroom, and crashed onto the seat. It didn’t numb the pain, but it still brought relief. The sanitary pad her Mom gave her this morning had worked; there was no blood on her pants or underwear. Safe.
She reached for toilet paper and her hand hit metal. An empty roll. Louise began to cry.
She heard her name from outside the stall. “You OK?” Ayah whispered, “Do you need anything?”
NOTE: As ever, I’d love to hear your feedback – this week, if you have any ideas about the title in particular. I’m not thrilled with it, but couldn’t settle on anything better.
Everyone’s eyes were red. Someone she didn’t know touched Daddy’s arm, then pulled away like he was fire. Melanie stared at a water bottle someone left on a pew.
Daddy was in the pulpit, talking. Melanie couldn’t hear him, her ears were stuffed with rabbit fur.
Mrs Mwanna was staring at Jesus and muttering, which was funny, because Mrs Mwanna didn’t believe. What was she saying to Him? Was she telling him off? Melanie wanted to tell him off too, but she didn’t want to be smited. She needed Jesus to be on her side right now. More than ever.
Extroduction: For those who haven’t followed this blog since the dawn of time, Melanie is a recurring character. Melanie is around 8 years old. Her family attend a Christian church with a fire and brimstone priest. Mrs Mwanna is her wonderful, non-Christian neighbour. Her Mother has terminal cancer. Melanie’s story is one of her trying to reconcile her faith and the teachings of her church with the realities of her experiences. Where this particular clip fits in, is for your imagination to decide.