This is a real-life story that I wrote a few days ago. As I’m terribly busy for the next week, I thought I’d post this piece, but I hope to write a more up-to-date post when I can. This is rather long, so I would be very grateful if you could take the time to read it. Thank you ~ Ellie x
I missed her terribly, but not a word had been uttered about her disappearance from home or, more painfully, from my life, leaving me in limbo and feeling very vulnerable.
Instead, there was a strange woman who’d taken the place of my mother. She got me up in the morning, gave me breakfast and ushered me out the front door to begin my short journey to school. I was told to call her Auntie Vera, but at eight years old, I silently objected to calling a perfect stranger my Auntie. She was bossy, with straight grey hair swept back off her face in a bun. She wore my Mum’s blue and white checked pinny around her thick waist. I wanted to say that the pinny belonged to my Mum, and I didn’t want this total stranger wearing it. It wasn’t hers, after all, but I didn’t dare risk a scolding from this sharp-tongued woman. Auntie Vera became the only person I saw every morning. There was, as usual, no sign of my father, who always left early for work at the upholstery factory with not as much as a ‘good morning’ or a ‘goodbye.’
At breakfast, I sat at the small Formica table while Auntie Vera pulled down the flap on the front of the sage green kitchen cabinet to get the porridge oats. She tipped a large spoonful into an aluminium pan, added boiling water and a pinch of salt and left it to cook for a few minutes. Then she dished out two large steaming dollops into my bowl. I didn’t like it; it wasn’t like my Mum used to make. Auntie Vera’s porridge was so thick and gloopy that my spoon could nearly stand up in it, and it made me feel sick it. I so wished my Mum was here, but there was still no explanation about what had happened to her. My mind wandered, and I shivered as I wondered if she had died, but no one had told me. I missed her so much, and the thought of her never returning upset and scared me. I choked back my tears and forced my porridge down.
That day, after school, I trudged home reluctantly, knowing grumpy Auntie Vera would greet me. Earlier in the day, I’d been told off for daydreaming in class. I so wanted my Mum to be the one to open the front door and reach her arms out to hug me and ask me if I’d had a good day. But it was only a dream, and I was met by this ill-tempered woman still wearing my Mum’s pinny. I felt cross, but I didn’t dare say anything.
A couple of hours later, I was very surprised to hear my father opening the front door with his heavy keys. He wasn’t usually home at this time. He told me to go and brush my knotty brown hair and to put on my best dress and smartest school shoes. I did as I was told, as I feared being reprimanded by him. He led me to his black Morris Minor outside our house. I clambered into the back seat while my father sat at the wheel, lighting up his foul-smelling pipe as always. The plumes of smoke wafted into the back of the car
. It made me feel sick. I was glad when he pulled up in front of a large building and got out. I had no idea where we were or what this building was.
My father roughly took my hand as I climbed out of the car, and he led me into the building, and then up two flights of stairs. I wondered where we were going and what we were doing there. We turned through a door on the left and were met by a nurse. I was confused; why had we come to a hospital? We were taken through a set of double doors, which the nurse unlocked for us to enter. As we did, I was confronted by two long rows of hospital beds, one on each side of the ward. I could hear loud, muddled voices and the occasional shout or scream. People in nightgowns walked about the ward, many muttering to themselves. A nasty strong smell of urine permeated the air. I was scared and didn’t understand why we were here with all these strange people.
Suddenly, a small bearded man in pyjamas shuffled nearer and reached out to me. My father pulled me away sharply and continued to walk the length of the hospital ward. I glanced around, and as we almost reached the end, I was shocked to see my Mum sitting in a chair next to one of the beds on the righthand side. She didn’t look like she did at home. She was pale, thin, and dressed in a pink hospital nightie and grey woollen socks. As we reached her, she didn’t appear to recognise me, so I leaned over to her and planted a kiss on her cheek. She didn’t smell like my Mum. She smelt of TCP – the same liquid Mum added to a pan of my father’s dirty hankies that often boiled in an old saucepan.
My father walked to the far end of the ward and returned with two folded-up wooden chairs. Sitting on the neatly-made beds wasn’t allowed. This was my Mum, yet I was lost for words to say to her. My father said very little, too, so I sat, upset and uncomfortable. Mum didn’t attempt to make any conversation, but she stared vacantly into space for much of the time. I didn’t understand why she wasn’t looking at me or talking to me. It was only many years later that I discovered that my Mum had had ECT treatment, which delivers an electric shock to the brain and is meant to help get a person back into a less-depressed state. Instead, it seemed to have left her confused and drowsy, unable to speak to us properly. The longer we sat there, the more distraught I felt. I wanted to go home but, at the same time, I wanted to stay with my Mum. I was frightened that I might never see her again if we left.
Finally, a loud bell rang, signalling the end of visiting time. My father got up, returned our chairs and told me we were leaving. I waved at my Mum, but she didn’t respond.
Would I ever see my Mum again? What if she could never talk to me again?
I felt a chill running the length of my spine as I once again wondered whether she would die in the hospital and never come home. Tears were running down my cheeks, and I let out a quiet sob.
“Stop snivelling, you wretched child,” my father ordered. The ward doors were slammed and locked behind us, and I quickly wiped my tears away as we continued down the two flights of stairs.
We climbed into my father’s car and drove the short journey home. On arrival, my father turned the keys in the lock; we were greeted by Auntie Vera in my Mum’s pinny again. She noticed my tear-stained face and spoke to my father, demanding to know whether I’d be causing any trouble. I always seemed to be in trouble with this woman. I didn’t want her there; I desperately wanted my Mum to come home again.
Weeks went by. Dad was rarely home in those days, so I was left to the mercy of Auntie Vera, still wearing my Mum’s pinny. I wanted to snatch it away from her, but I wasn’t brave enough. She would have certainly told my father; then, I’d be in for a good hiding, like many times before.
I ran to my room, burst through the door, and threw myself onto my bed, grasping my bear, Peter, for comfort. It was cold in my room, so I slipped under my pea-green woollen blanket to keep warm. I knew I’d be in trouble if I were caught, so I lay there, hardly daring to breathe and hoped that I’d hear Auntie Vera coming up the stairs in good time to jump up and tidy up my bed so she wouldn’t know I’d been lazy.
It wasn’t long before I began to feel hungry, but it was time for Auntie Vera to go home, so as usual, she took me to the next-door neighbour’s house. It was the same routine every evening. The family cared for me until my father got home from his regular visit to the pub after he’d finished work.
The neighbours were called Auntie Rose and Uncle Mohajit. I enjoyed playing with their two children, who were ten and eight, but I didn’t like the food they had for dinner, which was often chicken or mutton curry and rice. I wasn’t keen on spicy food; Mum never cooked anything like that. I didn’t dare make a fuss and had to force it down, hating every mouthful. Occasionally, I came across a gristly piece of meat. I tried chewing and chewing, but I just couldn’t swallow it for fear it would get stuck in my throat, making me sick. I knew better than to spit it out.
Everyone else had finished their meal and left the table, but Auntie Rose instructed me not to leave until I’d eaten everything. They all went into the living room while I sat there, desperately wishing the lump of gristle would disappear. I looked around the dining room with my mind wandering in different directions. Did I have enough courage to bury this lumpy bit of meat in one of the flowerpots? I could dig a hole in the earth, and perhaps, no one would ever know. Or could I sneak out and give it to their tabby cat when no one was looking?
After a while, although terrified of being caught, I tiptoed silently to the large rubber plant in a heavy clay flowerpot. My heart was thumping hard as I carefully dug a hole in the soil with my finger. I spat the gristle into my hand, quickly pushed it firmly into the hole, and covered it with the remaining earth. I returned to the table briefly, feeling guilty about deceiving the family. I gradually caught my breath again and waited for my heart to stop beating so hard.
Should I join the family in the living room? I wondered whether they would somehow know what I’d done. I knew I’d been in terrible trouble if I were to be found out. I walked hesitantly towards the living room door, knocked softly and waited to be let in. As the door opened, the whole family stared at me. Now, I knew I was in serious trouble and was sure my father would be told, and I would receive a beating. Oh, how I wished my Mum would come home again. It would be several weeks before that happened, and in the meantime, my nightmare continued …