Chapter no 9



They were Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, I think. Immediately after lunch we’d queue in the corridor, along the wall, craning to see, just ahead, the grub table, piled high with sweets. Munchies, Skittles, Mars Bars and, best of all, Opal Fruits. (I took great offense when Opal Fruits changed their name to Starburst. Pure heresy. Like Britain changing its name.)

Just the sight of that grub table made us swoon. Mouths watering, we’d talk about the impending sugar rush as farmers in a drought talk about a forecast of rain. Meanwhile, I devised a way of super-sizing my sugar rush. I’d take all my Opal Fruits and squeeze them together into one massive gobstopper, then jam it into the side of my mouth. As the wad melted my bloodstream would become a frothy cataract of dextrose. Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might.

The opposite of grub day was letter-writing day. Every boy was required to sit down and compose a missive to his parents. At the best of times this was drudgery. I could barely remember when Pa and Mummy weren’t divorced, so writing to them without touching on their mutual grievances, their messy breakup, required the finesse of a career diplomat.

Dear Pa, How’s Mummy? Hm. No.

Dear Mummy, Pa says you haven’t… No.

But after Mummy disappeared, letter-writing day became impossible.

I’ve been told the matrons asked me to write a “final” letter to Mummy. I have a vague memory of wanting to protest that she was still alive, and yet not doing so, for fear they’d think I was mad. Also, what was the point? Mummy would read the letter when she came out of hiding, so it wouldn’t be a total waste of effort.

I probably dashed off something pro forma, saying I missed her, school was fine, so on and so forth. I probably folded it once and handed it to the matron. I remember, immediately thereafter, regretting that I hadn’t taken the writing more seriously. I wished I’d dug deep, told my mother all the things weighing on my heart, especially my regret over the last time we’d spoken on the phone. She’d called early in the evening, the night of the crash, but I was running around with Willy and my cousins and didn’t want to stop playing. So I’d been short with her. Impatient to get back to my games, I’d rushed Mummy off the phone. I wished I’d apologized for it. I wished I’d searched for the words to describe how much I loved her.

I didn’t know that search would take decades.

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