Two o’clock of an early March afternoon and into the hurly-burly of the supermarket to buy birthday cards and vegetables. We like the wonky ones and tea in the upstairs cafe. The grandchildren will like the gingerbread men. You can run, run, run as fast as you can…You can’t catch me, I’m the gingerbread man!
A cup of tea and a teacake later, I’m in the lift going down with the trolley while John, as usual, takes the stairs for exercise. Past the Easter eggs and on to the checkouts. I find a seat while veg and cards are counted up and slammed down to make the computer say yes. Then we’re off, past the secondhand books and bubble-gum machine, back towards the car park.
Under the hot fan, through the security bars and out into the cold foyer. A gunmetal grey sky – the same colour as my first high heels – and still the freezing rain on the windows. Past the bin guarding the outside doors and trolley-line, then the cold blast hits me.
My coat is a sort of spring green, like a young cabbage. It keeps me warm all winter and has a feather filling, so I have to dry it with three tennis balls in the washing machine to make it fluffy as well as clean. Ria turned up with it after Dom died – must have been in the winter of 2012 – “…to keep you warm Mum.” Since Ria died, I’ve worn it every day. I fasten the top button and feel for my gloves.
“Hello Leigh. It is Leigh, isn’t it?”
I turn towards the still small voice.
Isolated on a wet sleeping bag and rucksack, with her hands clasped under her chin, looking cold and anxious. Looking very cold. There she is.
“Yes, I’m Leigh. How are you?”
Don’t we ask ridiculous questions when we’re taken aback?
I bend down beside her, looking closely at her face to see who she is. Her skin is pale and her little face framed with tangled black hair. Eyes like small black sepals supporting petals of periwinkle blue and smiling at me.
“Have we met before?”
“Well, you talked to me and I saw your green coat.”
John leans in to us to ask if she’s hungry.
“I’m starving. Coffee and sausage from the hot food counter please.”
She puts her hands hesitantly to her mouth. Not hands warmed by soap and water.
“I’ve forgotten your name,” I venture.
“Where do you sleep Kelly?”
“Werneth Park. It’s my birthday on Monday – March the eighth.”
“How old will you be?”
The hot coffee and sausages lend some warmth as we leave.
Early April now and self-isolated, I can’t get back to her. Kelly stays close in my mind. Just twenty years younger than Ria and fearless as a pirate beauty.
Stay safe. But where’s home?