Saturday, 30 June 2012

A work of fiction: Chapter 1

The last two years have been the craziest of my life.  It started with my mum taking the riskiest, stupidest ever career change, and my dad letting her.  I was like: OK, fine, but where does this leave me?  Dad was staying at home in the suburban semi so you'd think that would be a good place for me to be, too – close to my friends, easy bus route to school, walking distance to shops.  Suddenly all these things I depended on so much would be snatched from under me when I went on tour with Mum.  She's a comedian.  Or she's supposed to be – I don't find her funny.  Although I did laugh when she told me I'd be leaving everything behind to go with her.  Turns out that one wasn't meant to be a joke.

You'd think living in hotel rooms and staying up late to go to shows would be fun.  To begin with, it was, but being left all day with people you hardly know isn't.

At first I kept in touch with my friends all the time.  Then my phone ran out of battery while we were staying in a caravan at a festival.  Since then I haven't been good at keeping in touch.  Occasionally I'll find my charger, and boot up the laptop or charge up the phone, but I need to keep the line free for Mum and Dad.  When we have signal.

When I stopped using my phone and laptop so much, I got into reading.  I read loads.  I read all the books I had with me.  Then I had nothing else left to read.  I was no longer a reader.  I needed a new thing.

When we were staying in a big city, I'd go to the cinema.  We staying in one place for two weeks.  I went to the cinema every day.  I saw every film that was out at the time.  And I ran out of money.  Money was getting tight, with the shows not going as well as expected, so I wasn't allowed to go to the cinema any more.

I needed a new thing.  A new thing that didn't cost any money.

One day I went out for a walk.  It felt good.  We were staying near a big park.  I stomped through the crunchy, brown leaves in my comfy, brown boots.  A dog came up to say hello, before it was called back to its owner.  Then I felt lonely.  I had no friends, no home and almost no family.  I never saw my dad, I hardly saw my mum, I'd read all my books, seen all the films and had no money.  And I was getting cold.  As I looked around me, I saw flakes of snow beginning to swirl around in the air.  My new hobby was gone – it would be too cold to go out for walks – winter was coming.

By a stroke of good luck we were staying in a posh hotel that night.  I went up to our room, put my pyjamas on and ordered room service.  By a stroke of bad luck, my mum was out at a party, so I was dining alone.  Apart, of course from the chaperone (well, I was too old to have a babysitter by this time) Mum had sent.  She was medium height and medium build with dark skin and curly black hair.  I had no idea what she'd be like.  Would she sent me to bed early or ignore me and let me do what I wanted?  The answer: neither.  After a couple of minutes of eating and watching TV together, I thought she must be magical: she made me laugh.  Not the fake kind when Mum glares at me after practising her material on me.  A real laugh.  I laughed so hard I nearly cried.  I can't remember what the joke was now, but looking back I think I kept laughing because it felt so good, not because the joke was that funny.  It was such a release.  I'd had no one to talk to, no way of expressing my emotions, a lot was released in that laugh.

When at last I could no longer keep my eyes open, my chaperone finally suggested going to bed.  I don't know what time it was.  She said something about saying prayers before bed.  I mumbled sleepily that we didn't believe in God.  She must have heard me say I was too tired or some other excuse because she didn't argue.

The next morning, my mum was sitting having breakfast when I went down to the dining room.  She was wearing a plain grey jumper and hiding behind a newspaper while she sipped sweet black coffee.

"Morning," she said blandly.  I murmured acknowledgement as I dropped into my seat.  "How was your evening?" she asked.

"Fun," I replied after a moment's pause.

"What did you get up to?"

"Not much.  Watched TV.  Ate room service.  The chaperone was funny – she made me laugh,"  I recounted as I rubbed my eyes sleepily.  When I looked up, Mum was just putting on a grin, her 'I'm covering up my true feelings' face.  I've seen it when she's about to respond to a heckler with a witty remark.  It was a long time since I'd seen her do it off stage.  Right now, it worried me.

"She made you laugh?" she asked.  I didn't know if it was an innocent question, meant to show interest in the evening I'd spent or the friend I'd made.  Or if it was loaded with ammunition waiting for a trigger.  It turned out my "mmm" of a response was the trigger.

"She made you laugh?" she repeated.  "She made you laugh," she said more firmly.  I couldn't take my eyes of her reddening face.  "For the last year I've been on tour making people laugh.  People pay for me to make them laugh.  They travel, they pay, they come and see me and they laugh.  You follow me round wherever I take you, but you've never laughed at a single witticism.  But the babysitter I pay to keep you out of trouble is funny and makes you laugh?"

I wasn't sure what response she wanted.  I wasn't sure she wanted one at all.  I sat glued to my seat, wishing the waiter would take her away with her dirty plate.

She must have continued ranting and I must have zoned out, because the next thing I knew she was in the middle of telling me I must be defective for not appreciating good humour or art, and for being so moody all the time.

I started to feel sick.  Then I realised that I wasn't really sick, but homesick.  I realised I hadn't felt at home for over a year.  After the novelty had worn off, I'd stopped feeling excited wherever we went and often felt uncomfortable and ill-at-ease, like I didn't belong.  Not even that I didn't belong there, but that maybe I didn't belong anywhere.  I even started to worry that we'd never go home, that I'd never have a permanent address, the same view every morning or regular pocket money.  Would I ever see my dad again?

Before she'd finished talking – she was now considering getting Dad to send money so she could pay to send me to a child psychologist – I got up and left.  I'd had enough and needed to get out.  I collected my thick coat and comfy, brown boots from my room then, too impatient to wait for the lift, I took the stairs down to the lobby.

By the time I got to the front door, I was really warm.  I was tempted to take my coat off but I knew the wintry air outside would soon cool me down.  A little snow had settled overnight, making the ground sparkly white.  It looked so pretty, it nearly made me smile, 'til I thought better of it and thought I'd better make some distance between me and the hotel before showing any emotion, for fear my mum would see me.  I stepped out of the doors, turned left and started walking.  I didn't know where I was going, didn't have a route or destination in mind, but my feet seemed to be carrying me somewhere.  Or was it my heart?  Something in me was longing for... something.

It was still quite early in the morning and there weren't many people about.  A few cars went passed and a few men passed on the other side of the road.

I got to a roundabout and turned left.  The road ahead was straight and narrow.  There were a few trees along each side, still sparkling with frost.  At the end of the road was a large, stone building I recognised as a church.  As I got nearer to it, I could hear singing.  As I climbed the steps to the big, oak doors, I realised how hungry I was.  Not because I hadn't eaten breakfast but a hunger deep inside.

I crossed the threshold and suddenly felt at home.

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