Saturday morning, 8am.
Milly is straining on the lead, dying for a leash-less run around in the park after two days of non-stop rain and only quick visits downstairs for relieving herself.
Sapphire has been left at home, fitfully sleeping, with her mobile resting on her pillow. Mine is in the pocket of my polar fleece and I finger it nervously, hoping that I’m not a terrible mother for leaving her to give a dog forty five minutes of my undivided attention.
Nafeesa’s grandmother arrives from Lebanon today, the lucky recipient of the laughingly-titled ‘fast track’ visa application on compassionate grounds. Yep, only three weeks: how very thoughtful of them to rush it through for a child without an able parent or family..... Nanna will need help though as she’s eighty one, doesn’t drive, is in a strange country and speaks mostly Arabic.
We’ll all pitch in of course and I know that Nafeesa is greatly looking forward to living in her own home again, where things are familiar and the comforting routines can recommence. This past week, she’s been at her friend Paige’s place. Sapphire’s been too ill for us to have her at ours and, well, she’s made it clear that we’re, um, not who she wants to stay with, despite the wishes of her mother and mother’s best friend. Still, if she wants a week of late nights, junk food and sporadic visits to hospital but is having some fun, who can deny her that when she’s endured several weeks of stress?
Love Chunks is in Canada running a conference and workshop; stopping only to head to the airport, bypass the US and do the same thing for another week in Mexico.
I think back to my birthday, two days ago. Sapphire’s blood test showed that her body was definitely struggling with a major illness, but that her major organs (liver, etc) were functioning normally. Her temperature had finally lowered, but the headaches, diarrhoea, nausea, exhaustion and wrenching stomach pains had not.
“Sorry about ruining it, Mum,” she whimpered, head in my lap as I stroked her forehead. “I got up when you were in the shower and your cards and presents are on the lounge.”
She had sewed me a bag for my latest knitting project and alongside it was a golden chocolate Lindt bear. “Look inside the bag, Mum,” she urged, sitting up slowly, the morning light showing too pale a complexion and dark circles under her eyes.
A beautiful hand-made card with sentiments inside that brought me to tears. “No Mum, look in the bag.” Inside was a framed magazine advertisement pulled from a magazine of the month and year of my birth – November 1968. Nestle’s chocolate – Born in Switzerland, their secret is now being shared with you. “I found it on ebay and when we were at Jumbo’s I put the frame in with the ones you had bought and hoped that you wouldn’t notice. Dad did framed it when you were on your treadmill.” Yes, my other present, which arrived a week ago.
More tears from me as I rushed back to the other lounge and cuddled her. She’s twelve now and yet I still automatically breathe in her hair and am instantly reminded of her as a newly-bathed baby. “Mum, you’re not supposed to cry on your birthday,” Sapphire laughs.
Love Chunks writes me an email with a message so simple and beautiful that I’ve read it every time I’ve logged on since. The rest of the day is spent knitting as Sapphire watches the motley collection of Antiques Road Trip shows we’ve recorded, running an ongoing guessing game on how much each item will fetch at auction. The TV is regularly paused for her to recover from a painful stomach spasm or to dash to the toilet and my worry is masked by the rude jokes I make to try and get her to smile. “Everything is about farts and poos with you, Mum,” she says in a not-very disapproving tone.
Two days later and Milly and I are about to walk into the park. A quick glance shows that there are no other dogs nearby for her to scare off, so I bend down to unsnap her lead.
Putta putta putta putta – one of the ubiquitous mini-bikes has screeched to a halt on the opposite side of the street, the driver calling out to me in French.
“Parlez vous Anglais?”
“Yes,” he says with relief. “There was a bakery here...” he gestures to the shop behind him whose windows are papered white, “........do you know where it is now?”
Being an inexplicable magnet for direction seekers, I actually do know. “Here, it’s around the corner, where we’re heading. It’s only been open for two days, very fancy now. Follow me.”
He nods in agreement, driving on the left hand side of the road as he does so, breaking the law. It’s 8am on a foggy Saturday morning, who’s going to notice?
The police, that’s who. Out of nowhere a heavily armoured van pulls up alongside us, six serious faces peering through the dark windows that are now slowly rolling down.
No French this time; I think my ‘Oh My God’ has given them a clue.
“Do you know where Eric’s bakery has moved to?”
Half an hour later, with a muddy but happy dog I’m still laughing as I walk back home, knowing that Sapphire will get a kick of out this story when I see her.