“Soon after your dad boarded the ship with the other naval officers, I pointed to it to show a friend which one he was on. That is why he died. You should never direct your finger towards the ship your loved-one is on, especially if he’s a sailor.”
She grew up hearing that it was her mother’s mistake why her father perished at sea while fighting to save his country. Children believe anything they are told by their parents and that was one of many falsehoods she carried around in her heart as a young girl.
So when at five years old she soiled her underwear while waiting alone at the school gates, she believed the defensive accusation that it was all her fault. No-one was around when the accident happened, as school had finished more than 2 hours ago.
Teachers and parents alike, noticed the young child stood nervously shifting from foot to foot, but they told themselves it was not their problem. Day after day they had spotted this shy little girl waiting on her own, looking nervously up and down the street. Her mum never arrived on time and most days it was at least an hour before she was picked up.
But on this day her mother had been asked by her boss to cover another shift. Always too proud to admit she had four young, fatherless, dependent children, she would just swear under her breath and continue her work.
Perspiration and tears poured down the small girl’s face as she watched the last teacher lock the gate then walk past her as if she was invisible. She desperately wanted to sit down on top her satchel like she usually did, but as her undies were already wet and soiled, she remained on her tired little feet. The fear was worse than the heat, as grown-ups were often not very nice. They stared and frowned and made tutting noises whenever they didn’t understand what they saw.
She thought about how thirsty she was and how lovely it would be if some passing stranger would give her a sip of their ice-cold lemonade.
When her mother eventually arrived, she made no effort to run towards her daughter. The guilt made her harden her face and she had already made up her mind that big people do not need to explain things to little ones. She promptly pulled at her hard, “Come along.” All the way home a harsh rebuke was given to the young child for going to the toilet in her pants. To accept the fact that fear and length of time waiting was the contributing factor to this miss-hap, would be too much for her to bear, so instead, she just made her child feel worse than she did.
It wasn’t that she was a bad mother – just superstious, proud and far too bothered about the opinions of others. If a child told a lie on her offspring, she would beat them in front of the liar’s parents before establishing the facts.
Even if they were shouting, “It’s not true , I didn’t do it!” there would be lashes and angry words just to appease the other party. The thought of being gossiped about as a parent who couldn’t handle her children was the focus of her unjustified public beatings. And of course, when the truth came out later, no apology would be given. “Adults don’t humble themselves before children.”
One day another mother arranged to take the little girl home for safety and to share some of their tea. It was obvious by her emancipated frame that this lonesome lamb did not get much to eat. And at such a tender age she was so vulnerable. The young child shyly ate up her meal in silence, smiling back at the lady every time their eyes met across the table.
But her peace was soon shattered when the man of the house arrived home. “What’s this child doing here? Are we a charity centre now? Since when do we go about feeding the mouths of other people’s kids? Where’s her mother? Can’t she look after her own brat?”
Further rejection was hurled at the poor mite when her mother came to collect her. “I don’t want you eating food from strangers. We are not beggars. What did that lady say to you? Did you tell her anything about me? Our lives are private, do you hear me? Don’t be going home with people any more, just stay and wait for me. These nasty, nosey people just wanting to know my business…”
The child could not understand what she had done wrong. The lady had made her feel so nice and loved and secure and wanted.
In the evenings the little girl followed the same routine. Wash the rice for mummy. Pick out any black bits. Set the table. Then she would climb up onto the chair and watch the houses opposite. She stared into the windows wondering what it would be like to have a mum that was at home in the evenings. No other child was watching for their mum to come home from their second job. As it grew darker and darker, the same thing would happen. One by one, curtains would be drawn and she would be shut out from their worlds. She was clean and safe but scared and lonely. She desperately wanted to be part of those other families. Both parents were inside and happy. Not cross and worn out from a long walk home. Not stressed from being given orders all day long. Not too tired to cook and too grumpy to play or have any sort of sense of humour.
“One day she thought, one day I will have a family of my own and we will all be together forever.”
She was told there was a God who answers prayer, so she would get what she desired, right?
Seven decades later, she sat on the settee with her head propped up by a cushion. It was only midday but she was feeling so dizzy that she could not keep her eyes open and wished it was bedtime.
The medication also made her drowsy and her eyes were so dry it made them sore.
As a group of women on television sat round a table chatting about life issues, her mind wondered back to the time when there were so many voices in the room that you couldn’t hear the television at all.
How could seventy years go by so quickly?
Her dry throat tickled incessantly, making her cough violently. Leaning forward to grab the glass of water at her feet, a sudden wave of dizzyness caused her to jerk and the water spilt all over the floor.
“Oh God, why was there no-one here to pass me my glass? Why is there nobody to fetch me another one? Who is going to mop up the spillage so my slippers don’t get wet?”
At a time in her life when she was most vulnerable again, she felt deserted once more.
All through her children’s primary years, she had made sure she arrived at school early to collect the youngsters so that there was no risk of them going through the same terrifying emotions she had experienced all those years ago.
Yet now, in a quick breath, each little five year old had left the nest and seemed far, far away.
She forced her eyes open and glanced at the window. Still light outside, but no-one to look out for anymore. Shut-out from a world who were still closing curtains. Cast away from the hope of seeing a relative walking towards the front door.
A lump formed in her throat as sights and sounds emerged from her memory:
~Squabbles over an old toy.
~Sunday school songs sung out of tune.
~High-pitched voices drowning out the radio.
~Pop music playing at full volume.
~Lights left on all round the house.
~Duffle bags dumped in the hallway.
~Pencils and hair grips down the side of the chair.
~Clumsy bottoms bumping into the record player, adding another scratch to the song.
~Crisp packets on the floor.
~Evil masters chasing cartoon victims on television.
~Dolls hair wrapped around the vacuum cleaner rollers.
~Posters of leather-clad singers strewn across the bedroom walls.
~Floor space hidden under mountains of dirty clothes.
~Skipping ropes on the lawn.
~Balls in the hedge.
~Chalk on the path.
~Screams as skinny legs raced away from a passing wasp.
“God what happened? Why am I so alone again? I asked you – you promised. You pledged that you would not leave me, nor forsake me. You said you would not leave me comfortless. But there’s no-one here to help me out of my chair, to make me a cup of tea, to giggle with, to talk to…you promised Lord.”
Silence from up above.
“Are you going to restore the years the locust has eaten? There are gaping holes in my family. Will you ever bring them home or will you take me home?”
A stirring in the heavenlies.
She breathed a sigh of relief as she suddenly remembered countless times her Father in Heaven had opened a door, extended an arm, offered a shoulder, and filled her house with love and laughter.
She smiled and decided there would be no more questions. Just trust, faith, belief in a God who had never failed her.
One day soon she knew he would deliver the promise he had offered in answer to her many prayers – he would either bring them home or take her to his home. Either way she’d be surrounded by loved ones. There’d be no more waiting. There would be laughter in the air and peace in her heart. God had intervened and delivered the promise that he deemed was best for her.
The dizzyness was still there but she was aware of another presence in the room and this filled her with an unexplainable joy.
Tears had risen but so had hope.
Yes indeed, she was a very blessed lady.