by Gillian Wright
We moved into the rented flat a year ago today. I hated it. Mum and Dad split up, so we came to live on a large council estate just outside the city centre. That is, me, my two sisters and mum.
I felt oppressed visually by the walls covered in graffiti. Gangs on the corners and rubbish scrunched up in piles along the pavement added to my anxiety. Then, my younger sister Frances made friends with the family across the landing. They’re originally from Lithuania.
It was soon after Mum got her first job that things began to change. Mum asked the Lithuanian family to look after us when we came home from school. I felt embarrassed. At my age, being looked after! When Mum’s second job gave her more flexibility, I came home to find other people’s kids around our kitchen table on more than one occasion. Mum’s explanation was that she wanted to help others as we’d been helped. But I did have to bite my tongue when Angie from number thirteen would come round and tell her sob stories. Mum would sit there patiently listening about “the single woman’s plight.”
Then one day, Mum announced, “I’m getting an allotment! Isn’t it fantastic?”
“What’s an allotment?” Frances asked.
“It’s an area of land where we can grow vegetables, fruit, and maybe a few flowers.”
“Why is that good Mummy?”
“It means we can get lots of fresh air, exercise and fresh food to eat.”
“Hurrah! No more supermarkets.”
“Not quite, darling. It takes months for things to grow, but it’ll be fun.”
Frances shrugged her shoulders and carried on drawing at the kitchen table. It was then that I noticed Mum wearing baggy floral cotton trousers with a black tee-shirt embellished with the slogan “peace on earth.”
“What’s the matter, darling?” Mum asked. Could she read my thoughts?
“Nothing,” I lied.
“Well, if you want to talk later, you know where I am.” And off she glided into the kitchen, humming a tune I didn’t recognize.
This was doing my head in. I went to my room and opened the laptop. Why was my mum behaving like this? She never used to be so friendly with the neighbours where we lived before.
I typed into Google some random phrases about my mum’s behavior. As usual, it came up with a list of answers, so I began to sift down the list.
“The Monastic prefers to live in neglected areas, often at the margins of society.”
Well, that’s one way of putting it, I thought.
“Showing hospitality to the stranger and sharing your belongings with others in your community.” This was becoming scary.
I bolted upright as I read the last sentence: “Commitment to a disciplined life.” I hope it doesn’t come to that. I’d come to terms with her interest in nature, loving peace, sharing our lives with others, but the thought of Mum being disciplined would be a disaster!