Chapter Six: Untold Losses
“With a rare talent like this, she’s definitely on her way to becoming an exceptional artist. A real blessing to her generation.”
“Mmmm Yes…I would say she’s somewhere in the league of Vanessa Bell from the Bloomsbury Set. Wouldn’t you agree?”
“Quite right. Her paintings do have that…rustic, dreamlike, quality about them…Mmmm very talented indeed.”
It was a moment which seemed like a lifetime ago. Christine recalled a conversation between two art teachers. They were discussing a painting they both liked. The focus of their praise was a canvas of a beautiful fair-haired lady looking out of a window. Christine was the masterful adolescent artist they were raving on about. And the woman in the painting, was her mother.
That conversation took place nearly two decades ago. Now, at the ripe old age of 31, Christine found that although she liked to sketch and paint once in a while she was no artist of any exception. Or so she believed.
As with most abilities, her so-called nascent talents were realized, developed and then industrialised for the modern age.
Equipped with a first class degree in graphic design, Christine ventured into the world of subbing for Homes and Gardens, a consumer interior design magazine.
With her paint brush disposed of she would now set about manipulating images instead of minds. Which, on the whole, was far easier to do but on a personal front was nowhere nearly as rewarding.
Christine joined Keystone Publishing fresh out of university. It was a big deal for her back then. The company was headquartered in the gleaming confines of Canary Wharf and was still as far as she was aware a major powerhouse in the publishing industry.
Christine had come on board as a junior sub-editor and after what seemed like six, long gruelling years the magazine finally made her its chief sub.
However the position was only handed to Christine after her line manager had suddenly given in his notice. It turned out he had made a promise to himself (nobody knew he had been undergoing treatment for Bowel Cancer) that once he had fully recovered from his illness he would take a year long trip to see the world. And on his return, he would devote the rest of his precious life to his one and only true love - the study of garden wildlife.
His departure was a shock to everyone. More so for Christine for although they worked side by side - in almost relative silence - Christine had slowly come to regard her boss as an uncle figure. Likewise he seemed to prefer her company over everyone anyone else’s - including the editor. Admittedly, Christine soon found her boss liked to give more guidance than praise, which she couldn’t really argue with since everyone else received neither.
But shock or no shock Christine didn’t mourn for too long. She was now the chief sub-editor and held down one of the most coveted jobs on the magazine. She later learnt that it was her line manager who had privately lobbied for her to get the job. This was another shock to her. She didn’t think he cared like that.
As soon as her promotion was announced she tried to find ways to thank him but he wouldn’t hear of it. And after he had left the company nobody ever heard from him again.
Christine could admit she did like her job, but she didn’t always enjoy it. Her work involved spending ridiculously long hours sat in front the computer. It was there, Christine could be found pouring over countless print-outs, and ferociously tapping away on her mouse as if she had digital Tourettes. She read reams and reams of badly-written copy which she cleverly crammed into templated boxes. In the same way she spent a large amount of time selecting racy images to accompany the text, in an attempt to brighten up dull articles. All this, while keeping abreast with all the drab legalities involved in publishing. Most days it was haphazard and frantic - not for the preening sort at all. But she was able to do it, and she did the job well.
And even now, although 10 years had passed, she realised she still liked working for the publishing house, despite the unavoidable hassles and grievances which went along with putting a magazine to bed each week. And later she liked her company even more because in her darkest hour they gave her time...
It had only just gone half past five and most of the office was empty.
“Are you working late tonight Christine?” Frances enquired as she reached for her scarf from the coat stand. She was the personal assistant to the editor-in-chief and always left the office half an hour or so after her boss had gone.
Although her voice was cheery her eyes were veiled as if guarding a secret. It was a look Christine had grown accustomed to as the months wore on.
Ever since she came back from leave nobody spoke to her directly about her time away. Although, when she did return, she tried to act as normal as one could under the circumstances. Maybe her colleagues were expecting her to say something. On many occasions she wondered if she should be saying something, but found she couldn’t articulate whatever it was that needed to be said.
“No. Actually, I’m going to leave shortly,” Christine replied not taking her eyes away from the screen. “I’m just sorting out the templates for tomorrow. Have a good evening Frankie.”
“You too sweetheart. Don’t stay too long,” she added before slipping out of the sliding doorway.
In fact, Christine was very eager to leave the office but was less thrilled about the journey home. For if like so many times before, she was unable to secure a seat, she would have to latch onto a pole and spend the rest of her commute swaying like a shrivelled fruit on the last day of autumn.
She made a face.
Right then! Let’s get a move on.
One by one Christine began closing down the programs on her computer. She was still in the middle of doing this when her phone rang.
“Hi Christine. It’s Lydia…Lydia Cartwright-Snowden.”
“Oh. Hello Lydia,” she said warmly. “I remember who you are. How are you?”
“I’m fine thank you.” There was a brief pause. “I’ve just finished work,” Lydia continued in the spirit of conversation. “Well, to be honest I can’t really say I’ve finished all my work, if you know what I mean. But I’ve definitely reached my quota for today - there’s literally no more blood to give!” She laughed and cleared her throat.
Christine responded with a small chuckle. “Ah, yes. I know what you mean. I find it hard to believe it’s only Tuesday, yet, I already feel like I’ve already worked a five-day week.”
“Me too,” Lydia said. “And the thought of travelling through rush hour right now brings me out in hives.”
“Same here,” Christine laughed. She was curious as to why Lydia was calling her, and was slightly taken back by how naturally she was falling in with this idle banter.
I don’t want to like you. I don’t want a friend
“Actually…” Lydia was silent for a moment, “I wanted to ask if you’d like to meet up?”
“Yes…Ermm…There’s something I would like to discuss with you.”
“Yes. It concerns your gift”
Okay, stop this Christine! You’re sounding like a special needs parrot. “Oh...ahhh...that…mmm…when did you have in mind?” Her heart quickened. A discussion about my gift? Christine grimaced at the thought.
“Well how are you for today?”
“Aaarghh, I guess we could meet later...” She squeezed her eyes shut.
Did I just agree to something I didn’t plan to agree to? What’s the matter with me? Then another thought crashed through her mind.
Did Lydia have a mother lined up who desperately needed her help?
As if reading her thoughts Lydia quickly responded. “It’ll just be the two of us. There are no damsel mothers in distress this time. Well, not that I know of,” Lydia said jokingly. “We could meet for a coffee or a glass of wine, perhaps? Sorry! I didn’t ask where you are?”
“I work at Keystone Publishing.”
“Oh - you work there. I know where that is,” Lydia seemed pleased. “You’re in Canary Wharf. In that massive building next to that well-known law firm, except, I always forget the name of that ‘well known’ law firm.”
“Yes. That’s the one. They’ve got a few bars in the plaza. I think Signatures might be a good place to meet up,” she thought she’d offer, “And it’s less crowded at this time.”
“I know that bar quite well. I think it may be quicker if I get the tube up to you. I should be there in half an hour. Is that okay for you?”
“Y-yes, that’s fine.”
“Good. I’ll give you a call when I arrive.”
“Okay. Great. See you later!” Lydia quickly hung up.
Christine’s mobile phone resumed its blank status. She looked up. Her computer had finished closing down and without further warning it had blinked itself into darkness. All the Xerox machines had stopped humming and most of the lights in the open plan office were out too. She was the only person left in the whole department.
‘It’ll just be a quick drink,’ she murmured to herself, ‘I think I can handle that?’
She stretched and yawned. Then looking at the blank screen in front of her she voiced Shakespeare’s grim conviction to her hushed surroundings. ‘Nothing either good or bad,’ she smiled warily, ‘but thinking makes it so…’
Lydia was in Canary Wharf. She quickly trotted past the busy pubs and wine bars brimming with Docklands high powered professionals.
As always she looked stunningly smart. She was wearing a purple and grey designer suit and her bronze, perfectly-feathered hair swept around her like a glittery shawl. However she didn’t ponder on her crisp reflection. Neither did she swipe a glance at the Marina - which was unusual for her - as she always devoted a few seconds to savour the breeze that came in from the Thames. Today, she didn’t have time for any of that; she didn’t want to be late.
At the moment all she could hear was the tapping her heels made as they connected with the pavement. She very much liked the sound it made as its timely occurrence helped calm her wandering thoughts.
‘How in God’s name do I begin to tell her what’s happened?’ Lydia agonized. This was supposed to be a friendly meeting, asking Christine if she’d like to be employed for her special communicating abilities, and no less than 30 minutes ago that supposedly was what she had planned to ask. But this was obviously before she got the call.
‘Oh Lord!’ she groaned out loud, ‘the call…’
Lydia quickly stepped off the wooden footbridge. She had to admit, as much as the snob in her disliked fraternising away from her office in Mayfair, she thought the developers had done quite an impressive job on the Wharf. The buildings were slightly reminiscent of the high rises she saw in Singapore and New York; two of her favourite cities.
Just before thoughts of the venue had left her mind, the establishments’ sleek black and white signage flashed ahead of her like a cabaret advertisement. “Good evening Madam. Welcome to Signatures.” The doorman gave a slight nod of his head before opening the door for her.
“Thank you.” Without a second thought she straightened up and sashayed her way into the smoke-free foyer.
As Lydia entered the lounge area it seemed she was right to assume all eyes would be on her. But the stares were of little importance. She quickly began scanning for Christine’s whereabouts.
’Oh God! The phone call! ′ Lydia again recalled with dread. Should she tell Christine about that? Of course she should…But how?
She tried to imagine how the conversation would go down: ‘Look Christine. You have an amazing talent. The two women you’ve helped so far are eternally grateful for what you did for them. And as it so happens, they too, have friends, with newborns who could also do with your help. Did I also mention, all of whom are willing to pay you HANDSOMELY for your trouble. Oh! And by the way…you’re likely to appear all over tomorrow’s newspapers as one of the grateful mothers, I’ve just told you about, has tipped the media off about you…And less than half an hour ago a producer from Four Live rang me up asking how they could score an interview with you…’
‘Mmmmm, now what do you say to that glass of wine?’
Lydia gnawed on her bottom lip. ‘This is great! Just frickin’ great! So much for discretion…′.
As Lydia was wearing considerably lengthy heels today, she took great care descending the few steps to the lower landing. She spotted Christine right away. She was wearing black trousers, a flimsy grey jersey, and was taking neat little sips from her glass of red wine.
Christine looked like the last time they met. Her dark brown hair was pulled back into a glossy bun which highlighted her slender neck and delicate features. But despite the apparent appeal, there was no concealing Christine’s obvious discomfort.
She’s sad, Lydia noted. I wonder what the matter is?
She quickly made her way towards her. This girl was obviously dealing with something, and whatever it was, it overshadowed everything else.
“Hi Christine.” Lydia offered her hand. “Oh. Hello. I didn’t see you come down.” Christine awkwardly shook Lydia’s hand but her smile was genuine enough.
The waitress quickly homed in on their table, as though she’d been eagerly waiting for the introductions to be dispensed with.
“Can I get you a drink madam?” She directed the question at Lydia.
Lydia looked over at Christine.
“I’m drinking the house special - it’s a Merlot” Christine offered.
“Then I’ll have the same. Actually…let’s make that a bottle - If that’s okay with you?”
Christine nodded. “That’s fine.” She wasn’t really bothered. She wanted to hurry up and leave.
“Since the start of the week, all I’ve drunk is red wine.” Lydia gave a small laugh as she shrugged out of her blazer. “I mean, take today for example. For lunch I had roasted quail with rosemary potatoes, which was served in a red wine reduction. I then had a glass of red wine to accompany the meal. Then, for dessert, I passed up on the sweet course, but ordered a small glass of red, to have for after’s. If they cut me open right now I think I’d bleed, the bleeding stuff!” She looked down at herself and laughed.
Despite herself Christine cracked a dry smile. Lydia was funny but she wondered if they were going to spend the rest of the evening chatting politely about nothing, before eventually going their separate ways. Not that it bothered her in the least. She wasn’t one of those open and sharing types of people. Well, she hadn’t been for a while, and she was fine with that. But for some reason, as the evening progressed, she realized that she didn’t really want to be sat there, just talking about nothing.
Christine already knew she liked Lydia. She wouldn’t have agreed to meet with her if she didn’t. But quite rightly she didn’t know this woman from Adam. She didn’t know anything about Ms Lydia Cartwright-Snowden other than the obvious fact that she was very striking. But as Christine knew all too well: looks can be deceiving, good looks, more so.
However there was something highly infectious about Lydia’s ease; it was genuine, she hoped, much like the person who owned it.
Christine suddenly realized she was staring. She quickly lowered her eyes and let them wander someplace else.
But of course, on Lydia’s perfectly manicured finger tips.
‘I guess for some, there really is no escaping perfection’
Christine glanced up. Lydia was now chatting comfortably away with the waitress. They were both giggling like old friends. It must have been something funny that Lydia may have said.
Compared to her companion, Christine knew she had the personality of a week-old sprout. But she would make no apology for her current disposition. This is who she was now and moreover no amount of prodding, compassion or an open display of genuineness was going to change anything.
Christine politely answered all the questions that Lydia fired her way, but she mainly left her companion to do all of the talking.
Not long into their second bottle of wine, Lydia was just about asking Christine if she enjoyed working in Canary Wharf, when the music changed.
As though reacting to the same dog whistle, both of their heads immediately bobbed up. The lyrics spurred the listener and the beat was undeniable.
“WHEEEERE’S YOOOOOUR HEEEEAD AAAAAAT....WHERE’S YOUR HEAD AT? WHERE’S YOUR HEAD AT?”
“Basement Jaxx!” They called out simultaneously. They both laughed.
“Where were you when you first heard this song?” Lydia asked
“Oh I believe it was around Christmas time – 2001,” Christine reminisced: “I was out clubbing with Al - Andreas. He...errr... it was a good night…” She abruptly broke off. Lydia noticed.
“Why? Where were you?” Christine shot back
“I was at Homelands. I attended the 2002 festival,” Lydia said with a smug smile. “Although I was one of the late ones you see. All my friends were raving about House music yonks’ ago. It was a stonking weekend. Forget Glastonbury. Those few days were one of the most fun times I’ve ever had at a festival,” she tutted, “but now it seems like such a long time ago. I hardly attend these events unless it’s to do with work. And besides, most of my chums are married or divorced and trying to get married again…” she paused. There was something in Christine’s eyes that made Lydia stop talking. She wondered if she had said something wrong. She looked down at Christine’s left hand and just as she thought there was no ring
So why the hesitation?
“I-I was married once,” Christine said steadily. She took another sip from her glass. “I know what you’re thinking and yes I was quite young. I was 22 years old at the time. His name was Andreas Chairo. He was half-Greek and half-British, and from the first time we met, we were crazy about each other…”
Christine was ready to talk and she began to talk to Lydia…
For Christine it was easier than she imagined. She just opened her mouth and welcomed the outpouring. The more she talked, the more she welcomed it.
She talked at length of her hasty marriage to her university boyfriend and soul mate - Andreas Chairo. He had grown up in Athens.
They had married almost immediately after they had graduated.
He intrigued her with his idealistic views of a fairer economic world system. But living in the real world proved too harsh for Andreas. Christine watched as his raging enthusiasm crashed and burned, and saw a more calculating man - emerge. And then not too long after, there was a swift migration from calculating - to just plain obstinate!
Although Andreas’s big dream to work for an NGO didn’t quite pan out for him, his new career in investment management did. And it began to reap real dividends.
Success came fast for Andreas and the women came faster.
But despite the storm Christine had decided to hold fast to her rocky marriage.
‘Til death do us part!’ She endured not only because she was raised a Catholic and had every intention of honouring the vow she had made. She fought hard for her troubled marriage because she loved him. Nothing else, and no one else. She simply couldn’t picture a future without him, in spite of the constant heartaches, humiliation and let-downs.
“The day we met one of the first things he did was touch the side of my face…” Her brown eyes softened as she reminisced on her first love, “I don’t think I’ll ever forget that moment. For in that instant I knew that when this was all over, a part of me would die, but my life would not end. For me that was the most gut-wrenching realisation: to know you will live…and live without...” She turned to face Lydia: A stranger. A friend. And in that fleeting moment thought: ‘What an unexpectedly comforting feeling that is...’ She smiled wryly, turning her eyes to the tawny-coloured table which appeared to be formed quite impressively out of solid glass. “Deep down I knew it would never work - not unless I did all the work. Every day I was hoping and praying that my love would live a lie,” she produced a humourless smile, “I guess I should have known better. You can’t keep somebody who doesn’t want to be kept...”
One day Andreas frantically called for a divorce. He told Christine there was no way he could continue living in a sham marriage. He’d literally lost count the number of times he had stepped out on her. He further went on to say that it was he who was actually doing her a favour.
Naturally, a much-weakened Christine acquiesced to his demands.
A waiter came by their table and uncorked another bottle of red wine. He also handed over a platter of sizzling, miniature, salmon fishcakes, which were scattered like pieces of amber across a bed of wilted rocket. “Yum! These look absolutely divine,” Lydia said as she popped one into her mouth. It was she who suggested they eat something to soak up the alcohol.
Christine barely gave the tray a glimpse, she necked her drink and quickly moved onto the next part of her story…
“I think I kind of envy you,” Lydia remarked, a little later, as Christine took a short break from her narration. “I can honestly say that I’ve never been in love before. Well, not in that kind of way that pulls you back to the person as if your very existence depended on them.” Her silvery-green eyes lit up as she romanticized the drama in her head. She laughed, “Admittedly,” she said taking another sip from her glass. “I’ve had lots of infatuations. But this thing called love...” She let the word hang in the air like poetry.
Christine didn’t mean to stare but she found this hard to believe, looking at Lydia’s enviable figure, sweeping eye-lashes and heart-shaped mouth. Christine was certain most of the men milling around the entrance would have fallen for Lydia long before she had reached the back of the room. She glanced up and just as she thought, a small group of men were stood around looking over at their table. They were grinning and dusting down their professionally-pressed suits like preening cockatiels.
“In my twenties I guess I was a lot like all the other girls I knew.” Lydia said wrinkling her pretty nose in disgust. “I was all about people-pleasing: I was overly-precious, overly-concerned, and not really enjoying my relationships because of it. And then the worse happened.” She leaned in eyes dancing in amusement. “You hit your thirties and what do you know? You stop giving a hoot! Well I certainly did that’s for sure. I just didn’t have the time for it anymore. Either way, I stopped caring about all the fuss and started making better decisions for myself. And I must say, I’m a much happier person for it,” she declared. She fell back into her chair drumming the palms of her hands on both sides of the armrest. “Men, I believe, come with waaay too much hassle. I’ve seen too many of my good friends get bent all out of shape over some dumb fella. And that is not debatable. They are dumb, right? Otherwise – as I’ve had to remind many of my broken-hearted girlfriends – they would have clearly been able to see their worth.” She shook her head and took a moment to admire her manicured finger tips. “Love, has too many layers for me. I like to keep things light and simple like my Donna Karan shirts. Honestly, Christine, that’s my idea of comfort.” she laughed and downed the rest of her drink, “So…” she gently prompted, “where is this asshole – excuse me - Andreas, now?”
Christine heard the question but didn’t respond right away. Instead she swished the last dregs of her wine around in her mouth. She had read somewhere that this was possibly one of the worse things you could do to your teeth and gums. But she went on anyway, savouring the wine’s astringent notes whilst relaxing her jaw.
As soon as she had finished she answered Lydia’s question. “After I agreed to the divorce, I discovered I was pregnant.”
She looked up at Lydia. Her humourless smile displayed the great irony for the situation. “Perfect timing, I know right? All the same, I told him that the pregnancy didn’t have to change anything. If he wanted to leave he still could. And I was right,” she looked away. “It didn’t change anything - he left! But before going he calmly said he didn’t want anything to do with me or the baby.” Christine paused. “I don’t know what got into him – I think he just panicked!” She let out a long sigh. “I suppose when I think about it we were still quite young, and very young-minded, for that matter. There wasn’t a shred of maturity between us. But once I discovered I was pregnant I knew I couldn’t remain that way.” She looked down at her empty glass. “I guess with all Andreas’s list of self-acclaimed disappointments the news of the pregnancy was the final nail on the coffin. He couldn’t deal with it. He just wasn’t ready.”
Lydia stared at the young woman in front of her.
Neither were you Christine. Neither were you…
Christine didn’t look up and so she missed the look of utter disgust that swept across Lydia’s face. Lydia, unlike Christine, was not as understanding of Andreas’s line of action.
Nevertheless Christine continued with her story. “Strangely enough, after the shock had worn off, I actually began to feel a little better about it all. You know. Going it alone. Of course it wasn’t what I’d hoped for, all I could hear in my head were the snide criticisms: ‘That’s all the blooming country needs, yet another single mother sponging off the system!’ She said mockingly, cutting her eyes: Tried. Judged. Condemned. By the national press. Her bright cheeks burned from the personal shame of it all. She sucked in air and exhaled with a rueful sigh. “But somehow I knew I was going to get through this; I was going to get by and everything was going to be okay.”
Christine anticipated a response from Lydia but didn’t give her a chance to deliver it. She wasn’t being inconsiderate; she just knew that if she stopped talking now, she’d lose the heart to finish what she wanted to say.
“Life really is chockfull of ironies,” she continued in a voice she didn’t expect would shake. Her damp brown eyes briefly scanned the light fixtures above, she then let them fall back on the woman in front of her. “I have a gift which allows me hear what babies are saying - as though they were speaking to me in plain English. It doesn’t matter where they hail from - whether black or white - I can hear them all,” she said in a voice distinctly void of any pride.
“But this special gift did not materialize between mother and son…Between me and my baby….” She paused.
Lydia had a list of questions but her mind suddenly went blank. All her attention was focused on the sparkling unshed tears that were swirling around in Christine’s eyes.
“I couldn’t hear my son Jerry,” Christine said softly. “You know, like how I could hear all the other babies. I just couldn’t hear him.”
The corner of Christine’s mouth was turned slightly upwards producing a twisted smile of sorts. She continued. “I guess hearing him, or not, wouldn’t have made the slightest bit of difference. It wouldn’t have changed anything.”
Lydia didn’t want to ask the next question somehow the answer was obvious but she knew she had to. “Where is he now?” she said gently. “Where is your son?”
Lydia met Christine’s gaze. “My son…He’s not with me anymore…” Her tears ran like melting wax against her flushed cheeks. “He died…He was only four-months old…He never woke up from his sleep...They said it was cot death…”
A sketchy image of her smiling baby sunk into her subconsciousness.
Saying it didn’t make it any easier like some therapists had counselled. But Christine couldn’t explain why she felt a little lighter, a little better after talking to Lydia.
In contrast, Lydia felt a whole lot worse for hearing this information. She was instantly overcome with immense guilt. Almost as if she’d had some part to play in the death of Christine’s baby. She then realized where the guilt was coming from. It was a knee-jerk reaction to her total and utter ineptitude to dealing with this situation.
How could she relate to this? How could she even begin to try?
This level of awkwardness was new to her and a little surprising.
Christine wasn’t sad, Lydia surmised - she was broken. And yet the woman who ventured out to have a drink with her was much stronger than she was, and far braver than she could ever be. Quite rightly they were two women in different leagues; one forever humbled by the others misfortune.
Life was far from over with teaching her new lessons, Lydia realized with growing unease. Lessons, that were likely to leave a sizeable dent in her confidence, no doubt.
For her, this was not just casual drinks in bar, or a chanced engagement to see if two like-minded women could become friends. Without entering into the realms of psychobabble, nonsense, Lydia felt their meeting was happening for a reason.
Naturally, she had many questions but knew tonight wasn’t the right time to dispense of them. Christine had chosen to open up to her, and this was not a small ordeal. Needless to say, Lydia also didn’t get around to asking Christine whether she’d want to counsel distressed mothers for a fee. In the wake of what was revealed to her, it just seemed a little too insensitive to put out there. And whilst giving Christine a gentle hug before seeing her off in a cab, Lydia also realized she hadn’t warned her about the likely intrusion from the press.
By God she wished she had!
Christine certainly didn’t need that kind of attention. Not now. Not when she was trying her best to heal in private. Talking to the press would be the last thing anyone in her situation would want to do.
After seeing Christine off Lydia quickly climbed into her own waiting cab.
“Good evening Miss. Where would you like to go?” The cab driver peered at her through his rearview mirror.
“45 Silverton Road, Chelsea.” Lydia replied. She turned her head to face the window and looked out into the night. Every ten paces she could see groups of clubbers revelling in winding queues; brightly lit, 24-hour, convenience stores on every street corner, and a constant stream of buses which appeared to be as overly-preoccupied at night, as they were in the day-time.
Does this city ever sleep?
“Chelsea,” the cabbie called out in his cheery voice. “Oh. Let’s see. There are major road works taking place on the Commercial Road.” He stole another glance at her. “But I should be able to avoid them by cutting through Mile End - If you don’t mind me taking that route?”
“No - not at all,” Lydia shook her head. In all fairness she didn’t care how long it took, just as long as she got there she was dog-tired.
The driver continued. “Not many know this, but at this time of night going through Mile End and Whitechapel will get you to that side of town a whole lot quicker ’cos you avoid the tailback up on East India Dock Road.” He huffed, “but does anyone take note of this?” He said, sagely nodding to himself. “I’m certain even my daughter knows this and she’s not even a year old yet.”
“You have a daughter?” Lydia said a little too quickly.
A few weeks ago she would not have asked this question. But a few weeks ago, her perception of babies had been slightly altered somewhat.
“Yes. As a matter of fact I have two daughters. One is 10-months and the other is three-years old,” he gave her a lingering look. “If you don’t mind me asking do you have any children of your own?”
“Oh God no!” She said with a cough.
“Well. For a young lady like yourself, there’s no real rush is there? I hear women are having babies well into their thirties these days.”
“I am in my thirties.”
“Really?” The cab driver looked surprised then a little embarrassed. “Ahhh well. There’s still no rush is there? In fact, I hear women are having babies well into their forties these days,” he quickly back pedalled. He looked into the mirror “You know. Just look at that pop star - what’s her name? Madonna. Didn’t she just have a baby the other day?”
“Yes. I believe she did,” Lydia said with little interest.
“As I say,” he cheerfully blundered on, “there’s more than enough time for all that malarkey. I firmly believe people should live their lives before having babies, not live their lives to have babies if you know what I mean. What’s the rush? Ay yi yi! More’s the point - where’s the sense in it all? Don’t get me wrong, now that I have them, I’ll give my two kidneys for my little girls - no question about that. But before I became a father I wasn’t too fussed, you know, with wanting kids and all that mushy stuff. I was happy with it just being, me and my woman, just the two of us. But from out of nowhere all that changed. Or rather my missus did.” He laughed, “I swear, she’s the most calculating woman you’ll ever meet - a right Ada Lovelace of her day - if there ever was one. She did everything in her power to make sure I got her up the duff. Seriously, I mean everything.” He gave a dastardly chuckle at whatever vision, it seemed, he had conjured up in his mind. He swiftly changed the subject. “But honestly, I’ll tell you something. I’ll give anything to work out what my two little angels’ gabber on about sometimes. Especially my 10-month old. She’s giving the missus a right old hard time. She won’t go in the kitchen and seems very wary of anything blue. God only knows what goes through that little head of hers!” He growled in jest.
“Yes. Only God knows.” Lydia laughed in agreement.
‘And a woman called Christine Shore with a very extraordinary gift indeed…I believe this…Oh my God! - I BELIEVE THIS!’
Lydia chuckled to herself at this sneaky admission.
‘What else have I yet to discover about life? Or the afterlife for that matter? Any more surprises?’
The ubiquitary black cab sped through the dazzling streets of London, meeting only greenlights at every junction they came upon. The cool blast of the car’s air-conditioning felt like a revitalizing balm on Lydia’s skin. Whether driving, or being driven she enjoyed both in equal measure. But at that moment she could not relax as the enormity of the realisation suddenly hit her: Life was far from over with teaching her new lessons, she acknowledged, albeit, with growing apprehension.
A safety net is pulled away. A grand narrative disintegrates. In a word, there was nothing pleasantly surprising about that.