FIRST CHAPTERS -BEGINNINGS- SHOWCASING NEW FICTION
The ones who thought
nothing of setting off bright and early on a wintry, Sunday morning, for
some non-league match, 50 miles down the M25. Such shows of spirit may
have been admirable, but to her, they were a complete anathema.
Original Image: © Carine Thomas
1: THE MAKING
Boys, when does training finish? Ill come back for you
around nine then. She made a U-turn and headed back home.
Its no good, she thought, as she waited for the red lights
to change to amber, she just couldnt rise to the Great Mother
calling. You could easily spot devout adherents down at the ice
rink. The mums who were more like dads in their gung-ho approach.
She suspected the boys secretly resented her for being their sole parent
and at times an over-stressed and dysfunctional one at that. Along with
other grievances, like, if she possessed a masters degree, why wasnt
she in a better-paid job? Her salary was far from sufficient to cover
the excessive materialism of youth culture. In turn, she was driven crazy
by their over-reaching expectations, their refusal to be satisfied with
their due and the way they took everything for granted. So around in endless
circles they went, on the misery-go-round she couldnt quite manage
There was an occasion when one of them had encapsulated their misgivings
quite succinctly. They were visiting friends in the country. Over Sunday
lunch, there had been a banal discussion about sugary drinks and artificial
sweeteners. She happened to say that she didnt have squash in the
house anymore as her boys were now willing to drink either milk or water
with their meals.
Later, driving back to London, Solomon said You were trying to sound
like a proper mum. I wont have it in the house.
Actually, I never said that. What I said was I dont, not wont.
She hadnt bothered wasting more breath by asking him exactly what
he had been implying. She knew. Anyway, driving down the M11 was tedious
enough without initiating an argument about attitude. Or parental
obligations. But it had irritated the hell out of the resolute rebel in
her. There may have been one or two things she would liked to have become,
but a proper mother never figured on any shortlist. She just
wanted to be. Herself. With hindsight, that was probably the point where
shed taken a wrong turn.
She could be obsessional about making sure others knew where she was coming
from. In the past, she could deftly transform a hackneyed lovers
tiff into an overheated session on the analysts couch. Unfortunately,
it usually achieved the opposite of its objective. The ones who got close
enough would all declare, in the end, that she was a total enigma. Still,
the last thing she wanted now was for people to view her primarily as
a mother-of- twins. Incidentally, she never referred to them as the twins,
they were always her boys.
The announcement that she was carrying two foetuses had come as a shock.
The hospital had called her in for an early scan at eleven weeks. She
lay on the trolley with slimy, cold gel plastered all over her exposed
belly, whilst the midwife peered at the monitor. Was there a history of
twins in her family? Thinking it was just another of those routine questions,
she answered blithely no. What about on his side? No, not as far as she
knew. Well, there was now. The midwife had to be joking
her head round to scrutinise the screen. Her heart started pounding as,
all of a sudden, the floor seemed to plummet beneath her. Surely this
was one of those it only happens to other people things. Couples
on fertility treatments or commonly occurring amongst Nigerians (accredited
to their high consumption of yams), but rare amongst Chinese or Ethiopians.
A multiple birth was not something that should be earmarked for an ordinary
person like herself. The midwife was still beaming smiles at her. She
returned a sickly grin and slid off the trolley.
The news had such difficulty in sinking in, that she had no recollection
of their leaving the hospital building and only came to, outside Fish
Bros. Jewellers, half a mile away. It was starting to rain. The
skies were heavy with charcoal clouds and the cold, dank air was beginning
to seep through her clothing and chill her bones. The jewellers
window glittered with so much harshly lit up gold that it dazzled her
eyes and made her head swim.
She felt completely devastated, but did her best, in front of Him, to
disguise her feelings as mere disbelief. He just felt dead chuffed. Probably
taking it as sure fired evidence of his virility. The pathetic and shortsighted
vanity of men, she thought glumly. In actual fact, it was more due to
her fecundity than anything to do with him. She knew from accidents in
the past that she could fall pregnant as easily as ripping open a packet
of three. So much for the child bearing hips myth. Her hips didnt
look as if they could accommodate passage for one, never mind two. Bloody
marvellous, she thought, it was three weeks before Christmas and Santa
had decided to drop a bombshell down her chimney. The babies wouldnt
wait to burst into the world and get on with the business of living. It
was on an idle, grey Sunday afternoon when her contractions started and
she was only 28 weeks. (He had appeared on her doorstep in the early hours
of the morning and was now nursing a hangover.) They both tried to deny
that anything was amiss. Must be natures practice run, he had said.
What they were called? Braxton Hicks cramps or something that mothers-to-be
have to endure.
Later that evening she went through to the darkened bedroom to lie down.
For half an hour she lay on her side, with eyes transfixed to the luminous
hands that jerked their way around the three-inch square clock face. A
spasm of pains every two revolutions, regular. Maybe she should get herself
down to the hospital for a check. She picked up the phone on the bedside
table, and replaced the receiver ten minutes later none the wiser. The
midwife said to come down but the doctor said she may as well wait till
her clinic appointment the following morning. She then made a second call
to a friend who calmly hastened over in her beat up Morris Minor, speeding
along the wet and deserted night streets; a woman on a mission.
Her friend took one look at her. Right, you are going down the hospital.
He was still affixed to the sofa watching the box. He muttered something
like Yeah, catch you later. Ring me if anything happens.
later claimed that he was just remaining calm for her own good.)
They were half a mile down the road when the call came through that finally
managed to prise his posterior off the sofa cushions. Change of plan.
The junior houseman said that they now thought she should come in.
Hmph, what do these young doctors know? the midwife derided.
Cervix, 6 centimetres dilated.
She was then examined by a gynaecologist who prescribed an injection of
steroids which, hopefully, would mature the babies lungs enough
for them to breathe unaided. Youll have to have a Caesarean.
Well try and delay the birth for at least 24 hours, to allow time
for the steroids to work. Youll be fine.
There was just one small problem; there were no beds available.
An hour later, she was bundled into an ambulance and driven down to UCH
where they wheeled her straight to labour ward and installed her in a
softly lit room, painted in the lilac blue of harebells. In the meantime,
her friend had gone back to her house to pick up her toothbrush and nightgown;
and the sofa fixture. After their brief visit to ensure she was all right,
what was left of the night was far from reassuring. Periodically, tortured
screams from unseen rooms would lacerate the dense silence like banished
ghouls fleeing from the underworld. She was glad that that was not awaiting
her. They were going to quietly slice her open instead.
The next morning she awoke with the knowledge that there was no postponing
the event now and this made her feel more positive than she had been feeling
for the past four months. In the hospital room, everything was an oasis
of calm. The pale jade curtains gently swayed to the breeze that crept
in through the open window. Midwives with silent tread and soft voices
drifted in and out and the quiet, hypnotic hum of the monitor signalled
that the babies were in readiness and patiently waiting.
At twenty to twelve that night, her waters broke. Excitement began to
mount inside her and she was even cracking bad jokes with Him whilst the
anaesthetist administered the epidural. It was probably due to suppressed
hysteria and the awesome realisation that this was the end of her past
life. The drugs were making her uncharacteristcally sentimental. She had
to bid farewell to old friends whose names were freedom, space and time.
Well meet up again some day, she hoped, dreamily, as the theatre
doors swung closed behind her.
At three minutes past one in the morning, on May Day, one decade before
the end of the century, Simon and Solomon were lifted out into the world.
Each babys head and trunk could be cradled in the palm of a mans
hand and neither weighed more than that of a dozen small, rosy apples.
They made their debut appearance to a grand audience of eighteen medical
staff and a third-time father. Their producer was stitched up, wheeled
back into the wings, and deposited in an unlit side-room on the maternity
Her body, still semi-paralysed from the anaesthetic, was lifted and rolled
onto the bed where she lay inert in some shadowy, darkened space. Her
babies had been whisked off to intensive care and she was alone again,
with an excavated womb. Her benumbed legs felt like uprooted tree trunks,
her mind as if it had been battered in a wild storm; whilst her arms lay
empty. Maybe if she could be holding them now, she would feel less like
a hollowed out and useless husk whose function had been fulfilled. Eventually,
she fell into a fitful sleep, dreaming that it was all a dream within
PART 2: THE BREAKING
Dependability had never been one of his strengths. In actual fact, he
was a total liability, especially to himself and others who were near
enough to have to sustain the inevitable fallouts. His seemed to spend
his life lurching from one alcohol-fuelled disaster to the next, with
the occasional trip-ups in-between.
His background was respectable enough. His father was an architect,
renowned in Tigray for the municipal buildings that he had designed
and erected in Addis Ababa, and his mother was a descendant of King
Johannes II ;or so he said. But their lives had been up-ended by a military
overthrow of the government and a series of unresolvable civil wars.
He left his family home at the age of fourteen, and went to live with
his uncle in the safer port of Asawa where he soon turned out to be
quite a successful small-time entrepreneur. Four years later, his father
went to tell him to leave Ethiopia as the political situation was worsening
and the likelihood that he would be hounded down and imprisoned for
his familys political views was fast becoming more of a certainty.
And so he fled to Germany, leaving behind not only his parents and siblings
but his pregnant girlfriend and their baby son.
He saw himself as a survivor. You wouldnt catch him succumbing
to mental breakdown or suicide, as some others had. But his escape lay
in alcohol and his safety-net in plying subtle, emotional blackmail
within his intimate relationships, whilst his heart would always remain
back in Tigray, with his fighting brothers and sisters. The one thing
they both agreed on was that he came from an ancestry of warriors. He
held this belief with pride but she held it with misgiving. She always
had an aversion to those who will do what they feel they have to, impelled
by zealous beliefs or avengement and stoically bear, even embrace, the
terrible consequences. She viewed such minds as being in possession
of the mentality of the mental.
At the end of June, the babies were allowed to go home. Once they were
firmly established there, the parents swapped over their positions of
desirer and desired. He had been the one who had been pestering to have
a child. It would bring them even closer together. He would settle down,
become responsible. Whereas she knew this unexpected double responsibility
would soon drive them apart. Which it did in the end. As time went on,
her residual energy from continuous, duplicated baby care was gradually
slumping to zero. There was not much left to spare for him. But still
he didnt change. It felt as if there were three children to look
after, and to be honest, things were much easier when he wasnt
around. She began not to care, rather than panic, if he was out on the
town with his friends when really, she could have done with a pair of
assisting hands over at her place.
The irony of this turn-around was that he eventually became bored with
male bonding and would plead with her to go out with him. They could
go and see a film she fancied, or out for a meal, maybe catch a jazz
band, whatever shed like to do and he swore he wouldnt
drink. But it was too late for any of that now. Give them enough rope
and you know what happens. By then, she didnt give a toss, he
could hang himself with it if he chose to. She became hard, hed
let her down badly. And she would never forgive him for that.
The inevitable and protracted parting, three years later, was drawn
out and far from amicable. She hadnt seen him for nine months.
This was because he was spending time at her majestys pleasure.
For her, that had been the final straw. Assaulting a police officer
and resisting arrest whilst drunk. The responsible father - sure. She
remembered her last word to him when she dropped him off at the tube
station for his second day in court. One small word that was an outright
untruth of her feelings. As he stepped out of the car, he turned his
head round and asked her if shed wait for him. Shed said
He knew that if he was sent down, he would not be seeing them for a
while. She had told him that she was not going to visit him and nor
would she be allowing their sons to take one step across any prison
threshold. She watched him disappear down the station steps and was
struck by a forceful certainty that for her at least, it was finally
The subsequent weeks and then months slipped by with ease, free from
incident, as if she was on extended leave. But none of it could last
forever. (She had even started seeing someone else. Someone who had
had a crush on her for ten years and who had also sporadically caught
her fancy in the past. He was a mathematician, a hill-walker and a handsome
dreamer. But that is another story and belongs in another province,
far from here.) The release date was six days away and she knew that
she had to go and tell him her decision in person. This was the sum
total of all she owed him.
His probation officer had kindly driven her up to the open prison which
was situated not far from Cambridge. She entered the visiting hall and
stood still, both hands clutching the string handles of the carrier
bag which contained the suit and clean shirt he had asked her to bring.
The regimented rows of desks, each one bracketed by a pair of canvas
chairs, reminded her of a school hall set out in preparation for an
exam. The late afternoon sunlight which filtered through the tall, net-wired
windowpanes cast a mood of serenity in the vast and almost empty room.
She carefully scanned the few faces ahead of her until she noticed a
solitary figure, sitting apart from the rest, at the far end of the
front row. For a protracted moment, she stared at this person, then
recognition jolted in the pit of her stomach with a sickening blow.
Slowly, she walked over; they exchanged polite kisses to the cheek and
she sat down to face him.
They fumbled around with stilted pleasantries but masked behind a repellent
emulsion of obsequiousness and charm, a ghost of menace showed in his
eyes that told her he already knew, without the knowing. Her memory
has long since shut the door on the actual exchange of words. She remembered
that at some point, he rose abruptly, making as if to walk away and
out of her life for the last time. The metal legs of his chair scraped
against the scuffed linoleum and the resultant jarring cacophony crashed
and ricocheted around the walls, swiftly arousing the threatening attentions
of the two wardens. In the days to come, he was often to make these
dramatic but false gestures of closure, as if testing the intactness
of her responses. But those old, conditioned responses had long been
subjugated and left to rot. Taking his time, he retraced his steps,
straightened his chair and calmly sat back down. She had remained motionless
in her seat, waiting.
After the outburst of anger came the chilliness, the derision, the moral
blackmail; each emotional exposition cresting like a surfers wave,
only to come crashing down on the sandstone of her resolve. Finally,
his depleted ripples went out with the rip tide of a more hardened indominability.
She cant recall his last words of that afternoon but they could
be summed up as Well see
. When the door slammed
shut and was locked behind him, she realised that the carrier bag was
still sitting on the floor.
After his release, the hitherto hidden Ethiopian sense of patriarchal
ownership now reared its monstrous head. Refusing to accept her suggestion
of supervised visits, he kept reiterating that the boys were his children,
as if another man could or would even want to take them away from him.
Twice he attacked her and for five weeks he stalked her. Mercilessly.
He would wander into the supermarket near her work, around the time
of her lunch hour, and stroll aimlessly up and down the aisles as if
he was merely deciding what to cook for dinner that night. Or he would
hang around outside the glass-fronted piazza where she took her tea
breaks and later, interrogate her as to who the guy was that he had
seen her with, on more than one occasion. He was only a colleague. Each
evening after work, as she turned the car key in the ignition, trepidation
would steal over her. Suppose he was waiting on some street corner on
the way? Would she panic and accidentally run him over?
There was no peace to be had at home either. He dialled her number at
all hours of the night, letting it ring and ring and ring when she didnt
pick up the phone. He said he had relatives living in her area whom
he had instructed to keep an eye on all her movements and report on
who her visitors were.
In the end, she had to call out the police, at five oclock in
the morning, when he assaulted her, robbed her of her keys and forced
his way into her flat. The police found him sitting in the boys
bedroom. He kept repeating the same three words to them. Theyre
my children. Theyre my children.
Now, eight years later, she thought, If only hed taken some responsibility
for them, and for himself, he might still be here to hear them say Yes,
and Hes our dad.
© Amy Chan - The Making and the Breaking
Further Chapters in Amy Chan's evolving biographical novel
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