These moments are everything. Right now with Azalea is when I’m truly home, even if it’s virtual. She’s wearing the cream chiffon scarf I bought for her thirtieth. She always wears something I got her. Her subtle way of showing her love. I wish I could return the gesture, but have to make do with whatever charity shop bargains I can get, like this duffle coat that just about protects me from the cold.
Azalea goes to speak but there’s a tannoy announcement. She must be in the departure lounge. She’s pursuing her dream job – teaching English in Outer Mongolia and training their teachers. I couldn’t be prouder, but fear and loneliness gate-crash my mood.
The tannoy is a trigger that causes her eyes to well up. It’s the same face as when she started school.
‘What’s that monument behind you?’ she says, probably to distract herself, or to stop me asking what’s wrong?
I don’t know what it is, but it’s arty. She loves arty. That’s why I’ve chosen this place – a funky spot I sit at across the square from my new home, Gable Manor. I call it that to make the grim dwelling sound much more grand.
We always do video calls. I always make sure I’m outside. I’ve been sitting on this wall near Rose’s Cafe for half an hour in case she called early. What a mistake. The smell is making my belly grumble for more breakfast, after the beans on toast without the beans.
As I glance at Gable Manor, wondering where I put that food bank leaflet,
I notice a truck pull up there. Two men and a woman get out. They assess the building.
‘You okay?’ Azalea says.
I hold the phone up, so I can keep an eye on them easier.
‘Yeah, it’s bright, that’s all. I was struggling to see you.’
With all this distraction, I almost forgot to share my exciting news. I’ll be having an adventure of my own soon. It’s only a second interview, but that’s promising. I’m venturing back into the teaching world myself. Back to my roots.
I’m about to tell her when I notice red blotches on her chest and neck. She’s doing her blinking thing.
‘Zee,’ I say. ‘It’s okay to be scared, you know. You don’t have to put on a front.’
Over at Gable Manor, a locksmith has now arrived. There are handshakes. A discussion. Probably talking about the weather. The typical British thing.
‘What if I’m making a huge mistake, Mum?’
I want to wipe her tears with the back of my finger, feel the moisture on my skin. I want to hold her and stroke her hair, hear her breathing in my neck slowly subside. Instead, I make do with a word hug. I remind her of class SaU; when six-year-old her thought she’d hate me being her teacher, but in fact she knew from the first day what she wanted to be when she grew up.
She giggles, and the sound tugs at the corners of my mouth.
I sense she wants more. But the words are jammed in my throat as I watch the woman board up the windows. The men are busy emptying my possessions into the open-back truck. In and out, in and out, with bedding, clothes, my toaster, my beautiful mirror, discarding them like they’re worthless objects. One is holding up a picture frame, examining it, showing his colleague. I tell myself it’s just another object, meaningless, but it’s not. It’s Azalea. It’s all I have of her.
‘Are you sure everything’s okay?’ she asks.
I give her my best smile, while digging my fingernails into the wall beneath me.
Behind Azalea, another tannoy announcement echoes. She chirps, ‘That’s me. I’ll have to go.’
‘Okay, Zee. Always remember, you’re a formidable woman. You’re going to be great.’
She pulls out her mirror and checks herself. ‘I am formidable, aren’t I? And it’s because of you.’
The last screw has gone into the hoarding. The last item flies onto the truck – the suit I was planning on wearing to my interview.
‘I’m gonna miss you so much,’ she adds, giving me a big smile to take with me.
A tear sneaks out from my left eye.
I blow her a kiss. ‘Go get em, Zee. I’m gonna miss you too. More than you will ever know.’
They’re getting into the truck now, sharing a joke, laughing, getting each other through another day, another job like all the rest, unaware of the life they’re discarding.
Jimmy Webb is a short story writer and poetry dabbler from England. He is published in Bandit Fiction and Short-B-Read, is due to be published in Centifiction, and has won third place in a Henshaw Press competition. He can be found on Twitter using @_Jimmy_san_