Shit. Shit. Shit.
This is the first time I’ve been caught out like this. And it happened because I was too bloody busy ‘living in the moment’ to remember to set the alarm.
I jump out of bed. And stumble around looking for my clothes. Then I have a (very vivid) flashback to being naked with Jake in the living room. This distracts me momentarily.
Then the doorbell rings again. How can it be time for Mia to come home already? I feel like I only just fell asleep; which is entirely feasible given that we were up for most of the night.
I run to the living room and quickly get dressed. Then I run back to the bedroom and throw Jakes’ clothes at him. I really have to stop running. My body aches from over exertion.
I shake him awake “Get dressed. Do not make a sound. And do not leave this room”. He looks (understandably) confused in his half-asleep stupor.
I open the door. Mia throws herself at me “Happy Birthday Mummy!” She doesn’t notice my dishevelled appearance. But Mark does. My crazy hair and flushed cheeks must scream “I’ve been having sex all night!”
Mia dances around me singing ‘Happy Birthday’ at the top of her voice. I assume Mark wants to discuss something; he normally stays in the car. I wait for him to speak. But all he says is “Your top is inside out”.
Then he kisses Mia goodbye and walks off. I can’t see his car anywhere. He disappears around the corner. There is something odd about his behaviour but I don’t have time to analyse it. I have to get Jake out of the house without Mia seeing him.
I lead her into the living room. And close the door “Wow, it looks like it snowed in here. What happened?” I tell her that I set the bean bag on fire. She doesn’t seem at all surprised.
I put the television on. And turn up the volume; just in case she can hear my heart thumping against my chest. I am a nervous wreck.
Mia hasn’t met anyone I’ve dated; I didn’t want her to form an attachment to someone unless I was sure there was a future in it. She must not see Jake. I give her the television remote. Then tell her that I’m going to prepare a surprise in the kitchen. And she must stay in the living room until I come to get her.
I go into the bedroom. Jake is dressed and sitting on the bed. I apologise. Then explain that I don’t want Mia to meet him. He looks a little put out. So I add “not yet anyway”. I tell him to count to three after I have left. Then leave very quietly.
I go back into the living room “Is the surprise ready?” Bollocks. I had said the first thing that came into my head. “Not yet”. Then I suggest we empty out the rest of the polystyrene balls. And roll around in the ‘snow’. This occupies her long enough for Jake to leave.
I start to relax. Then she throws me off balance by asking why it took me so long to answer the door. My brain is frazzled. I can’t think. “Were you having a big poo?” I readily agree.
Then I spot Jake’s boxers under the sofa. Damn. Not only did I throw him out. I threw him out underwear-less. Perhaps I should just give up on dating altogether. At least until my mother dies and Mia grows up; by which point I’ll probably be rocking incessantly in a chair with a cat on my head mumbling incoherently about the opportunities I missed.
My train of thought is interrupted by the sight of Mia scratching her head. My head has also been feeling a little itchy but I put it down to having the heating on a lot more than usual. Now I’m not so sure. I check her hair.
She has head lice. And so have I.
We rush to the supermarket to buy treatment. Mr Jobsworth recognises me immediately. And starts following us. I’m tempted to open another can of red bull but I want to get these little bloodsucking parasites out of our hair as soon as possible.
We stop at the pharmacy section. He is right behind us. I whisper “Scratch your head” to Mia. And we both start (ferociously) scratching our heads. Then I pick up two bottles of head lice treatment. And Mr Jobsworth practically runs off.
We get home. And sit in the bath with the treatment on our hair waiting for it to work. Then it dawns on me that I may have given Jake head lice.
Today just gets better and better.
I’ve never liked my birthday. It’s always such an anti-climax. I’m not quite sure what I expect; a fireworks display maybe or a ten piece orchestra outside my door. Needless to say, I am always left disappointed.
Admittedly hitting my mid-thirties complete with head lice is a new low altogether.
Then my phone beeps with a message. It’s from Jake 'look on your doorstep - happy birthday xx'.
I open the door to find a bunch of lilies and a gift box full of lychees. I told him last night that they were my favourite fruit. That is so sweet of him. I feel all warm and fuzzy. Then I cringe; how the hell am I going to tell him about the head lice?
The phone rings. I let it go to answer phone. My parents sing ‘Happy Birthday’ in tuneless unison. They do that every year. And it never fails to make me smile. Then my mother says “There is a present in the bag for you from Nene”. Nene? What is she talking about? My Nene (grandmother) died fifteen years ago.
I get the bag out of its hiding place. And rummage around until I find a gift-wrapped box. It’s my grandmother’s necklace; thirty gold sovereigns (with Arabic writing) threaded on to a piece of thick string.
It’s been in the family for generations. And it’s the closest thing we have to a family heirloom. I read the note 'Nene asked me to give you this when I thought you would appreciate its value'.
I’m touched. And a little surprised that she chose me (over my five siblings) to pass it on to.
We clashed a lot; particularly over religion. My grandmother used to sleep with the Koran above her bed. She would take it down every morning and read it again. I asked her why she believed in god when her life had been so shit.
She answered with “If I didn’t have my faith then what would I have?” She believed that this life was a test; that she was being made to suffer in this life so that she could be rewarded in the next. I told her that was crap. There is only one life and this is it. She asked god to forgive me and prayed for my soul.
We were worlds apart but I loved that old lady so much. I wish I could tell her that I’m sorry for mocking her faith. And that the grown up Kitty actually admires her for it. That would have made her happy. Although I would have to add that I still believed all organised forms of religion to be oppressive and had merely shifted from atheist to agnostic.
At that point she would have leaned down for her slipper. And I would have headed for the door. I didn’t always get there in time. My grandmother was the fastest slipper thrower in the west. I still miss her. She had lived with us all my life. That’s one of the things I love about my culture. We look after our old folk.
And we all played a part in looking after my grandmother when she was dying of cancer. It’s incredible how you can live in the same house as someone for years but actually know so little about who they are beyond their designated roles within the family.
I knew she was my grandmother. I knew she loved wrestling (I still have tapes of her swearing when ‘Giant Haystacks’ was stage fighting her favourite ‘Big Daddy’). I knew her husband was a bastard. I knew she loved Laurel and Hardy. And I knew she made a mean olive and tomato salad. But I found out a lot more about her that last weekend we spent together.
She was married at twelve and horribly abused by her husband and his dominant mother for twenty one years until they died within a couple of months of each other. Her first child died at eighteen months. Then she had my mother. And finally, (what every Cypriot man wanted) a son.
It’s the first time I have heard her talk about her son. All I knew about him was that he was mentally and physically disabled. He died in his twenties. I had asked my mother to elaborate once but she just shook her head, pursed her lips and told me never to mention him again.
I gently probe my grandmother. Her face crumbles and her pain is clearly still incredibly raw “I did a terrible thing”. I hold her hand and wait for her to tell me more. He was perfectly normal up until the age of three. He was sitting in the garden when he had some sort of fit, his little arms and legs thrashing wildly. Then he lost consciousness. She tried to rouse him by shaking his little body.
He finally came to but was left paralysed down one side of his body and suffered brain damage. Her husband and mother-in-law told her that she had done that to him when she was shaking him. I tell her that’s not possible. Surely the doctors told her that?
But this happened in Cyprus in 1934. He was never taken to a doctor. And she was made to live with that guilt for the rest of her life. Nothing I say can convince her otherwise. She says that is why she has been made to suffer. That is why she was left paralysed down one side of her body by a stroke. That is why she is dying of cancer.
I finally understand her need to have her faith.
We sit in silence with tears running down our faces. I bury my head in her neck, breathing in her smell as she strokes my hair (I used to sit at her feet for hours when I was little while she did that).
She tilts my head up and looks into my eyes, “You have fire in your belly Kitty. I had that once too. Don’t ever let anybody put that fire out”.
I clutch the necklace tightly as Mia wipes my tears away “No crying on your birthday”.
Then she suggests we go bowling.
On the drive there she says “Daddy’s new car has a TV thing in it. Don’t tell him I told you though ok? He said I wasn’t allowed to tell you about it.”
New car? Why is he buying a new car when he can’t afford the mortgage? And why is he asking Mia not to tell me? Then I remember his odd behaviour earlier. Normally he waits in the car outside the house. He must have parked around the corner because he didn’t want me to see it.
I have an awful sick feeling in the pit of my stomach; have I been taken for a complete fool?