Every good story should have a hero (if not many) but this one doesn't. There are some losers, some survivors and then there's me. But then this isn't a story. These are mixed recollections of very real events. Mixed because I couldn't put these events in sequence even if I tried, my brain left confused and dazed by the quantity of emotions experienced, unable to organise itself.
I suppose I should try and start from the beginning but I can't quite bring myself to. So instead let me take you back to a memory I have. I don't know why I have chosen this one just that it's prominent in my mind. I'm often haunted for days at a time by vague memories of things I would rather stay buried, maybe writing about them will help me put them to rest once and for all.
It's the smell that wakes me. The sweet smell of brioche being warmed in the oven. My eyes adjust to the darkened room and register the few sharp strands of light which penetrate through the gaps in the wooden shutters. Its the middle of August in the south of France and yet the room is cool. That's just the way old French houses were designed, incredibly efficient at remaining cool in the face of the summer heat. I slip out from under the covers of the huge old double bed, menacing with it's dark wooden surrounds, and head towards the window, desperate to cast light over the various pieces of furniture, all made of dark varnished wood, all foreboding in their own way. Admittedly, to an antiques dealer, or someone with more mature taste, the furniture which is heavy and ornate would be enchanting but to a twelve year old like me, they are gloomy and ominous and reflect my feelings beautifully.
I wait to be sure that the sunlight has chased away the gloom before I turn around. As I stand there waiting in the face of the open window, I can feel the breeze which is warm almost muggy, even early in the morning. It gently runs through my hair which tickles the small of my back. My long chestnut locks, my crowning glory as my mother used to say, damp with sweat from the heat of the night. From my window I can see green fields and blue sky as far as the horizon, the quiet only disturbed by the occasional car which whizzes past on the only nearby road or by the bleating of the many goats. Some dream of this. Of sweet smelling pastries, of sunlight, heat, fields of gold and only animals to break the peace. Not me. I am in an idyllic setting and yet inside I am numb.
I slip on some clothes and go and sit on the bed, my feet dangle, swinging backwards and forwards wondering whether it is me who is short or the bed which is high, trying not to think of anything else. Trying not to think of the car, crushed, bent like an accordion, battered and broken. The hospital, the paper shoes we had to wear, the scowling nurses, the machines. The wine bottles, the old men, their cheeks stained with red blotches and broken blood vessels...then the noise of tyres on the gravel interrupts my wondering mind. Someone is here.
I listen intently as the car stops, I hear the car door open and close, footsteps, voices, broken French and fluent.
“I want to see her, please”... “I think she is still sleeping”... “please check. I just need to speak to her”...
I hear footsteps coming down the corridor and the kind lady who is fostering me gently taps at my door. She speaks in French slowly to me, knowing mine is far from perfect. “Your mother is here, she wishes to speak with you.” … “Please tell her I am not ready”... “are you sure...it's been weeks”
… “I just can't yet”. I don't know why I do that. I want her more than anything. More than anything I want to hold her and not let go. But then I suppose that's the problem. I would have to let go, would have to stay here and I'm just not strong enough. And I can still feel the anger, the complete uncontrollable anger. I'm know I'm not angry at her. I'm angry because my father is dead, because I don't know where my brother is, because I'm in a foreign country away from friends and family, because we had everything and now we have nothing not even each other. Because I'm scared. And it's true, when we are at our lowest we hurt the ones we love because we know it's safe to do so. I love her so much and I'll hurt her so much.
“I'm afraid she's still sleeping”... “wake her please, I need to see her”... “I'm sorry, the child needs her rest” I know she has reluctantly accepted the poorly concealed lie, probably because it hurts less than hearing the truth. And as the tears slowly pool onto the floor I wish for one thing only. Strength.