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I start the walk home straight away, feeling a spring in my step. The sun is setting in the winter’s sky, leaving a gloomy dark shade over everything. A stale chill in the air moves through me as I walk home, the clouds dark above me, looming. A harsh wind cuts through everything, but just for a second. It leaves quickly, making me realise how empty the streets are. People are already in there homes, the smell of cooking meats swirling out from the windows of most buildings. Bellowing smoke, racing out of the chimneys, joining with the sky and disappearing, escaping. The skip in my step brings me home quicker than normal, even though it’s probably a little later thanks to the teacher keeping me back.
Inside the shop, Dad is working on something by candle light again. Even though we are one of the only houses to have electricity he doesn’t use it. Prefers candles to overhead lights. I think the only reason he actually got it put in was to stop me from reading in the dark after the candle had burnt out. Something I know I shouldn’t do, but just can’t help it.
“Good evening, Ny. Good day at school?” he speaks without looking away from his clock.
“Yes it was okay. I got held back a little.”
“Fighting again? I hope you won this time,” he says, still in full concentration.
“I always win, that’s the way you taught me. But it’s not that. The teacher, Mrs Edina, she told me about the scholarship. It sounds similar to the one Mum did. She says that I can do it to. That I’m not that far off.”
My Dad actually pauses in his work, which is something I’ve never seen him do. He places his tools on the side, and looks up at me. Time seems to stop, he’s mad about something. I can tell. He’s never been this quiet for this length of time before. Maybe he thinks I want to abandon him, maybe he just doesn’t think I can do it. Maybe I can’t.
“That’s wonderful news,” he shouts, moving around the counter to hug me.
I’m shocked and don’t know what to say.
“You’re going to get out of this place,” he starts. “I can’t believe it, you’re just like you Mother. I suppose I shouldn’t really be surprised. Seriously, I’m really proud. How come you haven’t mentioned going for it before.”
“I wasn’t. I only found out such a thing existed when you mentioned it, and the she held me back, to tell me I seemed distracted, and that some of the teachers thought I could get this, and my name was going to get put forward to it. All I need to do is carry on.”
“Brilliant news. If your name gets through the first round, which it will, you have to fill out an application, and with you working here at the weekends. That’s going to help a lot. Even if it’s family, it shows responsibility.”
“Whoa, calm down a minute. I’m not going to be put forward until next year, my last year at school. Lets not get ahead of ourselves.”
“Sorry, but I just can’t help it.”
“Thank you?” I try being funny, but I’m really not.
“You’re just like your Mother. I can’t believe it. She would be so proud. Hey. If you actually do need any help filling anything out, which you won’t, then you could always just go back and ask her. She got accepted straight away, so you could just ask her for help.”
“I suppose, but that’s a bit weird isn’t it? Mum and daughter applying for university together at the same time, twenty five years apart. Not the normal way a family does things.”
“Who actually wants to be normal, really. You want to be mad, and different. I always thought you wanted space pirates from the hidden fifth moon of Mars to barge through that door at any time. That wouldn’t be normal though. Although you’d be safe,” he jumps as if he has a sword in his hand and points it at the door. “I’ll protect you.”
I can’t help but laugh. Always the same person.
“The less hidden fourth moon? Those pirates are monsters why would you want them to come down. You’re on your own there, I don’t think I’d be able to do much.”
“Come on, not like that. But I could ask her for help at some point I suppose. But that’s not important right now, is it? Did you find those pictures?”
“That, I did,” he says while pretending to put his sword into its sheath.
He walks back around the counter, and moves the clock to one side. He’s so careful with it, as if it’s his fragile child. I almost want to knock his hand so it falls to the floor and crumbles to pieces. But I think we all know how well that will go down. I probably wouldn’t be looking at those pictures tonight, or any night soon for that matter. After he places the delicate treasure to one side, he grabs a small pile of photos and brings them to me. They’ve been sitting on the counter in plain view the whole time. He moves around to my side of the counter. I lean on the old wooden counter, that had stood in this place for more generations than I can count. Dad stands close next to me, so we can both see the pictures. The first one, is just of the three of us. He’s holding me, and my Mum just looks happy. I’m a baby in the picture. They both look so young and happy. Like nothing could stop them, and the whole world was perfect.
“This one was taken just after you were born. Just a couple of months after. Your grandparents on you Mum’s side, they wanted a picture we could all cherish of that moment. Probably the happiest time in my life.”
“You look so young there.”
I wait for some kind of sarcastic comment, about how he still looks young, or having troubled children ages you. But it doesn’t come, he just lingers on the photo, before putting it on the counter and showing me the next one. It’s my Mum and Dad, sitting on wooden chairs, in a room I’ve never seen before. They are both in conversation, and don’t seem to notice the photo was being taken at all.
“This is one of my favourites. This was taken, before you were born, at you Mum’s childhood house. One of the first time I ever went there. They live in a village on the other side of the Eastern City, we were just talking for hours, and her Dad just snapped this and didn’t mention it, the next time I visit, it’s sitting in a frame in your Mum’s bedroom.”
“Is the village still there? Do my family still live there.”
“I assume so, but I haven’t been there in years. I suppose you want to go. It’s somewhere I’ve been meaning to take you for years, but it’s just never been a good option, I’ve just pushed it back over and over again. And time moves fast, you’ll understand one day.”
“I’m not mad.”
“I know, I suppose I am. I should have given you more. A connection to your Mum. Not just avoided mentioning her.”
“I know it’s not easy. Believe me, I know.”
He moves that photo to the pile. The next one looks really old. The colour has either faded, or was never really there in the first place. There are two people standing side by side, that I’ve never seen before, and in the middle is a very young Mum. Probably younger than me now.
Are any of them still alive. I wonder. What could they tell me about my Mum. New stories, that I don’t need to go back and get involved in. I’m guessing these are her parents, they could tell me about her, maybe she was really naughty as a child, or even the opposite.
“Do we have a camera?” I ask. The question just popped into my head and blurt it out.
“No. These were all taken by her brother. Your Uncle. Mazwell. He studied photography in the Eastern City University, works in the City now for a magazine. Reasonably successful I hear.”
“Really? When was the last time you saw him?”
“Oh, years ago, shortly after we lost your Mum. I got on with him alright, just didn’t really keep in touch, but that’s life really. Even people you want to spend the rest of your life with, they get forgotten. Pushed to one side, or worse. There are so many people I used to be best friends with that I’ve forgotten about. Kinda sad if you think about it. I can only say, don’t get hung up on it. There is nothing we can do about it really. Maybe they forget too, and wouldn’t recognise you if you saw them on the street. Not that it’s really important. I actually knew Maz before I met your Mum. He covered an article about this place in the newspaper. He came here took a few pictures, and then I took him on the tour of the village. I can’t believe I forgot about that. He wanted to take pictures of the poor. Wanted to show the city what life is really like outside the walls. This is the poorest village on the wall. Nothing really came of it though. That was a really long time ago. I wonder if the story ever got published. Funny story really, years later when I was just about to get married to your Mum I was spending some time in her village and he walked in through the door. We spotted each other and couldn’t figure out why we were both their at the same time. Weird coincidence. I wonder what’s he’s really up to now.”
“Maybe we could find out, he can’t be that hard to find.”
“Maybe, but I’m not sure.”
“Did you leave on bad terms?”
“No it’s just time has passed. You’ll realise it when you’re older. People don’t stay the same, even if they don’t realise it. We aren’t always meant to be with the same people all the way through our lives. As hard as that is to understand things change us.”
“Does that make you sad?”
“Kind of, it’s hard to explain. I don’t think about these people a lot, they are forgotten. I don’t mean to sound mean, but that is just the way things go. I want you to understand that. People change, they move on. It doesn’t mean we dislike others or we fall out. Circumstances change. Sadly that means people will disappear, people we love. Maybe we will never see them again. And that’s okay. That’s the way it goes. I just don’t want you to spend sleepless nights wondering what people you went to school with are doing. Some of them won’t stay in the village, they will move to other ones. Some will stay here and you will just forget about them. That’s life.”
I feel like he’s just venting his own emotions rather than trying to teach me anything. I imagine I’ve opened up a chest full of forgotten memories and people in his mind. I don’t want him to be upset, so I’m just going to let him get it out of his system. Maybe I should stop trying to make him dredge up the past with me. That this is my quest, and I should probably do it alone. I don’t know how many painful moments I’m making him relive. There is obviously a reason why he hid these photos.
He shows me a few more pictures, but I’ve seen what I want to see. My Mother, and her family. Young, happy and unaware of anything in the future. I want to meet my family. These people I’ve never seen, or if I have then it’s been years. Seriously, probably when I was so young I wasn’t concious. I wonder if they still think of me, if I’m just a forgotten person to them.
The last photo is of my Mum and Dad, in the city. Their wedding day. A Wide smile crawling across their faces, almost joining them together, as they embrace, heads squished close. I don’t think I’ve ever seen my Dad wear anything, that nice. Normally it’s the same as me, tattered old, but comfortable clothes. Clean, but just not the nicest things to look at. We bought them from the local clothes shop, and they don’t make especially nice things. But in the picture he was wearing a suit, and looks seriously well dressed, even his short, normally messy hair, it was combed. I can’t believe it. I’ve never seen him look like this, it’s hard to believe he scrubs up so well.
“Wow,” I stutter. “I can’t believe how good you look.”
“Ah, thanks. See maybe if you try a boy will take interest.”
“I’m joking. I’m sure they will take notice, eventually. They will run out of girls.”
He just smiles and continues to look at the photo. My eyes move back to the stunning dress my Mum is wearing. They just look perfect.
To be continued…
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