There is a tremendous age gap between three and nearly five. Trish, despite the wheelchair, was able to use her cutlery in a reasonable manner, which of course Mima mimicked. As soon as the support worker went, I dashed off to get the ear drops and some cotton wool. I also bought a few comics and a book for each of them. If I couldn’t teach Trish to walk, perhaps I could help to teach her to read.
I also bought her a new doll similar to Mima’s, and some outfits I knew Mima didn’t have. If I could stop them fighting over whose was whose, it would help my frayed nerves. Why do I do these things to myself? I should have said no, and walked away from it, Trish is not my problem, I have no obligation to make things all well for her. Except my damned conscience doesn’t see it like that, does it?
“Hello, Cathy,” said a semi-familiar voice. I turned around.
“Brad, do you make a habit of lurking in supermarkets?”
“No, but it’s cheap to eat here and better than the bed-sit I’ve arranged for a few weeks.”
“If you get fed up, call by, I’m sure Simon would be happy to chat. I won’t, I’ve just acquired another child to look after for a short time.”
“Well do have cuppa with me before you disappear.”
I looked at my watch, “Okay, but a very quick one.” We sat down at the coffee shop cum cafeteria in Morrisons. As these go, it’s one of the better ones, certainly better than Tesco or Asda. Brad went and got two cups of tea and a biscuit and we sat and chatted while we ate them.
“How come you’ve got another kid to look after?”
“I got caught, and fell for it hook line and sinker.”
“What another little girl?”
“Yes, a ward mate of Mima, with similar injury to her head. She isn’t walking however, and the doctor hoped seeing Mima running about the place might help her.”
“Wouldn’t that frustrate her?”
“Maybe, they think it might be something psychological, as she appears to have healed. I mean, she can control her bladder and bowels, so she has some nerve function. She was living in a children’s home and was bullied by an older boy.”
“I hate bullying, I was bullied at school.”
“Yeah, so was I.”
“What even at Bristol Grammar? Do posh kids bully as well?”
“Don’t they just. I was smaller than many of them.”
“Were you, you must have had a growth spurt since, because you’re quite tall.”
“I did in my teens.” It was true, boys usually do, but he didn’t know that, and I wasn’t going to tell him. “What about you?”
“When they found out I was gay…” I coughed and spat out a mouthful of tea, fortunately back into the cup. …”Are you okay, Cathy?” I was busy coughing and spluttering, but nodded at his question. “You didn’t know?” he asked and I shook my head. “Oh, maybe I shouldn’t have said anything. It’s just that girls usually pick up on it.”
I gave up on the tea, and after blowing my nose, said, ”I don’t think Stella did, either, so we’re obviously a bit slow in the uptake.”
“I hope you won’t be disappointed in me.” He looked very sad and blushed.
I placed my hand on his, “Why should I be? This is the twenty first century, and the university has a difference and diversity policy which is a good as anywhere. I happen to subscribe to it wholeheartedly.”
“That’s nice to know, I hope the others do.”
“In the department, they couldn’t care less as long as you can do the job. Tom has no hang-ups about any of these things, and last year we lost a student to AIDS. That was awful.”
“Goodness, I thought most people could expect to reach forty or more with the anti retrovirals.”
“They didn’t seem to work for him. He got a chest infection and died. His parents didn’t know, they were devastated. I got involved in trying to explain things to them, I hope it helped.”
“How come you got involved?”
“I was his tutor, and he asked me to speak to them. He was taken ill during a meeting with me, and I took him to the hospital.” I felt my eyes begin to moisten and looked into the distance.
“I’m sorry I’m upsetting you. It’s just unusual for a female lecturer to get so involved with a gay man, especially a straight woman.”
“I don’t see people as male or female when they have troubles. I see them as humans who might need my help.”
“Are you some sort of angelic being?”
“Don’t you start.”
“Why who else has called you one?”
“No one.” I said very quickly, which of course indicated they had.
“Well, you seem to be such a kind and generous person, you always walk the extra mile, don’t you?”
“Only because the exercise does me good. I have to be getting back. Feel free to call in if you’re lonely. If you play chess, Simon would love you to call in.”
“I haven’t played for ages, but I might just do that.”
“If you can phone first, it’ll make sure we’re in.”
“Of course, thank you, Angel Cathy.”
“Oh bugger off!” Despite my swearing at him, he kissed me on the cheek. Stella is going to be so pissed when she finds out, hee hee! He hid that well. Was he telling me fibs to see if I’d open up to him? I’m not convinced he’s gay, so he might be trying to lull me into a false sense of trust. Hmmm, I’ll wait and see. He still has no reason for knowing about me, yet—if at all.
When I got back, the two kids were sat on either side of Simon as he read them the House at Pooh Corner. “Ah, here comes Tigger, now.”
I looked around and decided he was talking about me, “What was that, Eyore?” I replied and the girls laughed like drains—silly description, have you ever heard a drain laugh? No, nor me, they never do more than chuckle round here.
“I’m glad you’re back, I need to go to the loo.” He struggled up and hobbled out to the cloakroom.
“So you girls have been looking after Simon, have you?”
“We bin wookin’ after Daddy,” said Mima.
“He’s a very nice daddy,” said Trish.
I decided not to comment until I’d spoken to Simon. “Yes, he tries to be, doesn’t he, Meems?”
“Auntie Cathy, can I call you, Mummy?”
I took my coat off and sat in the chair opposite Trish. “I don’t know if that’s a good idea, Trish. Your real mummy might not like it. Besides, I don’t know how long you’ll be staying, so it might not be a good thing, feel free to call me Auntie Cathy, if you like.”
“My mother doesn’t like me, she abandoned me when I was a baby.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t know. But just because she did something bad a long time ago, doesn’t mean she didn’t love you. She could have had a good reason for leaving you, which you might not understand until you’re a big girl. Life can seem very different when you’re very young, to when you are nearly grown up.”
“I hate her, it’s because of her that I’m in that horrid home, where they tease me and hurt me.” She started to cry, and so did Mima.
“What’s going on, you’ve only been in two secs and they’re both crying?”
I signalled Simon to go away for a moment, he retreated back to the hallway. I moved over to Trish and lifted her onto my lap. Mima came and cuddled alongside us, so I put an arm around her, too.
“I’m sorry that you are teased and hurt by other children. They don’t understand, and what they don’t understand, they fear. They are afraid of people who seem different to them. In this house, and in this family, you will never be teased or hurt by any of us. We don’t judge because you might be different, we accept you for who you feel you are. If you believe you’re a girl, and want to live like one, that’s okay with us—we’ll accept you as one and treat you like one. All we ask is that you help us to help you, and behave reasonably while you’re here. Is that okay, young lady?”
“Yes, Mum—Auntie Cathy.” Then she leant her head on my shoulder and sobbed. “You are all so nice,” she cried.
“You’re safe here, so let out all those pains and hurts you’ve kept hidden away … we understand, so just let them go, and enjoy yourself here, where it’s safe and secure. Simon, Stella, Tom and I promise to look after you as long as you’re here, as a girl.”
“Thank you, Mummy,” she sobbed and I couldn’t correct her, I was too choked. Mima sobbed too.
“Mummy, why’s Twish, cwyin’?”
“Hush, little one, just cwtch in here, with Trish and me.” (Cwtch is a Welsh word meaning amongst other things to cuddle up to someone. It’s a very useful word which has crossed the Severn to Bristol).
They both fell asleep cwtched with me. Simon snuck in and smirked when he saw me pinned under the two little bodies. He made the sign of a ‘T’ with his hands and when I nodded, he went off to make some tea.
I wrestled with my conscience, how could I send this child back, even if she could walk, when I might be able to help her more than some other foster parents. But was it a good idea? I would be so biased in favour of her transgenderism, even if she wasn’t. Could I be blind to something else? If she found out about me, would I become a role model, excluding more normal women or men? I didn’t know, and I knew I had much to discuss with Simon, Tom and Stella, although her pregnancy would limit her assistance with two children, if both stayed for any time. Oh bugger, why is life so difficult?
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