This is a continuation from the previous post.
The night was beginning to draw in when the boys decided to call it a day and return home. Cold winds were starting to come in from the South, which made them shiver. The day had not been overly bright so, there still soggy feet squelched as they made their way up the familiar walk way.
A good thing about living on a gated Estate was that their mothers generally did not worry if they were out too late, because they only had to shout out of the window to get them back into the house. Though Gary was sure he would get a beating for his muddy trainers, and rancid track suit bottoms.
All through the walk home, Gary prayed that it would rain so that he would have an excuse for being wet, but despite the gathering clouds it remained dry, and he reluctantly let himself into the building.
“My mum is going to kill me when she sees me.” Gary sulked as they walked up the concrete stairs. The stairway was dark, but it had been this way for years. The council had sent letters to the houses a while back promising to fix them, but they never came. Most of the residents had become used to the dark stairwell, or used their cell phones as a means of light.
“I’m going to tell mine we tripped and fell in the river.” Alai said with a serious voice.
“Are you stupid! Then you will just get in trouble for being near the river in the first place!”
“Oh. I didn’t think of that.” They had stopped at the third floor stairwell, which led into Alai’s row of flats.
“I’ll see you tomorrow. If we aren’t already dead meat!” Gary laughed.
“Yeah. In’shallah.” He said in a shaky voice, and walked towards his floor. Gary continued up the stairs in the dark. When he had reached the fourth floor, he could hear the voice of Mrs Ibrahim travelling up the staircase.
“And you though goin’ for a swim would be a good idea! Get in the house boy!” Gary winced thinking of the hiding, that Alai was no doubt receiving, and hoped that his mother was in a good mood.
The fifth floor was the last in the building. Gary wasn’t sure whether it was because they were so high up, or because it generally got dustier at the top but there were always spider webs in the corners of the low ceiling. He thought that they looked rather nice in the morning light, but now in the dark he couldn’t see much. For all he knew he could be walking through multiple spider webs.
As he ascended the last steps and walked onto the 5th floor, light spilled onto the ground from an open doorway. It blended with the darkness casting a pallor on two people standing in the hallway. He received a shock to see his mother standing in the frame of the flat talking to Old Lady Lorelai. They were conversing in hushed whispers, but stopped when Gary approached. His mother nervously ran her hand through her hair, as she always did when she felt guilty about something. She smiled when she saw him, though Gary noticed it seemed vacant.
“Thanks for the chat, Lorelai.” She said squeezing her gently on the shoulder. “Have you met my son, Gary?” She asked, gesturing towards him. The Old Lady turned to look at Gary. She smiled at him, revealing a number of yellowing crooked teeth. Her wispy, grey fly away hair gave her the appearance of a manic woman, but more so than that was the glassy eye. Alai had been right; it did glisten like a mirror.
“Hello.” Gary said nervously. She did not say anything and patted him on the shoulder, in a grandmotherly fashion. She held up her hand in farewell and made her way towards the dark staircase, limping as she walked. Gary looked on after her. He turned to his mother, who seemed lost in thought.
“Shouldn’t we take her to her flat?” Gary suggested, watching the woman’s legs. She seemed to shuffle her feet as she walked. “Will she be able to see with one…” Gary didn’t continue as his mother flashed him a glare.
“Lorelai is a very strong woman.” Is all his mother replied as they made their way into the flat. Gary removed his muddy trainers at the entrance, and left them at the doorway. He had always done this, ever since he was small. Even though Gary did not live with his absent father, who was originally from South-India, his mother liked to teach him about his father’s heritage. She also enjoyed cooking South-Indian dishes. Gary enjoyed coming home to the warming smell of spice, as it filled the whole house with flavour. This was the smell that welcomed him when he walked through the house. His mother, who had been standing in the passage way, watching him take of his shoes, had not once mentioned his wet feet, or the mud crawling up his tracksuits.
“You must be hungry!” She said distractedly, walking towards the kitchen. Gary followed her to the kitchen, as little bemused. He wondered if she had not noticed, and looked down at himself, thinking that he perhaps didn’t look as bad as he thought.
The lights in the kitchen were on. It was a small rather grubby kitchen, with tiles missing from the walls, which revealed the concrete behind. Gary noticed two cups of tea on the little white table. His mother had also left out a tray of biscuits.
His mother began clearing away the cups and spooning out bowls of prawns in a rich sauce. Gary sat at the table, feeling rather nervous. His mother smiled again as she handed him the bowl, but it was not her usual smile. It was a troubled, imposturous smile. Colette Beck was generally happy person. Her face was the sweetest thing in the world. Gary loved how she had wrinkles next to her blue eyes, her short blonde hair which made her eyes looks bigger. He loved her Irish accent, and how the boys in the estate found it difficult to sometimes understand what she was saying.
Gary took a spoonful of the sauce and rice and popped it into his mouth. The first thing he noticed was that it was cold. His mother never served cold food. The next, was the absence of salt.
“It’s good, mum.” He lied, finding himself smiling. Something was clearly on her mind, and he didn’t want to make her feel bad. She sat down in front of him, a bowl in hand, although she did not touch it. It remained on the table, and instead she took a hasty sip of water.
“How was school today, Bubba?” She asked. His mother worked in a nearby old people’s home as a cleaner, so she was usually never home when Gary returned from school. Gary noticed she was running her hands through her hair, and looking at him intently.
“It was good.” Gary replied nonchalantly. “We finished our world-cup football tournament today. Jack’s team were Brazil, and they were the winners, but only by one point.” Gary paused as he spooned more of the prawns into his mouth. He tried desperately hard not to shudder, but the taste of cold prawns was very off putting.
His mother made a ‘hm’ sound, although Gary was quite sure she wasn’t listening. He went on to talk about his subjects, but she didn’t seem to hold the same fascination as she had on previous nights.
“Mum. Are … you ok?” Gary studied her face, which was suddenly pulled out of whatever train of thought from his question.
She looked for a moment like she was going to reply and tell him what was mothering her, but instead she smiled again. “Nothing’s wrong, Bubba.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes.” She said as she took another shaky sip of water. Her eyes did not meet Gary’s. “I got a phone call from Mr. Bishop today.” His mother added in casually. “He said he wanted to sign you up for extra classes.”
Gary was suddenly excited. He had remembered that a few weeks’ prior Mr. Bishop, his teacher, had mentioned signing Gary up for a special program for gifted children. He had told Gary to not get too excited, because they had a rigorous selection process, and only came to talk with the best children.
“Did I get in!” Gary asked eagerly.
“Yes.” His mother said in a deadpan voice. Gary looked at her with a confused expression. He had thought she would be excited to know that he was being signed for extra classes, when no one else in the school was.
“Mum. Mr. Bishop said that it’s free and that we don’t have to pay for it.” Gary said smiling, trying to reassure her.
“What else did Mr. Bishop tell you?”
Gary felt his voice crack as he spoke, he hadn’t imagined his mother not being excited. “Erm. Just that I will be having a special teacher who will take me for a few classes a week, and that if she thinks I’m good enough I enter a special program.”
Colette pursed her lips. She took a sip of the water.
“I… I only wanted to do well in school, mum. So you wouldn’t have to worry about me anymore.” Gary’s voice faltered. He sat motionless, in shock. His mother had expressed her reserve for things in the past, like how she had specifically banned Gary from going on an overnight camping trip in the nearby woods, but she had never been so distant and cold. Her expression was dark, and unreadable. He not once thought she would have an objection to him taking extra classes.
Colette ran a hand through her hair, and held the palm against her temple. She often did this when she felt a migraine coming on. Her face softened and she took Gary’s hand from across the table.
“Why don’t you go for a shower, and clean up. I’ll make you some cocoa and we’ll talk about this properly.”
Gary got up out of his seat. He was rather put off by the way his mother had spoken to him, and sulked all the way to the bathroom. He was in a ferocious mood, and he wished to make it quite obvious. He threw his clothes in the washing basket and stomped monsterously too the bathroom. He had his hands ready on the door to slam it shut, but stopped when he heard a mournful sob come from the kitchen. Instead he closed the door slowly, his cheeks burning in shame.