Haleema and her older brothers had been invited to their
mother's best friend’s house to share Sunday lunch with
her and her troubled teenager, Joanna. Her niece and
nephew were also visiting from France and they would
need entertaining after lunch. Ice-skating or the
pictures had been discussed. Haleema usually spent
Saturday mornings with Joanna, down at the brook
feeding ducks and swans or playing hide and seek. Her
brothers used to go before they got into rugby. They had
long outgrown hide and seek, but then so had Haleema.
She didn’t like the altered schedule of this particular
weekend or the bright-eyed French girl and her freckled
Haleema’s lively widowed mother was in the dining room
setting the table and her divorced best friend was in
the kitchen cooking lunch. They lost and picked up
their conversations between the two rooms, walking in
and out and sipping tea and answering the telephone
when it rang. The under 14s were all watching
television in the sitting room; they had spoilt their
appetites with nuts and fruit. ‘Going Live!’ was nearly
over but Joanna was yet to emerge from her bedroom.
She usually took a few hours preparing for interaction
and everybody knew so they gave her time and space.
Haleema sat on the small settee next to the bright-eyed
girl, who was two years her senior. She observed the
delicate creature from the corner of her eye,
occasionally turning to view the four boys sprawled and
scattered around the room. They all appeared comfortable
watching children’s television for the sake of their
younger sisters, but Haleema could not concentrate on
what Phillip Schofield was saying, because she was too
busy awaiting the arrival of her socially challenged
friend; wondering when she would be ready to join them
Haleema left the room walking slowly past Joanna’s
bedroom listening for a sound. She played with the empty
powder puff box in the guest bathroom and washed her
face with honey hand soap twice before returning to her
seat. When finally Haleema saw movement in that dark
corner of the hallway, she knew the end door would soon
fling open; her heart delighted at the thought. As Joanna
waltzed into the room concealing her awkward thoughts,
Haleema exclaimed how she had missed her all weekend.
Joanna wasn’t ready to make eye contact yet, but she
managed a few words in response to her enthusiastic
friend, “Please get out of the way Haleema, so I can sit
next to my lovely cousin”.
Haleema’s ears rang loudly and turned hot with shame,
while her bright-eyed competitor greeted Joanna with a
hug. All the boys pretended they hadn’t heard or seen a
thing as Haleema sank downwards and off the settee.
She unwillingly followed her legs as they scampered
ahead, and she dragged her bum across the floor to the
closest corner. She remained there with a frog in her
throat until lunch was announced and the room was
empty, like a forgotten cherub in an overgrown pond,
covered in moss and bird poo.