Another Time

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 older brother. 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.