One day a Nun came and took me through to the Foyer of the Convent building next door, where I found my Mother waiting for me. She seemed unhappy and ill-at-ease, not at all her usual confident self. She announced in a matter-of-fact voice, totally devoid of any pleasure or enthusiasm, that I would be ‘coming home’ in a few weeks. Even now it’s hard to describe exactly how I felt upon hearing her news - I was neither happy nor sad, but I did feel a flicker of fear and uncertainty - I didn’t know ‘home’ anymore. She had a small, dainty pair of slippers she had just bought, and she asked one of the Nuns to keep them safely for me so I could wear them upon my arrival at my new home, so they dutifully put them away in a locker to await that auspicious occasion. I felt uneasy, disquieted by this unexpected turn of events, and also by the gift of slippers, I had never worn slippers before – I didn’t want them - but had no idea why. They were much nicer than anything I’d ever had before, very pretty… I think perhaps it was some kind of foreboding of what lay ahead.
Alone on the spotless metal shelf,
Of a spotless empty locker…
Slippers, new, pretty, bright,
Out of place in this austere, pristine setting,
With no warmth, no light, no joy.
Endless corridors with dazzling floors
Reverberate with strange echoes of
Eerily distant sounds, as far removed
From the throbbing vein of life as
The innocent charges contained
Behind the high, imprisoning walls.
Upturned faces and outstretched hands
Reach out for so much more than those,
So distant in their long, black Habits
Could, or even would, give them.
Longing for so much more than blank
Unsmiling faces and cold, unyielding hearts.
Darned socks, chafed skin, wet beds and harsh words,
Dark nights giving way to even darker days.
Frightened children cry lonely tears, muffled
By pillows and blankets – unheard except for
Other childish ears. Then suddenly…Slippers…
New, pretty, bright: stark reminders of a different
World, barely remembered. Slippers, symbolising
So much more with their newness, colour and
Brightness than an aching heart could bear to
Understand. Better to leave them there on that
Barren shelf, unworn, but tainted nonetheless
By the place in which they were received. Better to
Leave them, lest the promises seemingly glowing
Within their warm colours prove to be as bleakly
Inappropriate in the new life as they were in the old.
I can remember waiting for my Mother to come and pick me up on my last day at the Childrens Home. The Nuns had sent me up to the Sewing-Room on the top-floor of the Convent building to separate me from the rest of the children prior to my departure and ensure as little disruption as possible to their daily routine. If I walk into a Fabric Shop even today the smell of the different materials is so evocative that my memory immediately transports me back to that tiny attic room up in the eaves. The Nun assigned to mending and sewing duties that day was old and grumpy, and completely ignored me as I stood at the tiny window watching the drive-way anxiously, waiting….and waiting ….and waiting. I didn’t really know how I felt about leaving the Home, I knew I should be looking forward to it, getting away from there and starting a new Life - a whole new World lay waiting for me just beyond the big gates at the foot of the driveway, but as the hours ticked slowly past, I began to feel increasingly nervous and apprehensive. I didn’t know where I was going, or what it would be like to be part of a family again. I barely remembered anything at all about family life, and had never even met the man we were going to be living with… what if he didn’t like me?
I felt I barely knew my Mother or Simon anymore, having spent so much time away from them, so the longer I waited for her to come and pick me up that morning the more my anxiety grew, eventually obliterating any pleasure or anticipation, leaving me feeling only nervous and insecure. Fortunately, the moment I saw my Mother making her way slowly up the long, winding driveway my spirits rose and I told myself everything was bound to be alright – I was going ‘home’. I think I was a little over four and a half years old then.
Somewhat unusually, I was allowed to run outside and greet my Mother, but I was utterly crestfallen when I saw she wasn’t at all happy or pleased to see me, in fact she was cold, distant and appeared to be very stressed. There was a distinctly icy chill in the air as she exchanged a few curt words with the Nuns overseeing my departure. She asked repeatedly if I was sure I had my slippers with me, and I didn’t understand why, but I lied. I assured her that I had, even though I knew I had deliberately left them in the locker, but I suddenly knew why - I just didn’t want to take anything with me that would remind me of that place, or that life. The slippers had been ‘out of place’ in the Childrens Home, and I somehow just knew they would be equally out of place in my new home!
I thoroughly enjoyed the long train-ride into London though, and relished with each passing moment and every mile we travelled, just how very far from the Childrens Home we were going to be living! Of course, tensions mounted somewhat when we arrived at our destination and my Mother realized that I didn’t have my slippers with me, and had lied about it not only once but several times! She was very far from pleased!
Speak softly Child, for you are next to My Heart,
And there is no need for tears.
Speak softly child, for I hear your voice,
And will chase away your fears.
Speak softly child, for though you are small,
And have yet far to grow,
If you reach out now – I will Hear your voice,
And that’s all you need to know.
The time will come for deeper things
That you must know of Me,
But reach out now – let Me hear your voice,
Draw a little closer and see!
The next instalment of this true life story will be posted on 1st September 2019.
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Copyright © 2019 Sylvia Darling, All Rights reserved.