The train had only a few people in it. It was quietly making its way through the Irish countryside. Callum’s borrowed black suit stank of booze. He’d just finished with his mum’s funeral. He looked at my face and consoled, “When I go in d sun I turn d same colour too. Its awright. We’re all one. I’m tryin’ tell ya. Its awright.”
‘Did your mum have a hard life?’ I asked.
“She grew me up with my grand-moder. My dad died in a car-crash at 27. I never seen’im. I’z a very hard young boy ‘cause I won’t listen to nobody. So, I go from home to DC to prison.”
“Detention Center. My mummy gonna hurt for 20 year. The pain remain. I too weak. I go up and down d hospital for 2 week. Then, she die. Pain is love and love is pain. That’s all that remain. You and me is the same. See, I’m not stupid. It’s awright. I know she always want me be strong. When you feel weak, don’t fall and crumble, ‘cause she don’t want me to stumble. She never leave me. I promise. I never leave her. It’s awright.”
Three weeks ago I had an almighty fall while mindlessly running on an uneven pavement for a bus. I didn’t have to run. I had plenty of time. One second I was vertical and the next, face down, splayed on the side of the road. My hand-bag flew off to the left and my laptop case to the right. In my shock, I stood up like an automaton, gathered my stuff and carried on. The thing that hurt more than my pride was the nailbed of my right little finger. There was some red on it too. Both my knees screamed out. The nearly new jeans from USA bore no traces of a nasty fall but the skin on those knees was definitely open. And, the right elbow… and the left.
Over the next few days I lost my very personal diary which was luckily found in the ‘ladies’ of the office I had visited in Birmingham and kindly returned. I left my shopping bag at the Pharmacy where I was picking up dressings for the old knees. I put bottles of milk and apple juice back in the fridge without screwing the caps on and so on … Am I loosing my mind?
Is the Universe trying to tell me something?
Slow right down.
It’s time to prepare for the stillness of winter.
To face the darkness within and prepare for the birth of light.
A time to let go, like the trees, silently celebrating colours before denuding themselves.
One flower-like leaf being let go, after another, until they’re all gone.
Time to witness and breathe in the splendorous grand finale before the end of this cycle. Acknowledge abundance as my natural state of being.
Passively let good things happen, like the mulching, crisping leaves under my feet make the soil more fertile.
To be one with the magic of this season.
Become Ms Autumn.
He loved the company of older boys. The younger ones annoyed him. His favourite thing as a toddler was to stand in super-big shoes belonging to the older men in the family. He waded around the house in them. He happily posed for the camera with a toothy grin, looking up with his twinkling eyes.
He couldn’t wait to grow up. As a 5 year old, he would sit studiously at the dining table and squiggle pages of nonsense words on a writing pad, claiming seriously, ”I am doing office work.”
About a year later, one Sunday I was on call. We were driving to his child-minder’s house at 7 am. There was no traffic at all. All of Belfast was asleep. I said to him, “Look Saagar, it’s so unfair. Everyone is resting today and I have to go to work.” After a moment’s thought he said, “But Mamma, you’re a good girl.”
One summer evening, he had been playing outside with his friends for a couple of hours. We lived in the hospital accommodation which was a block of 6 flats surrounded by green grounds and tall trees, a safe distance away from the road. At dinner time, he said he wasn’t hungry as he had had snacks at one of the neighbours. I had prepared dinner and had been waiting to have it with him. I tried to coax him to eat just a little bit. But he didn’t want to. I persisted with my efforts, making up stuff like, he would get bad dreams if he didn’t have a proper meal before bed. After a while he sat me down and said, “Mamma, when you are not hungry, do I force you to eat?”
My laptop claims to have at least 8 films on it but for some strange reason, on a train from Birmingham to London, it agreed to play just one, called, ‘The Help’. It’s about the writing of a book compiling the stories of African American maids working in white households in Jackson, Mississippi in the early 1960s. A book about an open ugly secret. About the courage of a few to start talking about it as a mark of protest. About the collective impact of small actions in bringing about big changes.
Yesterday was World Mental Health day and the UK became the first country in the world to announce a minister for Suicide Prevention. The day before yesterday, I learnt that Health Education England are very keen to put measures in place to prevent suicides within medical practitioners. Having been a part of the Suicide Prevention Community for the last 4 years, the one profession that is most conspicuous by its absence is Psychiatrists.
At 2 different meetings, I happened to meet 2 different Consultant Psychiatrists. On hearing Saagar’s story, one of them said he was very sorry but ‘this has been happening for 30 years’. I went blank. I just looked at him. I wonder what the public’s reaction would be if a surgeon would publicly admit that his surgical team has been making the same errors, that have been costing people their lives for 30 years. Yes. These are systemic errors. They are difficult to tackle. But, even today, youngsters like Saagar are dying because of lack of leadership within the specialty of Psychiatry, like they have been for the past 30 years.
The other, extremely prominent and respected Consultant Psychiatrist completely rubbished Mindfulness, Yoga and Meditation, without having tried any of them. He said that all these interventions have side effects. He believed that a Psychiatrist is only meant to attend to the most extreme cases. Their role comes into play only after these 5 have been called upon – parents, schools, GPs, CAMHS and Talking therapies. I am sure he knows that many youngsters die while on the waiting list, without ever getting to see a proper Psychiatrist, once. I am also sure he knows the side effects of psychiatric medications that are offered generously to all and sundry by non-psychiatrists. Lastly, I am sure he also knows how unsupported the GPs feel when faced with patients who are severely mentally unwell due to slow and inefficient response from the secondary services. And, I am sure it’s all down to poor funding. The same excuse that we’ve had for decades gone by and will have for decades to come. How about some imaginative leadership?
As parents, let’s start by saying to our kids in words and actions –
‘You is kind. You is smart. You is important.’
To me, I say – ‘I is kind. I is smart. I is important.’
You could too.
Why? How did we get here?
Why us? How can this be?
Why him? Such a sweet child!
How did it feel to be him at that point?
How did it get that bad?
Why could no one see it?
How could I be so blind to his pain?
Did he try to tell me in code?
Could I not hear his cryptic messages? Why?
Did he hide it? Was he trying to protect me?
Were there clues I missed?
How could all this be happening straight in my line of vision?
Is this a crazy practical joke? Fake news?
Could I just go back and rearrange events like my dressing table?
Did he tell anyone else? His friends? His hair-dresser?
Why did he say nothing to me?
Did he not trust me enough?
Did he think I loved him too much to bear hearing those words?
Did he think I loved him too little?
Did he think I wouldn’t understand? Would I have understood?
Would I have freaked out?
Did he think I’d be better off without him?
Did he have any idea how wrong that could be?
Was it a choice or a complete lack of choice?
How bad was his pain? How unbearable?
I want to stand where he stood.
I want to see what he saw.
I want to feel what he felt.
I want to experience what he experienced.
I want to go back there. NOW!!!
How much love does it take to keep someone alive? Why was mine not enough?
The annual festival of my beastly treacherous demons has begun.
Thank you Autumn.
He sits on a bench in Borough market with one of his friends who gets up and goes to get a drink. My heart takes a giant leap. Si is with me. He calls out his name and he beams his trademark squinty smile of recognition at him. He stands up. They shake hands like old mates. My eyes fixate on his face like those of a mad woman. His eye-lashes are not as thick as before. Everything else is the same. I recognise his off-green t-shirt that he lived in. I can’t hold back. My fingertips explore his shoulders without his permission. He doesn’t seem to notice. He’s definitely real. I can touch him. He raises his left arm to rearrange his hair the way he does. He pinches the front of his t-shirt between his right thumb and index finger like he does. Either he can’t see me or he’s letting me do my thing. He’s talking to Si.
“The guys in grey suits wrote to us in first year at Uni. All the students on the Arabic course got the invitation.”
‘You didn’t say anything.’
‘No. They told us not to. They offered us jobs.’
‘Exciting. After the second year at Uni I thought I’d take it up.’
‘It was fun but then … 4 years was enough.’
“So, is this for good?”
‘Yup. For now.’
“Good to see you man.”
‘Yeah. And you. Great to be back. Argentinian Empanadas. I remember those.’
I am still invisible to him. We used to buy empanadas together. Beef ones for him and Spinach and ricotta for me. My finger tips are still confirming reality. He has been working out. I can tell. I want to check his tattoo but that would be too bold. I want to look for the scars on his left forearm but my eyes cling to his thick black brow, his slightly dry lips, his careless stubble. Their thirst cannot be quenched. My ears clasp his voice, his breath. Every word, a harmony. He is here. His words are real. He’s been hiding all this while, working with some kind of a Secret Service. He looks like a British Indian James Bond. But he still hasn’t noticed me and it’s ok.
The tension in my arms lessens as more and more confirmatory signals feed into my brain. My heart is doing somersaults like he did when he was 6. My eyes are so wide, they can take the whole world in.
These worlds, like multi-coloured balls in a kid’s play pen in Ikea overlap, intersect, collide, clash and merge constantly. They clang as if at VT station, Mumbai at 8 am on a Monday morning.
At the core of these spheres is a mush of thoughts, words, impressions and feelings, ground into a thick viscous treacle. At their margins are bright green woods.
I live in the shifting woods that border these globes. These borderlands are safe. Nothing can be taken away from me here. If one world vanishes, I jump onto another. All of them are home. They tumble along and slosh about merrily in a pool of love, inside and outside of me.
Sanity & Insanity
Life & Death
Reality & Illusion
I have six homes.
A 4 minute conversation, Si and I : The Listening Project on BBC Radio 4 (19th Sept 2018)
I-Player (only available in the UK)https://www.bbc.co.uk/radio/play/b0bk1fc0