This scene came to me fully formed stood outside of a Krispy Kreme in Durham in the rain, after a long day at work. It pretty much unfolded exactly like this in my head over about six seconds. I don’t know if I’ve done it just justice, but it needed to get out of my brain because it’s been there for days. Grammar/Spelling may be off. I’m very tired.
It’s raining. Why is it always raining in emotional situations? My English teacher told us a phrase for it at GCSE, but it’s slipped my mind over the Summer holidays, replaced with melting ice creams and beach barbecues. There are fat, heavy raindrops sliding down the window of Jameson’s Café, and I can hear them bouncing angrily off my hood, like determined little kamikaze pilots. My hands are cold, starting to go numb, but I stand still, getting steadily wetter. My gaze is fixed on the warm yellow glow that spills out of the café window, a feeble candle in the storm. Inside, a man sits with his daughter – his kind eyes crinkled at the corners in a fond smile, as the girl sits with an ice cream in a glass that’s bigger than her head. She must only be about ten years old, her school uniform creased and worn, already with a large stain of chocolate on the blue nylon jumper. Dad doesn’t care though, his face a mask of adoration at his little girl. I’m not seeing them though. Not really. They’re frame for a different man and girl, six years ago in the same café. I’m projecting my memories onto them like they’re actors in my own mental play.
A little girl sits in a crumpled school uniform. She’s just finished her first day at secondary school. Big school, she called it, before she went. Her jumper is navy blue, her shirt underneath a dirty grey from the predictable September shower. Her young, fresh face is set in a frown, her eyes downcast. She is me. I am eleven years old.
“It was fine, Dad…” I mutter, not willing to meet his eye.
“Sara Grace, I watched you learn how to lie” he takes my little hand in his. I feel the familiar roughness of it, as it encompasses mine, “You never actually learned to do it very well.”
“The girls in my class, Dad… They said…” I trail off. It feels like saying it out loud will solidify my shame. It’ll turn from a twisting knot in my chest from some fat slug-like monster that crawls out of my mouth and makes a beeline for the sugar bowl.
Dad stares at me. I’m watching all this from outside, of course, the audio of my memory playing in sharp high definition straight to my brain. I see concern etched on his face, the lines that I never bothered to map, as he watches me stumble into a world that’s bigger than I expected it to be. Bigger than him, even.
“What did they say?” He asks softly, his thumb stroking my hand gently.
“They said my skin was the wrong colour.” I see an angry tear roll down my cheek, and outside in the rain, I feel more, hot against the cold rain.
Dad tightens his grip on my hand, and I see a symphony of emotion cross his cloudy grey eyes. Anger, frustration, sadness and disappointment all flicker there in an instant. Not disappointment in me, I can see, but the weary disappointment of a man who feels he can no longer change the world. The hardness in his features passes as quickly as it came, and his eyes regain their kindness.
“When I first met your mother…” He starts. Outside I smile. Inside, I groan,
“Please Dad, a lovey dovey story is not going to make me feel any better.”
“Humour me, will you?” He insists, “When I first met your mother, she had just moved to England from South Africa. There was no-one else like her in our little Yorkshire town, let me tell you.”
“Did they pick on her for looking different?” I ask.
“At first. But she soon proved that she was the smartest, most talented girl in our school, and she fit into it like a hand into a glove. Once people got to know who your mother was underneath, they stopped caring about what colour her skin was.”
“But why do they even care in the first place?”
He gives me a sad little half smile, “because, Sara, most people are stupid as shit.”
Inside, eleven year old me gasps, a shocked smile breaking through the stormy frown. I’d never heard him swear up until that exact moment, and it suddenly created this entire new facet to him. It was like I’d found a new shoot on an old, familiar tree. Outside, I smile fondly.
“People are afraid of new things, sweetie” he added, “because new things are normally better than they are. People don’t like being reminded that they’re ordinary.”
“You think I’m extraordinary?” I ask him, poking my tongue out between my teeth, wriggling it.
“I think you’re a miracle” he answers back, his smile lopsided and filled with cracks and crevices from a lifetime of smiling.
He lets go of my hand and makes an exaggerated yawn of exhaustion,
“I’m beat, kiddo. Think we should skedaddle out of here?” He asks me.
I giggle hysterically, “we ordered ice cream, Dad!” I cry in mock outrage.
“So we did!” He laughs, “Well, so you did. I’m just a glorified wallet with legs to you.”
“You are not. You’re also a taxi driver too, and you fix things” I reply.
“A multi-tool, eh?” He grins.
“You’re definitely some kind of tool” I’m pushing my cheekiness now, but I know that Dad will find it funny.
“Cancel the ice-cream!” He yells, “No ice-cream today please!”
By this point, inside I’m in tears of laughter, desperately trying not to make a scene. Outside, I’ve got my fingers lightly touching the rain spattered glass. There’s tears too.
Finally, the ice-cream arrives, and just like the little girl who caught my eye as I walked past the café this afternoon, it stands bigger than my head. Dad takes the wafer out of the top without asking and I shriek with over the top shock. The scene slowly fades back to the Father and Daughter scene of the present day, and an ache eats at my heart. It’s a burn that I’ve grown accustomed to, but not one I’ve ever gotten past. Every day after school for at least the first two weeks of year seven, Dad brought me to Jameson’s Café and bought me a ridiculously huge ice-cream that I had no chance of finishing. And of course, he was right – I made friends in a few short weeks of classes, slotted straight into the school like I’d always been there. The brown of my skin still came up from time to time, but I learned to weather it. People are stupid as shit, after all.
Today I started Sixth Form. I wonder if he’d be proud of me, taking a healthy mix of science and art. He always told me that I was too talented at everything for my own good. I wish I could tell him about how my first classes where. I wish I could sit and eat an ice-cream with him. It’s been two years since his operation went wrong. Since the doctor came in and told us that he hadn’t made it. I’m still scared. I have no idea how I’m supposed to keep moving forward without his hand on my shoulder, his smile fixed so proud on my face. I’m supposed to see him look at me with pride and sadness as I graduate university. As I get married (if I get married – jury’s still out on that). It’s not fair that I can never share that with him. The figures inside the café start to blur – from rain or tears I’m not entirely sure. Both, most likely.
“I love you, Daddy” I whisper. The sound is swallowed by the thrum of the rain, but I will it to find him. To let him know.