i’m walking towards her and i know what i look like, hair scagged back in an old scrunchie, no make up, muffin top wobbling over the waistband of my too tight jeans. i look like the kind of girl i used to look down on, the girls who didn’t finish school, the ones who used to scare me and for some reason, it really matters what this girl, this stranger thinks of me, so i straighten up, pull my stomach in and from somewhere, i dig out my old accent, the one i don’t use any more and i even put my hand out,like we’re going to shake hands or something.
she looks up, takes in my out stretched hand and just plonks the toddler in my arms and heads back to the car, doesn’t even turn to check that i’m ok with this and i just stand there, waiting.
across the street, the other girls are watching, no-ones moving, everyone just trying to get a handle on her before they make a decision to get involved or not.
Imelda is coming back now, a tiny, very new baby nestled against her shoulder, she doesn’t even really look at me, just steps into the house and i follow her, partly cos i don’t know what else to do and mostly cos this is clearly what she expects.
it’s not the worst house, there’s a sofa, un-ripped, a coffee table to put the TV on and someones even left a rug, really, there’s a lot worse here, but for a second i see her shoulder slump and then she turns, smiles and i am captivated
“yeah” she says ” it’ll do” and she puts the baby down, carefully on the sofa.
the toddler is wriggling in my arms,wants to get back to his mother, i must look mental, standing in the middle of this bare room, not saying anything, just staring at this girl, this woman. she puts her hand out, reaches towards me and for a split second i think she is going to hug me and i take a tiny step forward until i realise that she is simply waiting for me to return her child. i can feel that colour flooding into my face and I’m just praying that she doesn’t notice, doesnt guess whats just gone through my mind.
the child is relaxing against her, his fingers playing with the beads in her hair, gently chinking one against another, it’s the only sound in the room and i know i really need to say something, to fill the silence, to make this normal
“caz” i say”my name’s caz”
“Imelda, it’s a joke yeah, cos i love shoes”
and there’s a pause as if she’s expecting that she will need to explain, but i manage to nod and smile and there’s another silence but its an ok silence and then she turns away from me and starts looking around the room and humming to herself.
i mumble something about the kids and tea and bath time, but she’s not really paying attention and i start edging towards the door and just as i’m about to slink out, she looks up and does that smile thing again
“come and have tea with me tomorrow, bring your children” she says and i leave, but for the first time in months, maybe years there’s a little bubble of excitement in my chest.
so, that’s how i met Imelda and how,just for a while my life felt better, shinier, a happy place to be.