More and more I find myself thinking about Chi Chi the panda….part 1

The woman is being driven through London in a triumph spitfire in a heat wave in 1990 something.

The car is not hers.

The man is not her husband.

Even the year does not feel as though it will at any point be her year.

But the child, shoehorned into a space not really big enough for anything larger than an overnight bag, the child is most definitely hers.

And the child is the reason for this trip, this jaunt, the Sunday afternoon educational outing.


They are driving through London in a sports car to the Natural History Museum to look at dinosaurs and polar bears, to press buttons and read tiny labels. They are going to have fun.

The husband, the car, the A to Z and a possibly misjudged Vivienne Westwood frock are all on loan, borrowed from a friend who childless herself does not quite see that a museum in August may not be fun.

They may not have fun.

The man has never been to a museum with a child, he is not prepared for the whirlwind of movement, the restless gallop from thing to thing, the urgency of what’s next, what’s next.

The child sees the gift shop, latches onto a leopard head hat, furry,  fully lined, designed for winter days.

It is a ridiculous item on a day when the sun has made the leather seats of the sports car so hot that the mother has spent the whole drive lifting her thighs away from heat, hoping that her wriggling has no sexual message for this borrowed husband in this borrowed car.

It is her third public parenting fail of the day.

“You can have Coca Cola and cake ” she says

The tea room is in the basement, green tiled, cool, surprisingly deserted and there, by the entrance is a panda, a stuffed panda in a glass display case.

Even the child stops for a moment and then walks up to the case and looks carefully at what’s inside. A slightly discoloured stuffed animal, a wall of black and white photos and a small pyramid of less discoloured soft toys.

The woman joins her and then realises that this is not just a panda, this is Chi Chi the panda. This is the panda from her childhood, from her one visit to London zoo, her first memory of watching the grown up news.

She remembers her vigil at the concrete enclosure, with the concrete walls and in the middle a concrete shed and  how she and her brother and sister stared at the sheds’ partially open door, willing the bundle of black and white fur huddled in the furthest corner to come out, to make this standing in the cold actually worthwhile.

The man, the not husband is standing next to her, he shakes his head

“Sad” he says “Poor animal on her own for so many years”

He and the child head towards the counter, they are looking at cake, both eying up the very pink ones with many, many smarties on top.

When they leave the museum, the child is wearing the leopard head hat, growling and snarling at everyone they pass.

They drive away, to return the husband, the car, the A to Z and the frock to their rightful  owner.

The only evidence of the woman’s silent tears are 2 tiny water damage spots on the silk on the left sleeve of the borrowed dress.

About cathi rae

50ish teacher & aspiring writer and parent of a stroppy teenager and carer for a confused bedlington terrier and a small selection of horses who fail to shar emy dressage ambitions. Interested in contemporary fiction but find myself returning to PG Wodehouse when the chips are down View all posts by cathi rae

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