She saw the horror on their faces even before she heard the snap. All at once the loud, pulsating thud of the music in the hall seemed to hush, and it was the only sound that thundered in her ears, the sound of the snap of her bodice strap giving way.
She had been striding the ramp with all the elan of someone who knew she was the best. The world’s best cat-walk model and the showstopper for a leading designer at the Paris Fashion Week. The dress she was show casing could possibly pay the down payment for the flat she now rented. Her hair had taken the stylist over three hours to get just right, and she had been asked for more selfies than the designer himself.
Back-stage ten minutes ago, she knew she had arrived. She had indeed reached the top rung of the ladder she had climbed so arduously for over three years.
The buzz in the dressing room had been all about the Hollywood producer who was here in the audience looking for a new heroine for his next block buster. Annie knew she was in the reckoning and was going for the kill tonight. Her career as a model had peaked and Hollywood was the obvious next step.
Rita fought back the tears as she left the school office clutching her six-year old’s hand.
‘This was the second time, Sammy,’ she chided gently. ‘We need this to stop you know. Even Mrs MacDougal is getting a little tired now.’
The little boy said nothing as they walked back to the car. She had to wait awhile after he got in and watched helplessly as he fiddled with the other seat belt next to him, chattering happily to the empty space between them.
This imaginary friend had appeared soon after his dad had left them. The raw pain of that evening hit her again, as their cosy little world had been turned upside down with a few short sentences.
‘I’m leaving you Reet,’ Amit had said. ‘I’ve been in love with Judy for a while now, and she is expecting our baby soon.
‘What about our child,’ she had cried wildly? ‘What about Sammy?’
“Meddum,” she said. “I have some bad news. Nelson is in prison!”
It was the jetlag, I thought, I couldn’t have heard right. It was bad enough coming home to find Saziso, our lovely housemaid, pregnant. We’d only been gone a month; how did I not know before?
Trying to get my travel weary brain to focus, I asked “Nelson? Prison? How? Why? When?”
Apparently, the police had just turned up at our house two days ago and told her. Saziso had tried to find out, but as was the norm here, she wasn’t told anything. Neither were our local friends who she had gone to for help.
“Not Nelson,” we muttered despairingly, he was the sweetest man God had ever created, with an extra heart where the brain should have been. My husband went directly to the local police station, while I came inside to unpack, shower, and make sense of it all. Random arrests in Hwange were not uncommon, but what could the authorities possibly want from a simple, hardworking, and honest gardener? I found myself in tears, thinking of our dear sweet boy.
This is a true story. I’ve heard it so often; I can recite it verbatim just as my father told it.
He’s been retired for thirty years, my father, exactly as long as I’ve been married. Retired as an Infantry Brigadier General from the Indian Army after which he continued to work as the Security Advisor at the Indian Tea Association. In fact, at 84, recovering from a massive heart attack, he still thinks he does… his poor bosses at ITA just don’t know how to get rid of him.
Like every old-fashioned gent (not many of them around anymore, sadly), he has a handful of stories, which come out every time there is a group of people, a few drinks, and fried peanuts. They are taken out lovingly from his little repertoire, told, polished, embellished, and then put away till the next time. My sister and I had to go through it all with our friends as we were growing up, there was no escaping. And now, our children must as well, no escaping for them either.
Pulling open the curtains on a bright and sunny September morning, she saw a flicker of reddish gold.
“Can it be,” she thought, “already?”
She leant forward and let out a little sigh when she realised that the leaves on her cherry tree were indeed turning colour. Autumn (or fall, as Katy her daughter, doing her master’s degree at Boston University, had started saying) had arrived!
For the last twenty-six years, this was such a happy time for Billy and her. Autumn was when they started making their holiday plans. They always went away in winter, even when the children had been little.
“Why would we leave Scotland in summer,” Moira was fond of saying. “It’s so beautiful here. Ach no, it’s when its freezing, we want away.”
Christmas at home, of course, but Hogmanay, wherever they fancied. Somewhere warm and exotic if business had been good that year. If not, even the Lake Districts or the caravan park in Dunoon would be warmer than Ballater. Besides, nobody ever came up here that time of the year, and their little B&B would most certainly survive without a few weeks’ bookings.