Scene in the Post Office Queue: Sally’s View

The same scene as last month’s In Care column, but from a different point of view. If you want to read the first episode, click here.

It was hot. Too hot for me and certainly too hot for my little Pippa. Poor baby. She was hungry and pretty smelly. I tried talking to her. I tried crooning a baby song I used to hear Momma Jones singing to herself while she did jobs around the house. I jiggled the baby buggy. But when you are tiny and cannot tell people what you want the only way to get stuff is to scream. Early on in life I learned that screaming usually gets a result. Trouble is, it’s not always what you really wanted.

The main problem today, as well as the heat, is that I need money, NOW. I can’t remember when I last had a good meal and I have to get stuff for little Pippa. She needs a feed, some nappies and a good wash. Truthfully we both need a good wash. I dream for a moment about sinking into warm, scenty water up to my neck, or perhaps having a shower, shooting water all over me. On and on, until I want it to stop.

I look down at Pippa. I wonder when babies start to imagine. Is suffer the here and now all she can do, or can she escape in to a dream world like I do?

I know I have done it for ages, but I don’t think I was this little. You have to have had good times to be able to dream about being somewhere better, enjoying good things.

I used to do it in all those ‘foster placements’. I suppose that was more honest than calling them ‘foster homes’. Some were homey enough, but most were passing children along, not taking time to care.

The day Pippa was born and I held her all by myself, behind the curtains around the clean hospital bed, I promised her I would always keep her with me. No interfering social workers. No ‘homes’ with people whose mouths smiled, but whose eyes were cold.

I’d managed it so far. It’s Pippa’s first birthday soon. But it meant keeping on the move. Keeping her quiet some times, when a do-gooder found where we were crashing and came knocking at the door.

No frilly, pink nursery for my little Pippa – yet. No little garden to sit out with her in the shade. No running hot water, for oh such a gorgeous wash. Always watching, always wary.

Then I met Gavin who reckoned he knew how to get more out of the Giro. Why wasn’t I wary then? Why wasn’t I wary when he offered me ‘a smoke’? After one or two freebies he was wanting money. And then more money. Then conning the Giro seemed like a brilliant idea.

So here I am about to try. I had said my cheque had been lost or stolen and was waiting for another. In the meantime I have to try to get a pay out on the first cheque. I should have gone to a little place where they probably didn’t have too much trouble. But Gavin had dropped me off in the town centre.

It was hot. The queue was already long. I would have gone away, but little Pippa was whimpering. My stomach was protesting. I felt itchy all over. I couldn’t keep from scratching my head. I could smell myself and I could smell Pippa. A bath, a meal, a clean bed, some peace and safety. I had to get all that for Pippa today.

Folks in the queue soon started muttering. They could smell us too and the heat didn’t help. Nor did my scratching. Instead of smiling and cooing over Pippa like most people did to little babies, they tutted and eased away. I gulped and tried to hold in the torrent of tears that were never far away. I put my chin up and glared at the tutters.

When I got to the cashier I wanted to say, “Please, my baby and I are starving. Please help me.” But a different set of words came out. I glared round at the hostile crowd behind me. I wanted to say, “Look, I’m sorry we smell. But I’m trying to keep my baby, so that she’s not passed around strangers.”

For a second I thought I saw Momma Jones in the queue. My heart leapt. Would she rush forward and scoop us up, carry us home? Safety. Food. A wash. A sleep. Someone to look after Pippa for a little while. Our eyes met, but she looked away as if she hadn’t seen me.

Somehow I started going off at the man behind the counter. I could hear myself ranting abuse. I thought about Momma Jones again. She used to keep on at me. Be pleasant. Be reasonable. It gets more than screaming ‘I want’.

I also remembered to ask for the superior, but that didn’t work either. I looked around again in desperation, but Momma Jones seemed to have vanished – if she had ever been there. Sometimes when I’m hungry, or I’ve had one of Gavin’s smokes, I see things that are not there.

I had thought I might leave Pippa outside the door. I was sure Momma Jones would take her and look after her for a bit, until I could get myself together. But no point if she’s not really there.

If only I had managed to behave a bit better they might at least have kept contact with me, so that I could pop back for a bit of help, or just a cuppa and a chat.

Suddenly I could not do it any more and I headed for the door. As I stepped outside two cop cars screeched to a stop, sirens dying, but blue lights still flashing. In to the back of the car and away.

Where now? Pippa. I must keep my promise to Pippa.

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