‘Angie, it is you, isn’t it ?’ With those few words, the bottom dropped instantly out of my secure and untroubled world. I turned in response to the voice and the restraining hand on my arm, prepared to deny all knowledge of anyone of that name, but as I saw the person challenging me, I realised that it would be futile. It was Nan. Her blue eyes were just as twinkly and her smile as warm as I remembered. The hair was greyer, but then she was sixty five. She was also my grandmother.
‘Oh Nan, I said ‘ What are you doing here ?
‘Old Folks coach holiday’ she replied, ‘but I hardly expected to run into you after all this time. We need to have a long chat, don’t we ?’
‘Look, I’m due back to work in five minutes’ I said, ‘ but I finish at six o’clock. Can I meet you and we’ll go for a bite to eat. I ‘ll meet you here just after six, I promise.’
She was reluctant to let me out of her sight, but eventually agreed to trust me and I went into the library where I worked. The afternoon passed in a blur as my past came flooding back to me.
Seven years earlier, I had been living with Nan in Brighton. I had never known a father, and my mother was a distant memory, it had been just Nan and I for so many years. I was running wild I suppose, working part time as a waitress, spending the rest of my time and all my money in pubs and clubs. More than all my money actually, as I had run up debts of £15000 on credit cards and was sinking deeper and deeper into the mire. I was so ashamed, as I received threatening letters one after the other. I decided there was only one way out, and I did what I had read of others doing before me – I visited three large cemetaries until I found the grave of a girl who would have been my age if she hadn’t died in childhood. I applied for a birth certificate in her name, and when it came through I left home with just a change of clothes. I had received my wages the day before, and I made my way to the Isle of Man, where I have remained ever since. I rented a small bedsit, and got a job in a supermarket. They got me a National Insurance number when I said I had never worked, I couldn’t believe how easy it was. I grew my hair , stopped colouring it, and started to wear glasses instead of my contact lenses. I intentionally put on a stone in weight, which rounded me out quite a bit, and deliberately wore the type of clothes I would earlier have frowned on. Over time I discarded Angie Thompson and became Julia Pope in every way. I moved from the supermarket job into the library, and had gradually worked my way up to Senior Assistant. I had also progressed from the bedsit through a small flat to the little cottage on the coast I was now buying with a mortgage. Life was good – until Nan’s arrival.
She was waiting long before six o’clock, I could see her whenever the main doors opened as she sat on a public bench opposite. When I came out she rushed across and grabbed my arm, as if determined I would not escape. We went to the nearest pub that served meals, and found a corner table. As we ate, I told her my story, not managing to hold back my tears as I realised just how much heartache I had caused her.
She told me she had managed to pay off my debts, part by selling my TV and other bits and pieces, part by taking over my waitressing job for a couple of years.
‘If only you had confided in me’ Nan said ‘we would not have lost seven good years. There was so much I had to tell you and I never had the opportunity. It was almost unbearable not knowing whether you were alive or dead. Now I have found you, Angie, I don’t intend to lose you again.’
‘Oh Nan’ I replied, ‘ I would have given the earth not to have hurt you, but I was so very ashamed. By the way, Angie Thompson is dead and buried, I am Julia Pope now, remember’.
Later that evening I gave her my address and telephone number and I walked her back to her hotel. Her group was leaving in the morning, but she promised she would be back in a few weeks, after she had sorted things out at home. We hugged and kissed and cried together as we parted company.
That was the last time I saw Nan. Seven weeks later I received a letter from a Solicitor in London, requesting I visit their office, regarding the estate of the late Mrs Annie Thompson. I rang them to be told to my horror that she had died of a stroke three weeks earlier and had been cremated at her own request. They insisted I still needed to visit them, so for the first time since I had arrived, I left my sanctuary on the Isle of Man for the mainland.
The Solicitor told me that Nan had left me her entire estate, worth £25000, and a box containing photographs. There was also a letter, just a few lines which read
I feel as though I have known you all your life. You have made me so happy. I wish you a lifetime of love and happiness.
As he was preparing the receipt for me to sign, the Solicitor’s clerk asked me in conversation whether I had ever heard of Angie Thompson. I warily said I had not.
‘Strange’ he said ‘We had been holding quite a thick package addressed to her on Mrs Thompson’s behalf for about seven years, then only about three weeks before she died, she came and collected it, substituting your letter and box for it. She told me that Angie Thompson was dead and buried and would not be needing it anymore. Actually she put it through our office shredder.
Dear Nan, how blessed I felt to think that we had met again in time to give her peace of mind. I would treasure her photos forever, and reduce my mortgage with her legacy.
But I still wonder what was in that letter she destroyed.
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