The fifth card
The Cardman had become the focus of many people`s visits to Truro. He would often be told how the messages on the cards had been a great help or a comfort, and was frequently asked in a bewildered tone, `but how did you know?` to which he always avoided giving an answer by reflecting a question back, returning the spotlight upon them rather than on himself.
On a disappointingly damp June afternoon, when fewer people passed him by, he decided to finish early for the day, ride home and make himself tea, before preparing his cards for the next day – which, the weatherman `promised`, would be hot, dry and sunny.
So, he collected his bicycle from where he always parked it, out of sight, on the northern side of the Cathedral, and started to walk with it along the adjacent precinct.
At the same time, a young girl was looking for him. She was so nervous that she kept telling herself, over and again, not to try and speak with the `man with the cards`; not to bother him with her problems; he`s far too busy to be interested in anything I might have to say; why should he want to speak with me, anyway?
She brushed off the dust of self-destruction, which was such a feature of her life, and bravely made her way to the Cathedral square. A familiar haunt. When she arrived, he was not there. He is always here, she thought, disappointed. Not on this particular afternoon. Where could he be? I need to speak with him. Suddenly, she realised that all the nervousness, that could so easily have dissuaded her from coming into the city, had disappeared and she was determined to find him. Like a lost sheep looking for its mother, she searched the narrow streets nearby, and then ran into the precinct that was normally bustling with people, but not so on this afternoon of inclement weather.
And then she saw him, pushing his bicycle, far up the pebbled lane near to where it joins the road leading up to Kenwyn, and out of the city. She ran after him.
`Excuse me … sir … stop … please stop,` she called out. He heard her and turned to see the pretty girl running towards him, damp, long and golden hair flowing in the light breeze. `I`m so pleased I`ve found you,` she breathlessly called when she finally reached him.
He smiled, and immediately she knew it was okay to have stopped him from riding off. `Get your breath back, young lady,` he said kindly, `I`m in no hurry.`
He knew who she was and had hoped that, one day, she would seek him out. The fifth card. Eventually, she spoke again, and, with teenage impetuosity, everything she wanted to say came pouring out in no recognisable order. `I`m worried; she`s changed; not interested; doesn`t seem to care anymore; can you help … please?`
The Cardman looked at her with the same love that had encouraged her to keep and treasure the card she had been given by him on that evening out, a few weeks earlier. The fifth card.
`Who is she?` he asked her.
`Ah! Your best friend; yes?`
`Yes. But she isn`t like she used to be. She`s always preoccupied with something; never got time for me, anymore,` Jayne`s deep hurts came pouring forth. Then he asked her a question that surprised her; one she did not really want to hear. `How often do you tell her you love her?` There was no reply – just an embarrassed silence.
`Mm, I see,` the Cardman said, thoughtfully. `And how often do you go out of an evening with your friends?`
`Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, most weeks,` she replied, feeling awkward because she could perceive the direction in which the conversation was going. Part of her wanted to run away from him.
`You are an intelligent girl, Jayne. Think about these things …`
`But …` she blurted out in anger, `all I want is my mum back.` It was said. It was out in the open and she immediately felt relieved, yet horribly vulnerable. The little child within her wanted her mother; she did not really care about parties or discos – she wanted her `mum back`. Now she wanted to run away from this, more than ever, to return to her familiar cocoon in which she could hide from the realities of life. She had no father, as far as she knew. No brothers or sisters; just her mother, whom she loved as someone she once could speak to about anything – her mother had always been her best friend. And she wanted that back.
`Do you want me to help?` the Cardman broke into Jayne`s thoughts. His words were gentle and soft, like the peaceful touch of a summer breeze upon her lovely face. Jayne cried. She had needed to cry for months, and here, in such a public place, she had unexpectedly found a soul friend; someone who understood her.
The Cardman took a card from his pocket and passed it to Jayne. `This one is not for you. Give it to your mother,` he told her, `with a pot of geraniums.`
The girl looked back at him in amazement, not expecting to hear such specific instructions.
`And,` he continued, `give them to her on a day you normally go out for the evening. But, on that day, stay at home with her; your best friend.`
Those few words spoke directly to Jayne`s conscience, and she instantly understood her part in the breakdown of relationship with her mother. As if the Cardman could read her mind, he said, `but don`t be too hard on yourself. You`re only young; you also need to be who you are. Be who you are, for you are treasured so much.`
And, with that, he mounted his bicycle and started to ride away. He called back to her, `Let me know how you get on.`
Jayne felt exhausted – what with the chasing after the `man with the cards` and the way he had got her to think about her mother and herself. She pondered on those parting words of his, `you also need to be who you are.` For he actually remembered what he had already told her in that card he gave her back in April.
Who am I? she thought for a moment as she watched the man on his bike gradually disappear from sight under the railway viaduct and into the distance.
Who am I?
She looked at the message on the new card; it meant nothing to her. Then, she thought, where do I go to buy a geranium?
As she walked slowly back into the centre of the city, the words of their conversation repeatedly filled her thoughts. And then she stopped abruptly.
He called me Jayne. How did he know my name?
Love and geraniums
It was a Wednesday evening. They had completed their pasta tea; Jayne Wilkinson was washing up while her mother sat down and read last week`s West Briton, the first opportunity she had had since the previous Thursday. `I don`t know why I bother to buy the paper,` she mumbled to herself, `I never read it.` That was no reflection on the quality of the newspaper, but the consequence of being too busy. There was never enough time for Marcia to relax and just do nothing. Do nothing? When was the last time I did nothing?
Jayne did not take long to wash the dishes. And yet, she wanted more time. She was nervous. What if mum doesn`t want the geraniums? Or the card? Or if she insists I go out this evening, and just throws everything back in my face? But Jayne had decided to present the plant to her mother this evening. She almost reneged. Surely, the way things are with mum are okay? she thought. Why do I want to change things, anyway?
But they were not alright. Jayne knew that she had to take the initiative and find out what was wrong between the two of them. It could wait no longer.
Marcia looked up from the WI reports. Jayne was standing directly in front of her, looking nervous. Why are you nervous, dear? she thought, concerned. Suddenly, a potted geranium appeared upon her lap. It had red flowers and she instinctively squeezed a leaf, soft and comfortable to the touch, and then sniffed the scent upon her fingers. That is all it took to transport her back in time, nearly 15 years. She instantly remembered the pain – the intense pain. Nothing had compared with it before or since. But, like the quiet, stillness and peace that follows a violent storm, she also recalled the joy … and the love. Yes, Marcia, the love!
`What`s this for?` she asked with a smile. With a smile. It was well received.
`For you,` Jayne replied, excitedly.
`For me? I haven`t had a geranium for … for a long time.`
Jayne gave her the card from the `man with the cards`. `I don`t understand what this means, but I was given it to give to you,` she said.
`For me?` Marcia read the card. She just stared at the words. It was so clear, now. She looked at Jayne and the tears gushed forth; uncontrollable tears.
`Have you a handkerchief, darling?` she sniffed.
Darling? She`s not called me that for years, Jayne thought as she passed her mother a clean one from a pocket in her jeans.
Mother looked at daughter. Mother`s eyes were red and cried out with both sorrow and joy. She passed the card back to Jayne for her to read. `I have read it. It makes no sense to me,` her daughter replied.
`Just read it out to me, please,` her mother asked.
Remember the geraniums
Remember the joy
The joy remains
Marcia was silent, except for her continuous sniffing.
She looked up at Jayne and said, simply, `thank you.`
That felt like a theatrical instruction to exit stage left. Jayne followed her instincts and gave her mother some privacy. As she opened the lounge door to ascend the stairs, she noticed her mother reading the card again. And crying.
`I`ve decided not to go out this evening,` Jayne bravely stated.
`I hope you`re not feeling unwell, dear,` her mother replied, concerned.
`No, I`m perfectly okay. I just want to stay in with you, tonight.`
`With me? But … no you can`t … I mean, I have other things to do. I`m sorry, you need to go out,` her mother spluttered, saying more than she would have intended.
`Why? I don`t want to. For one thing, I want to talk to you about this plant and the words on the card.` Jayne firmly stood her ground. And, on that day, stay at home with her; your best friend, she remembered the `man with the cards` saying to her.
Marcia knew she could not force Jayne to go out. And her heart told her that she did not really want her to. It was time to talk. This moment had been deferred far too long already.
`Ok, Jayne. Please stay in; it would be good to talk. But, first, I must make a `phone call.`
Sowing seeds and listening …
`Hello Jayne, how are you?`
`Hello, sir, very well. I just wanted to thank you,` she said, shyly, concerned about wasting his time.
`Ah! The geranium. Worked, did it?`
`Yes, it did,` she enthused. Proper job. Mum was so pleased …`
It was a Tuesday afternoon in early July. There were still three weeks of school left before the summer holidays would start. Year 10 had been a turning point for Jayne; the work rate had increased dramatically, and she knew the importance of the next academic year. Now she was tired and almost studied out, but she needed to see the `man with the cards` and to thank him.
`And, did you stay in that evening?` the Cardman enquired like the wise old owl featured in so many children`s stories.
`Yes. At first she wasn`t too pleased, then – after reading your card – she actually asked me to stay with her.`
`I thought she would, Jayne. And she talked, yes?`
`Oh yes, a lot,` Jayne replied eagerly, smiling as she recalled the conversations; deep, honest, open. `It was the best she`s spoken with me for months. How did you know about the plant?`
`Never mind about that,` the Cardman evaded the question, `there`s something else on your mind. Am I right?`
Jayne was amazed by the Cardman`s perception, it was as though he was looking right through her, as if she were transparent. `Well … yes … actually, there is. May I talk to you about it?`
The Cardman smiled. `Jayne, if you want to speak to me about anything, it`s fine by me. But … do you mind if we sit down over there?` he asked, pointing longingly at an empty bench. `I listen better when my feet aren`t aching, ` he chuckled.
`Of course,` Jayne replied, and the two friends moved over to sit down in the Cathedral square. The momentum of their conversation was damaged a little by this, but, as they sat silently together, looking up at the west end of the Gothic style Cathedral, the Cardman had time to consider his answers to the questions he knew Jayne was about to ask him. They sat for several minutes in silence; the Cardman did not hurry her, he just looked at her pretty, youthful face and smiled, signalling to her that whatever she had to say was important to him.
Within her, she experienced a warmth she had never felt before. Here she was with a man who she had known only a few weeks and he was like a grandfather to her. She secretly acknowledged that she trusted him and valued his friendship so much that she was ready to open her deepest thoughts and feelings to him.
She began quietly, hesitantly, for it was important to her to find the right words. `You said, just then, that I could ask you anything. Is that true … anything?`
`Absolutely anything,`he replied, with a tone that was as soft and comfortable to hear as a thick piled carpet is to walk upon with bare feet. There was more silence as Jayne looked down at the cobbled paving.
`It may seem odd for a male of 60, and a virtual stranger, to speak with a just turned 15 year-old young lady about a very personal subject, but, if that`s what`s on your mind, speak on. Please speak on … I know it helps to share the burden of one`s life story. But, and this is a bit of advice from one who is, just to say, a little older than you …` and the Cardman gave Jayne his grandfatherly smile, `be always careful, I would even say circumspect, in whom you choose to tell your deepest longings and feelings.` Jayne nodded to show she understood what he was saying. He continued, `I believe we all need a soul friend, someone we can trust and know that we can safely say what matters most to us.`
`Thank you, sir. I understand what you`re saying. I have a boyfriend,` she spoke almost as a whisper, whilst returning her gaze to her feet. `He`s quite a lot older than me. I`ve been going with him for about eight months. It seems that he`s only interested in one thing.`
`I see,` the Cardman breathed in deeply. `Does this man love you?`
`I don`t know. He says he does, but that could be just his way of …` she stumbled on the words.
`Do you love him?`
`I`m not sure.`
`No need to explain,` the Cardman said, kindly. `I asked the question only because, if you said “yes” or “I`m madly in love with him”, it changes the whole context, somewhat. As you don`t know, you probably don`t love him. A person may be attracted to another, which is often referred to as infatuation – but that`s not love.`
`I understand,` Jayne responded, now bravely looking at the Cardman, whose clear, genuine eyes were fixed upon her face. In his expression she read, what do you want me to do for you? She had an enveloping feeling that she mattered to him, and, though she did not realise it then, it would remain with her for the remainder of her life and would mould her into the person she was to be. No one ever had looked at her in that way – not even her mother. It spoke of love at a depth that she had never experienced before, and, in an instant of revelation that would be relived over and again in retrospect, she learned the meaning of perfect love; the divinely-inspired love that gives, totally, without any precondition whatsoever.
The Cardman gently broke into her thoughts as she gazed at him in wonder. `I believe that intimacy is intended for those who love each other,` he said, before suddenly changing the subject. `What`s the name of your church, Jayne?`
`How do you know I go to church?` Jayne replied, surprised by her own defensiveness.
`Well, it`s pretty obvious, really. And I would venture to suggest that you`re not just on the fringes of your congregation, but right there leaping about, raising your arms and evangelising.`
`Yes, sir …` Jayne said, hesitantly, wondering if he was mocking her. His accepting smile said otherwise. `Great. I love it, too,` he said with enthusiasm, and, pointing to the Cathedral, added, `in fact, I love it all, when it comes from the heart and brings glory to my Father. There is such a rich variety of Christian tradition; no one need be without a spiritual home.`
`So … you know your Bible, Jayne?` he continued.
`Quite well,` she replied, modestly.
`The woman caught in the act of adultery?`
`Yes`, Jayne returned her focus to the ground.
`Well, she was breaking the Jewish laws; as, indeed, the man was, too. The sentence for such a thing was stoning to death.` He stopped to consider how times had changed. `There is a law in this country regarding intimacy for those under the age of 16. Am I right?`
`Yes, sir,` Jayne`s cheeks were scarlet. The Cardman continued, `the law is there for a very good reason – to protect the vulnerable and those too young to know their own mind – the latter, I don`t think applies to you.`
`But this goes further than breaking laws – as it did at the time of that woman in the Gospel. You are uncomfortable about this. Am I right?`
`The reason you are uncomfortable is that you believe it is a sin. Yes?`
`Yes,` Jayne nodded in agreement.
`So, my dear, what do you believe is sin?`
Jayne thought carefully before replying. `Anything that hurts God.`
The Cardman looked at her in amazement. `That`s a very good answer, Jayne. I`m so pleased to hear such wise words from someone so young. Amazing. But, even so, I would say it is a little bit more than even that wonderful answer of yours. Sin is anything that doesn`t bring glory to God, which, of course, includes what you have said, but goes just a little further.`
`Wow. Then I must sin a lot,` Jayne considered aloud.
`Probably,` the Cardman replied with a warm smile. `Let`s look at your situation. If this man is successful in seducing you, you feel bad afterwards. You have let God and yourself down.` The Cardman looked at Jayne, who was hanging on to every word he spoke. Never in her life had anyone been so non-judgemental, honest and open with her.
`The main point is that you have been hurt; you have been willing to do something that, ultimately, has made you sad and guilty. How, then, can this bring glory to God when he loves you so much?`
`I understand what you are saying,` Jayne replied, softly. `God doesn`t want me to be sad.`
`Indeed not! If you hurt … God hurts, too.`
`Thank you … you are so kind. You`ve given me a different way to look at things. I would never have thought of this by myself.`
The Cardman was pleased by the youngster`s mature attitude. `Thank you,` he said. `You have been very honest with me – that`s a rare gift for someone so young. I hope you don`t feel too wobbly – vulnerable, I mean?
`Well, when you are ready, ask me your other question.`
`Another question?` Jayne had not said there was another question. How does he know? After a moment`s pause, Jayne, full of life and with renewed confidence, said, `This is easier to talk about.`
`Good. I`m glad for you,` the Cardman smiled.
`I have a friend called Megan. She`s really nice and I want her to come to my church with me, but I feel that – if I ask her and she doesn`t want to – it could ruin our friendship.`
`Has she ever spoken to you about God?`
`So, why do you feel there`s a chance that she could be interested?`
`Well, sir, we are so alike. We enjoy the same things, like netball and reading. But I want her to know the Lord, as I do.`
`That`s a very good reason, Jayne; and an unselfish one. Perhaps you need to begin very gently by just asking her if she realises that God loves her. Ask her as if you were talking about your favourite TV programme. If she doesn`t respond, don`t push her into giving you an answer. Then, some time later, you can say something like, `you know, Megan, it`s so good to know that God loves me,` almost as a throwaway comment. But, again, don`t press for a response. You see, it`s all about sowing seeds. And, remember, you are doing this for her, not yourself. That is what unconditional love is – giving without expecting anything in return.`
`That sounds so simple.`
`It is, Jayne. But, please, let her do this in her time, not yours.`
Jayne stood up. `Thank you. Could I bring Megan to meet you, sometime?`
`That would be good … do that. Now, is there anything else you would like me to do for you?`
`No, sir. I`ve taken up too much of your time, already. Anyway, I must get home.`
`And water the geranium?` the Cardman laughed.
`Yes, I suppose so.`
`Well,` the Cardman continued, now standing beside her, `don`t overwater it. And that is a good parable for evangelising …`
Jayne gave the Cardman a gentle kiss on his left cheek and said, `you`ve taught me so much this afternoon. Thank you.` And then she was gone.
The Cardman sat down on the bench and soaked in the peace of the square. For everyone there is a season, he considered, and it was time for a welcome absence of words. A season for him. Just for a moment or two.
The kiss had not gone unnoticed. As the Cardman stood up from the bench, ready to resume his usual position in the centre of the square, he was aware of the shadow of two figures standing close by. He turned to see the two policemen.
`Good afternoon, gentlemen.` he said politely, feeling a little crowded by their presence.
`Good afternoon, sir,` PC Nicholas replied, as austere-looking as on their previous meeting. `We have been observing you from across the square …`
`Yes. And no doubt you noticed the young lady kiss me on the side of my face. The left side. You know, I was just saying to her that it seemed odd, a man of 60 sitting with an attractive young girl of just fifteen.` He emphasised her age. `Such a tender age,` he mused.
`Indeed, sir, that`s exactly why we are keeping an eye on you.`
The Cardman`s eyes twinkled with mischief. `Thank you, constable. I am truly very grateful. You know how vulnerable older people can be; often misrepresented in such cases. Thank you for looking after my interests.`
`That`s not exactly how we see it, sir,` PC Nicholas replied, slightly bewildered by the Cardman`s apparent misunderstanding of the situation.
`No?` the Cardman reflected more seriously. `Well, it would be good if you did, constable. Oh, by the way,` he continued, almost as an afterthought, `is it all the girls in the city that you protect, or is it just Jayne?`
PC Nicholas stood, silent, the blood having drained from his face.
`I don`t know what you mean, sir,` he eventually responded, desperately trying to hide the many emotions bubbling within him, of which `fear` was the foremost.
`You don`t know what I mean, constable? I believe you do!`
`Thank you, sir, for your patience. We will trouble you no further,` PC Nicholas said as the two policemen turned and walked off in the direction of Boscawen Street. The Cardman watched them go and heard the other officer ask, `what was that all about?`
To which PC Nicholas replied, `take no notice, Jerry. The man`s a loony. I told you he was.`
Aggression, fear and surrender
It was two dry, sunny and warm days after Jayne Wilkinson`s unexpected kiss.
As evening beckoned, the Cardman was pushing his bicycle homeward along the busy precinct when, suddenly, the tall, austere-looking policeman was standing directly in front of him. He was off duty, wearing an open collared, brightly-patterned summer shirt, and knee length khaki shorts. His body language, highlighted by clenched fists, indicated he was angry.
Without preamble, he threw his first verbal assault at the Cardman, rather like lobbing a brick through a plate glass window.
`So, what have you been saying to Jayne?`
`Oh. Hello PC Nicholas. I was just thinking about you, wondering how you were.` The response caught Nick off guard.
`You`re angry with me, I can see that …` came the Cardman`s second counter attack, spoken with genuine concern.
`Of course I`m angry with you,` Nick retorted intolerantly, trying to regain his supremacy over this strange character. `Now, what have you been saying to Jayne?`
`Ah! The nice young lady who asked to speak with me the other day. She was worried, you know!`
The Cardman`s blatant refusal to engage with Nick`s anger was frustrating for his aggressor.
`She told me about you,` the Cardman continued in a hushed voice, `not by name, of course, but I soon worked that out for myself …`
`What did she say?` Nick interrupted, nervously.
`She very bravely told me about her boyfriend, as she called him. And I just listened then asked her two questions.`
`What were they?` Nick responded, impatiently.
`Does he love you? I asked her. And she said, after giving the matter some thought, that she didn`t know. Although, she added, he had told her that he did; but she was unsure about it. Then I asked her if she loved him. And she was unsure about that, too.`
`So?` Nick pressed the Cardman further.
`Well, I told her that love is important. It`s the most important element in intimate relationships. It`s a wonderful thing for those who mutually love each other.` Then, looking directly into Nick`s frightened eyes, he added, `but it can be the most hideous and grotesque thing imaginable when it`s only wanted by one for self-gratification.`
Nick knew he had lost his verbal fight. Secretly, he was aware that he admired this older man facing him. This `man with the cards` had not returned aggression with aggression, but was totally in control of his emotions.
`Nick,` the Cardman continued softly, with compassion, `what are you going to do?`
`I don`t know,` Nick replied, lost and ashamed, totally bewildered by this other man`s perceptiveness. And he had not once criticised Nick for his actions.
`She`s well under age, Nick. You could be in huge trouble; but I don`t need to tell you that – you`re an intelligent man, otherwise you`d not be a police officer.`
`It just happened, one day,` Nick replied, remembering, with regret. He knew there was no defence for his actions. `Things had not been right at home for a long while, and then Jayne appeared on the scene. I fell in love with her. I knew she was at least 20 years younger than me, but I couldn`t help how I felt.` Nick was almost pleading his case. `She liked me and we started seeing each other. And things just evolved from there … quickly.`
Nick stood before the Cardman like a little boy caught writing a naughty word on the classroom blackboard.
`How are things, now, with you and your wife?`
Nick hesitated, then replied, `I`ve not been very interested these past few months …`
`But, how are things, Nick?` the Cardman insisted.
`Well, strangely, she seems to be more attentive towards me, of late. I suppose things are pretty good, really.`
The Cardman smiled.
`I`ve wondered if Sue has suspected something,` Nick added.
`She probably has,` the Cardman mused, `you know, women are very intuitive, much more than men. She may well be thinking that something`s going on and – perhaps – it has made her consider how much she longs to have you fully with her again. So many of the most precious things of life are taken for granted.`
Nick stood amazed at the wisdom of this other man; the man whom, at first, he wanted to hurt; to physically inflict pain upon. Now, he felt some unexpected kind of brotherly love for him. And he opened up his deep-seated fears.
`What if … what if Jayne tells anyone else?`
`Have you said you are sorry to her?`
Nick hesitated. `Yes. After I stopped being angry, I told her I was very, very sorry. But, what about you?` Nick became defensive and aggressive once again, `are you to speak to anyone else.`
`Yes, Nick, you know I have to.`
Nick froze. This is what he feared, and, in a flash of guilt he could see himself without his work, without Sue, and branded for the rest of his life as a sex offender.
`Nick, I am going to speak about it,` the Cardman continued. `I`m going to speak to God and pray for you, for Jayne, for Sue and for your little Tessa. But only to God, who already knows, anyway.`
Nick was relieved; he immediately lowered his defences, relaxed his fists. He had never been so relieved about anything before, in all his life.
`So … you`re not going to …`
The Cardman interrupted him by raising a hand. `Nick, apart from your own conscience, where are all the eyes of condemnation watching you?`
Nick looked around the now empty precinct.
`There aren`t any,` Nick replied, bewildered.
`Neither do I condemn you. Goodnight.` And with that, the Cardman stroked Nick`s left arm in an affectionate gesture, and mounted his bicycle, leaving Nick, stunned, behind him.
Nick pondered on all that he had heard. Who is this man? he thought, and, as he watched the indistinct figure disappear from sight, he whispered a simple prayer, `be safe … be safe.` What a contrast from how he felt just a few minutes earlier when, out of fear and prejudice, he had hid himself at the end of one of the shady narrow lanes and waited for the `man with the cards` to pass by. Then, like a cowboy with guns held in arms outstretched, looking for revenge, he faced his adversary with intent to harm him.
But what happened? He melted under the warmth of the other man, who showed no sign of fear. I could have laid him flat on his back with one hit, Nick admitted to himself. But the man was unmoved by Nick`s threatening stance.
Who is this `man with the cards`?
The second week of July
Watching and listening
At last, Emma Trembath was finally ready to go home. Her work completed for the day, she locked the office door behind her, said a polite `goodbye` to the young cleaning lady with the sparkly, dangling earrings, who was unplugging the vacuum cleaner from one of the many sockets in the main school corridor, and made for the carport. It had been a hectic day; Godfrey Philpott, the Head, had been zealous in his dictation and overtly demanding in his expectations of instant drafts for editing. Emma so often suffered the frustration of having to make significant changes to her daily work plan in order to accommodate the insatiable, sometimes impulsive, needs of the Head. But, he`s a good man, she thought as she opened the internal door that led to the covered car park. The carport had been his brainwave. No more traipsing across windswept open spaces in the pouring rain. The worst times had been on arrival for work and having to sit at her desk in wet clothing; a miserable outlook and not conducive to efficiency in the workplace. He had realised this, of course, and, with the enthusiastic fund-raising enterprise of the Friends of the School, many similar building projects had been made possible.
Miss Trembath, as she liked to be addressed by the children, had not always been a Miss. She was once married to a bank clerk, who, during one of his mid-life crises, left her for his latest obsession – a female work colleague, almost half his age. It did not come as a shock to Emma; he was a gregarious, Casanova, whose appetite for the opposite sex was as unquenchable as the Head`s desire to make Wilbury Road Secondary School an academy of excellence.
At 55 years of age, Emma had decided to adopt her maiden name in the hope of putting her failed marriage out of her life. That had been five years ago.
She passed by one of the infuriating concrete pillars – the one with the sky blue paint mark; a reminder of the morning when her accuracy in parking was tested and found wanting. Then, instinct made her stop behind the next pillar, and peer around it like an obsessive ornithologist attempting to photograph a rare visitor. But, the `bird` on this occasion had no visible feathers; she was smartly dressed in the school uniform of navy cardigan, white blouse and navy skirt, which, in Emma`s opinion, was almost indecently short, but, nevertheless, fashionable. She knew the girl – a year 10 pupil – a nice, homely young lady, always polite and one of the Head`s favourites, for she had the potential for attaining a bright, academic future. But, what was she doing loitering in the carport, half hidden behind the red Volvo belonging to Mr Hill, the senior English teacher? Emma decided to stay, at her discreet distance, to observe and listen. She felt absurd, but justified her actions in the expectation of uncovering some macabre rendevous in this secluded place.
Emma was not to be disappointed, and her patient watching and listening was soon to be rewarded.
Jayne was nervous. She wanted to abort her well-rehearsed mission, but she knew she had to confront him. But he is a senior teacher, she told herself, he`ll not want to be bothered with me. `Why did you not come and see me during your lesson?`, he`ll ask. `Because, Mr Hill, I want to talk about something personal – it has nothing to do with school …` She stopped her imaginary dialogue when she saw him walking towards her from the direction of the main entrance. He looked puzzled when he saw her, but he melted her reserve with a warm smile that filled his handsome face.
`Hello, Jayne,` he greeted her as he neared his car. `Are you waiting for me?`
`Mm. And to what do I owe this pleasure? Could you not have spoken with me during the lesson this afternoon?` came his expected question – and Jayne thanked God for the presence of foresight and rehearsal.
`I`ve something I need to ask you. Can you spare me a moment?`
`Of course,` he replied, affably.
Jayne looked serious, and she was aware of feeling almost confrontational because her nerves caused awkwardness in her manner, and dryness of her mouth. `Why has no-one told me?` she blurted out. That was not rehearsed, she thought.
Although not expecting it, Mr Hill knew exactly what Jayne was asking. He noticed the tears rolling from her beautiful blue eyes, and his professional mask was torn off as he ran to her and wrapped his arms around her young and vulnerable body. He kissed the top of her head and, stroking her long, naturally golden hair, whispered, `can I take you home?`
`Yes, please,` was just audible through the sobbing.
The truth is told
Emma Trembath managed very little sleep that night. She could not settle the thoughts that continuously recreated the after school meeting between Matthew Hill and Jayne Wilkinson, and then switched to the question of what she should do with the knowledge she had unwittingly gained. Clearly, she should speak with Mr Philpott, the Head, as soon as she could in the morning, and the anticipation of the meeting with him added to her insomnia. By three-thirty, she gave in, got up from bed and prepared herself for the new day.
She arrived at school much earlier than normal; Godfrey Philpott was already in his office, dictating letters onto a dictaphone; the cassette tape would be passed to Emma in due course. He was a short, chubby man; well-dressed in a dark blue, pin-striped suit, white shirt and navy tie, adorned by a pin, proudly bearing the crest of the school. When Emma knocked on his door, he jovially called `please enter` and she was greeted with a broad, welcoming smile that she knew, from experience, was genuine. With his right hand, he ushered her to a chair opposite him, and said, `Good morning, Miss Trembath, what can I do for you so early in the day?`
`Good morning, sir,` she replied, `I`m afraid I come to you with a serious matter to report.` Mr Philpott placed his fountain pen neatly upon his pink blotter, and looked at Emma with concern. She told him exactly what she had seen the previous afternoon, without exaggeration or offering her opinion. He listened intently and, when she had finished her report, he placed his head in his hands and concluded, `Well, we must get Mr Hill in here to explain himself.` He lifted the telephone and pressed the number six that would produce a continuous beeping sound in the staff room – the Head`s ring was distinctive and was always answered without delay, unless the room was empty.
`Good morning Miss Sylvester,` Mr Philpott said to the young foreign language teacher, `has Mr Hill arrived at school, yet?`
`No? Well, when he gets in can you … ah! … he`s arrived? Good, can I speak to him, please.`
`Mr Hill, can you please come to my office as soon as you are able? Thank you.` And he replaced his receiver in its holder. He reclined in his chair and folded his arms, preparing himself for what, he imagined, could be a difficult meeting. `Stay in your seat, please, Miss Trembath,` he instructed.
Less than a minute later, the door was knocked. `Come in Mr Hill,` the Head called out.
Matthew Hill entered the office; he was a tall, slim, handsome man of 34, who was well-dressed, albeit casually, in a green cordorouy jacket and beige trousers, a white shirt with a plain dark green tie.
`Do sit down, Mr Hill,` the Head said, without his usual welcoming smile. Matthew knew there was trouble brewing, and he wondered why Emma was also in the office. He acknowledged her presence with a nod and smile.
`Mr Hill, I`m sorry to ask you to come to see me so early when you obviously have much to prepare for the day ahead. But, Miss Trembath has come to me and reported what she saw yesterday, after school. I will ask her to repeat what she has told me, for your benefit, and then I will ask you to let me have your explanation, which, I`m sure, will conclude this matter satisfactorily. Now, Miss Trembath, would you be so kind as to repeat what you have already told me.`
Emma did so. Matthew Hill showed very little emotion, except for the occasional smile, which Emma found distracting. How could he smile when such a serious matter is being discussed?, she thought. When she had finished, the Head indicated his wish for a short period of silence; then he invited Matthew to respond to Emma`s report.
`Sir, I think it would be prudent to ask if Jayne Wilkinson could also be with us before I speak on this matter. After all, she should be given the opportunity to hear what I say and make comments, herself, if you feel it appropriate.`
The Head considered Matthew`s request carefully, after all this was not a formal disciplinary hearing. `Yes, Mr Hill. I will arrange for Jayne to join us without delay.`
Miss Trembath escorted Jayne into Mr Philpott`s office, and the two sat down as instructed by the Head.
`Thank you for coming to see me, Jayne. This has been at Mr Hill`s request,` the Head explained, and Jayne glanced at Matthew and met his smile with hers.
`Miss Trembath witnessed the meeting of Mr Hill and yourself, after school yesterday, and she was concerned for your welfare, Jayne. As a consequence, I have asked Mr Hill to comment on Miss Trembath`s observations, at which point, quite reasonably, he asked if you could attend the meeting so that you might be aware of what is said, and comment also, if you wish.`
`Thank you, sir; that`s very kind of you both,` Jayne calmly responded, with a maturity that belied her 15 years. Mr Philpott asked Matthew to speak.
`Firstly,` Matthew began, `I must ask for your patience as I give you some background to all this, which may seem irrelevant, but is not.`
`Go ahead, Mr Hill, say what you need us to hear,` the Head encouraged him.
`When I was Jayne`s age, I knew I wanted to be a teacher, and I worked hard at school and sixth form to achieve the appropriate grades to take me on to university. At this time I lived with my parents, near Liskeard. I had a steady girlfriend; we were in love with each other. She became pregnant and her parents – both strong personalities – forbade me to see their daughter again, although we managed a few clandestine meetings, until that was discovered.` Matthew stopped and remembered the pain he felt at the time and the finality of their forced separation.
`Her baby was not due until I had begun at university – up north – and I only heard how she and the baby were when she wrote me a letter, some weeks later. It was to be our last communication. As you know from my CV, I passed through university, continued on to teacher training college and then took my first job proper in Leeds. Later, when a vacancy occurred in Cornwall, I applied and was accepted at a school in Launceston. Whilst I was there, I went back to Liskeard several times to try and locate my girlfriend and the child, but they were not living there any longer. I had no idea where to find her; I assumed that she had got married and moved away, maybe even out of the county, altogether. You know the rest. I came to this school nearly six years ago; just before Jayne arrived from the juniors.`
Miss Trembath trembled at the reference to Jayne and waited for the sordid details to be admitted.
`I was aware of Jayne as a pupil, but she has not been my responsibility as her form teacher; indeed, I had not met her parents at any of the school meetings.`
Matthew continued. `About three months ago, at a charity concert at the Hall for Cornwall, I finally met my girlfriend from all those years ago. It was an amazing co-incidence that we should find each other among all those people. She didn`t appear to have changed at all. Anyway, we talked over a drink and we both confessed to being unattached. We started to meet regularly and, of course, I asked about the baby – my baby – who is, by now, a young adult. For one particular reason, which will be made clear in a moment, she did not want me to meet with the child immediately. I deliberately would go and see her on the evenings that her child was out with friends. I was very anxious to meet the girl, but I respected her mother`s request to remain discreet, at least for a while until we knew where our renewed friendship was heading. Then, by some strange happening, the young person realised that something was going on with her mother and approached her about it. Marcia told her that she had met someone special, but it was not until two days ago that she actually explained that this man is her father, whom she had never seen. And that is why Jayne was waiting for me.`
The Head looked puzzled. `I`m sorry, Mr Hill, but I cannot see where Jayne fits into all this,` he said.
`Marcia is Jayne`s mother,` Mr Hill smiled, having reached the climax of his story, `and Jayne – this lovely, young lady – is my daughter!`
There was a relieved silence in the room. Jayne looked lovingly at Mr Hill and Miss Trembath could not disquise her reddened cheeks. Mr Philpott smiled broadly and broke the silence. He looked at Jayne, and asked, `do you wish to add anything to what Mr Hill has told us?`
`Only to thank you, again, for inviting me to this meeting, sir,` she replied. `Yesterday, during school, all I wanted to do is speak with my dad, but it just wasn`t possible. I realised, for a few weeks now, he had looked at me differently when we met in the classroom or in the corridors; he was particularly warm towards me in a strange, fatherly sort of way. It wasn`t until two days ago that everything fell into place. And all I wanted was to speak with him and tell him how happy I am that he`s come back to us.`
She burst into tears, and through the sobbing said, `I have never had a father, but now, suddenly, I have one. And it`s wonderful.` And with that, throwing protocol to the wind, Matthew walked over to her, got on his knees and hugged her. `I`m so sorry,` he cried, too. `I promise you, in front of these witnesses, I`ll never let you down again … ever.`
Mr Philpott spoke quietly to Emma, `could you please leave us, now, Miss Trembath. I would like to speak with this happy couple alone. Thank you.`
She left the office, closing the door gently behind her.
`Now Mr Hill and Jayne, I need to speak with you further,` his tone theatrically stern. Matthew returned to his chair.
`I am sad to say,` he continued, `I was half-expecting to be chairing a disciplinary interview this morning. However, I`m very pleased that has not been the case. But, Mr Hill … before you came to see me, I had already decided how I would arrange for your lessons to be covered in the event of having to suspend you from work – which is what I would have done pending a formal hearing.` Matthew nodded to show his understanding of the procedures.
`Well, having planned what I would have done,` the Head continued, `it seems a shame not to make use of those arrangements. So, I want to give you a day off, with Jayne – whose absence I will approve – because I think you two need to spend some time together, before resuming the potentially difficult relationship of parent teacher and child pupil within the same school. Would that be agreeable to you both?`
`It certainly would, sir,` Matthew replied enthusiastically, thinking that Christmas had come early. He turned towards Jayne and smiled.
`Thank you, very much, Mr Philpott,` she said, not really believing what was happening. All three stood up and walked to the door. As Jayne passed through to the outer office first, the Head put his right hand on Matthew`s left shoulder and whispered in his ear, `Matthew, am I to be hopeful for a wedding soon?`
`Yes, sir. By next Spring at the latest. But we haven`t told Jayne yet.`
`Wonderful. I`ll be there whenever it is,` the Head replied.
Three minutes later, Matthew`s Volvo was heading out of the carport with Jayne proudly sitting in the front passenger seat.
`What a lovely man he is,` she said almost to herself.
`Mr Philpott? Yes, he`s one on his own. He`s a good man; rather ideosyncratic at times, but he`s a gentleman and a family man. Did you see him wipe his eyes with his handkerchief?`
`Yes,` Jayne replied. She still could not believe what was happening. Travelling with her dad – my dad – she needed to convince herself this was real. The car raced towards Redruth and she chuckled aloud.
`Why are you laughing?` Matthew asked.
`I was just thinking – no wonder the kids all call you Damian.`
Matthew laughed, too. `I`ll settle for that. It could be worse,` he admitted. `Much worse.`
`Where are we going, sir … I mean …?` Jayne felt momentarily embarrassed and she realised that this man in the driving seat, beside her, was one to be highly respected as an icon of knowledge and authority. She had swooned with her friends over this eligible, handsome teacher, and enjoyed listening to him reading extracts from the classics, expounding upon the importance of good description to paint a picture for the reader. But, do not be so thorough that the reader has no room for his or her own imagination, he had told the class.
She recalled the day, recently, when Mr Hill congratulated her, in front of the class, for her essay entitled “Seeing and Feeling”, in which she had explored how the brain transforms the superficial senses both into the objective and subjective, and analysed the feelings that result from it. All this she disquised in a short story about a young boy who had got separated from his parents whilst shopping in a busy town; she got an `A` for it. He knew who I was, then, she reflected. Yes, he acted differently … as if he was my father. Which he is!
`It might take a little while to get used to the idea,` Matthew replied, breaking into Jayne`s thoughts. `I wondered about going into the city. How about a coffee at Waterstones, and a look for a book or two? Or am I being over-indulgent?`
`No. That would be lovely,` she replied, having returned to the reality of sitting in his car beside him. `There`s someone I`d like you to meet, while we`re there, if that`s okay with you? He`s known as the `man with the cards`, and he`s very special.`
`I`d like that. But, I suggest I take you home first so you can get changed out of those school clothes. While you do, I`ll ring your mother and tell her what`s happening.`
`Thank you. That`ll be good.`
The Volvo was parked almost outside the terraced house; it was unusual to be able to get so close. Jayne left Matthew in the car absorbed with his mobile phone. What should she wear? Something casual, she decided. The light blue jeans were easy to choose, but which t-shirt? What colour? Blue, white, red, purple or … yes, pink. I`m his daughter, she proudly told herself. I think he`ll want me to look girlie. So, it was the pink top that she pulled over her head; her bedroom mirror approved of her choice.
`Yes, Marcia, we`ve both been given the day off. It`s a gift … what a gift! Can you join us for lunch? … No? … oh, that`s a pity … but, what about the three of us going out tonight? … good … I`ll tell her, shall I? ,,, `
Jayne had just rejoined him. When Matthew had ended the call, she asked, `what are you going to tell me?`
`Your mother can`t get away from work today, but wants us to go out for a meal this evening. She reminded me that it`s Wednesday, one of your evenings out …`
`Yes, please,` she responded, eagerly, `I want to be with you.`
`Then, that`s what we`ll do,` Matthew smiled with the anticipation of spending the evening with the two favourite ladies in his life.
`Thank you, sir,` Jayne slipped again. `I mean … dad.` And she placed her right hand upon his left as it held the gearstick. She looked into his clear, shiny eyes and wondered when this wonderful dream would end.
As if she were transparent, he quietly said, `this seems just as unreal to me, you know.`
She stretched across to him and kissed his left cheek. `I`ve never kissed my teacher before,` she laughed.
`Well, beware of Emma Trembath`s … they could be watching us!`
As they walked through the city, Jayne was conscious of the many eyes analysing them. This is my dad, not what you think! She felt proud to be with him. Until these last two days, she thought, bewildered by mortal life`s sudden changes and chances, he was just one of my teachers. I had no idea he was my dad. My dad – I really have got a dad. It had turned her 15 years upside down, inside out, just like the wind gusting into bed sheets on washing lines.
She remembered the times she had asked her mum about her father.
`Where is he, mum?`, she would ask.
Her mother would look sad and vulnerable and reply, with that lovely, open face of hers that Jayne instinctively knew was truthful, `I really don`t know, my dear.` And she would add, often with tearful eyes, `I wish I did.`
But, two days ago, when she judged her mature enough, she explained exactly what had happened in her relationship with Jayne`s father.
`Why were your parents so hard on him?` Jayne asked.
`It was because we were both young and they didn`t believe that we really loved each other. They expected your father to leave me once he knew I was pregnant. That is, of course, what happened.`
`But … you told me he went off to university; that wasn`t exactly running away from you?`
`No dear, you`re right. I knew he would be going up north to study. But my parents didn`t see it like that, and barred me from contacting him – they were strictly traditional in their moral views. My mother would not even agree to be with me when you were born.`
`It made no difference, really,` Jayne`s mother continued, `I wrote to him and told him about you and he replied. It was a lovely letter. But time elapsed and I lost contact with him, and then we moved from east Cornwall to where we are now, and he would not have known where we lived. So, the parting had become permanent, or so I thought.` It was then that she announced who Jayne`s father was. All was revealed.
Across the road, PC Jeremy Hughes and PC Roland Nicholas were enjoying a quiet morning on their city beat. They had passed a few rather cynical comments to each other about the current state in politics, and observed the people doing the things that townsfolk do – shopping, rushing from office to office, seeking places for lunch … all the normal business that makes for the rich daily fabric of `everyday life`. In Victoria Square, all seemed quite peaceful; all seemed orderly and ordinary – if one could ever refer to life as such. For PC Nicholas, however, that was soon to change. He noticed, on the opposite side of the road, to his left, a familiar face. Why was she not at school? She looked all of 18 in her blue jeans and tee shirt, and something unexpected played games with his emotions. He stopped walking, desperately wanting to speak with her. Who was the man she was with? She was holding his arm and looking up at him as if he were the centre of her life. Emotions changed. Now it was anger. She had lied to him. How long had this being going on? She`s made a fool of me! Now, he wanted to confront this man.
`Wait here a minute,` he called to Jeremy, now a few yards ahead of him. PC Nicholas crossed the road; angry, like someone in a John Wayne movie – ready for a showdown.
Jayne saw him coming. She did not panic, although she could read the anger on his face. She judged the situation quickly and intelligently. He thinks this man, with me, is a threat to him.
`Good morning Jayne; good morning, sir,` PC Nicholas was polite, but looked austere.
`Good morning constable,` Jayne replied, with civility in equal measure. `Perhaps I could introduce you two?` she said, with a mischievous grin. She first looked towards the policeman, and said, `this is PC Nicholas, he`s a good friend to the young people of the city.` Then she looked at Matthew. `This man is Mr Matthew Hill. He is one of my teachers at school …` Out of her left eye she noticed PC Nicholas` face redden with rage. She was enjoying the drama.
Then she added, `and he is also my dad.` For PC Nicholas, there was a feeling of total disbelief. `But … I didn`t think you had a dad?` he managed to splutter.
`Nor did I,` Jayne smiled, looking up at the man who was, indeed, the centre of her life. Matthew explained, `I had been trying to find Jayne`s mother for years after I had lost contact with her. But, a few weeks ago, we met unexpectedly at a concert. And things have gone from there. Jayne and I met as father and daughter for the first time yesterday. And, today, we are both enjoying some time getting used to the idea.`
`No school?` PC Nicholas asked.
`Call it a kind of paternity leave,` Matthew laughed.
The two men shook hands. The anger that had gripped PC Nicholas had now drained from him, and he was genuinely pleased for Jayne. PC Hughes had joined him, wondering what the problem was. `There`s nothing wrong,` Nick told him. `There`s been a family reunion. All, as you can see, is very well.`
The two policemen returned to their beat. Roland Nicholas was quiet as they walked along. He was thinking about his reaction at seeing Jayne with another man. And he remembered how, in a previous conversation, the `man with the cards` had not judged him. `Will I ever learn?` he thought to himself. `I jumped to the wrong conclusion. No-one has condemned me. What right had I to condemn them?`