As I stood under the flickering street lamp, I saw the same familiar four faces staring glumly into the distance. I looked at my watch, it was late.... again! It was the end of a very long week and all I wanted to do was crawl into bed alongside my hot water bottle. I looked longingly to my left hoping the bus would soon show up. I shuffled from foot to foot as my cold, wet feet cramped up. ‘At least you’re covered from the rain!’ I tried to look on the bright side of my predicament, my spirits low. I took my earbuds out and heard the rain pelting down on the bus shelter. It was oddly cathartic. My eyes shifted out of focus and it wasn’t until I felt someone brush past me that I noticed the bus had arrived.
I clambered onto the busy vehicle unable to see a seat and let out a sigh of frustration, my feet aching. A familiar gallant gentleman, what I called a ‘frequent flyer’ to the route, stood up and offered his seat to me. I smiled and shook my head no, but he insisted. Normally I would have persevered, but being a Friday I was only too delighted.
‘Thank you!’ I smiled. He smiled back and got off five minutes later. As the long journey home continued, I closed my eyes, safe in the knowledge that I was getting off at the last stop. The bus driver, Tommy, woke me, as he had on many occasions, to inform me I had gotten to my destination. I yawned and thanked him, gathering my things as he returned to the driver’s seat to fill out his paperwork. I noticed, when I stood up, that I had been sitting on an envelope. I picked it up and looked at it, my brow furrowed as I realised that the name on the front of it was mine. I was too tired to wonder where it came from so, I put it in my bag and thanked Tommy before getting off the bus.
I dredged through the soggy field, my feet beginning to feel numb. Yes, I could have gone the long way but the field took ten minutes off my walk home. The rain hit the hood of my jacket, feeling like pebbles being thrown at me. I looked up, the light of the cul de sac growing ever closer, my mind on the envelope.
As my feet hit solid ground, I sighed with relief, and started to search my handbag for my keys, the hairs on my hand stood up as it brushed against the envelope. I opened the front door of the house on the corner and was pleased to feel a waft of warm air hit me as I entered. I took off my coat and shoes, leaving them where they landed, and made my way into the kitchen. I placed my bag on the table and filled the kettle. As the water bubbled, I took out the brown manilla envelope, my name meticulously written on the front. I cautiously opened it and spilled the contents onto the table.
‘Ok,’ I said to myself befuddled at what my eyes were seeing. There was a single key, a wad of cash, a photograph, and a note. I looked carefully at the tatty old photo, my heart skipped a beat when I realised that it was a much younger...…me? My heart started to beat so fast I was ready for it to jump out of my chest.
I picked up the letter, the same meticulous writing on fancy stationary. It read:
My dearest Natalie,
I can’t describe how much I regret not being in your life, but it had to be that way for your own safety. Please, don’t disregard me telling you that the highlight of my day is seeing you get on this bus. You have turned into a beautiful young woman and I am so proud of you!
The reason I am getting in contact this way is because I have been riding the bus with you for over a year now and haven’t yet plucked up the courage to tell you who I am.
Please know that this is hard for me sweet girl, but I have thought it through and it’s the only sane option I could think of.
I am going to be in the country for one more night. You have one chance of seeing me and it involves ringing a cab and going to the Park Avenue storage unit for 10 o’clock tonight. I have left you with more than enough money to cover the cab fare.
I know you have no reason to trust me but I do have an excuse for leaving all those years ago. I can’t stress enough how much I need to see you. I hope this photograph will encourage you to come.
I sat down onto the wooden chair with a soft thud. The kettle had finished boiling. I always wondered why my father as he disappeared when I was six years old. I remember him taking me to the nearby park from where we lived, where we were getting very good at flying our little starter kite. I was trying to fly it on my own and when it got up the highest it had ever gotten, pride beaming through my pores, I looked around…he was gone!
When I was older, I was under the impression that he was arrested for murder and sent to jail. I never heard from him after the kite incident again. ‘Why should I give him the time of day now?’ I wondered.
I was shocked at the fact I had seen that man, on my bus, every night. He always sat in the same spot and always left at the stop five minutes away from where I got picked up. He had a permanent grin on his face and a twinkle in his eye.
I looked up at the clock, it was 7:30. Curisoty got the better of me and I googled how far the Park Avenue storage unit was from my lovely cosy house, the hot water bottle in my peripheral vision. Google maps informed me it was an hour and a half journey by car. I read the letter again, holding it close to my chest when I had finished.
I had wanted closure my whole life. I was lucky in the sense that my mother remarried when I was eight and I called my step father dad. He was the one who was first in line into all of my ballet recitals; he was the one who looked after me when I broke my leg after falling down the stairs; he was the one who earned the accolade. My mind unwillingly brought me back to the kite. I barely remember my father, but the image of the kite was prevalent.
‘Ok,’ I said to myself, ‘there’s no harm in going and seeing what he has to say? Or is there?’ I listened to the house creek as the heating turned itself on again. I just wanted to curl up with my hot water bottle, but my curiosity had me ringing a local cab firm. ‘Hi, can I book a cab from 92 Brookwater Terrace to the Park Avenue storage units for eight o’clock please?’
As I put down the phone, I blinked hard, tears escaping my eyes. I ran upstairs to get dry socks and something a little less formal than my work clothes. No sooner had I put on my trainers, the cab was honking outside the front door. I open it and waved to the driver before doing up my laces.
The Park Avenue storage unit was exactly what it said on the tin. Thankfully the rain had stopped in time for me to get out of the car, tipping the cabbie with the money from the envelope. I made my way to lot 78, the number that had been etched onto the key. It was dark, so I used the flashlight from my phone to guide me in the right direction. When I reached it, I looked at my watch, it was 9:45. My stomach started to do summersaults, a kaleidoscope of butterflies in my chest. Once again, curiosity got the better of me, so I tried the key in the padlock keeping what I can only describe to be a small garage door shut. The lock clicked, the padlock open. I hesitated for a minute, wondering if I should wait for my ‘dad’ or whether I should go ahead and look at what I thought was rightfully mine.
I opened the garage door and gasped at the contents of the unit. I was expecting boxes of stuff littered all around but boy was I wrong. Yes, there were boxes, but they were neatly stacked to the left of the unit. The right-hand side had a wooden door on its side being used as a desk held up by stacks upon stacks of books. I tentatively went inside, my trusty flashlight coming in handy once more. I looked at the cork boards above the makeshift desk and was amazed to find numerous pictures of me on one of them. I looked closer at the others and could make out that it was the case my ‘dad’ had been convicted on.
Just as I leaned in to read one of the old articles on him, I jumped out of my skin. ‘Hiya sweetheart,’ I heard the man from the bus say at the threshold of the unit. He flicked a switch and a single light illuminated the relatively small space. My eyes met the familiar man and I noticed his eyes were twinkling, the light reflecting off of his tears. I quickly caught myself and looked at the grey concrete floor. I noticed that the flashlight on my phone was still on and rectified the situation quickly so as to preserve battery.
‘Hi,’ was all I could manage as my eyes started by looking at his worn brown boots, and continued up his whole body until once again I met his eyes. He didn’t look like how I remembered him from the few pictures I had taken from my mother’s attic when she died. Maybe it was just because half of his face was covered in a beard. Our eyes lingered, me being the first one to break the trance.
‘Why am I here?’ I asked him. I had so many questions but I thought that to be the most important one.
‘I needed to see you!’ he answered.
‘Why not talk to me on the bus?’
‘I just…’ he looked away, ‘…I just couldn’t.’
‘You said tonight was your last night in the country,’ I said referring to the letter that I had memorised in the cab ride over here.
‘Yes…yes tonight is the last night,’ he hung his head and said, ‘I’m taking the first ferry in the morning.’
‘Why was it dangerous for you to see me?’
He cleared his throat and wiped his eyes on the sleeve of his coat. ‘I have people, very bad people, gunning for me because of the man I allegedly killed all those years ago. I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself had they found out about you!’
‘Why did you leave me in the park?’ I kept firing questions at him, questions that had haunted me to this day.
‘I saw one of them watching us flying that kite. I left you in the knowledge that you were safe amongst the families in the park. That was the day I confessed to my crime…the day I was arrested.’
‘Did you do it?’ That was my most important question of the night.
‘No…’ my heart sank, ‘…but if I had said otherwise, they were going to kidnap you!’
I let out a sigh of relief, a sigh that I had been holding in since I was a little girl. I went onto my honkers, my tears beginning to fall freely. I suddenly became dizzy.
‘So you did time and left your life because…because of me?’ the realisation of the situation starting to seep in.
‘Yes…because I loved and still love you that much!’
‘What do these bastards have on you?’
‘They think I did it…but I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time!’ he explained, ‘all the evidence supporting that is in this unit!’
I closed my eyes, the rain starting up again. When I finally opened them…he was gone. I had finally gotten as much closure as I was going to get. Just the bare fact that hearing my father wasn’t a murderer brought me so much relief, relief I can’t describe.
When I was ready, and not a minute sooner, I took another look around the sparce unit. He had said all the evidence supporting his innocence was in here. My eyes darted towards the makeshift desk and the numerous cork boards. He had obviously spent a lot of time here. I vowed that night that I would prove my fathers innocence, if it was the last thing I did.
Two years later:
I am writing you this letter to inform you that the judge expunged your record today. I finally cracked the case! I guess I was a lawyer in a previous life or something. Anyway, you are free to come home, and when you do you will always be welcome to stay at mine. I just bought new bed linen for your room, I hope you like green.
picture from pixabay