Gemma's inner crisis as she finds herself in an unexpected place and position.
|Gemma sat quietly, attempting to eat the apology for a breakfast that had been thrust in front of her. She’d been told it was porridge but it didn't resemble any porridge she'd ever had. A yellow skin sat on the top with lumps pushing through it. If it wasn't for the fact that she was so hungry she would have left it, but at that point, even this looked appetising. She pushed it around the bowl with her spoon aimlessly as she was chewing on each mouthful. Once she'd forced down the last lump she crossed to the kitchen and began washing up. Not just the breakfast bowls but last night's plates too. Megan had been entertaining again and Gemma was left to clear up the remnants of the evening.
She was still too small to reach the sink, so she had to stand on a stool, however, she went about the work set her as efficiently as she could, trying not to anger Megan in any way. Today Megan was up early and decided to make breakfast for Gemma, such as it was. This was only because it was benefit day, it seemed to put her in a good mood; Gemma knew that Megan wouldn’t be up in the mornings for the next few days. She also knew that the chances of her eating very much in the near future was unlikely. As she washed up as quietly as possible a heaviness came over her, ‘how had she ended up back here? What had she done to deserve this treatment, or for that matter any of the treatment she’d had.’ She realised she missed Bobby and Lucy, her first friends and the only ones who knew her secret. ‘If only there was a way to contact them?’ Megan had torn their numbers out of her notebook then thrown her book back at her the day they left the shelter. A few phone calls had come from Bobby’s home trying to arrange a meeting with Gemma and the girls, but Megan had been verbally abusive to whoever had rung and so the calls stopped. She had tried their secret way of communicating but it appeared they were too far apart. ‘How was she going to get out of here, nobody knew where she was and she didn’t know where anyone else was either.’ Gemma had come to one conclusion, that even with all of her mental maturity nothing changed the fact that adults controlled her life.
She felt sad as she thought about her friends; she had been so deep in thought that she hadn’t heard Megan come in.
‘Ain’t ya done yet, you’re slower than snails, not really surprising, you always were the dumb one.’ sneered Megan, ‘you know you’ve got to earn ya keep ‘ere, I don’t want no slacker ‘anging about. I’ll get as much money out of that brick’ead of a father of yours, and the State.’
Gemma looked at Megan, staring directly into her eyes; Megan slapped her across the face. ‘Don’t ya look at me like that’ she snapped.
Gemma flinched but she was determined not to cry, she turned the tears into tiny solid pieces and alongside the incident, she filed them away with the other things she’d experienced and seen in the short time she’d been living there. Men who came and went, and the sounds she didn’t understand; there were drugs and drink. Gemma may not have understood all that was happening around her but she saw the effects on Megan. During these times when Megan was, how Gemma described it in her notebook, ‘in another place’, Gemma could see the psychedelic patterns around Megan, feel the waves of emotion, her mind lost in some other place. Gemma didn’t like being around her when she was like it, it made her feel sick. It had occurred to her that she might escape while Megan was in this state, after all Megan wouldn’t miss her until the next morning; but she knew there was nowhere to go she had no idea how to find Bobby and Lucy, the school, or even a police station, she knew the neighbours were no better than her mother.
After a few weeks, the days had begun running together, each one brought more misery; her tummy rumbled permanently now, multiple bruises were turning a variety of colours, Megan’s temper hadn’t improved. It had now been three months since the volcanic eruption and most things on the island were getting back to normal but for Gemma, things had deteriorated. It was a normal morning on the island and Gemma was once again clearing away the previous night’s bottles and cans. It wasn’t easy as she was trying not to disturb Megan who was sprawled on the sofa; she expected it all to be done before she woke up. Gemma studied Megan’s face; it looked old and tired when she was sleeping. She was less frightening than when she was awake expelling her rage at her. Just for a moment, she felt something for this woman, unsure of what it was she allowed herself to soak in the warmth of this feeling. These few seconds, unfortunately, left her vulnerable; a sharp sound reverberated in her ears and brought her rapidly back to reality, it was the doorbell.
Megan flew off the sofa where she’d collapsed the night before. Gemma watched in shock as Megan’s bloodshot eyes tried to make sense of where she was and why she was awake. It didn’t take long for Megan to become aware of her situation; she was used to waking in this state and knew she wasn’t expecting anyone and was immediately suspicious.
‘Get upstairs brat’ shouted Megan
Gemma scrambled away, afraid that a hand would once more meet her now frail feeling body. However, she sat at the top of the stairs so she could find out who it was; she heard the click of the door open.
‘Yeah, what d'ya want’ came Megan’s dulcet tones as she answered the door carefully, not opening it the whole way. Gemma waited, she didn’t know why, she’d not bothered about anyone who had come to the house before, but something told her to wait and listen; she sat, feeling an unexpected anticipation.
‘Good morning Mrs Jacobi I’m here to find out why your daughter Gemma hasn’t been registered for school’
‘That voice’ a sudden flash of memory and hope lit up in Gemma. ‘It’s Jamie; she’s come to help me get out of here. If I cry out she’ll take me now, but what if mum stops me, she could move house and take me somewhere else and Jamie may never find me again’ So much was going around in her head that she was finding it hard to concentrate on the conversation downstairs.
‘I didn’t know she 'ad to go to school. You know she don’t speak, don’t ya?’ Megan’s voice became defensive.
‘That makes no difference she must be registered, then we can decide from there as to what school is best for her and what help she needs. Can I see her?’ The lilting voice of Jamie sang up the stairs and into Gemma, making her mind smile.
‘No! Ya can’t she’s sleeping.’
‘She’s still asleep! It’s half past eleven.’
Gemma wanted to cry at this point, she wanted to run downstairs and cry out to Jamie ‘I want to go to school now, take me away from here, please find me somewhere else to live. Can I live with you?’ She was keenly aware she couldn’t ask her any of these things quickly and Megan would have soon put a stop to her fumbling with her cards. She wouldn’t have time to write any of it down. She was rooted to the spot by fear and indecision. She then heard Megan’s voice replying to Jamie’s query.
‘She don’t sleep well does she, so I let her lay in, what business is it of yours how long the girl sleeps, I gotta go now, I’ve fings to do.’ With that, she shut the door on Jamie. Gemma wasn’t sure if this was a good thing or not, ‘Would she be punished because she was going to have to go to school. Why hadn’t Jamie insisted on taking her away from this awful place?’
These questions and more revolved in Gemma’s head as she softly made her way back to her room and closed the door. She sat completely still, listening for the sound of footsteps on the stairs, her tiny chest hardly moving as she anticipated the squeaking of that top step telling her Megan was coming. To Gemma, the wait felt like hours but it was no more than about five minutes; only silence came to Gemma’s ears and she slowly exhaled knowing that for now, she was safe.
She picked up her teddy bear, tucked him under one arm and then she picked up her sketchbook. She gently placed Teddy on her pillow and curled up on the mattress laid on the floor. Opening her sketchbook, she turned to the next blank page; there weren’t many left now with no chance of getting another, Gemma had been drawing smaller pictures to make this one last.
During this time, her drawings were darker than her previous pictures; blues, dark greens and black were threaded with greys that when finished resembled a variety of storms. Gone were the reds and oranges that she’d painted before the volcano, now only darkness lay in her pictures. She would sometimes draw people in them but only if the mood took her. Today there was a glimpse of sunlight, a glimmer of hope in her dark, abstract picture, two figures stood in the storm together.
Jamie had left the rundown house and returned to the King George VI Junior School where she worked as a teacher. She was also the truancy officer so one day a week she would leave her class in the capable hands of Miss Graham and head out to track down children who weren’t attending regularly. She had been saddened to see Gemma’s name on the list, she’d lost track of her once her mother took her away. Megan left no forwarding address so Jamie had no way to contact her; however, she did have to leave one with Social Services. Jamie didn’t know whether Gemma’s mother was living in Inlet Bay or Victoria Point so she hadn’t really thought about what school she would attend. The area codes on the island were the same in both towns, so the phone number she’d had given no clue to where she was. She’d banned her children from phoning Gemma after Bobby came to her crying; Bobby repeated some of the words that the woman on the phone had said to her. Jamie tried ringing to find out what was going on but before she could say anything, she became subject to the same verbal abuse. The number, sadly, became out of bounds and the twins were devastated.
She had wondered, while in teacher mode one day at the shelter, what the challenges would be of teaching a child who couldn’t speak. Now, it appeared she might find out for herself. She wouldn’t be in her class for another couple of years yet, she would start in Mr Grant’s class. This was good, as he was patient, caring and kind, all the things that someone like Gemma would need. This was if they could get her into school in the first place. She would report the situation to her superiors, and they would chase up Gemma’s mother, hopefully, between them, they could get Gemma into school. Jamie hadn’t liked what she’d seen at the house, she couldn’t put her finger on it. It wasn’t like she hadn’t come across rough parents like Megan before and she was quite able to handle them, but something there was wrong, call it a sense but if Gemma wasn’t back in school in the next couple of weeks then Jamie definitely planned on taking it further.