Rather predictably Poison Pen had assigned me to the hygiene crew when I returned to work the next day; it was official I was now Queen of the U Bend and spills! On the upside I did get my own trolley complete with walkie-talkie; oh the fun I was going to be having with that!
The only highlight of my week had been my video calls with Ahmed although when he always ended them with “I am big miss you” and “when coming Turkey again”; I had to choke back the tears. Particularly, as I knew I was going to have to clean a helluva lot more U Bends to afford another trip to Turkey.
I was grateful when Sunday came around as it was my only day off that week and I decided to accompany my Dad to his allotment. I thought that some clean fresh air and sun would chase my blues away. That and the fact that it was always wise to beat a hasty retreat when my mother was cooking Sunday lunch. Once she set foot inside her kitchen, she would transform into Vlad the Impaler and woe betide anyone who interrupted her mid meal preparation.
As we opened the gate to the allotments, we were greeted by some of my Dad’s gardening buddies. He’d had the allotment for years and it always irked my mother that he would need one when we had such a sizeable garden. In the beginning I think she had resented the amount of time he spent there but as they became older it became less important to her. Whilst he unlocked his shed, I gazed around at his endeavours; his love and patience evident in the rows of neatly planted vegetables and the small flower bed that grew his prize-winning Dahlias.
Stepping into his shed, was like opening the door to Dr Who’s Tardis. Ever since I was a small child, it had always appeared to be larger once you stepped inside; full of exciting and undiscovered treasures. It always smelled of potting compost and calor gas from the little camping stove that sat in the corner. There were trays of seedlings and bottles of my Dad’s home brew which he kept there for the slug & snail traps. If I’m honest, I think they were the only ones who truly appreciated it, as most of us who had had the misfortune of sampling it, thought it tasted like shower gel. Two threadbare old armchairs, long since discarded from Mum’s majestic lounge, took pride of place along with an old transistor radio; which Dad would use to listen to cricket matches and the BBC world service.
The old shed had provided a haven for all sorts of wildlife over the years; nesting families of robins, hedgehogs and the odd fox. As a child I had taken refuge there myself on a number of occasions when I was hiding out from my mum, having committed some childhood misdemeanour; such as shaving my sister’s eyebrows whilst she was sleeping. We’d both also sneaked away to smoke our first (and last) illicit cigarettes there.
I was reminded of the times as a child that I used to come here with my Dad, when we would share a picnic of comfort food lovingly prepared by him; banana sandwiches wrapped in grease-proof paper and warm lemonade. For some reason picnics always seemed to taste so much better sat there giggling in that old dusty shed. We would return home much later in the day, tired, dirty and sticky from lemonade. Mum would make us stand at the back door whilst she placed newspaper across the kitchen floor before we could step inside. After we had gingerly stepped across the newspaper, I was despatched to the bathroom for a thorough clean up supervised of course by my mother, the General.
I don’t think I had ever seen my Dad as happy and relaxed as when he spent time here. I envied him; his face a picture of absolute contentment whilst he toiled away in his small horticultural paradise. He had always told me that a garden was a magical place full of thoughts and dreams and I couldn’t help but wonder what had been his. I said as much to him and he responded by telling me that all his dreams had come true. He said that all he had ever wanted was a family and when my sister and I were born, he had never wanted for anything else. As long as we had just enough, our health and our home, his life had been perfect and he had no regrets.
I asked him whether he thought Mum was as happy but in my heart I already knew the answer. He said that she had always wanted a bigger house, a better car and in many ways had found life disappointing. He even said that it made her a little dissatisfied with life but when they had married, life had been different and they had had to make the best of what they were given. He said that in some aspects he wished he had been more ambitious or perhaps been a little more determined; but as he pointed out why waste your time counting stars when you already had the moon in your hands.
He then surprised me by telling me that he was glad that I didn’t marry Simon as he would have crushed my spirit and when I asked him what he meant, he asked if I knew what happened when you kept a butterfly in a jam jar. He told me that there was more to life than stacking shelves and Simon. “You’re worth more than that! You have a heart the size of Yorkshire; there’s a whole life waiting for you out there, lass. Don’t spend the rest of it regretting opportunities missed; this is your time, your mother and I have had ours; now go live it.”
For the second time that day unshed tears burned. I suggested we pack up and head home where Mum would have our lunch ready. We walked home in the sunshine, side by side, as we had done for many years; father and daughter together.
As I straightened my bed later that day, I came across an envelope under my pillow. In my Dad’s unmistakeable handwriting were the words “Follow your dreams” with enough money inside for me to be able to do just that! I sat on the bed turning the notes over in my hands, tears coursing down my cheeks and all I could think was “Turkey here I come”!