This is part four in a series of stories – you can see them all (to read in order) here. You can also sign up to the mailing list at the bottom to be notified when new stories are published. Please note that the stories do sometimes get quite dark and may include mentions of addiction and physical/mental abuse.
My dad’s business had managed to regain some stability, but he needed to be living back in the UK full-time to keep it afloat. While I’m never sure if he knew exactly what was going on in Athens, it was clear to him that we couldn’t live there forever. When he came back to get us, we were supposed to be returning to England as a family. The only issue was, mum didn’t want to go back. She was having far too much of a good time, apparently. Looking back, I think she was just scared. She could hide in Athens; nobody really knew her or what was going on. In England, she’d be going back to our hometown where she wouldn’t be able to hide from the world. Despite begging and pleading, dad couldn’t get her to board the plane with us. We went without her.
Life seemed to carry on as normal for the first few days, weeks, or months. Dad was looking after us, in a small council house that actually had more than one bedroom. Result! He was sad though. Even as a kid I could tell that he was sad. He would play soppy love songs from his extremely vast CD collection and mooch around the house, looking at the phone as if it might ring and mum would announce she was coming home. It did ring, occasionally. Usually, because she had run out of money or because she was sure it was someone’s birthday that she had forgotten. Sometimes she would even say that she was going to come home.
“When though, mum?” I’d ask.
“Really soon, I promise,” she’d reply.
One day, the phone rung. Dad had been crouched down, sorting through his ever-growing collection of soppy singles. He practically leaped at the phone and waved his hand at me to go upstairs. I couldn’t hear what was being said, but he was talking fast and excitedly. He then hung up and called someone else. I was perched at the top of the stairs, out of sight, but desperately trying to overhear. I’d always been a nosy kid. As he started coming up the stairs, I bolted into the bedroom as if I’d been there all along.
“She’s coming home,” he smiled.
The following weekend we went shopping. I couldn’t remember the last time I had been clothes shopping, so this felt like a momentous occasion. Dad had said that we all needed a special ‘Welcome Home’ outfit for when we went to meet mum at the airport. We went into C&A (whatever happened to that shop?!) where I was given basically free reign of the whole place, while dad picked out outfits for himself and my two siblings. It felt like the best day ever, but I knew that actually it was just the prequel to the best day ever. The real best day ever would be when we went to pick mum up from the airport in a couple of days.
I browsed through the jeans, jumpers, skirts, and dresses, without feeling much inspiration. Then I saw it. Almost tucked away was the most beautiful outfit I had ever seen in my life. It was a powder blue blazer and skirt, made out of really soft, almost velour material. Don’t judge me, this was the ‘90s. I already had school shirts, so I figured I could match my super cool suit combo with a school shirt and I’d look so grown up. Mum would be so proud. I showed dad and he laughed at me, before realising I was being deadly serious. This was my special ‘Welcome Home’ outfit, whether he liked it or not. I got the suit.
A few days later, we made the hour drive to the airport all dressed in our special ‘Welcome Home’ outfits. Dad was wearing a salmon pink shirt and he had the biggest bunch of flowers I’d ever seen in the boot. The plane was running a little late, so we hung around in the arrivals area for what seemed like forever. Dad was pacing like he used to do whenever Arsenal was on the TV. Eventually, we saw that the plane had landed and people started filing out of passport control and into the arrivals. We stood right at the front. Dad clutching the giant bunch of flowers and me smoothing down my suit. As the throng of people started to thin out, I could see the smile on my dad’s face start to waver.
We waited and waited. It felt like days before dad finally turned to us and said,
“Silly me! I must have got the flight times wrong! Let’s go home and mummy will be home before we know it.”
I knew he was lying. We got home and I practically ripped my powder blue suit off and stuffed it into the corner of the tiny bedroom I shared with my two siblings. I wanted it out of my sight. I felt so stupid as I started crying. I thought that powder blue suit would make me more grown-up, yet here I was crying like a baby. This wouldn’t be the first time we would all trek to the airport to pick up mum, only to return home disappointed when she didn’t arrive. Sometimes she’d tell us she wasn’t coming. Other times we’d find out after that she had been stopped at security for being too drunk or because, once, she told them she had a bomb in her bag. While that stunt may have been something else, nothing prepared us for what was going to happen just months later.