Kaptain's Blog

The writings and musings of The Kaptain

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Number One Under Heaven (6)

“Sophie Blake?” the teacher called out as she crossed the classroom floor. “Yes, Miss Henderson,” came the pretty girl’s high-pitched reply. “Here’s the consent form for the school trip. Don’t forget to give it to your Mummy and ask her to return it to me, together with a cheque, by next Friday.” The ringleted girl smiled as she took the single piece of paper from her teacher, detaching herself momentarily from her work in order to tuck it into her schoolbag. She had been diligently colouring her picture of the school bus – a composition she hoped one day to see on the front cover of the new school telephone directory. Today was the last opportunity to submit entries for the annual competition and this was her third, and final, attempt at the drawing. Even at this young age Sophie was a perfectionist – something neither of her parents had ever been able to boast. Her two previous efforts to capture the sheer thrill of a ride on the gaily painted vehicle had fallen short of her own exacting standards, but this time she was determined to get it just right.

Perhaps it’s because she’s an only child, Kate sometimes reflected, wondering from where her daughter had inherited her conscientious trait. Often, her thoughts were tinged with guilt that she had never summoned the courage to produce a playmate for her daughter, but there was good reason why Sophie would never have a natural sibling. Kate’s sole pregnancy had been difficult, with complications throughout the term. And then the whole process had been truncated when, almost ten weeks early, her baby made up its mind to emerge, in defiance of nature’s instructions. Both mother and daughter had come close to death during the rush to hospital, the whole affair leaving her determined that this was the first and last time she would be going through this particular form of purgatory. She was, then, not the natural baby factory that some women were, whose children seemed literally to fall out, while they continued to manage everything around them, as if nothing out of the ordinary was happening. Kate felt sorry that Adam would never have a natural son and the couple had, on occasion, discussed the possibility of adoption. But then the opportunity for relocation to Hong Kong had arisen and the idea was put temporarily on the back burner.

Standing just inside the school gates, Kate chatted idly with some of the other Mums, while waiting for her daughter. The afternoon air was beginning to cool, the wind picking up a little on what was otherwise a pleasant autumn day. “Let’s have a pissy lunch soon,” piped up one of the women, the Australian wife of a Canton Air pilot. “Wayne’s always flying off somewhere and I get so fucking bored,” she whined, drawing on her second cigarette in twice as many minutes. Nice turn of phrase – not! thought Kate, indiscreetly swiping at the smoke that puffed from the woman’s lips. “Sure, that would be…” she began, before spying her daughter emerging from the main building. “Oh… Here they come now.”

The children spilled through the school’s entrance doors, shrieking and babbling along their way as they scrambled like ants across the sun-drenched earth to the perimeter fence. “Mummy! Mummy!” Sophie called out shrilly, waving her arms wildly as she ran towards her. Kate smiled cheerily, gathering up her daughter in an airborne bear hug and twirling her around. She kissed the child’s hot and sweaty hair, the faintly sweet fragrance of the white-blonde curls almost bringing a tear to her eye. “Muahhh! How’s Mummy’s little angel, then?” she asked, enthusiastically. “What did we do at school today?” “I finished my picture for the school directamy, Mummy!” “Ory. Directory,” Kate corrected. “That’s it, Mummy: school direct-o-ry,” Sophie agreed.

They walked hand-in-hand down the hill beneath the cedar trees, whose canopy in the summer months provided welcome shelter from the sun’s blistering rays. But today they were without need of its cover, the recent winds having brought with them a layer of exceptionally thick haze from the bellows of southern China’s factories. Seeking to restore her earlier positive mood – something of a rarity, these days – Kate surveyed the neatly tended Sunny Cape environment. She found it hard to imagine a safer place, anywhere in the world. But this had sometimes concerned her, for she sensed that her daughter inevitably lacked a certain street-awareness as a result of having grown up in such a place. That if she was ever forced to fend for herself in some harsher environment, she would never survive. Like most parents, she underestimated the resilience of her child, and that of the young in general. Refusing to be drawn into a gloomy inner monologue, however, Kate now dismissed her concerns, putting them aside as she contemplated the innocent radiance of her child. And Sophie was, indeed, a strikingly pretty young girl.

“Fancy an ice-cream on the way home?” Kate asked, with slightly exagerrated enthusiasm. But she already knew the answer to her question, and the further uplift it would give to what, after all, had the makings of a pleasant afternoon that mother and daughter would enjoy together. “Yay!” Sophie shrieked her delighted response.

posted by Kirk at 1:55 am  

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