Satchel in hand I stood at the back door, a slight frown on my face as I
recited the words mum had drilled into me over the past year. "Angel of
God, my guardian dear. To whom God's love commits thee here. Forever this
day be at my side. To light, to guard. To rule and guide. Amen."
At that point, mum would grab my chin with a damp, Palmolive scented hand
and squeeze my cheeks into a pucker. With this grip firmly established,
Mum would rake the steel comb over my forehead, parting my hair with a
scrape that brought tears to my eyes. "Straight tae school and no
doodling," she demanded as she took up a corner of her apron, licked it
and began to wipe my face like an old shoe. "There's sixpence in yer
pocket for the bus," she went on. A few pennies to spend and twopence for
the poor babies. Now off ye go afore you miss yer bus."
My school was only five bus stops away from the house, but it was five
big stops; too far to walk. Besides, I was only six and a quarter and
mum didn't want me crossing Cardross road on my own. It's quite a busy
road, you see.
I didn't mind taking the bus, in fact I loved it. The eight thirty-five
was always the double decker, a big red one with black mudguards! I used
to love standing in front of its giant grill to feel the heat from its
engine, the smell of the hot, greasy oil, and the wonderful sound it made
as it sat idling at the terminal. Next I'd check the huge dusty tires with
a hefty toe-kick and a slap for good measure, just in case.
The entrance to the bus was at the back, the kind that didn't have any
doors. Indeed, the entrance was wide open to the world and I liked it that
way. for I'd often see people run after us in an attempt to get on. Some
were lucky and managed to jump aboard. Others weren't so lucky and those
were the ones that made me laugh.
I jumped aboard and took my favourite seat towards the back beside the
conductress. "Hello, Julie!" I exclaimed. "Any bus tickets?" By this I
meant used ticket rolls which still contained five feet or so of unused
ticker tape. You could use your pointer finger and poke the centre out of
these old rolls and make a great telescope!
"No' today, Peter," she said dialling her machine and cranking out my
I frowned my disappointment. "Can I ding the bell, then?"
Julie offered an enormous smile. "Aye, on ye go. It's time we were off,
I knelt up in the seat and pressed the little red button. Ding ding.
Ding ding. "I knew the code to go, you see. One ding was to stop, two
to go and we were off.
As the bus rolled away and picked up speed, I promised myself that, one
day, I'd be a bus conductor, too. I loved the way the wind came whipping
in the wide open door and the way the tarmac and drain covers and
lampposts flew past! It seemed like we were going one hundred miles an
hour! And mum... Mum? I cocked my head and, sure enough, it was mum. Mum
was walking! Why was mum walking when I was taking the bus! Why!
She's going all the way to Glasgow and she's going to walk and I'm on the
I yelled, "Mum," and got off my seat and ran for the opening. With only
feet to spare, however, Julie had slipped an arm around my waist and had
lifted me off my feet. "It's Mum!" I cried. "She's walking and I'm on the
"She's only going for the morning's paper, for heaven's sake. Ye could
have gotten yerself killed, ye wee monkey!"
I got off the bus at the school, my mind of two equal parts, sorrow and
guilt, and with half a mind to run straight back home to see if mum was
I couldn't for the life of me understand why mum had given me her last
sixpence. I could have walked to school just this once. I could so! And I
didn't want to go into school just yet. My eyes were all wet. Not that I
was crying or anything, but now I knew mum really did love me just as much
as she loved Christopher.
Christopher is my older brother by one year, but, you see, he was killed
last year by a car. It really wasn't any one's fault. Christopher was
crossing the road behind an ice cream van. He looked left, then right,
then left again and saw the car belonging to the district nurse come up
around the bend. He waved for her to go on and she waved for him to cross.
He waved and she waved and the next thing we knew was that Christopher was
on the ground.
It was just a scratch, really. The district nurse gave him heck for doing
what he did. "And only three weeks into the summer holidays, too,
Christopher Gibson! Three weeks just and you with a possible broken arm!"
It was pretty funny to see him come home from the hospital with this big
white arm thing. And he said I could write on it if I wanted to. I drew a
picture of a horse, not a very good one, and I wrote Christopher Gibson
loves Smelly Anne Smiley and he got mad. But we played naughts and crosses
for a while and that was fun.
Mum said something happened to Christopher's head while he slept. An
Ani-mism, or something like that and he didn't wake up in the morning.
He has a little grave up in Bellsmyre Hill, and there's a little picture
on it. It's a nice one of Christopher in his new school uniform and he has
his hands up with the rosary beads entwined in his fingers and mum always
cries when she's there. Dad isn't the same any more and he drinks a lot
and gets mad at mum. That's when Granddad comes down and takes me to see
Jamima the Swan.
Yesterday, mum was in the wee garden by the front door, scratching at the
dirt and marvelling at a dozen or so little shoots that were sprouting
from the earth. "They're Daffodils, Mum," I told her. "Christopher planted
them last year."
"He did?" she asked softly, caressing the slender soft shoots.
"It was meant to be a nice surprise." I said. Mum's eyes filled then and
she lifted the corner of her apron.
"When the golden trumpets open, mum, it'll be a kind of message from
Christopher, won't it?"
"Aye, it will so. And next year, too!" A finger gently stroked the soft
shoots." "And the year after that. And the year after that."
I've liked Daffodils ever since. And there's not a part of mum's garden
that doesn't have a little cluster. I'm especially fond, however, of the
little cluster by mum's front door, for it's the only memory I have of a
dear brother I miss so very much.
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