I am baptised


by Viv Halliday

She lovingly stuck the photo onto the page. She neatly positioned it between a newspaper cutting and a concert ticket. She gently touched her lips against the photo and shut the bulging scrapbook. Unlocking the cupboard, she placed the book on the shelf amidst a clutter of hats, shoelaces, papers and bottles. Quietly and firmly, she closed the door. She bolted it, locked it and returned its key to its hiding place in an old Chinese box on the windowsill.

She closed her eyes and sighed. She began to dream. She dreamt of his strong arms holding her, of his long fingers running through her hair, of walking along the beach with him...
"Sarah," her mother's voice broke into her thoughts like a discordant note.
"Sarah, are you ready for school yet? You're going to miss the bus."
"Sorry, Mum" shouted Sarah as she rushed around her room grabbing books, pens and papers and stuffing them into her bag. She flung the bag onto her shoulder and flew downstairs and out of the door past her mother. A moment later she put her head round the door and called "I'm going to be late, I'm going over to Jenny's place after school, I'll be in for tea." Before her mother could reply, she had gone again, running full pelt down the road, waving frantically at the bus, which was about to pull away.

The school bell rang, Mrs Grey said "Class dismissed" and slowly all the students trailed out of the classroom in groups of two or three. Sarah and Jenny were the last to leave. They walked through the school gate deep in conversation and carried on up the road to Jenny's house. Sarah envied Jenny living so close to school. She would have given a lot to be free of the daily rush to catch the bus and the squashing and squeezing inside it. Jenny had had a date the previous night. She talked of little else. She showed Sarah his photo, asked her advice and made plans for tonight and tomorrow. Last week it had been Dave; this week it was Tim. Maybe he would last a day, maybe a month or two, but sooner or later someone else would come along. The old passion would fade and a new one would take its place. Sarah listened and commented, but her eyes had a faraway look. Her mind was always thinking of the one she loved. No fickleness about Sarah, she loved Michael. She had always loved Michael. She always would.

The girls were looking through Jenny's wardrobe looking for the most suitable outfit to wear to go to the cinema with Tim that night. Such a dilemma. Should she wear her blue dress or her new skirt?
"Time to go, Sarah" called Mr Morris, Jenny's father, who was giving her a lift home. Sarah tucked her books into her school bag and turned to Jenny.
"Have fun tonight, tell me all about it in the morning, see ya, 'bye." She ran downstairs and walked with Mr Morris to the car.

Sarah sat staring blankly at the book which she was supposed to be reading for history. Slowly, she closed it. She didn't want to fight her overwhelming desire. Thoughts of Michael filled her head. She let them engulf her: they were always there, her longing for him a burning flame, his absence a ceaseless ache. She lay on her bed, eyes gazing at the ceiling as she remembered the first time she had seen him. It was three years ago now; she had been thirteen at the time. She had first caught sight of him walking through the school yard on his first day at her school. From that very moment, she was his. She remembered vividly the urgent round of enquiries which revealed that he was fifteen, his name was Michael and that he lived in a big house just out of town. That was just the start. She rapidly gathered information about him and he was always so friendly and always happy to sit and talk. It was then that Sarah had started her scrapbook. It seemed that having anything connected with him filled her with warmth and happiness, so she carefully saved every scrap that reminded her of him. Really, whenever he wasn't there, she only needed to open that book and he was right there with her. She had slowly learnt all about him. She knew about his guitar (electric and expensive), his motorbike, his favourite music, his favourite T.V. show. She knew his favourite meal was lasagne and his favourite jumper was red with a picture of a sheep on it! She even knew that his teddy bear was called Horace. Oh yes, she knew him so well.

Sarah got up and put her school books back in her bag. She went to the bathroom and washed. She took her toothbrush, squeezed some paste onto the bristles and scrubbed her teeth purposefully for several minutes and then, having finished, returned to her room. She slipped on her nightie and walked over to the windowsill. Standing next to her old Chinese box was her money box, a pink porcelain pig with a curly tail. It had been a present from an elderly aunt when she was only seven years old, and it had lived on her windowsill ever since. Now she removed it carefully, noticing that it left behind four foot marks on the dusty surface. She sighed. Mum had stopped cleaning her room about a year ago after a row about Sarah's books and now her room was furnished with cobwebs. A thick layer of dust covered the cupboards and the windowsill. Sarah walked over to the bed and carefully emptied the contents of the pig onto the quilt. She counted it diligently and then went and rummaged around on her dressing table until she found a small brown leather purse. She returned to the bed with it. She counted the money into the purse and zipped it shut. She reached for her school bag and checked it was packed ready for school the following morning. She placed the little brown purse on the top and then closed the bag and put it at the foot of her bed.

She sighed contentedly. Tomorrow was a special day, everything was planned and now it was time for an early night. She put the pig back on the windowsill and picked up the old Chinese box. She deftly opened the intricate clasp and listened to the metallic song of the garish, painted, wooden bird as she opened the secret drawer inside the box. She removed her photo of Michael. She closed the box, replaced it on the windowsill and put the photo under her pillow as she did every night. She set her alarm clock and put a disc in her stereo. She switched off the light and climbed slowly into bead. She pulled the covers tight around her and fell asleep to the sound of Michael's favourite song. As she slept, her dreams were full of Michael.

As the alarm clock rang, Sarah sat up wide awake and tingling with excitement. Today was the day, it was Michael's birthday, Michael's eighteenth birthday. She pulled on her school uniform and paused to hastily brush her hair. She ran downstairs and wandered round the kitchen, as she ate her corn flakes. Her mother walked in and looked rather surprised.
"Oh, hi Mum, I'm going to catch the early bus today" muttered Sarah through a mouthful of corn flakes.
"Did you really say you're catching the early bus?" asked her mother, looking more bewildered than ever.
"Yes," mumbled Sarah, "I'm seeing a friend before school."
"Oh," said her mother, watching as Sarah placed her cereal dish in the sink and picked up her school bag.
"See ya, Mum," Sarah called as she walked out of the door.
"See you, dear," called her mother as she turned to start her day's chores. She shook her head as she thought of her daughter. She was so disorganised. She was always late, she never knew where anything was and goodness knows how many times she had forgotten to take her packed lunch to school. Still, at least Sarah would be in plenty of time to catch the bus today.

Sarah walked down the street, past the bus stop and round the corner. She passed the baker's shop where the sweet smell of freshly baked bread floated through the door and the greengrocer's where a fair-haired boy not much older than herself was arranging cauliflowers and cabbages in orderly rows outside the shop. Next, she came to the flower shop, owned by old Mrs Naylor. Sarah hesitated for a moment and then proceeded. A little bell jangled as Sarah opened the door and crossed the threshold. Mrs Naylor came scurrying out of her little office at the back of the shop and Sarah hurriedly explained what she wanted.

A few minutes later, Sarah came back out onto the street clutching a large bouquet of blue and yellow flowers. She carried on along the street walking slowly now, nervous and expectant. She turned the corner and set off along the tree-lined avenue on which she now found herself. She was serenaded by cheerful bird song. The sun, dappled by the trees, bathed her in a comfortable, warm glow. Nonetheless, she felt a little sick. She had waited and planned so long for this day, but now it had finally come, she was overcome by the power of her emotions. She reached her destination and stopped at the gate. She stood there for a long time before she firmly took hold of the latch, opened the gate and walked through. She knew exactly what she planned to do. She walked purposefully along the stony path, not looking to left or right until she came to a halt. She bent down and placed the flowers carefully on the stone and lovingly arranged them. She read quietly to herself "Michael James Barry, beloved only son of Norman and Margaret, taken from us age 16, February 10th, 1993, Remembered with love".

Sarah bent quietly and kissed the stone. She whispered, "I love you darling and I'll always be yours." She got up, picked up her bag and looked at her watch. She started to run. It was already five to nine. She was going to be late for school again.

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