Basket in hand she trudged up the hill, face shielded by a scarf, collar pulled up against the wind. The roads were deserted, the skies a leaden grey, a storm was coming. She was panting by the time she reached the brow, the view on the other side was masked by low cloud and the beginnings of the rain. She wished she put a waterproof coat on, she could hear her mum’s voice telling her she’d catch her death if she got wet through, but it was too late now. She didn’t have far to go. A lone cyclist shot past as she began the winding downward descent, she hadn’t heard his bike approach and the whooshing sound caught her by surprise but his fluorescent jacket was soon a dot in the distance. Perhaps she should’ve cycled but then again her vintage delivery bike would’ve shuddered all the way and disturbed the contents of the basket and that wouldn’t do at all. It was eerily quiet as she approached the lychgate, distant barking, a few caws from the rooks on the fence, a high pitched song from the skylark she disturbed as she crossed the open field beyond the church. Not a soul in sight as she climbed the stile and picked her way down the muddy lane and no tyre marks either which reassured her. The rain was heavier, the scarf tangled in her hair and the wet ends flapped around her ears, her gloves sodden and her feet squelched in her shoes. It was beginning to get dark and she realised she’d mistimed the journey.
There were lights in the distance, further away than she’d thought but there was no option but to keep going. Gradually the house became visible, fairy lights festooned the tree outside the door and a lone pink balloon bobbed on the gatepost. She stopped and tried to tidy her hair, taking off the scarf and gloves and wiping her face with a wet tissue she’d found in her pocket. She could hear music and children’s voices. Ten years fell away. She’d left in a huff and never found the courage to come back but now was the time. The door opened before she could knock, Ben’s face lit up as he recognised her and before she could say anything she was engulfed in a hug. Tears threatened. He turned and shouted down the hall.
‘Sheila you’ve got a delivery,’ his voice warm, his embrace comforting.
‘I’m not expecting…,’ the voice tailed off as Sheila sprinted to the door.
‘Oh my goodness, is it really you? I’m so glad you came, come in out of the rain. We’re having a party for the youngest, Izzy,’ and with that Sheila put her arm around her shoulder and guided her into the kitchen, ‘it’s so good to see you.’
Everything looked the same, the kids drawings and paintings stuck to the fridge may have changed but the homely feel was still the same. She placed the basket carefully on the table and removed the plastic cover, hoping everything was OK. Sheila and Ben watched as she lifted the contents out and placed them on the scrubbed table. ‘Mum’ was emblazoned in pink across the top of an elaborate cake and there was a photograph frame with a group picture of Sheila and Ben with their posse of foster children on the beach in Anglesey.
‘This is wonderful Mandy, so beautiful. Thank you. Did you make this?’
‘It’s what I do now, I make cakes. I learned from the best didn’t I?’ she blushed, ‘It’s a peace offering and a thank you,’ she stuttered over the words she’d rehearsed in her head.
‘No peace offering needed and having you here is thanks enough. Come in and meet our latest brood, you won’t know any of this lot but Andrew, Gerry and Veronica are coming over later and they’ll be excited to see you.’
The squeals and laughter took her back to the years she spent here with her foster family, learning to trust, being loved unconditionally by Sheila and Ben after years spent dodging fists and dodging school.
‘Welcome home Mandy,’ Sheila whispered in her ear.
‘Happy Mother’s Day Mum.’
©Nita Lewsey 2020