Monday, 18 February 2013

294: The Departed

Ellen stood on the platform waving long after the train pulled out and the steam cleared.  The platform was beginning to empty but she had started to feel alone even before they left their two up two down.  His hand hadn’t felt real in hers even though she gripped it tightly.  Not too tightly so she hurt him or worse, worried him.  She was determined to make him think this was perfectly normal and safe and temporary.

Peter had stopped three or four times to pull up his grey school socks.  Ellen really should have bought him a new pair or at least replaced the elastic but she had been too distracted about this day.  Peter was almost excited but the way he slipped his hand back into his mother’s each time told her he was nervous about it, but being brave for her sake.

Lots of the boys and girls from their street were going too.  Peter had listed those he would be happy to be billeted with - Timothy, Valerie, Matthew and his twin, Tom and Maggie - as well as those he would hate to spend even one night with - Paul, Christine, the other Tom and David.  The minister had told them all they would be placed according to what spaces were available and to the requests of the kind people accepting them into their homes.  Even if you did find yourself with someone you didn’t know or didn’t like, he said, you would not make any complaints and you would jolly well get on with it.

When they arrived at the station a tall lady in a severe hat checked Peter was off a list on a clipboard and he was given a sign showing ‘Carriage 6 - Hampshire’ to hang on a string round his neck.  Ellen was told the train would arrive in fifteen minutes and to make sure her son understood how very lucky he was to be escaping London and moving to the countryside.  More instructions would surely have followed but the line of boys and girls waiting for ticks and signs was growing, so they were dismissed with a flap of a severe hand.

Ellen and Peter passed the time until the train came wondering what sort of home he would be staying in.  Peter decided probably a farm and then they named as many farm animals as they could.  As Ellen argued that a carrot surely was a farm animal and Peter giggled that it couldn’t be because it came from Mr Eade’s grocery, the train chuffed into the station.

There was a blur of movement and snatched hugs and last kisses, of feet stamping along the platform and doors banging and too soon the shriek of a whistle ripping families in two.  Nobody knew when they would be reunited.  Everybody knew they might be the ones who weren’t.  Some hurried away as soon as the whistle blew, some stayed to wave and a few, like Ellen, stayed for a long time still waving all the while.

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