This is the second part of a short story by the very talented Natalie over at Plutonium Sox. You can read part one by clicking here!
She didn’t finish her sentence, just sighed and took the two bowls with a small ‘thank you’, took a couple of bread rolls from the basket and went to sit down at a table near the back. She made sure that her son had a drink and everything he needed before starting her own food. She looked as though she was forcing each mouthful down and was trying her absolute best to reassure the young boy, despite the thoughts that were cartwheeling through her mind. Panic evident on her features if you looked closely enough.
As the accountant carried on serving people, quelling his shudders of revulsion when the hand that reached out for the plate had dirt ingrained under the finger nails, his eyes were drawn back to the lady and her son time and again. He had never allowed himself to think for more then a second or two about any of the people that passed through the shelter, he had enough of his own problems thank you very much, after all, it was probably their own fault they were in there. He always spent his whole time volunteering disengaged and feeling resentful towards his employers and watching the clock but something about her was compelling.
About an hour after they arrived, a harried looking lady arrived, her briefcase and lanyard marking her out as a social worker. She approached the table and introduced herself. Seconds later, the writer had forgotten her name. What was wrong with her brain? Ever since she had realised they were genuinely homeless, it had been impossible to formulate her thoughts, she had been able to get some stuff together and remember the way to the shelter where she had helped to serve Christmas dinners when she was younger. The man on the desk had been really kindly, and offered to make some calls for her and she had gratefully accepted. Because she was homeless with a child, there was a greater chance of them being helped Since that moment though, it was as though her mind was full of treacle, she had struggled to answer the barrage of questions her beautiful boy had been firing relentlessly at her.
‘Where will we stay? What will I do about school? Will I still got to school? Does Mrs Heggerty know I’m here? So all these other people not have homes either? Where will I sleep? Is someone else in my bed?’
She would have to get a grip, she could barely formulate answers, she couldn’t answer because she didn’t know. His questions just echoed the ones flying around her own mind. What would the other mothers at school think of her, what would the teachers say, how would she buy the new uniform, who could she call for help? Oh hell, where would they sleep?!
Her heart was lodged firmly in her throat and she was struggling to choke the breath down her strangled airways into her lungs, never mind swallow the mouthful of bread roll that she had been chewing for what felt like an eternity. It was just as the panic started to overwhelm her and she felt the familiar beginnings of a panic attack looming, that the lady had appeared before her.
She had kind eyes but a no nonsense attitude and a stack of forms that needed filling in, she was also working two hours after she should have been home and was tired and worn down by the sights she saw day in, day out. All she wanted to do was get home to her sofa and her poor cat who would most doubt shout at her for not being back in time for supper. She could see the fear etched across this poor mother’s face and the son, white and wild eyed with tiredness and worry and knew she couldn’t go home until she had at least found them a bed in a b&b for the night.
She fetched them each a cup of hot, well, she wasn’t quite sure, the tea and coffee was pretty interchangeable from the ancient vending machine in the corner, and sat down to find out more about their story.
The accountant, clearing tables around them, was listening intently. Something about the lady’s story was niggling at him. Her name was ringing a distant bell, he searched his thoughts to try and make the connection. As she continued with her story, the realisation dawned on him and left him cold. The call he’d had earlier. The trembling voice. When the call had cut out, he’d just dismissed it from his mind altogether. An image of the coffee stained invoice appeared in his mind.
He felt sick. And far too cowardly to say anything. He couldn’t bring himself to tell them. The look in their eyes. Knowing that he was responsible for her situation made him go hot and cold all over. He’d never been one for sticking his neck out on anyone else’s behalf. He’s been pretty unpopular at school, not really involved at uni and didn’t see the point in mixing with his work colleagues so as a consequence, didn’t have many friends. Slightly overweight, he’d lost a lot of his hair early and with slightly yellowed teeth from all the coffee, and with his less then sparkling personality, he’d never had much success with women either. He lived a quiet, unsatisfied life, spending huge chunks of time on the internet pretending to be someone else and he really didn’t need this sort of hassle in it.
He cleared the table quickly and returned to the kitchen.
Part three is going to be written by another blogger and I shall link to it here when it’s done!