TWO YEARS, FIVE MONTHS, ELEVEN DAYS – Tess Niland Kimber
Mena waits …
Fading light bleeds through the grime-sprayed bedroom window. Tear tracks of grey streak the pane, mosaic-ing dust and tiny, long-dead insects. But Mena sees beyond this. She stares through it all, sitting painfully still on the wooden stool, watching for her missing child. Her eyes, like seeds of black cumin, forever searching the landscape below as her hands, cradled in her lap, fidget, fidget, fidget.
Is Samir over there by the burned-out car?
Or running over the dried, patchy grass that reminds her of the coat of the mangy dog she’d loved when she was once a child, herself, in Patna?
Perhaps, he is hiding behind the rows of green and brown wheeled bins?
Oh, where is her Samir?
Summer; afternoons; Diwahli; Wednesdays … all time tangles in her acid bath of pain. There is no life without her son. Once, her world was a place of rich colour, vibrant silks, throbbing spices, chattering voices. But since Samir disappeared her life has slid into a clammy beige so favoured by her English neighbours.
Where is he?
Mena has twisted this question through her vacant soul so many times in the two years, five months and eleven days since he’s been missing.
It had happened in a sleek. Like a zip of lightening. One minute he’d been playing in the park; the next … She hates herself for glancing away from the creaking roundabout for the few seconds it had taken her Samir to vanish.
“How are you settling?” the pale woman with the bad teeth had asked her that day as they’d squashed together on the wooden bench.
Trees, pregnant with buds of silky, pink blossom, had trimmed the tight compound of swings, slides and climbing frame. Ridiculously pleased to be spoken to – to not be shunned, for once – Mena’s eyes had slid away from guarding Samir, by then happily rocking back and forth on one of the swings, his thin legs flicking as he climbed the warm, April air, higher and higher.
Answering in her very best English, she had said, “We are finding all very good. The area is most pleasant.”
The woman wearing a fleece with three, gold letters embroidered on the front, entwined in such a way that Mena could not determine them, had smiled and nodded.
“And your son? He likes it, too?”
“Oh, yes. Very much.”
At the mention of her six year old son, Mena’s eyes had skimmed back to look at him, to confirm how happy he was to now be living in England. In that moment, she discovered she’d crossed the invisible line between them being together, to being apart…
The search had been frantic. How could a child disappear? Into the sky, almost.
She had run around the park, crying, screaming, “Samir! Samir!” over and over, trying to ask for help but finding her words lost in the sea of her panic. How she had despised her lack of fluency in this new language on that terrible afternoon.
Did the other mothers understand she’d lost her son? Could she describe him? His hair. His eyes. The way he made her melt inside with love. Even when the police came and later, again with an interpreter, she feared they did not understand just how much she had lost.
“It is the not knowing that is the worst,” she told her husband Bipin when he would still let her speak of her pain.
Sitting with her hands in her lap, forever fidgeting, the smell of that evening’s vegetable dhansak had hung heavily in the small flat as the meal cooked slowly in the oven.
Suddenly, she stopped and listened.
No. It wasn’t him. Just another trick her grief played on her. Sometimes, she heard the remembered shriek of her son, fooled into thinking he was playing in another room of the flat.
Did Bipin blame her? She’d catch a cold draught coating his words, an uncertainty in his brown eyes. Doubt lived there where once only love and respect had.
Even if Bipin didn’t, she most definitely condemned herself.
Oh, how she hates living in a world where Samir … is.
But Mena isn’t alone. In another part of the country sits another mother who shares her agony.
Rachel waits …
Her son’s also missing. And agony blades through her, too. But her loss is clamped in the jaws of a secret too shocking to share.
Rachel, a teacher for the Year Two children at the local St Luke’s Primary school, with her shiny, blonde hair and Colgate smile, thinks she’s fooled everyone. That she’s crossed the invisible line between truth and lie.
Tears trickle when needed – a watery shroud to cover clues and evidence and instincts of the few who dare to doubt. Clever words, pained glances, clasped hands – all serve to camouflage her crime. Rachel has deceived everyone who cares with her BBC accent, Per Una outfits and wilful elegance.
“Jack was taken. He was playing in the back garden. Then.” A pause. “He was stolen from me. Someone has him,” she stares carefully at the camera.
From the beginning the media have been fascinated by Rachel. Her serenity; articulation; her imagined pain. She plays well the part of the grieving mother. Her beauty, education and poise conspire to convince the great British public. She has gained their sympathy and their trust.
But now there’s a new policeman on the case. Detective Inspector Callum McCoy with his sharp, French suits and unchallenged hair, watches Rachel. He sees much, she feels, catching whispered truths in her secure, blue eyes.
“Your alibi doesn’t tie up…” he hisses in the interview room.
Her sleek, Next shift dress and nude Clarins lipstick appear to not cut any ice with him.
“I was confused.”
“Sniffer dogs found evidence…”
“I beg your pardon? Dogs? What can they know?” Her smile is controlled, balanced with just the correct mix of challenge.
The Detective Inspector falls silent. Her palms, clasped together in mute prayer, are moist. She fights to keep them still but just when she thinks she’s convinced him, he speaks again.
“There are no witnesses to this … abduction.”
“Then he was clever.”
Rachel can say this last word and imply an insult to the very detective whose straight gaze may yet be her undoing.
“Your garden runs adjacent to Friday Street – the main road.” His voice is attractively husky as if he smokes or drinks too much. “It was morning. Dozens of people were passing. And you want me to believe that nobody – nobody – saw your son taken against his will.”
“I only know what is – not what happened.”
The words are a script that she’s lived by for two years, five months and eleven days.
Just as Detective McCoy stands, leaning towards her, he opens his mouth to speak. She catches the tang of garlic mixed with spearmint on his breath. A sudden knock on the door, interrupts. Eyes lock on to her as the man whispers into Detective Inspector McCoy’s ear. Glancing towards her, he nods…
Last night, the body of a young male was found.
That’s all Mena knows.
It’s all Rachel knows.
The waiting for one of them will soon be over – after two years, five months, eleven days – they will finally know.
But which mother will cross that invisible line..?