فصل 06

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فصل 06

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Chapter six

Not an easy child

The first time Fanella saw Ellie, she was standing on the top of a garden wall. It looked dangerous, and a woman was shouting angrily at her to come down.

Fanella looked at the small girl, balancing so high up, and was impressed by her grace and sense of balance. The situation was potentially dangerous, but the child looked so confident that Fanella herself was not alarmed.

Norma, the woman who was looking after Ellie, turned apologetically to Fanella. ‘This is typical of Ellies behaviour,’ she said. ‘It wears me out! But I suppose it’s better if you see her as she really is, rather than dressed up and looking sweet and innocent. You need to know what to expect, if you decide to take her.’

Fanella nodded and smiled. She walked towards the wall and looked up into the little girl’s face. It was a round pale face, with blue eyes, framed by blonde curly hair.

‘Hi, Ellie. I’m Fanella,’ she said gently. ‘I’ve come to take you out, that is, if you’d like to come. I can see you’re very good at climbing and balancing. Perhaps we could go to the park and you could show me what else you can do?’

Ellie stared at Fanella for a few minutes without altering her serious expression. Then, suddenly, she leant forward and jumped off the wall onto the grass. It was quite a long drop and Fanella couldn’t help gasping in surprise. But she saw that Ellie had landed well and wasn’t hurt.

‘Get your coat, Ellie,’ said Norma in a serious voice. ‘Don’t keep Fanella waiting.’

Fanella and the small girl exchanged a glance, and Fanella suddenly felt sure they were going to be friends.

It was strange spending an afternoon with a child she didn’t know, but Fanella enjoyed it. It seemed to her that Ellie was not usually allowed to do what she was best at. Now that Fanella was giving her the freedom to run and climb and swing, she seemed like an uncaged bird. She played for hours, while Fanella sat on a bench and watched. Occasionally she got up to push her on a swing, or catch her as she slid down a pole. When it seemed that Ellie had had enough, Fanella suggested they went to a cafe and Ellie looked very excited.

Fanella had a cappuccino while Ellie had hot chocolate and a cake, and chatted to Fanella quite openly about her time with Norma’s family.

‘I like Norma, but her children can be annoying,’ she told Fanella, biting into the cake. ‘They often keep me awake at night with their games.’

‘Don’t you want to join in with their games?’ asked Fanella.

‘No!’ said Ellie firmly. ‘The boys fight all the time, and the girl plays with dolls. I hate dolls.’

‘What do you like playing?’ asked Fanella.

‘I like playing with animals. I’m going to be a vet,’ said Ellie. ‘But sometimes I get so angry, I throw all the animals out of the window. Then Norma gets cross with me and says I’ll never be a vet if I behave like that!’

Ellie was strangely adult in the way she spoke, as if she’d had too much experience of life for her age.

By the time Fanella returned her to Norma, she felt she’d got quite a good picture of the child, and had already grown very fond of her. Nothing was definite yet, but she could picture Ellie in her life already. She imagined taking her to all sorts of things she had never experienced before: the theatre, dance classes, gym classes, and possibly getting her a real pet to look after!

As she stood at the door ready to leave, Ellie came over to her and took her hand. ‘Can I go with you now?’ she asked, looking up into Fanella’s face.

Fanella smiled and stroked her hair. ‘Next time you’re coming to see my house,’ she said. ‘It’s only a week away. You must stay here until then.’

Ellie made a face, and Norma looked cross again.

‘Come here and let Fanella go now,’ she said. ‘It’s time for your bath.’

‘No!’ Ellie said and stood, not beside Norma, but beside Fanella. Norma stepped towards Ellie, but the little girl ran away from her and back towards the house. Once inside, she banged the door shut, leaving Fanella and Norma outside.

Norma pushed the door. ‘She’s locked it,’ she said, glancing at Fanella to see how she was reacting to Ellie’s behaviour. Fanella said nothing.

Norma pushed open the letterbox. ‘Open the door now!’ she shouted. ‘Or you’ll be going to bed with no supper!’

‘No!’ Ellie shouted back. ‘I shan’t open it. I can do what I like and you can’t stop me!’

A few moments later there was a sound at an upstairs window and the two women looked up to see Ellie leaning out of the window with a glass of water.

‘Get inside!’ screamed Norma, alarmed that Ellie might hurt herself.

Ellie let go of the glass and it smashed on the path below.

‘That’s it!’ said Norma, furiously. ‘I’m going to get a ladder - I’ll have to get in through the window.’

Once Norma had gone, Fanella called up to the window. ‘Ellie,’ she said softly, ‘I understand exactly how you feel. You want to come with me, don’t you? I understand because I really want you to come home with me now, too. We both have to wait, but it’s only a week, Ellie and it’ll pass very quickly, I promise.’

Ellie began to cry quietly.

‘Come down, Ellie. Unlock the door and we can talk about it.’

Fanella watched the child, her heart racing: was she going to do as Fanella asked, or was she going to have another temper tantrum?

Slowly, the child withdrew from the window and, a few seconds later, Fanella heard the key in the door. By the time Norma returned with a ladder, Ellie was in Fanella’s arms saying, ‘sorry, sorry, sorry,’ over and over again.

Fanella and Norma exchanged glances over the top of Ellie’s head. It was clear Norma was not exaggerating when she said Ellie could be difficult in some ways, but Fanella wasn’t put off.

‘I’ll see you next week,’ she said, smiling down at the child, and turned towards her bicycle.

In many ways, it would have felt more natural to take the little girl with her there and then, because Fanella was sure that Ellie was the child for her. But there were legal details to sort out and strict rules to follow before she could keep Ellie. Ellie had to visit her house and see whether she liked it and would like to live there. If she did, she would move in on a trial basis for a few months before anything could be finalised.

It felt very lonely arriving home, and the house seemed even quieter than usual. For the first time in ages, Fanella thought about Steven and how much she missed him. She wanted to share this experience with someone - it felt so empty going through it alone. She ran herself a bath, poured lots of bubbles into it, got in and lay down, suddenly realising that this was what Ellie would be doing at that moment. She already felt close to the girl and wished she was here in the house with her.

A couple of months later, Fanella’s wish had become reality. On the first morning after Ellie moved in with her, Fanella awoke, hardly able to believe there was a child in the second bedroom.

It was still early and only just getting light, but she got up and crept across the landing to look in at the bedroom door. Ellie’s untidy hair covered the pillow. Her face, which displayed such adult expressions by day, was smooth and line-free in sleep. She looked almost like a baby, with her round cheeks, and Fanella had the urge to kiss her. But she didn’t, not wanting to wake her from her peaceful sleep.

Instead, she went quietly downstairs and put some breakfast things on the kitchen table. She had bought cereal for the first time in years, in cardboard boxes advertising free plastic toy gifts inside. She had bought some fresh rolls and jam too, and lots of fruit. The sun came in through the kitchen window. It was March and the first shoots were appearing through the soil in the tiny back garden.

Fanella had booked theatre tickets for later that morning at the children’s theatre nearby. There was a dance show on, which she was sure Ellie would enjoy. In the afternoon, she was going to take Ellie to meet Teresa and Timothy.

Suddenly her life felt full and interesting, and she realised how empty it had been for so long before this. As she sat and drank her coffee, she reminded herself that Ellie was still there on trial, nothing was official and it could all go wrong. The adoption agency could decide she was not the right mother for Ellie, or Ellie herself might decide she didn’t want to stay.

Just then, there was a noise on the stairs and Elle’s face appeared round the door.

‘Come and have some cereal,’ Fanella said, pulling out a chair for Ellie.

Ellie sat in silence, pouring cereal into her bowl and then heaping it with sugar.

‘Not too much sugar,’ Fanella said. ‘It’s bad for your teeth, you know.’

Ellie looked at her and frowned. ‘Norma let me have as much as I wanted,’ she said, and Fanella realised there were going to be many occasions when she would be compared to Norma.

‘I’m taking you to the theatre this morning,’ Fanella said, deciding to ignore Ellie’s remark. ‘There are some dancers doing a show. I think you’ll like it.’

Ellie said nothing as she ate her cereal. When she had finished, Fanella suggested she go and get dressed. Ellie sat in her chair, kicking the chair leg with her heel. For the first time since she had met the little girl, Fanella wasn’t sure what to do and even felt a little afraid of the child whose moods seemed so unpredictable. Ellie hadn’t looked at her or smiled since she had got up this morning, and Fanella felt afraid that perhaps Ellie didn’t like her after all.

However, she quickly told herself that she was the adult, and that the child was having to cope with a new situation which must be very strange to her. It was no good being afraid of the child. She had to give Ellie a sense of security.

‘I’ll come upstairs with you,’ Fanella said gently, ‘and help you choose some clothes, OK? Come on.’ She held out her hand towards Ellie. Slowly, Ellie took it in one of hers, and put the thumb of the other hand in her mouth. Saying nothing, she followed Fanella upstairs.

‘She’s not an easy child, is she?’ Teresa said to Fanella that afternoon. They were sitting side by side on a park bench, watching Timothy and Ellie play. Ellie was faster and stronger than Timothy, and was clearly enjoying the fact she could climb higher on the climbing frame, go higher on the swing, and jump off higher things than Timothy.

Timothy watched the girl in quiet admiration. Ellie clearly enjoyed the fact he was impressed and began to show off more and more.

‘Well, she’s had a hard life,’ Fanella reminded Teresa. ‘I wouldn’t expect her to be the most well-behaved child in the world.’

‘Of course not,’ said Teresa, but Fanella could hear a note of disapproval in Teresa’s voice.

Fanella decided not to tell Teresa about Ellie’s huge tantrum that morning after the theatre, when she had wanted some sweets and Fanella had refused to buy them for her. She was longing to be able to talk to someone about it. But she was afraid Teresa would think Ellie was not the right child for her, if she pointed out any more problems.

As she walked home later that evening, with Ellie’s hand in hers, she couldn’t help but think what a very lonely job it was, taking on the responsibility for a child all by yourself.

When Ellie was finally in bed and she had kissed her good night, Fanella went downstairs to the sitting room feeling exhausted. To her surprise and concern she found she felt like crying! This was not how she was supposed to feel now she had a child in her life at last - she should be dancing with happiness.

But she couldn’t stop the tears from flowing. She cried out of self-pity for her own loneliness, and out of pity for Ellie, who had had such a lot to deal with in her short life. She cried out of fear that perhaps, after all, she might not be able to cope with the child and all the mixed emotions she had brought with her. Normally, Fanella would pick up the phone and call Teresa, her best friend. But now even Teresa seemed difficult to talk to, since she clearly didn’t understand why Fanella felt so attached to Ellie.

There is no-one else, Fanella said to herself, no-one, except me and Ellie.

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