‘Faith, Hope and Love’ Part 24

Arthur’s condition improved. He slept less, his memories resurfaced and there was a gentle lightness in his movements that recalled his cheerful self, returning after a long hibernation. But he was not eating enough, and losing weight from his already lean frame. From being unsure, I began to hope and expect his release soon.

After two weeks of being around the house, James had reluctantly gone back to Uni. He had not told his dad anything about Vivienne’s illness, a decision that secretly delighted me. As James stood on the threshold, nervously fingering his satchel, even Elaine looked wistful, and when the door closed behind him and the sound of his footsteps receded on the pathway, she said, “It’s going to be awfully quiet without Jamie, isn’t it, Mum?”

As Elaine grew older, she moved slowly apart from me, occasionally returning for familiar cuddles and hugs, but gradually moving into her own orbit with increasing confidence. She would always confide in me, though. Whether it was boy trouble, what her teachers were like, or what was happening in the classrooms. So when she came abruptly into the hall after school a couple of days later, dropped her bag to the floor and looked sullen, I had to ask, “What’s the matter, love?” and she was suddenly at my side, hugging me and sniffing sadly into my jumper.

“Is it the teachers?” She shook her head. “The homework? Your friends?” The tiniest nod, and suddenly she was telling me, “Susan just walked past me today, and she and… Sam just laughed at me. It’s because they call me…”

“What? What do they call you?” I was smiling, in an attempt to show that names don’t matter so much, and bullies dislike being laughed at.

“They call me stupid… Silly Elaine, she’s a pain…” The sing-song in her voice was pitiful.

“How long have they been teasing you?” I asked, faintly incredulous that third-year pupils could  be so infantile, and wondering what on earth had made quiet, obliging Elaine the object of anyone’s derision.

“I answered a question in class. The teacher asked us…” her voice quavered, and I could see her wishing she had stayed silent. “I really like maths. The other kids, in break time, they say I’m stupid… and tubby, and…”

Oddly, I was not surprised at Elaine’s confession. Despite being tall and thin, for many years Elaine has clutched at a fear that she might become overweight. She also seems to go out of her way to be accommodating at school, rarely taking the initiative in games or in class. Her school reports mention her being a bit reticent, and I could see how that might happen.

“They can hardly call you stupid if you answered a question.” Elaine just shook her head, believing that I simply did not understand, but I did. I knew that kids were sometimes cruel for no particular reason and enjoyed laughing at other people. Reasons rarely came into it.

“We’ll think of something, I promise, love. Maybe try to steer clear of them just now, eh? Take your bike to school so that you can come home quickly?” She looked rather dubious, but the next morning she carefully retrieved her bike from the back porch, fetched her bike chain and obediently put on her helmet, all of which made my heart ache with love. She was so willing to trust me, and yet I knew so little of the school dynamics. Would she just be giving the kids more ammunition?

She came hobbling home in the late afternoon, obviously upset. Her bike’s front tire had been sliced open. “They just cut it, Mum.” I bent to examine the tear, which was long, deep and deliberate. All business, I immediately took Elaine and her bike to the bike co-op for a new tire. Wondering what I could do, apart from phoning the head teacher and making a complaint, my only thought was maybe asking James if he could help.

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