Music to listen to as you read this chapter:
Zaz – Si c'était à refaire
Freya Ridings – Home
“ Maman , I don't want to leave Montreal.” My boy was in a bad mood. He crossed his arms in front of his chest and looked down towards his feet, trying to avoid eye contact with me.
“Honey.” I crouched down in front of him so he could see me right in the eye and hear me better. “Do you remember what we talked about during this whole month?” I tried to be as convincing as possible so that we wouldn't be late to get on the plane; almost all the passengers were already inside the aircraft and the company employee, who was just a few steps ahead of us, was impatient with our delay.
“Oui maman, that Uncle Lamb fell off the stairs and he needs us badly.” Even though he understood all the reasons well, the silence lingered between us again. He pouted, clearly unhappy with everything that was going on in our lives.
I uncrossed his arms in a very gentle way and held his hands so that he looked at my face. But all that determination I worked so hard to enforce quickly vanished as I tried to understand everything from his perspective, making me smile in response to his dissatisfaction. “Uhum,” I fixed his hair affectionately and kept on smiling to encourage him to continue. “And what else?”
“He is our family and we have to help him now.” He was sad, but his brief smile brought a great relief to my heart.
“That’s right,” his blue eyes became even brighter due to some blink back tears on the verge of falling. “Fergus, he’s the only family we have left and our time in Montreal is unfortunately over. I know you wanted to end the school year with your classmates, and have some fun with our neighbors during the summer holidays” I put on a plastic smile, knowing how much he was suffering and God witnessed how difficult it was for me to decide to make this move. “There are things in life that need to be done without questioning. And yes, sometimes it’s very difficult to deal with the changes that happen in our life, but I promised that everything would be fine!” I gave a long kiss on his forehead sniffing in the pleasant scent of his hair. “Whenever we are together, we will be home.” I stroked his arm gently, showing that I understood how difficult this change was for him.
“I miss papa.” He hugged the teddy bear that his father had given him, his favorite toy since the very first day.
“Me too, my dear.” I hugged him tightly, kissing his curly brown hair that he took after me. “Me too.”
After nine years in Montreal, I was finally going back to England. Finally wasn’t the best way to describe it, at all. I wasn’t excited about moving back; however, the family commitments were stronger, and I couldn’t postpone my return any longer.
Deep down, I always knew I would have to come back to the UK one day, especially after my husband’s death, five years ago. From that moment on our family changed forever and I worked hard to continue with our routine in Montreal the best way I could.
In Canada, I had a job at the hospital and a few acquaintances with whom I shared some fun moments through the years we lived there. However, that wasn’t the real reason that prevented me from returning to my homeland. All of my decisions were made with just one person in mind, and he was a top priority in my life. From the first time I took my small and helpless son in my arms, I tried to protect him from all the harm in the world. At that moment I understood a feeling that was very difficult to describe, but that started making sense for me: unconditional love.
Fergus is Canadian, born and raised. Montreal was his first home and moving to London was very difficult for my little one since we first talked about the subject. He was leaving the only place he had known as home, the place that always made him feel very loved and protected wherever he was, but unfortunately I couldn’t change that. My uncle, Quentin Lambert Beauchamp, whom I affectionately called Uncle Lamb when I was a little girl, had aged a lot and had fractured his femur in an accident on the stairs of his building more than two months ago. And, on top of all this, I could no longer turn my back on him; I could no longer postpone my return. It was a moment to give support to my family no matter what, even if that meant returning to London, the last city in the whole wide world I wanted to live.
I had postponed my return to the UK since Arthur's death. I decided not to change Fergus’ daily life more than necessary, losing his father had been too hard on him, too hard on both of us. At that time, Fergus was very young and didn't quite understand what had happened, but he called out to his father every night before sleeping. It was more than a mother could bear, but I needed to be strongfor him. At times, I just had to make sure that Fergus was asleep so I could cry over my husband's death, and for all that this situation involved and would imply in our future.
Right after Arthur’s death, I was promoted at the hospital and along with that greater responsibilities. The new position was another reason for me to postpone our departure from Canada indefinitely because of the gratitude I nourished for Canada and for the Institution itself for welcoming me so well when I arrived.
I had no idea what was coming for our future. Even though I was British, I was starting over after everything I had ever lived as a doctor, a mother and a wife in Canada. I had made my life across the ocean and my home was no longer London or Oxfordshire. And even though I felt that something was different this time, I feared that all memories I blocked during the time away from my birthplace would come back to haunt my son and me again.
We were in our new home in London, which was just a few yards away from Uncle Lamb's residence. I would have to organize our lives, at least a little bit, in less than a week before Fergus restarted the school year that was close to our home.
Our house had two floors, two bedrooms, one small bathroom in my room and another large bathroom on the top floor; a large kitchen, living room, dining room and a toilet on the main floor; as well as a beautiful garden at the back of the house that just needed someone to bring all its shine back. It was much bigger property than we both needed, but I liked the idea of offering more space for a boy who was still growing and very active.
While we were organizing, for more than four hours, the countless items that had arrived in innumerable moving boxes, a feeling of exhaustion took over both of us. Fergus was frustrated about the time he spent arranging all his toys in his new room. I got tired just thinking about six more huge unopened boxes and I hoped that, between the breaks of my interviews for new jobs, I could get everything done to finally call that house our home.
“Fergus, honey!” I shouted from the bottom of the stairs, waiting for him with a naughty smile on my lips. “Would you like some ice cream?”
“A chocolate ice cream?” He showed up right after a few seconds with his big smile, grinning from ear to ear. He went down the staircase in a flash ,bouncing his curls along.
I reached for him on the last step, holding him in the air and kissing him on his neck. “Hey, calm down boy! You’ll get hurt! Let's take a walk around the neighborhood; we need a break! The mess will be waiting for us in the exact same place when we get back!”
We went for an ice cream in the café that was almost next to our house while we watched the neighborhood bustling. It was really a quiet place to live. Part of the street on the next block was only for pedestrians, and there were several children running and playing around. Fergus was still observing around, after all we had been in town for less than 24 hours and I could clearly see in him both shyness and anxiety to playing football with the kids nearby. At that moment I was sure that my boy would make friends faster than he imagined, but I knew that everything had its own time to happen.
“Maman, when am I going to meet Uncle Lamb?” he asked me when he finished eating his ice cream, his blue eyes were even clearer due to the sun shining on them.
“Ummm…” I took a napkin trying to clean up the remaining candy spread all over his face, and he made a typical face of a boy who doesn’t like to receive this kind of attention from his mother in front of other people. Yes, he was growing up fast. “Should we ask if we can visit him now?” I smiled, pretending to be startled.
“Yes, maman, let’s go!” He clapped his hands together as his body vibrated on the metal chair.
Although they had talked on the phone uncountable times, Fergus was very interested in meeting Lamb in person, and shortly after we left the cafe, we walked to my uncle's apartment. In fact , that space was mine and my son's. Arthur had left it for us both as an inheritance and a few months after he passed away, my uncle finally stopped working with several archaeological excavations around the world and was in need of a real place to live. Of course, I didn't think twice about offering that spacious apartment to him, nothing better than having someone you completely trust to live in your property, right? But, since stubbornness was a family problem, my uncle only agreed to stay there with the condition of paying me a rent; his pride was greater than anything and after all, I ended up giving in to his insistence.
We walked down the corridor and, as we entered the elevator and climbed to the 6th floor, we finally stopped in front of number 609, knocking together on the door after looking at each other. Christine, a beautiful blonde and sweet lady, introduced herself as my uncle's nurse and said that Mr. Quentin was waiting for us in the living room at the end of the hall.
Fergus and I walked hand in hand in the direction of my uncle, and I couldn't hold back my happiness in being finally able to reintroduce my little one to one of the most important people in my life. I was smiling at the expectation of seeing him in person after so many years, yet who I found sitting on the sofa was someone so fragile and weak for doing anything made my heart break a little. I knew that my face had shown my sadness; my uncle had always told me that I was like the most transparent of crystals, and I couldn't hide anything from him. Ever!
There was my uncle, of course, but he looked more like a shadow of his former self. He was thin, looking older than I expected, even though I often talked to him often on video calls. His look was very sad and depressed, and seeing him fragile in that way made me sure that I had done the right thing when I decided to return to England after his accident.
He smiled at me, the same calm and sincere smile as always. “Oh, my sweet Claire! How wonderful to see you again! I want so much to get up to hug you properly! And this big boy? Jesus Christ, Claire, he's huge!” He was really surprised, his eyes almost popped out of his face. “Hello, Fergus!” The little one lingered near the door with a shy smile. “The last time I saw you, you were a two-year-old boy!” He had come to visit us in one of his rare free moments.
“Hi Uncle!” I said while sitting next to him on the couch, hugging him tightly. His scent mixed with the smell of tobacco reminding me of my sweet childhood moments with him. “How are you feeling today?”
“I'm living day after day, darling. And my leg... Well, it’s not working at all, my dear Claire!” he laughed hard and that pleasant sound of his laughter made me laugh out loud at all the jokes and nonsense he was always saying, even when his life was not at its best. “I can't stand still much longer. I don't know how your patients can handle...” he smiled weakly and I squeezed the back of his hand to show that I was there for him now, supporting him.
“Come on, Fergus. I want you to meet the man who was like your mother's dad.” I smiled fondly at my uncle and saw his eyes sparkle with emotion.
Fergus pointed at my uncle's leg and asked, “Does that hurt?” He sat down slowly over the sofa, leaning his hand lightly against the cast on Lamb’s leg as soon as he got close enough to him.
“Aww, what a beautiful accent!” As much as Fergus was fluent in English, French was the main language in schools on the French-Canadian side of his birthplace, and I smiled at Lamb in agreement. Fergus did have the most beautiful accent. “Well, back to your question my boy: it doesn't hurt, but it itches a lot in there.” The exchange of glances between them was hilarious.
“And can you get this white thing off so you can scratch your leg?” My son was really puzzled, and Uncle Lamb and I laughed at the little boy's naive comment.
“He can't take it off, dear. And that white thing is called a leg cast!” I exchanged amused looks with my uncle. “But soon he will be able to take it off forever.”
“Ten days from now, to be exact!” he raised his hands to the sky, in his typically dramatic style. “In the meantime you can come and visit me and draw some things on it. There is enough space here and no children to doodle. Do you want to?”
“Oui!” With a leap of happiness, Fergus sat next to my uncle. “And I'm going to bring my colored pens, can I maman?” he said as he leaned his body forward to see me, and I smiled widely, nodding in silence.
After talking a little more with Lamb and starting to catch up with everything, Fergus and I went home ‘cause we still had a lot to do there and both my boy and I were ready to face a second round after the fun and light moments that we had shared with my uncle.
And it really was what we did when we got back to our new home. Fergus was very happy and excited, working so fast that I was impressed to see him come down the stairs after just over an hour. He was willing to help me and, without thinking so much, I pointed to the books that were in one of the boxes and that had to be arranged at the bottom of the bookcase.
I was proud to have raised a kid so well, he was always a great companion to me, a loving boy with a good heart and very concerned about me and his little friends. I must confess that it wasn't easy to raise him, especially after Arthur's death... Although my late husband didn't help much in the family day by day due to his busy routine and countless trips, he was always present with his words of comfort when I felt overwhelmed with my routine at the hospital or at home.
The feeling of loneliness has never been more devastating than in the months that followed the fatal car accident that took Arthur out of our lives forever. He was on his way to work at the Université de Montréal late afternoon and his car crashed against a runaway truck coming in the opposite direction. In the truck driver's report to the police, it was written that Arthur died almost instantly, even though paramedics arrived swiftly, nothing could be done to save the life of my son's father.
The year that followed Arthur's death was filled with a lot of sadness and anguish, feelings that affected both Fergus and me, and what I wanted the most every day was that Arthur would come back to us and fill the huge hole he had left in our family's heart. Even though our relationship was incomplete in so many ways, this was what my son and I needed to be happy once again and it was undeniable that in some difficult moments, I unconsciously called Arthur to help me decide what to do. But, as expected for any family that goes through a difficult period of mourning, as time went by, the wounds started to heal and life was relieving our pain in the best possible way.
Finally Tuesday had arrived, and with it the school meeting, the day Fergus had feared since our arrival in London. As soon as we finished breakfast on “D-Day”, I called a taxi to go there, I didn't want my son to suffer in anguish more than the night before. Fergus had been so agitated during the early hours, calling me a few times in the middle of his nightmares, so scared that on the third time he shouted for me, around three in the morning, I gave up going back to my own bedroom and I curled up next to him to watch his sleep.
Fergus needed to do an assessment before being accepted into the institution and for that reason he was quite apprehensive, his nervousness had been even more visible during Tuesday morning. We were sitting next to each other in the school corridor, his legs were hanging due to the height of the chair, moving back and forth, and he could stop moving his feet for not being able to touch the floor. His body language was showing all the anxiety he was feeling that day.
I rested my hand on his small knee trying to calm him down. “Son, everything will be fine, my love! Don't worry!”
“What if they send me to Kindergarten, maman?” he sighed with anguish, very concerned about his future, and I couldn't help laughing softly, shaking my head.
I kissed his cheek, caressing the other one with my hand. “They won't, Fergus. They just need to know what you have learned or not in the second grade in Montreal. It's just to adjust the teaching, to know what you will need to reinforce until August.” I smiled with confidence and he seemed more confident. “And Mom will be out there waiting for you, okay?” I spoke as soon as he was called by the teacher.
I only received positive feedback and compliments from the teacher as soon as they left the room, even though he was so anxious. Mrs. Fitz was very happy with his performance and Fergus was proud of himself for having answered everything correctly. The only concern I had was about his English level but the teacher very patiently said that he knew the rules better than most British children the same age as his. His classes would start on the following day and he was very excited to meet all his classmates and finally go back to studying and making new friends. Those idle days triggered a lot of impatience on him.
After finishing everything at school, I left Fergus at Uncle Lamb's house and went to another important meeting. I had to leave my resume at another hospital in the city and I really expected to be hired by them since my great friend from college also worked there. In fact, he was one of the department directors at Royal Brompton Hospital. Cardiology.
Joe had always been present in my life since the first day of medical school. We were being excluded by the other students in our first anatomy class and I invited him the seat next to me. And since then, we always had each other’s back throughout college, the years of residency and even after my move to Montreal. In the last few years, we have called each other almost daily, having long conversations and frequent outbursts, always accompanied by a lot of wine, crying and laughing. We were best friends, but also each other's greatest counselors, maintaining that friendship was very important to me.
Inviting him to my new home on the first Saturday after my move brought me a lot of happiness. We hadn't seen each other for over nine years and being able to meet Joe and Gail after so long was really thrilling. Finally meeting little Emily and seeing how she really looked like her parents, body and soul, warmed my heart as a proud aunt. Seeing our children playing together on the living room floor while we drank my favorite Italian wine made me feel even more welcomed by London.
My friend knew that I was looking for a place at a hospital and with a “I'll be waiting for you and your resume any day next week! Just don't forget to call me the day before!”, the three of them said goodbye after a few hours having a good meal and catching up on the conversation.
Joe gave me a warm hug as soon as I showed up at his office door, our Saturday meeting hadn’t been enough to wipe out that feeling of missing each other so much. “Hello, Lady Jane, how did you spend the weekend?”
“Very well, and thank you for the opportunity you're giving me, Joe!” He pointed me to a chair that was in front of his and, right after we sat down, we held our hands affectionately over the table, smiling at each other.
“As I told you, Claire, I don't do it because we’re friends. Not just for that, at least.” He winked and we both laughed softly. “You're one of the most capable professionals I know and we need a general surgeon with some urgency. I just don't hire you right now because I need to meet with the other directors for the final decision, and that will only be on Friday.”
“No problem, I’ll wait!” I said pretending to be calm and we smiled, he knew I was very anxious and I could not wait so calmly.
“LJ.” He cleared his throat and for his long pause I knew he would go through some matter that I didn't like. “I didn't want to talk to you about it on Saturday, Gail was there and I didn't want to expose you without knowing how you would deal with it.” The chair suddenly became very uncomfortable for me and I swallowed hard, not being able to meet my friend's eyes. “How are you feeling…. now that you’re back in London?” I stopped breathing for a moment, I didn't want to believe he was referring to that. “Umm, is it difficult to readjust to London without Arthur?”
I exhaled the air I didn't even know I had retained in my lungs and I slightly relaxed my body in the chair. “Well, it was more difficult years ago. Fergus is bigger now and understands things more, but the change wasn't easy for both of us, much less for him. But today we went to school and he was very excited about everything, it starts tomorrow!”
His quiet smile brought me a peace that made me remember when he gave support to me in other extremely difficult moments in my life. “It will be alright, LJ. I'm glad you're back!”
I went back to Lamb's house after having lunch with Joe and picked up Fergus to organize everything for school on the next day. I think I was more anxious than him about his new beginnings. As I entered the living room I found my little boy surrounded by several important artifacts from Lamb's excavations while painting a beautiful green tree on the cast of his leg. That tender and relaxing image made me realize how much fun they had had that afternoon.
My uncle had always been wonderful with children and seeing them interacting so well automatically brought me back memories of my own past with Lamb. It reminded me of the fun moments I had running around the millenary object fragments of the dozens of excavations. I had so much fun being with him! And, even after more than two decades, I could still hear Lamb calling me excitedly to show something new that he had discovered or to help him with some setbacks.
I loved to see them being so friendly in such a short period of time. I couldn't contain my emotions of watching the two of them together and I had to sit for a while and witness the beginning of this beautiful relationship. And I knew that these moments would be treasured in Fergus’ memory forever. He needed a good male role model to influence in a substantial way his development and growth. Lamb was the best example he could have.
Shortly after calling Fergus for the fourth time to go home, my uncle insisted that we all had dinner together, saying that I was very skinny and needed to eat properly. I was unable to do anything but accept his proposal even though I knew I had never been so heavy. Okay, that was a bit of an overstatement on my part, age has brought me only ten pounds more since Fergus' arrival, but I definitely knew that I wasn't malnourished, as Lamb liked to say!
When we arrived at our home shortly after dinner, Fergus went up and then down the stairs in less than three minutes bringing his backpack already eager to show me how he had organized his school supplies. Of course, my proactive and a little bit anxious boy had already started to organize everything the night before and I was even more proud of him seeing how happy he was nourishing so many expectations of his first day at the new school. We brushed our teeth after watching TV for some time in the living room and I put him to sleep like every night since he had been placed in my arms, stroking his curls, saying that I loved him very much and that the angels would take care of him during the night.
But as soon as I laid down comfortably under my soft blankets to read another chapter of my book, anguish grew inside my chest, speeding my heartbeat and leaving me breathless for a few moments. I tried to read some more, but that feeling was still there and, to try to calm my uneasy mother's heart, my next step was to go down to the kitchen to get a glass of wine.
In conclusion: sleep came only after two in the morning.
We went to school together just after breakfast, his little hand tightened even more its grip on mine when we got in the front of the school. Fergus stopped walking almost instantly because many children of different ages were there, laughing and talking as they went through the front door.
He looked at me with despair, tears clouding his blue eyes, and I lowered my body so I could give him an affectionate hug. “Sweetheart, you're being braver than me.” I said softly near his ear. “I’m very proud of you and I thank you for understanding all the reasons for moving to London.” I stroked his chin while smiling at him. “I know it’s not being easy, but I’m sure that in a few days you will have many friends to play football with next to our home or to play with your favorite video games!” I kissed his tears and smiled tenderly at him. “Oh, look who's coming!”
Mrs. Fitz walked towards both of us, leaning her body slightly to caress his arm. “Hello, Fergus!” Seeing how affectionate she was with my boy made me feel even more relaxed by leaving him in her hands.
“Hello, Madame Fitz.” Fergus replied and tried to smile at her, even though he was still a little upset.
“Ready for this very special Wednesday?” She held out her hand in the air for him to hold.
“Oui.” Fergus took a deep breath, smiling bravely at me, wiping his tears on his coat sleeve and went with the sweet lady to his first day of school in his new home.
“I'll be here at the end of class, sweetie!” I spoke loudly to say goodbye to him.
He was excited standing next to the teacher, I could see by the way he walked with her towards the building. And to see my boy facing his own fears with such bravery made me feel an almost instant shame about something I had done so many years ago and that disturbed my peace since then.