• Gina Fegan

Chapter 8. Why Didn’t I See That Before.

Updated: Jul 16, 2020

They had missed the morning rush of customers and got the table that looked out on the baskets of flowers hanging along the brick wall of the back terrace. Pain au chocolat, mocka, and hot chocolate they might suffer from a sugar overload but some days you just need to do that. 

Still moving from laughing to crying Maeve and Orla began to share and establish a new bond based on who Orla was becoming. This was her bombshell. “Mum, I don’t want to finish school. I want to save the world.” Once she had started Orla asked not to be interrupted, “I want to tell you everything, I have thought about it and I don’t want you to stop me!” 

Maeve knew that this was a pivotal moment in their relationship and listening was what she had to do. “Go on love, I won’t say a thing till you are ready.”

Orla took a deep breath, “basically your generation has fucked the planet, I said ‘fucked’ not to shock you but because I can’t find another word for it. I don’t have a future if the world is going to end. I have been following Greta Thunberg and she is 100% right. Climate change is the wrong word, it sounds too mild, our whole way of life is about to be destroyed and we are doing nothing. I know at home we talk about it, but then you shrug with a ‘what difference does one small family make’ attitude. And apart from recycling and using a bamboo toothbrush what do we do about it? We have run out of time, we have to act now. I can’t see the point in school or university if there is no future for me to be a part of. Greta Thunberg was my age when she started protesting, see the difference she has made. My life is a complete waste, I’m 16 and I have done nothing! So I want to be an Eco Warrior, I want to protest, sit outside parliament, and hug trees. I want to do whatever needs to be done until I can see a future for my generation.”

Silence. Maeve was taking it all in, of course she knew that basically Orla was right, but she had never really faced the direct and in fact very logical implication of it. It's a good question, what is the point in going to school when everything you know might disappear overnight. A tornado in England, an earthquake in Kent, all these things had been unthinkable and then they had actually happened. What if Orla was the one making the right decisions?  Maeve was also thinking about the spirits who had found her; Susan and Kamal both of them were students who Maeve imagined had worked hard but who never got to have the choices that their education should have given them. Sometimes life is cruel, sometimes it is short. 

“Mum? You okay? You can talk now.” It had clearly taken a lot out of Orla, she looked deflated. Maeve moved around and gave her another long hug. “That’s very brave. I don’t really know what to say or even to think except that you do have a really good point. All of my experience would say, finish school, get a good degree then you will have choices. But my world has been turned upside down over the last few days and now I am beginning to think more ‘carpe diem’, seize the day, or do what you have to do while you still can. So I don’t know if it's crazy or absolutely the right thing to do.” 

“Phew! Mum, at least you are not saying an outright no. That’s something. And I didn’t expect you to be so reasonable. I am super glad we are talking and you aren’t freaking out. I feel much better. Two other things, I don’t want to go clothes shopping with you just in case you were thinking of it. No more new clothes. We don’t do new when there are plenty of old things we can re-use. No more unnecessary waste. No more meat too, I’ll let you take some time to get used to that but I’m not eating any more meat. Also, Ada said I was to wait till you told me first, but you haven’t so I’m not waiting anymore. I can see dead people too. Mostly I see children and teenagers. I’m not like Ada, I don’t go looking for them, they find me.” Orla had added this latest bombshell as though it was nothing. “I’ve always known I could see people who others couldn’t, but years ago when I tried talking to you, you didn’t seem to understand me but Ada did. When I talked to Ada about it, she said best not say anything to you until you stopped being in ‘denial’. At the weekend she mentioned something about it, but you know what she’s like, Ada loves the mystery and drama of it all so didn’t say what exactly had happened only that you’d probably tell me in your own time. As we are sharing...Now might be a good time?” 

“Oh my God!” Maeve didn’t say anything else for a good few minutes just shook her head and repeated “Oh my God!”. So Orla continued happily chatting to fill in the silences as if now that she had landed her momentus life choices everything else would work out fine “Ada says it runs in the family and we have a great-great something in Northern Ireland who was burned for being a witch. I’m not sure that’s even relevant but it all adds to the colour of the story.” There was something about the way that Orla had taken this in her stride that calmed Maeve down. “Okay Mum, you can tell me now, what happened? Also since when did you ‘hold hands’ with a policeman? I think it’s time for you to share.”

Maeve, still reeling from the series of revelations, managed to mumble her way through her side of the last few days. 

“Must be a bit of a shock for you,” said Orla, sounding more like the adult than the child. “Yes, it is,” Maeve replied with feeling,“and I would really like everything to slow down but somehow I don’t feel that I can take time to process this. It’s like stepping on to a moving platform that started to accelerate as soon as I stepped onto it.” 

Orla hesitated before saying “you are right something is happening, I have been feeling it too. I called Ada last night, to ask her what I should do. She was her cryptic self and said you might be the key. Are you?” They looked at each other, though both lost in thought but communicating their disquiet. 

The waitress interrupted with an “avec ceci?”, which was a ‘do you want anything else or are you finished and can I have the table back’ question. Tension relieved, Maeve and Orla smiled, paid the bill, and left. It was not long after midday, but also not enough time to make it worthwhile for Orla to ‘shlep’ back to school, so they chose to use the time for themselves. With no shopping to be done, Orla suggested that she help Maeve figure out what had happened to Kamal.

Orla,”let’s physically go up to the Uni and ask them, and see what we can find out? We can tell them you want to inspire me to continue my education. Then we can ask questions without raising any suspicions”. Keen not to dissuade Orla, Maeve added “Not a bad idea. But really I want to know about Kamal, if he was a student there, and did he finish his course. If he didn’t then do they know what happened to him”. Oral thought for a moment then, “why don’t we take a two pronged approach? You can say you are doing some research for a book and I can say I am looking at colleges? We split up and attack from two different perspectives and then go home and compare notes?” At least it sounded active, and they both needed to stop thinking and start doing.

As they walked up to the University campus Maeve had made Orla promise that she would talk to her Dad that evening. He was a hairdresser in Arras in Nord Pas de Calais, where he had his own business ‘Vandam’s Salon for Men’. Maeve and Pascal got on fine.Their relationship had just faded out while Maeve’s father had been ill and she and the children had moved over to the UK to be with Ada. At some stage Pascal met an adoring younger woman who was probably better for him, now he had his hands full with four children under 10 years old. Orla and Marieanne spent most of their time with Maeve because in Canterbury they had their own rooms, the house was pretty quiet and they didn’t have to do any babysitting. They all got on, any blame had dissolved over the years, and like so many, they had adapted to become a new larger family.

Arriving a little out of breath from the walk up the hill, they split up. Orla went to admissions and Maeve went to the Department of Astronomy, Space Science and Astrophysics where she found out they did indeed have a course module on Rocketry and Human Spaceflight. As with the hospital, no one would give Maeve any specific or detailed information, data protection, GDPR etc. Before she left Maeve decided to have a look around, see if there was anything that might help. She looked at the notice boards and all the posters, mostly cool images of rockets and space flights, or amazing things students had done. It was all pretty recent, so having almost given up she got a real start when something jumped out at her from a smaller older image. Now she totally would have something to tell Steve!  

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