My seventh school
The sea of strangers surrounds me
I introduce myself to a girl in the lunch queue
“Why did you join in the middle of the year?”
I tell her my parents are in the navy.
She says, her face calculating.
“You’re one of those.”
Mother’s eyes are stone.
“Later, I’ll inspect your room.”
Look down, nod. “Yes, ma’am.”
Every night, we watch the news.
The war footage is hellish and with every death they announce a fresh terror seizes me.
I keep checking the photos, but it’s never my Father.
Relief fills me… but then I feel guilty;
Somewhere in the world a family is mourning.
What right do I have to feel relieved?
The news theme tune is the soundtrack to my nightmares.
The cycle never ends.
At lunch, the little boy squirms, impatient to escape from the dinner table. He pesters and pleads with his father until at last, worn down by the endless complaining, his father sets him free.
His gleaming new toys beckon him from underneath the Christmas tree, and the TV guide lies open, slyly showing all the marvellous movies that are currently on. The boy ignores them both.
He sprints upstairs, switches on the clunky computer and goes on Skype.
As promised, she is online, waiting for him. He double clicks on her name and her face fills the screen, smiling at him from the other side of the world. He hasn’t seen her for seven months.
Her khaki uniform is covered in dust. She smiles like a star in a distant galaxy, distant but warm.
“Merry Christmas, Mommy!”