by Tamsin Cottis
Jackie and me on the bus. Front seat, top deck. Number 38. Hackney Central to Victoria. Memory of this bus came with me to Hospital. German Doodlebugs screaming through clouds. Stop. Wait. Boom! Doctors said I’d be better off out of it. Ma was crying the day they left me at St Caths. Told me it was a palace in a park. Turned out more of a prison. Only a boy I was, but a man when I left. Born with a wonky brain; did things my own way round. Still do.
Jackie was there too. Not a talker, but I could see in her blue-sky eyes if something was up. Get a nod or a shake of the head, a squeeze of my hand. Digging potatoes, raking leaves off all them lawns, packing boxes in the workshop, helping with the ones that lay in cots like babies — nurses had us doing the lot. Ate in rows at long tables, slept in rows too — hard stinking beds on the ward. Terrible the nights were. Soon learned how locked doors mean freedom for those that want their own way.
Whitehead the workshop manager, he took a proper shine to Jackie, making her go in his back office, doing the rough and dirty. Died of cancer he did. Should have swung from a rope. No-one knew the little one was on its way. Right fuss when Jackie’s time came. A baby girl it was but Jackie never got to hold her. Cried fit to bust her heart she did. Behind the greenhouses, by all the broken pots, I hugged her. Still do on her bad days.
1979, hospital closed down. Maggie Thatcher in Number 10, me and Jackie back in Hackney. Mum and Dad long gone, so care home in Clapton for a bit. Then we got our own place. Stannard Road. Me, Jackie and young Peter who has the fits. Staff in and out helping us. ‘It’s your choice, Lennie,’ they say. ‘What would you like to do today?’ and ‘What will you have for your dinner?’
As for Jackie and me – seems that looking out for a person, bringing a cuppa when you need it, having a joke and a cuddle — in time it can all add up to love and a double bed. Plus a wedding at the Town Hall, Mare Street. Riding the bus whenever we want. These days, we go all 42 stops if we feel like it. ‘My Angel,’ I say, when we get past Islington Green. Every time, she laughs.
Stop at Piccadilly Circus or take a peek at Buckingham Palace. Drink a cup of tea in St James Park, watching the world come and go. Think about all the changes. Trolleybuses, Routemasters, clippies and a wire to pull so the driver stops. Hop-on-hop-off, doors that swish shut by themselves, places for wheelchairs and babies in prams, mums wanting a bit of peace. And us two, going where we please.