I pulled back the curtains an inch or so and peeped out into the darkness. I then ran quickly to the front door and checked it again. The silence of the night was broken only by Bobby snoring on the couch. Kneeling down I stroked his brown coat and he shook his head, opened one eye and then the other. “Hello boy. Come on out the back”. I rued the fact that I gave him so many titbits because he was now too fat to get in and out through the dog flap – ‘I really must get a bigger one soon ‘I thought.
Before going outside I looked furtively out of the window and decided that my imagination was far too vivid. I think I watched too much crime on television. ‘He was probably an absolutely innocent man, walking home to his family after work and not following me at all’ I thought about the man walking behind me from the local deli last night.
“Come on. Move it” I told Bobby as he slowly trudged out through the door behind me. He was sniffing shrubs and plants in the garden before deciding which the best toilet spot was…..then squatted right in the middle of the lawn. “Hurry up Bobby, we haven’t got all night”. Towards the back of the garden where the shed was, something banged. I stood still and listened but there was no other noise to follow. Now on high alert my gaze did a sweep of the garden and then back to the dog finishing off his business. ‘I’m not picking that up tonight’ I thought as I rushed towards the back door, calling “Bobby hurry up” nervously and when we were both inside I shut it quickly and locked it.
I stood with my back against the door breathing quickly, Bobby watching me with a quizzical look on his face as I asked him why I was so paranoid at the moment about people following me.
I had mentioned it to my best friend but she already thought I was a lunatic and wasn’t interested at all.
Gradually as time went on I had put most of my thoughts about being followed and watched out of my head. Since Primary school I had always been a bit nervous about strangers but I knew why that was.
When I was about nine I was allowed to walk home from school with my friend Silvia and her older sister. It was only a ten minute walk from the school to my house but Silvia lived even closer, so every now and then I was allowed to walk to her house to play and my Mum would come over later on and pick me up.
The day I remember that changed me into a scaredy cat was a Friday, sport afternoon and I had left my school sport hat at school. “Oh I’ve got to go back and get my hat” I said to my friends “Mum will kill me if I lose it again”.
I told Silvia and her sister I would run back as I knew exactly where I had left it, so they walked on, almost already at their house and I raced back to the basketball courts.
The school cleaner waved to me as he got into his car to leave and I grabbed my hat - thankfully - and went back out through the school gate. Walking back towards Silvia’s house and just as I rounded the corner and out of sight of the school, an old man stepped in front of me, blocking my way. He looked red in the face and a bit agitated as he said “Hey, hey” in a gruff voice “Where are you going to young lady on your own?”
The thought went through my head about children being taken away by strangers and fear coursed through me.
I tried to run around him but as I did he grabbed me saying “Not so quick. I was talking to you. Don’t they teach children manners these days?” and he laughed showing his gummy mouth. I started to panic and said to him in a scared voice “Let me go please, my friend is waiting for me”. I’m sorry if I ran into you, I won’t do it again, honestly”. I felt like crying but held back the tears.
“I’m not sure if I should let you go or not”. “I might take you home and feed you to my dog. He’s really big and has very sharp teeth but loves to eat little girls”. He wiped his runny nose on the back of his free hand and it was scaly and dry looking.
I knew I had to escape but if I screamed he would probably just lift me up and take me away or worse still put his horrible hand on my mouth, so I kicked him really hard instead, right on his knee cap. ‘Crunch’ it sounded as he yelled and fell to the ground, letting go of me at the same time.
This was what I had hoped for and I ran faster than I ever had. Glancing around a couple of time I was sure I would hear him running after me but I didn’t see him, just my school hat way back down the foot path. I reached Silvia’s house and shot through the open gate banging on her front door. Her mother opened it and as she uttered the words “Hello Anne” I burst into tears. “Oh my goodness” she said hugging me “Whatever is the matter?” So I told her crying and sniffing at the same time.
Apparently the old man lived in the locked dementia ward of the local nursing home and had been missing since yesterday. He had ‘escaped’ a couple of times and after his last ‘Houdini’ trick had been found sitting inside the local church. He was a really scary old man but hadn’t actually every hurt anyone. All I know is that he scared AND scarred me that day!
After that incident I wasn’t allowed to EVER walk by myself, well not for a couple of years at least. My Mum was always a little over protective probably because she was on her own. My father had walked out when I was born. I wasn’t told any of the details but I was ok with that. I knew it wasn’t something mum wanted to talk about and I’d had a good life without a dad. I thought that if you had never had two parents then you didn’t know what you’d maybe missed out on. (Very profound!) My mother had told me once that if I ever really felt the need to know about my father then she would tell me.
I hadn’t bothered to tell mum about me thinking I’d been followed. She would just worry. Whenever she came over to my place for an evening she went around locking the front door, back door and any open windows. “You’re not security conscious enough Anne” she would say to me.
As I was coming out of the netball stadium sweating after a very hard fought win, chatting and laughing with my team mates, out of the corner of my eye I caught a glimpse of a shadow. The person had walked around to the back of the bus stop across the road and down the pathway leading into the park. It looked like a man but I couldn’t be sure. Whoever it was looked back once and then disappeared.
I quickly turned to my friend Leanne telling her “I just saw someone watching us, across the road behind the bus stop. He’s gone down the path, well I think it was a ‘he’…maybe a ‘she, it’s too dark to tell”
“Not again Anne; you seriously need to talk to someone. What is it with you? No really I mean it. I don’t see people watching me or think I’m being followed all the time. Maybe stop watching so much crime on television or reading all those crazy books you read!”
“Yeah you’re probably right” I told her, feeling slightly annoyed. I knew I wasn’t crazy and I really believed that someone was watching me. When I reached my house I had a good look around before I quickly got out of the car, double locking the door once inside.
Bobby made me feel safe. He was fat and sluggish but I knew when it came to the crunch he would attack anyone trying to harm me.
I didn’t mention it again and I couldn’t tell my mum, she would either insist I tell the police (ridiculous!) or she would want to move in with me for a while….ummm no thanks to that either!
A week or so after the ‘incident’ outside basketball I patted George goodbye, and headed for my car parked in my driveway. Nearing it I noticed a card or piece of paper on the windscreen, which I thought at the time, was probably some sort of advertising. But when I got right up to it, saw it was an envelope with my name written on it. It freaked me out a little so looking around I grabbed it quickly, got in my car, locked the door and drove off. I parked outside the local fast food place, feeling safe with lots of other people around me.
The handwriting on the front was neat and opening the white envelope I pulled out a single sheet of paper and read…
DEAR ANNE. FIRSTLY YOU DON’T KNOW ME AND I DON’T KNOW YOU. I DECIDED TO TRY AND FIND YOU AFTER ALL THESE YEARS AND PERHAPS FGIVE SOME CLOSURE TO MY LIFE. I’M NOT SURE IF YOUR MOTHER HAS TOLD YOU ANYTHING ABOUT ME BUT MY NAME IS ALEX AND I AM YOUR BIOLOGICAL FATHER. I DON’T EXPECT YOU TO WANT TO MEET ME BUT I AM TRULY HOPING THAT YOU WILL AT LEAST THINK ABOUT IT. I HAVE SOMETHING I NEED TO SAY TO YOU. HERE IS MY PHONE NUMBER AND I PRAY I WILL HEAR FROM YOU.
He signed it Alex and had written down his phone number.
I sat in shock not really knowing what to think. It was a bit of a relief to realise that it was probably him watching me. I don’t know how many times I re-read the letter but knew I should talk to mum about it. I called in sick for work – I knew I wouldn’t be able to concentrate - and decided to drive to mum’s house, but not before I bought a burger and fries for my breakfast!
I didn’t know how to start off the conversation. I couldn’t just blurt out “Mum I think my dad has been spying on me and he wants to meet and chat!”…
So I said “Mum you know when you said to me that when the time comes and I want to know about my dad, you would tell me? Well the time has come”…
At first she was really surprised by my sudden request but after I told her the whole story about someone watching me, and the letter, she understood.
They had been young when Mum fell pregnant with me and my father told her that he would marry her. She said that she had loved him and was so happy that he wanted to get married. But as the date for the wedding got closer he pulled further away, not ringing and not wanting to see her. One night he rang her up (couldn’t even tell her face to face) and said he wanted nothing more to do with her or the baby, with no real explanation. She was truly heartbroken. He just disappeared out of her life so she had to start the future ahead as a single mother to be.
I felt as if I didn’t want to meet up with Alex after hearing that from mum and I also didn’t really know if she wanted me to see him. But she surprised me. “I think you should meet your father and hear what he has to say. I have no need to see him as I sure he has no need to see me. That bridge was burnt a very long time ago. It’s your decision Anne if you want him in your life or not” she said to me genuinely and lovingly.
I rang the phone number. My heart was pounding and I felt nervous.
After all he was just a stranger to me.
We chose a small café in town to meet. I didn’t tell mum when or where, I thought that best - I could tell her about it afterwards, depending on what he said. I had asked what he looked like. “Oh I don’t know what he’ll look like now Anne but he used to be tall with dark curly hair (just like yours) and brown eyes – petty good looking but that was a long time ago”.
So I entered the café not really knowing who I was looking for. I glanced around; it was mainly couples and one family with small children. But as I looked down towards the back I saw a balding man in a dark blue shirt looking around. ‘Could this be him?’ I thought. Feeling uncertain I headed that way, and he stood up and walked towards me just as I reached his table. He held out his hand, at the same time asking “Anne?” to which I replied “Yes….. Alex?” and shook his papery hand. “I’ve waited this long to see you and you are a beautiful young lady” he said not letting go of my hand. “I mean that in a fatherly way” he added looking embarrassed.
“Oh thank you” was all I could manage.
I couldn’t believe how old he looked. I didn’t expect it as my mum still looked fit and youthful, and I knew they were about the same age. His once dark hair, not much of it was now, was mostly grey and looked very thin, like him. He had nice white teeth though and the dark brown eyes were not bright but dull. I noticed his hand shaking a little as he held the back of his chair to steady himself.
We both sat down and the waitress came to the table for our order, and whilst waiting for the coffee he began to talk.
“Firstly I hope I didn’t scare you by watching you. I just wanted to see you, what you looked like, where you lived. I realised that I was going about it the wrong way and plucked up the courage to leave you that note”.
Our coffees arrived and I took a big gulp – I really needed it!
“You did scare me a bit. Was it you at the basketball stadium?” I asked, hoping for a ‘yes’ and getting it. ”Well I’m here now” I continued”and curious as to why you would want to see me after all these years”.
“I made the biggest mistake of my life when I told your mother I didn’t want anything to do with her or our unborn baby. I did love your Mum and could never forgive myself for what I did. I was young, scared and a coward - but I think I paid for my bad choices. I was never truly happy, in and out of jobs all my life, drinking too much and subsequently becoming an alcoholic. I became a violent drunk and lost family and friends through my behaviour. ‘A lost soul’ is what my mother used to call me and a ‘stupid selfish fool’ from my dad. Anyway the bottom line is that I’m dying and I don’t have long to live. I have been on a mission to right some of my wrongs and ask forgiveness. I could have had a daughter in my life, you could have had a father, and for that I ask your forgiveness Anne” he said to me wiping away a couple of tears with the back of his hand.
I didn’t know what to think. Eventually I asked him “Don’t you think mum should be the one to ask forgiveness from. She truly loved you and you hurt her terribly. I’ve never known you so in a way it wasn’t a loss for me like Mum”.
I told him that for all of my life Mum had always been and still was a truly beautiful person inside and out. He wanted to ask her forgiveness face to face and tell her he was truly sorry.
When I got home I had an uneasy feeling. He had asked for my forgiveness and I told him he didn’t need it. I felt I shouldn’t have said that so I decided to ring him up.
The phone kept ringing and just as I was about to hang up, as I wasn’t leaving a message, a male voice answered. “Hello can I speak to Alex please?” The voice hesitated and then asked who was calling. It felt a little unreal but I told him I was Alex’s daughter.
It was hard to comprehend what I was being told by this stranger… “I am so sorry but Alex passed away ten minutes ago. I’m one of the paramedics from the ambulance that was called. Is there anyone else I can contact for you?” he asked quietly taking down my number.
“No, no thank you” I stammered sitting down feeling both shocked and saddened.
My father had just passed away. I knew hardly anything about him. I didn’t know just how sick he really was. I got to see him face to face for about forty minutes of my whole life.
I began to cry, for lots of reasons but I think mostly because he never got the forgiveness that he wanted before he died.