There was a crowd of people in front of the stadium again. It was the perfect chance to make some money.
I could hear the screams and cries of the helpless prisoner, and the unforgiving laugh of the people around him. They were almost bloodthirsty, and I felt myself shiver.
“Flowers for a shilling! Flowers cheap, for only a shilling.”
Nobody looked around at me. They were focused on the hanging. I raised my voice.
“Flowers for a shilling! Anyone like to buy? Flowers for a shilling!”
Still no one.
I felt my body tense and I quivered, hopeless. Nobody bought flowers these days. They were all so much more interested in drama and cruelty.
I sighed. Mother would be so mad at me, and so disappointed. I could picture clearly what she was going to say.
“You beast. I work so hard everyday, when you only sell flowers. And you bring us nothing!” she would hiss.
And in her mind, she would be saying; You are nothing.
I trudged down the narrow walkway down the alley, head down, and trying not to attract attention. My basket swung out from behind me. I closed my eyes and imagined what it would be like to be rich, to have a nice warm dinner that filled your tummies every night, toys to play with, and fresh, clean clothes to wear everyday.
I shut my eyes and imagined. How wonderful it would be, with a bright, welcoming light saying goodbye to you in the morning and hello at night. To pick fresh mulberries from the whispering trees, and stuff your mouth with them until your hands were stained red.
A tear almost leaked from my eye, but I quickly forced it back in so that nobody would see. And nobody could see. It was just me, walking alone on a bare, isolated path.
“Monica. Why are you late again. Without money? Monica girl, answer me.”
I shook out of my daydream. Mother’s stern face, looking into mine. Her frown deep and serious.
I couldn’t bear to look at her.
She held out a small block of butter.
“I stole it. Also have some bread.”
I looked away. I had told her so many times before not to steal. Even when we needed the food. Mother was often violent towards me, but it didn’t mean that I wanted her in jail. I understood her love towards me. I understood her, her screams and cries against me, telling me that I was a useless girl, not worthy to be her daughter. That I was stupid and ugly, ungrateful and unforgiving. Telling me that I should die. I understood her, every single time. I couldn’t say why, but Porpir from down the corner of Abbott street told me that it was because Mother had a disease.
Late in November, Mother began to experience fevers. Her eyes were always half closed when she spoke to me, and her head was drooping to one side. I tended to her and spent all of my savings on medicine from Ricker’s cart, and lukewarm tea made by Mrs Smithworth.
Her legs started to shake violently, and she started saying that she wanted to go home. Home. I wondered what she meant by it. I spent other days stealing flowers from the vases of the rich, and climbing in windows and taking bread. I was a hypocrite, I had lectured Mother about not stealing. Yet there I was. Creeping silently and rubbing away fingerprints.
I licked my fingers, covering them with saliva and gently rubbed Mother’s forehead with them. Her breath was dry and raspy, sounding like air that wasn’t quite clean, dogs that weren’t quite calm. I pressed my fingers to her chin and forced it up, pouring the tea into her mouth. I heard her choke, and then stay still.
I frantically felt blindly for her chest. No movement. Stillness. I shook her, softly at first then harder and harder. I was like trying to shake salt out of an empty container. My tears blinded me. I wasn’t grieving because my mother was dead. I just felt like she was never the mother I wanted her to be. Flashbacks of us drifted into my memory. I waved my hand around in the dark until I found a small matchbox, and lit the candle. I hovered my hands in front of it, trying to warm them. Yet they were still purple and numb from the snow.
I closed my eyes.
“Dearest God. Don’t let this happen to me. Please. Please.”
I kept repeating myself, desperate to be heard. My words were useless.
No angel came.
I felt alone.
“Flowers for a shilling,” I murmured half heartedly. The street was filled with the busy murmur of people.
I watched the woman with their fancy flower hats and the rich men with expensive suits and leather shoes polished from heel to toe.
They didn’t look like the sort of people to be interested in flowers.
The stadium was empty, with nobody at all crowded around it. I knew that business wouldn’t be good today.
“Flowers. Get your fresh flowers here.”
Nobody stopped to look at me. Everyone was too indulged with their everyday life.
“Flowers!” I tried, one last time. I raised my voice to make it sound higher, more enthusiastic.
I waited for a few more moments, when a strange looking lady with yellow straw coloured hair walked up to me.
“A bunch of tulips please.”
I smiled like I had been selling them easily all day, and handed them towards her. She swayed a little and smiled in return.
“These used to be my favourite flowers when I was a little girl like you.”
Then suddenly a scream. A rough hand grabbing my arm.
“Mother!” I heard the man exclaim.
I spun around and realised that he was not talking to me, but the lady who had bought my flowers.
“Why it’s just a lazy, dirty, flower girl! Come on, you must surely know much more sense! Girl, where's the money? I demand for you to give it back at once.”
He dragged the woman away from me then held out his hand.
My lower lip began to quiver.
My head was whirling around and around. I stopped and looked around me, gasping, trying to catch my breath.
My body was filled with nostalgia, and I felt faint.
“Mother,” I manage to splutter out. I could still hear the distant calls of the man, his deep voice, and I could picture his cold blue eyes.
I thought about Mother, and if she had married a man like that to be my father.
I pressed my hands onto the brick wall and shut my eyes. I tried to make sense of the world around me. Spinning, spinning, spinning…
2 weeks later
I leaned against the house. I looked through one of the cracked, cobweb covered windows. The walls were peeling, and the colour fading, almost as though it had some sort of skin disease. There wouldn’t be much much food in it. Food was found in rich peoples homes. Not this one. Yet something about it attracted me. It drew me in closer.
We were both lonely and rejected. We both didn’t have a place in the world.
This is creepy, I told myself.
I lowered my head and quickly walked away.
“This girl, she could do with a bit of work,” I heard an old gentleman say.
Hushed whispers, most likely about me.
I looked at the ground.
“Girl, you hear that? Girl?”
I shrugged my shoulders and didn’t look at him.
“Mr Diram offers you a position to work as a maid in his mansion! He must’ve taken pity on you. Why he’s rich! Rich as hell!”
I nodded and tried to be grateful. But I didn’t really understand it. Why had Mr Diram pitied me? He had no reason to, why I was just a poor flower girl.
“He will escort you to his home immediately.”
I blinked hard, trying to figure out what was happening. One moment, I was a poor flower girl alone in the world, and the next I was being escorted to a mansion. I was what other flower girls might even call lucky.
Well, I didn’t feel very lucky. Just confused. Very, very confused.
I sat inside the carriage, carrying nothing but the clothes on my back, memories from the past, and a small basket of flowers. Mr Diram didn’t talk to me at all during the trip there. I watched him, to see if I could notice anything about him. He had a thin straggly moustache that seemed carefully trimmed, and chocolate brown eyes.
I broke the silence first.
“Where is your house?”
Mr Diram seemed surprised, and raised his eyebrows abruptly.
“Ahh. Child, you may not ask questions. That, you will have to learn to be part of the Diram household. We are all very proud. Do not ruin our honour.
I nodded my head, and close my gaping mouth.
The man smiled softly at me.
I wouldn’t mind having him as my master.
In fact, I might even enjoy it.
The house was the biggest I’d ever seen. Much, much larger than the rich peoples houses that I stole from back in London at least. With large, vast rooms and high ceilings and chandeliers.
“Wow,” I whispered.
“Wow indeed,” remarked the voice next to me.
I blushed as I saw a boy that looked few years older than me, three years older at the most, with almond shaped eyes and raven coloured hair.
“Are you our new maid?” he asked.
Mr Diram stepped in line with us, and shielded his eyes with his hand, squinting from the sun.
“Peter, no questions please.”
The boy winked at me, and ran back into the house.
“Well, that was Peter, my eldest son. He’s fourteen. Now how old are you again?”
“Twelve,” I muttered.
Mr Diram placed a hand on my shoulder awkwardly.
“Yes. Of course. Welcome to the Diram house.”
I learned to enjoy working at the Diram house. Mrs Diram was always very kind to me, and treated me just like her own daughter. Of course, I still had to live in the maid area, but she would always bake me cookies when I was sick, and make everyone hot cocoa on cold winter nights. They had seven children; Rose, who was the eldest and was seventeen, Emily and Jane who were twins and were sixteen, of course Peter who was fourteen, Lora who was ‘thirteen and a half’, Elizabeth who we called Beth who was seven, and baby Thomas who was only six months old. I mostly washed the dishes and helped Cook prepare the food, swept floors and washed windows, but sometimes I was allowed to look after Thomas.
Peter had taken a fancy to me and called me his sweetheart. The only person who didn’t like me was Rose, but she mostly kept to herself.
I soon forgot about Mother, my real mother.
Ten years later
“Flowers! Flowers for a shilling!”
A young girl with a dirt streaked face and a basket of flowers. Her blue eyes filled with uncertainty.
It was late November. Snow, drifting down.
The little girl with nothing much on.
I wrapped my fur coat around me, and looked at my hand. It was covered by a larger hand, Peter’s. We were engaged.
I looked at my polished leather boots, then at the sign that was right before me. It read:
HANGING TODAY AT FIVE PM.
Peter and I would be there to watch it.
My attention was on the girl again.
Her face was long and sad. She seemed so different.
“Flowers for a shilling. Cheap flowers."
I turned around. She reminded me of the girl I used to be.
Peter seemed to notice my change in emotion.
“What’s wrong Monica?”
I forced my lips into a smile.
“Nothing. Nothing at all.”