Christopher Leslie Cater, born to Lucy Cater, May 4th, 1921 was my father. He died January 22nd 2003.
I decided to tell his story a little differently, as if I were there. I started this story a while ago for my writers group and never finished it. Now I have to, although the rest of the story may be related differently!
The boy rubbed a clean spot on the grimy window of the bus and peered out. The bus jostled and bumped its way along the streets, the squeaking and rubbing of brakes bringing the bus jolting to a halt every few minutes, in order to take on and drop off passengers.
It was 1925 and the streets of Birmingham were bustling with fishmongers, greengrocers, butchers and bakers on their way to the Bull Ring market. The clip-clop of horses pulling carts laden with goods, blended with the shouts of the vendors. A pungent smell of onions and other fresh vegetables, wafted through the open windows along with that of the fish market.
The face of the four year old boy lacked the curiosity and excitement that you would expect on his first bus trip. Instead, apprehension shone from the intelligent, sensitive, blue–gray eyes that were fringed with extraordinarily long lashes. His hair was as fine, soft and fair as corn silk and a distinctive dimple cut a cleft right in the middle of his handsome chin, just below his finely shaped lips. He wore a light brown knitted pullover with a collar striped with a darker brown around the edge, and closed with three buttons at the neck. He also had on a pair of short, worn, corduroy trousers, long knitted socks and well worn lace-up shoes, the best clothes he had.
Christopher’s only comfort came from the woman on the seat next to him. Auntie Agnes, his only aunt among six uncles, was nineteen, but was a mixture of big sister and mother to him. She had always been kind to him. Her dress was simple and plain, but her finely featured face had a gentle prettiness and her warmth and familiar scent almost made Christopher think that all was well.
Then the churning began in his stomach again; the terrifying reality was that he was going be left with Agnes’s sister Lucy; his mother--but a mother he had never met. Auntie Agnes would go back to Birmingham, to the terraced house in the slums of Hockley that was home and he would be left all alone with a stranger.
He was too young to understand why, but she had left him with his grandparents after he was born. She never came to visit and he had the feeling that she wasn't welcome there; that she had been in some kind of trouble. But his grandparents were getting too old to look after a child anymore and now that he was four, they said she had to look after him.
He must have fallen asleep, because suddenly he woke up, with his head bumping against the window. Rubbing his eyes, he saw the most beautiful green hills and fields and, instead of city streets, the bus was now swaying along tree lined country roads.
“We’re almost at Wassell Grove, now, Chris,” said Auntie Agnes, “Are you all right?”
He didn’t answer.
The next time the bus stopped, they got off and walked up a steep hill towards the farm where Auntie Agnes said his mother had a cottage. On top of one of the hills--Auntie Agnes said it was Witchberry Hill--he could see a tall, thin structure. She told him that was the Hagley monument.
Breathing heavily now, and both of them wiping the perspiration from their heads, they looked up. There was the small cottage, and a woman was walking towards them. She was wearing a pinafore and wiping her hands on it as she walked. As she got closer, she looked down at Christopher, who was shaking now with fear. She had a strong looking face, with high cheekbones. He noticed her hands, which were big for a woman.
“Hello Leslie,” she said. He noticed a sharp edge to her voice.
“Leslie?” That was his middle name, but he was Christopher. Everybody called him Christopher or Chris. Instinctively his hand reached for his Auntie Agnes’s...
Christopher's story will continue in two week's time...next week: Pieternella's story, part 1