When you came to the locked doors of the postnatal ward they weren’t sure. Unlikely visitor for that lesbian with the forceps delivery. I wonder how many times that had happened to you? People not too sure of the skinny black guy – nervous energy and eyes shot yellow from your struggling liver.
But they let you in and you sat in the chair and looked at my baby boy. Empty handed.
‘I didn’t know what to do. So I came.’
When I was a kid I’d get home from school sometimes and I could tell straight away.
‘Is Terry here?’
The smell of your unwashed body. Your cigarettes. The cloud of alcohol from your laughing mouth. Laughing as I clambered up the back of the sofa – playing with your Afro, astride your bony shoulders. I used to wonder at the way your knee caps stuck up in the fabric of your trousers. And I never asked why.
The stories told me why. Then they sent him to the nuns at Cranleigh and he was mute – mute for a year. The black and white photos of your 1960s life – little elf boy from the East End. Bit by bit I put it all together in my teenage head. The money you’d nick. The times you’d snore your way through the Sunday film and piss yourself during Antiques Roadshow. The way you couldn’t read the forms they sent you from the council. But most all, Terry, the fact that you’d come – just come.
When they found you we had to wait for the post-mortem. Then they told us what we knew – what fitted at the end of all your stories – alcoholic liver disease. They took you to the crematorium in the trees where we say our goodbyes. And, Terry, we just came. We all came.