She had asked me to pass by before going to the university. I wasn’t sure why but I felt from the tone of her voice that I had to go. When I entered the apartment I could hear her rummaging through some things in her bedroom at the back.
As I closed the front door and started taking off my gloves and coat, she called: “Claire? Is that you?”
- “Yes mum, it’s me. I can’t stay long though, I’m on my way to the campus, I’m meeting up with…”
She burst into the entrance hall, carrying some clothes in one hand and papers in the other, walking hastily towards the living room at the front of the apartment. I followed her, taking off my scarf as I entered the room. With the winter sun shinning bright outside, the space was bathed in a warm yellow light. On the right hand side, the wall was covered with family pictures of years and years of holidays, birthdays and Christmases together, precious tokens of happy times now passed and gone.
- “So what’s this all about?” I asked.
She paused and turned around. Her face was grave but her voice came out calm and composed:
- “I have to go away…”
- “Oh…that’s sudden…where are you going?”
The street bell rang and interrupted us abruptly.
- “Already?” she uttered nervously, turning her head to the sound. She ran to the intercom and picked-up the handset fretfully. “Yes, yes ok. I’m coming down; just give me a few minutes…well then let the meter run, I’m not ready”.
She came back into the living room and marked a pause in front of me, grabbing my hands in hers. She caught her breath.
- “My darling, I’m so sorry, I wanted to say this before but I wasn’t sure when I would need to go…”
- “What do you mean mum?” I was starting to feel uneasy, something was not right. I could see her suitcase wide open on the sofa. It was full of stuff; clothes but other things too…”Where are you going?” I urged her.
- “Listen, I’ve made some shopping, there’s food in the fridge and I’ve left my bank cards on the shelf near the cooker; there’s still some savings on both of them. It should keep you going for a few weeks until you find a way to manage on your own. The sheets on the bed in your old room are clean, you can sleep here tonight. You can sleep here any time you want really…You know how the heating works right?”
This was becoming so weird. My throat got tighter, making my breath uneasy.
- “Ok, thanks but I can go back to the dorm you know, I would just like to know where you are going, and when you’ll be back…Mum?”
She put her apartment keys in my hands. “I’m not taking my keys with me, I don’t need them…Keep them, this is your home now if you want it, you’ll always have a safe place here. I had the door reinforced last autumn, you should be fine”… She walked on hurriedly towards her suitcase and started zipping its flap.
Her luggage in hand, she was now facing me. She stood perfectly still, as though collecting herself before taking a giant leap. The winter sunlight coming from the large living room windows behind her framed her in a pale glow. The vision was unreal, as if she was not from this world anymore.
- “I have left you a letter, it’s in my room by my bed. I started out by trying to leave you some advice about life, something you could use when times get rough. But the subject got too vast and I don’t have enough time.”
She looked up at the ceiling trying to stop her tears from falling.
- “I was only able to write about my love for you, about all what it has meant for me to have you as my daughter, to have been your mother. You will always be in my heart, wherever I may go, I claim you forever in my love Claire. Always remember this, please… You will never walk alone as you will always be surrounded by my love for you. I have been so proud of you, from the very first day you were born you know. I will not be able to witness you shining on, but please know that I will always be there, somewhere… so proud…”
I started to sob heavily, too shocked to think clearly.
- “But this is so unexpected mum…”
- “It always is Claire, there seems to be no set rules after all… Don’t you think I asked why now? Why me? The only thing we can control is not getting lost in the anger.”
She sighed heavily. Somewhere deep inside of me I knew she was right. There was no place here for negotiation.
- “But what will I do with all of this” I said pointing around at the apartment but looking at the same time at my reflection in the mirror over the chimney place.
- “This place was always yours Claire, never mine. And at the same time it will never belong to you either. You’ll pass it on to your own daughter. And then she will do the same in time. Memories, security, love, guidance…these are the things I was able to give you and which I now leave behind with you. The rest is not up to me, it’s up to you. It’s what you’ll give to your own self, and to what will come.”
She hugged me tightly then grabbed her suitcase. I was going to stop her when she cried “My purse, oh please run to the kitchen! I think I left it on the counter.” Without thinking I backed away and ran out to get it.
The banging of the door came out with a sharp snap. I froze in my tracks. Coming back towards the entrance hall, I knew she was gone. I opened the door but there was no sound of footsteps in the staircase. I called out but no answer came. I ran back to the front window in the living room and waited. A few minutes went by but no one came out of the building. It was as expected: there was no trace of her or of a taxi waiting. Her purse was indeed in the kitchen. … with everything still in it.
I looked around the apartment…all these things I had always known, the lamp, the sofa…and that familiar smell. They were all part of us, part of me, of my history. I was all what was left of us and now it was all about me.