Auckland, New Zealand
Porridge, Dogs, Soldier, Kit-bag
Mum made our porridge overnight on the range. We ate it from the edge of the plate towards the middle, so we didn’t burn our mouths. There was a blackout. Bombs fell. A photo of Dad in uniform stood on the mantelpiece. We didn’t know him. An iron table stood in the kitchen with a mattress underneath where we slept. We couldn’t go upstairs to bed as a bomb might fall on the roof during the night. The dog, Bella, had puppies in the corner of the mattress—we gave them away, except for the runt of the litter whom we called Rough Cuddle-ems. Mum spent the evenings reading stories to us or drawing faces on her knees and making them dance. The lavatory was in in the garden. Next to it stood a lilac tree to take away the bad smells. At night, we used a bucket. Once, my baby sister fell off the table into the pail but she wasn’t hurt.
One day a tall man in a soldier’s uniform walked down the road carrying a kit-bag. We didn’t know him. Mum ran out of the gate crying and ran up to the man, kissing and hugging him. She said: “This is your Dad. Say hello. Give him a hug.” My brother was so scared of the unfamiliar man that he hid under a blanket and wouldn’t come out until Dad emptied the toys he’d brought us from Germany onto the table: china dolls wearing beautiful dresses for me and my sisters and a shiny toy car for my brother.
stranger in our midst
the prickle of stubble
on his chin