We had to rush out without trying on the clothes. She had reserved a table in the local pub, The White Hart. She helped me with my wig, taking it off and reattaching it and securing it down. She applied a little bit of make up and promised me it was waterproof. Then we grabbed our coats and purses and we were off. I took what little money I had left. I knew it wasn't going to last and I had no real way of replacing it, but just this once I wanted to buy her lunch, show her my appreciation.
She was obviously a regular customer as she walked in confidently and went straight up to a small table and hung her coat on the back of the chair. I did the same to the chair opposite and followed her up to the cash register.
“Is a carvery OK?”
“That would be great. Can I ask a favour?”
“Sure dear, what would you like?”
“Do you mind if I pay? I mean, I know you are doing a lot for me and I don't have any way to repay you and even the cost of the clothes...”
“Stop.” She took my hands. She looked into my eyes. “Everything I do, I do because I want to.” She had a serious face on. She didn't look unhappy with me, thank goodness. “OK. You can pay. Before we eat, we are going to sit down and have the money talk. I fancy a glass of wine though, so I will pay for the drinks. What would you like?”
“Water would be fine.” She raised her eyebrows. “A hot chocolate would be nice.”
We ordered, collected our drinks, or hers at least, mine would be brought out when ready, and returned to the table. The carvery was a self service affair so once they delivered the plates, we could take them up and help ourselves.
“I don't know what you have been taught about money, but with my situation and our relationship, money is not an issue.”
“I offered for you to call me Mum, when you did, I consider that a binding agreement. You are now, and forever more will be, my daughter. I will do my best to help guide you to happiness. What I expect from you is your respect, honesty and affection when you feel like it. That is it. No talk of payback, deserving or any of that nonsense.”
I was welling up again. What was happening to me. I had been a girl for only a little over 24hrs and I had cried or felt like crying more than the rest of my life altogether. I wanted to hug her again, instead I had to settle for reaching across and squeezing her hands.
“Money is not something I have to worry about. I know I don't look well off. I don't wear designer clothes and I live on a houseboat, but appearances can be deceiving. How I live is my lifestyle choice, nothing more. The houseboat is designed for one, now I have a daughter living with me, we will be making some changes.” She disengaged her hand from mine to hold it up and stop me from interrupting. “Living with you will make my life richer. I think I was getting a bit lonely without admitting it to myself. The universe has blessed me with your company. I don't stay permanently in Lucy. I will show you tomorrow. I do like to be here on Sundays. It is a beautiful community. Every Sunday we all get together around a campfire and entertain each other. Steph usually visits and brings her keyboard.”
“I thought she gave up the piano.”
“She told you about that. Yes she did give it up. I think she felt too much pressure and that took the fun out of it for her. Once I allowed her to give it up and convinced her there was no pressure, she returned to it and more importantly enjoys playing. I am hoping I can convince you to sing.”
“Me. Sing. I can't sing.”
“Well, I mean anyone can sing, but I am not good enough to sing in front of others.”
“How do you judge that. Who has heard you sing?”
“Only my father and that was a long time ago.”
“And what did he think?”
“He liked it. He has to say that. He's Dad. He liked everything I did.”
“I heard you. I thought an angel had visited my humble boat. Your voice is amazing.”
“How did you hear me? I didn't sing until after you left.”
“I forgot my keys. I am so glad I did. I would pay money to hear you sing. Do you think we could do something together for tonight. I play the fiddle, I would love to improvise something with you.”
She was looking at me with excitement in her eyes, how can you say no to that.
“I guess we can try. I have never sung in front of anybody. I'm not sure if I can do it.”
The waitress arrived with our plates and my hot choc. Conversation was temporarily halted for a food intermission. I love a carvery. You chose from three different types of meat, I couldn't decide and so had a bit of each, then lots of different veg, loads of gravy and sauces. Delicious. In theory you can go back up for more veg if you want to. My eyes, as usual, were bigger than my stomach, I struggled to finish what was on my plate.
“Sophie, I would like to talk about our possible next steps.”
“Is this a good place to discuss it?” I looked around nervously.
“I really don't think anyone is going to be paying attention to us. We should be fine here.”
“I have been thinking about it and made a few inquires this morning. My first thought was to whisk you off to Thailand and sort you out physically. The sooner we can do that the safer you will be. To do that we need to sort out your identity. I have two possible solutions, but both have their risks. I don't know any criminals, so I have no idea how to find a man who does that sort of thing for money. Possibility number one. I approach the relevant authorities and try to get them to give you new papers, like a witness protection programme. The issue with that is that, again, I don't have any contacts and I would need to tell the whole truth. Your mother would probably be informed, possibly your school. If any of those informed do not take it seriously enough there could be consequences. A secret is more likely to stay a secret if almost nobody knows about it. With that route, quite a few people will end up knowing about...” she paused to look around. “Flower. There is a danger that the wrong people will find out. I don't know how real that danger is, I just don't have the necessary information.”
“That does not sound that great. I wouldn't trust my mother to believe me. She would probably be glad if someone removed her nuisance of a son.”
“Don't be like that. Some people struggle with their emotions. I'm sure she loves you, she probably, just does not know how to deal with you.”
“You're right. That did sound a bit bitter. That is not who I want to be. Still, I don't think that is a good option. What other options are there.”
“Well, one of my odd jobs is volunteer work with a home for women and children. We try to take in girls from the street and women who have been abused by their husbands and give them a chance to find their feet. I work occasionally in the admin side of things, mainly so I can monitor the money side and donate funds when needed. Sometimes we end up with birth certificates for girls who subsequently disappear. My suspicion is that they are lured into the sex trade. You really don't want to hear some of the stories I have heard. Anyway, it is unlikely that they have already requested a passport and it is highly unlikely that they will ever request one. What I am suggesting is essentially identity theft. We steal their identity, change your name by d-poll, then apply for a passport.”
“And the risks?”
“Only the obvious one that I can see. The true owner of the identity tries to reclaim it. From what I have heard, once a street girl disappears, they tend to stay that way, so I don't think it likely.”
“Could you get in trouble?”
“Not really. We just say that you are a girl from the street who claimed to have the same name and a mixup happened when applying for a passport. If we go down this path, I will go in tomorrow and find the best birth certificate that I can. The next day we take you in and you stay a day or two under the same name. You leave taking your birth certificate with you and we proceed from there.”
“That sounds like the better option.”
“So we will go with that?”
“I do tend to have a fatalistic approach. If it is meant to be I will find a suitable birth certificate, if any issues arise from it, they are meant to, and the resolution will benefit you in the long run.”
“I think I have had enough issues. Please let this be smooth sailing.”
“Que sera, sera. What will be, will be.”
“That is not that reassuring.”
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