Biographical Non-Fiction posted March 29, 2015


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2,424words. Based on real events.

Rejections

by jpduck


13 May, 1969
 
Gabrielle Proustine felt alone and close to despair as she passed through Immigration at Heathrow Airport. How had it come to this? A stupid, stupid moment of pathetic weakness with Karim in an orchard; that’s how. It’s not even as if she loved him, and right now she thought she hated him.
 
Once she knew for sure she was pregnant, she had to pluck up courage and find the right moment to tell her mother. This took another three weeks. But a moment of brief calm in a frenetic household arrived. Papa had walked down to the local bar to meet with friends and Maman was reading the newspaper.
 
“Maman,” said Gabrielle, “I have something to tell you.” Her voice was shaking.
 
“What is it? What’s happened?” She stared at her daughter, her face showing concern.
 
Struggling, Gabrielle muttered, “I’m pregnant.”
 
“What?” Maman’s face was ploughed with outrage and her eyes blazed. “How, in God’s name, did that happen? – No, don’t tell me. I don’t want to hear the filthy details.” She sprang to her feet. “How could you do this to us? We are a respectable family and have some standing in the town.”
 
“I’m sorry Maman,” she whispered, hands clasped and head down.
 
Maman was frowning, calculating her options. “One thing’s for sure; you can’t stay here. In no time at all the whole of La Ville Rouault will be able to see you are pregnant. Your father and I could never hold our heads up again – we would have to stop going to mass. Oh, the shame of it – I will not have a little bastard in this house.”
 
Maman plotted a solution, her lips twitching, while Gabrielle’ tears fell soundlessly to the carpet.
 
“Right, this is what you’ll do. I will pay for you to go to England, where these matters can be discretely adjusted and the baby fostered or adopted. I will phone my friend, Anastasie, who now lives in England and ask her to take care of you in the meantime. I will book you on to the first available flight to London and provide you with sufficient money for your travelling costs in England.”
 
Gabrielle's face was frozen in speechless horror.
 
“A word or two of thanks wouldn’t come amiss,” her mother gibed as she strode to the phone in the hall.
 
<><><><><> 
 
So, armed only with her schoolgirl English, a sheet of paper with a name and address in the English West Midlands and £70, Gabrielle discovered there was a bus to take her from the airport into central London. Looking through the bus window at the drabness of the passing grey factories and shabby houses, her heart sank even lower.
 
Realising Victoria bus station was the end of this part of her journey, she struggled with her two suitcases to Victoria railway station. She knew she needed to get to somewhere called Cradley Heath station. The man at the ticket office patiently helped her to understand that she needed to use the underground railway to get to another station called Euston. Gabrielle lurched away, her head a tumble of fear at the horror of becoming lost in a brutal world of nightmare.
 
She studied the big map of the London Underground system in the station, made careful notes on the back of her destination paper and, after a few minutes’ study, struggled off with her heavy suitcases to find the Circle Line. Having changed onto the Northern Line at somewhere called Embankment, she eventually reached Euston.
 
She heaved her cases up to the main line ticket office. Once at the front of the queue, she articulated with care, “Can I please ‘ave a not-coming-back teeket to Cradley ‘eath?”
 
The lady behind the window printed off a ticket. “That’ll be nine pounds, ten shillings.”
 
Gabrielle paid, and the lady pushed her ticket through the window. “Platform 9, 10:15; change at Birmingham New Street and Smethwick Galton.”
 
“Oh! Could you write down please?”
 
“OK.” She heaved a sigh and wrote it out in block capitals for her.
 
With bags stowed on the train, she sat at a window seat, took a deep breath, closed her eyes and breathed out slowly. Every part of her was shaking and she soaked with sweat as if she had just stepped out of a shower. Je ne suis pas sûr que je vais jamais atteindre cet ami de Maman, Helene Lebasque. Il est bien trop compliqué.
 
She had not told Karim she was pregnant, and then he suddenly ran off to this new job in another hotel in Germany. She supposed he must have guessed she was pregnant and fled. If that’s how he felt, good riddance. She had written to the forwarding address he’d left at reception, but never received any reply. But why had Maman also rejected her? Was gossip and her standing in the community really more important to her than her daughter and her grandchild? It would seem so, but Gabrielle still loved her. She was Maman.
 
After an hour and a half, the train reached her first change, Birmingham New Street. She stumbled on to the platform with her two heavy cases. She discovered that, to get to her next train, she needed to climb a long flight of steps, walk across a bridge across many rail tracks, and then bump her cases down another long flight to another platform. There seemed to be so many trains rushing in and out of the station. How would she know which was the right one for her? Could she assume the next one to stop at this platform was the right one? She crumpled on to a bench, her muscles fluttering in protest.

Her next change, at Smethwick Galton, also involved a stair climb to reach another railway line which crossed above the one she had just been on. Thank God the next station after that would be her destination.
 
Dazed and frightened, she wandered out onto the forecourt of Cradley Heath station, wondering what she should do next. She dropped her cases and looked around for a taxi.
 
“You are Gabrielle, aren't you?”
 
Startled, she turned to see a fair-haired, blue-eyed lady with a broad smile on her face.
 
“Yes.”
 
“Hello, dear one, I’m Anastasie Dubois.” She stepped towards Gabrielle and gathered her in her arms. They clung to each other. Gabrielle was awash with intense relief. Finally, she could let go of some of her tension and anxiety. She burst into tears and tightened her hold on Anastasie.
 
How could Martine have done this to her own daughter? I have only met Gabrielle once, when she was ten. She was an innocent delight then and I can see that she still is now, although way beyond the end of her tether. It is the saddest, most unjustifiable punishment I have ever met. Poor, darling girl.
 
Finally, they released their holds on each other. “Welcome to England, dear Gabrielle. I hope your journey wasn’t too awful.”
 
“It was — ‘ow do you say? C’était un véritable cauchemar”.
 
“Oh, you poor darling. Those cases look very heavy — and all those stairs!”
 
“’Ow did you know I would be on zis train?”
 
“I didn’t. I’ve been here since ten o’clock.”
 
“I’m so sorry. I should ‘ave told you what time is arriving my train. But I did not know. Sorry I ‘ave been a – ‘ow do you say? – bad girl.”
 
“Don’t worry, darling girl. It wasn’t a problem. I was determined you would not arrive at an empty street. And it’s a lovely, warm day and I have a very good book with me … and I love you and care about you. Now, wait there while I get my car from the car park; I will take you home.” Anastasie emphasised the last word.
 
As they drove away from the station, Gabrielle said, “Anastasie, why are we talking to each other in English?”
 
Anastasie chuckled. “I wondered how long it would be before you asked that? How far gone is your pregnancy?”
 
“According to ze doctor in La Ville Rouault, ze baby is due in ze first ‘alf of November.”
 
“So you will be living in England for at least six-and-a half months, which is a wonderful opportunity, my darling girl, for you to learn to speak perfect English. Whatever you decide to do with your life, it will always be an asset to be fluent in a second language.”
 
“I’m afraid I’m not very good at learning languages.”
 
“Nonsense, my girl! You will be very good. I will help you a lot with it, and you will be able to work for at least the next four or five months, which will also help you to learn quickly.”
 
Gabrielle hadn’t thought about work. The truth was she hadn’t been able to think clearly about anything for the last several weeks. A combination of panic, anxiety and depression had made it impossible. But now, free from her hysterical Maman, she must really set to and think seriously about a lot of things.
 
In the evening, in Anastasie’s beautiful old house in the small village of Stourton, Gabrielle could feel herself starting to relax a little for the first time for weeks. She met Georges, Anastasie’s husband, a tall, muscular man with salt and pepper hair and beard. He seemed to be a lovely, gentle man, and he was very kind to her.
 
After their evening meal, they were in comfortable chairs in the sitting room. “I was doing some thinking about, er, le travail --
 
“Work.”
 
“Yes, of course, ze work. I have been doing all kinds of ‘otel work at ‘ome. Do you think I can find such work ‘ere?”
 
“I am quite certain you will,” Georges replied. “In fact, I have several friends in the hotel trade in Dudley. I will talk to them tomorrow and see what we can sort out.”
 
"Merci beaucoup, Georges --
 
“Uh, uh!” said Anastasie. “English, please.”
 
“Sorry. Yes, thank you very much Georges.”
 
<><><><><> 
 
The next days were a whirl. She signed on with the local doctor in the neighbouring village. They fixed her an appointment to attend the maternity clinic in the following week for an ultrasound scan as she was about to start her second trimester. Georges got her an interview appointment at the Stag’s Head hotel in Dudley for a post as a full-time receptionist.
 
The scan was amazing; she heard the baby’s heartbeat — a tiny fluttering sound — and for the first time felt there was a real little person in there. Everything, they told her, was as it should be.
 
She went for the interview at the Stag’s Head. Apparently, they had been looking for some time for a suitably qualified French-speaking person to work on reception. It seemed Georges had told them all about her, and they had clearly already decided she was the perfect candidate. She was to start work on the 09:00 – 16:00 shift on the following Monday.
 
Her new life settled into a satisfying and comfortable routine. Her mild bouts of nausea had now been left behind, and the sharp edge of bitterness she felt for Maman and Papa, dwindled to a distant resentment. She adored Anastasie and Georges.
 
She stopped working, as arranged, at the end of September, about a month before the birth was due.
 
<><><><><> 
 
The midwife said it had been a good delivery. You could have fooled Gabrielle — the labour had lasted for two solid hours.
 
And now, here she was, holding in her arms the most astonishing little creature. He had spiky, black hair, dusky skin, a tiny squidge of a nose, a wrinkle-lipped mouth which seemed to be making soundless popping movements at her and the deepest blue eyes she had ever seen looked into hers. His name was Michael. It had come into her head and she knew it was true.
 
She didn’t know what she was supposed to do or think. She just knew she loved this perfect little boy … Michael … Michael … dear one.
 
But she mustn’t love him. How could she? She couldn’t begin to take care of him. Where could they go? Where could they live? She can’t love him. She mustn’t love him. She had to turn him away … reject him. I don’t love you … I love you, Michael. I will love you for ever.
 
A nurse came into the room and instantly felt Gabrielle’s darkly coruscating agony. She gently took Michael and laid him in his crib, then sat beside Gabrielle and held her hand as she sobbed.
 
“Hi, Gabrielle! My name’s Cheryl.”  She stroked Gabrielle’s matted hair. “Would you like to tell me what’s going on in there?”
 
Finally, after struggle, Gabrielle moaned, “How can I do what I 'ave to do?”
 
“What is it you think you have to do?”
 
“I can’t keep Michael. I have nowhere to go. My parents have said I have to get rid of him.  How can I do zat? But how can I keep him?”
 
“Gabrielle, I’m sorry. This must be so hard — so painful for you. I’m going to arrange for a child care officer from Birmingham Children’s Department to come to see you who will be able to explain to you exactly what your options are. In the meantime, if you would prefer us to look after Michael, we can do that for you and would take great care of him. Would you like us to do that?”
 
The tiniest voice replied, “Yes, please. I think you had better do zat.”
 
<><><><><> 
 
The next day a lady visited Gabrielle in the hospital. “Good morning. My name’s Helen — Helen Proctor. I am a child care officer from the local authority. Cheryl tells me you don’t think you will be able to look after your baby when you leave hospital. Is that right?”
 
“Yes. It’s just not possible.”
 
“Can you tell me a bit about why that is?”
 
“My only 'ome is with my parents in France. Zey have told me I can’t come back with Michael — I must arrange for 'im to be adopted.”
 
“How do you feel about that?”
 
“Awful. I feel I have failed him from ze moment 'e was born. But I do know I couldn’t look after 'im properly. I 'ave almost no money and nowhere to live. I know I really 'ave no choice about this. So what 'appens now? What’s going to 'appen to Michael?”
 
“With your consent, I can arrange for him, initially, to be looked after by foster parents. They will be a couple who have been carefully selected and trained by us and, in this case, will have years of experience in fostering children. If you agree to this, it would happen within the next couple of days.
 
“We would then look for a suitable couple to adopt him. There is no shortage of people who apply to us to adopt a child. In every case, before any adoption can happen, applicants are very carefully vetted by us to ensure they are suitable people to take on such a large responsibility, and can provide appropriate home circumstances.”
 
Helen paused and watched Gabrielle repeatedly wrap a piece of ribbon very tightly around the fingers of her left hand and then release it.
 
“Would you like some time to think — ?”
 
“NO, NO! Just do it — please.”
 
“Very well. I understand you have been living with family friends at Stourton. Is that right?”
 
“Yes.”
 
“Can you continue to stay there for another two weeks or so?”
 
“Yes.”
 
“Good. All we need now is for you to sign a form agreeing to the placement of your baby in foster care. I can then come and see you at Stourton in the next couple of weeks to finalise your agreement to adoption. Will that be OK?
 
“Yes.”
 
“So if you could just sign here, please.” Helen passed her a form on a clipboard and a pen.
 
Gabrielle signed.    

Her very soul wept.


Non-Fiction Writing Contest contest entry

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This is based on real events with the names of people and some places changed. Michael (name changed) is the child that Sue and I adopted when he was two months old.
I acknowledge the huge help provided by Rama Devi in her outstanding review. It has enbled me to edit this piece and make some massive improvements. Thank you so much Rama.
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