“Well, I always tell my girls it’s better to mistrust people at first,” said the lady at the Governess Bureau. This poignant sentence stung like a bee in my ears. I raised my head and looked at her sternly, looking for an explanation as to why she had said this. My lips trembled and suddenly I got second thoughts as to what I was letting myself into taking up a position as governess in an English family on Diplomatic service in Germany.
I felt my stomach turn and the palm of my right hand started to sweat as I clung on to the large envelope she had just handed me. She jerked her head upwards and looked straight at me, her large blue eyes sparkling and her long brown hair falling loosely on her shoulders. I was taken aback by her beauty, her soft velvet skin, the long pointed nose and high cheeks. In a soft caring voice she asked “Did I just scare you?”. ”No madam, I am alright” I replied trying to compose myself.
As I lifted my brown suitcase off the floor, ready to leave the Bureau the lady walked towards me and gave me a pat on my shoulder and said reassuringly “you will be alright”.
My taxi arrived shortly. A fifteen minute journey to the train station seemed an internity as I took in all the surroundings of my home town, We turned right from the Bureau into Middle Lane and passed the Bank where my mother used to work all those years ago. The City Council Offices, a large white building staring at us ahead. As we passed the Central Gardens the memories of my mother taking me for children’s out door parties in the summer holidays started to surface. A strict disciplinarian who taught me to respect adults, my mother was always careful of the people I spoke to every time we went to these Gardens, just like the lady at the Bureau had just told me.
The town, my childhood and old life faded away as the train pulled out of the station to Dover. I felt a new responsibility tower upon my shoulders, exciting but daunting prospects of a new life abroad.
Two seats away from where I was sitting on the train I noticed a lady, about middle age. She reminded me of my Aunty Cathy who loved ribbons, just like her she had a red ribbon in her silver grey hair, her large forehead showing through. She was wearing a red jumper on top of a white embroidered blouse, a floral round skirt and red pumps. Her hands placed firmly on top of her red handbag lying upon her lap. She constantly looked at me sideways through her brown framed spectacles with a twitch on her lips, smeared with bright thick red lipstick.
Aunty Cathy was my Father’s youngest sister who lived on her own in a cottage at the outskirts of our town. I loved her Sunday roast, and often popped down to see her for Sunday lunch on the days she wasn’t busy attending the Women Church group which prepared tea for the Sunday Mass congregation at the Parish Church.
“Send me a telegram when you arrive in Munich, will you?” she said, just as we sipped our last drops of tea two days ago. It felt like Jesus and his twelve disciples on their last supper. I will miss her, I thought to myself as she had become my soul mate since my parents had been killed in a road accident ten years ago. Aunty Cathy had been my rock, my parental guide. I could sense the concern in her voice about me flying the nest to work abroad. She probably quietly would have preferred me to find a husband and marry in her local church but as usual she was supportive of my decisions.
Arriving at Dover the Ferry was nearly ready for Departure across the Channel. The journey was over before I realised. It had been nice in the Ladies cabin. The stewardess was so kind and had changed my money for me. She also kindly tucked my feet inside the travel blanket as I dozed off for a nap to wean off my exhaustion.
I gathered the bottom of my pleated skirt and sized the weight on my suitcase before putting it down again. Sighing loudly beneath my breath I looked at the flight of stairs above me, wondering how I was going to get the suitcase up on the train platform.
Then just as the whistle sound echoed through the station, an old man wrapped in a plaid cape climbed up the high step next to me. He looked very old, 90 at least. He gazed at me as I checked my watch to establish the boarding time for the train to Munich. In an assuming tone of voice he asked “You have been in Germany before of course?”
I replied “Oh no, this is the first time I have ever been abroad at all”
©Juliet Lubega (unpublished 2015)