Escaping through a bedroom window as a cry for help
My bedroom in the house with the gravel drive on which my father was shot dead last night by a Japanese soldier overlooked the back garden. Although the house was a bungalow, the garden was mysteriously sunken. Indeed, the gravel drive followed a downward slope that meant the garage itself was built above a special cellar or basement (in which, a few years later, I would make my first — and last — home-brew cider).
We’re having our bedroom windows replaced, which had me remembering other windows. And, after my recollection of the fatal dream yesterday, I was drawn to my bedroom window in that same house. It was a window through which I escaped once.
I’m about ten years old, I think, and very unhappy. An only child with a distant father and a mother who, although I didn’t know it at the time, is demonstrating signs of mental instability. It is her brother who has been abusing me since I turned seven. I have had enough. I write that in a note and leave it on my pillow.
My father is looking after me because my mother is out with her sister or a friend at the cinema — probably The Dominion up Morningside Road. When my father sees me to bed, he returns to the front room, where he will watch the poor quality black and white television until my mother comes home from the cinema.
I have already packed a small bag. (It was probably my school bag and I have no idea what I might have put in it.) I open the window and drop the bag gently to the path below and then slip out over the window ledge and lower myself until I am clinging to the ledge with my outstretched arms. The rear wall is covered in rough gravel (more of the stuff!) embedded in a concrete mix — or harling as we called it — so I need to make sure I push away enough from the wall or I will scrape not just my shoes and clothes but my chin and nose when I drop down.
It works well and I feel excited and rather proud to have got this far. The gravel drive is next.
The front room with the TV is on the opposite side from the drive so I take care but don’t think the sound is likely to travel. A problem could come if my father decides to come into the kitchen for a drink but that doesn’t happen and I reach the front gate.
Without looking back, I march up the hill from our house to the main road, where I plan to get the bus to my granny’s house. Hey, I’m ten years old; I don’t have the courage to head off into vagrancy just yet. This is probably the clearest indication that I’m making a traditional cry for help rather than a serious attempt to assert my independence.
It was dark, of course, and I was a young boy waiting at a bus stop alone. The bus came quickly — the 41 along to Blackford — and I sat near the back downstairs. These were the days of open doors at the back and conductors and the last seats near the door downstairs faced into the centre of the bus. I sat there because it felt safer to be close to where the conductor stood when he wasn’t chasing fares.
I paid my fare and I think the conductor asked if I was alone. I told him I was off to see my granny and that seemed to assuage any concerns he might have had.
The bus journey was uneventful. It was a route I knew well. Not only did we get the 41 along to see my granny from time to time but we also used the 41 to get into the city centre. It went right down to Waverley Station as part of its route through the centre, which was always a treat for me.
My granny lived a short walk from the bus stop. Her hearing wasn’t great and she lived alone and was not expecting her grandson to come knocking at the door late at night. On a school night, too. In short, she didn’t come to the door. Luckily, the rooms of her ground floor flat all faced the street, so I walked along to the front room and knocked on the window. I could hear the TV on. Loud, because of her poor hearing. I knocked harder and kept knocking until the volume on the TV turned down. I knocked again and, finally, the curtain twitched aside and her face appeared. Fear turned to surprise when she realised it was me.
The first thing she did, of course, when I was inside and sitting by the fire was to call my father. I don’t think I made much of a fuss about that. My father thought she was kidding at first — or had finally gone senile — and had to go to check my room before he believed I was there. He found the note as well as a missing son.
The note that told him I had had enough but made no mention of the the underlying reasons I was so unhappy. I was ten, after all; it took me many many more years and quite a bit of therapy to get to the bottom of that one.
He came for me and we were home before my mother got in. Perhaps. My memory is a bit hazy at that point. She may have already been home and was waiting for us to come back. I know she didn’t come with my father to get me.
And as far as I recall, there were no great scenes. My mother took the note personally but my father seemed to think I had some guts for climbing out the window and taking the bus across Edinburgh in the middle of the night. I agreed.
And so nothing changed. Nothing, at least until we left to live in England three years later.
My mother kept the note and, whenever I had a new girlfriend, out it came to be read aloud and laughed about. When my mother died last year, my father returned the note to me.
I think it reads rather well, all things considered.