The following is an excerpt from my latest novel Scars Untouched
Depression is a debilitating illness. It seeps and haunts into the deepest recesses of the brain. If left untreated, it can be fatal. Dad had it. We didn’t recognise the signs. They were hidden in little crevices, in the little seconds of our confined life. We were young and carefree. We had lots of freedom. But, if we overstepped the boundaries, there were consequences. We should have nipped it in the bud. But, we were too busy trying to make a living. It was left to grow deeper. It was too late. It became cancerous. I regret for not seeking treatment for Dad. I regret for not looking out for Dad.
Life was sweet during the ‘innocent years’. As years passed, the family ties became loose. It started with a crack. Eventually it became bigger. Something was not right. I lived in a secular family. They say having an extended family is good for a child’s upbringing. I truly believe in this. But, I was never brought up in one.
A large part of my teenage years was spent aimlessly without direction. Mum had disappeared. Dad was busy with his work. The feeling of hopelessness was overwhelming. It was even to the point that it consumed my every breath. Until one day, I met a kindred spirit who helped me back on track. Looking back, I think even she was trying to find some meaning in life. Many times I wished things were a bit different. Looking back, I’m glad it came as it did. If things were different, I knew I would never have met her, so-called ‘My guardian angel’. It’s as if someone was looking at me from above.
I met her was on a cold, rainy day. I remember the time, 5.42pm to be precise. I had to find shelter in an office building to avoid getting drenched. I knew I couldn’t earn money playing my violin in an office building because I had a pair of eyes looking at me…the concierge.
I looked scruffy, dirty and wet, having just ran two blocks from The Rocks to the nearest office building, The Monarchy. I wasn’t thinking straight, I should have known better, I should have checked the weather. But even sometimes the weather news is not accurate.
On normal days, the city would be manageable at 5.oopm. But, today with the rain pouring, it was havoc. Cars would not budge, people slamming on their horns, even commuters dodging the traffic before the lights turn green.
The Rocks is located near the city which is a tourist area. In recent years this place has become overpopulated and chaotic. With the deluge of rain, people ran helter skelter with umbrellas over their head.
I may be easy prey, but I am one tough cookie. I remember once an officer asked why I was working on the streets when I should be in school. Don’t get me wrong, but I do go to school. It’s just after hours, I earn my keep. I answered “Well, if you don’t look after yourself, who will”. They back off. They get the point. I learnt from a very young age that one should always look out for one’s own self. I learnt it the hard way.
I was playing my violin at my usual spot, The Street Side Café, when it started to rain. I am used to the soft droplets of rain, but this one was different. It was hail storm. My raincoat was not enough. I picked up my coin bag and dashed down the stairs at Elizabeth Street, passed the Duty Free shop, ran across the street and passed two traffic lights. Still no sign of a building I could take refuge. Then, I spotted a dilapidated building. It read ‘The Monarchy’, but the letters had faded. I gathered it must have once been owned by the global conglomerate. A sigh of relief not knowing that it was occupied with several offices.
It was sharp 5.oopm. Weary looking office people came dashing from the lift in time to get the train or bus, oblivious to the fact that there was a worn-down 15 year-old seeking shelter. It was a commotion in the ground floor level building and quite amusing to watch people bumping into each other.
I decided to wait until the rain stopped. It was not until 5.42pm that I heard the lift. Then, the sound of the familiar ‘tip-tap’ of high stilettos. The person walked briskly and I gathered she must be at the high-end of the corporate ladder or in some, a person of authority. My Dad was an authoritative figure, but this kind of authority was different. It demanded respect.
She was mumbling something under her breath about the rain not stopping and rummaging for something in her branded Louis Vuitton bag when ‘the thing’ she finally got hold off suddenly left her grip and slide towards my right foot. It was a mobile. I guessed she must have tried calling someone to pick her up. She ran after her mobile, then stopped at my foot. She looked up. Amazingly, even behind her black sunnies, there was something in those eyes. A sense of kindness and empathy.
“Darn it” she said. Followed by, “I am sorry.” Probably for swearing. I bent down to pick up the mobile phone. She was kneeling and reached for it. We both touched the mobile at the same time. We looked at each other and burst into laughter. She laughed until tears streaked down her pretty face. Mascara smeared her eyelids. Looking on the inside, her feelings were a mess.
Maybe, she had a bad day at work. Looking on the outside, she came from the rich suburbs. Her labelled clothing, probably Prada.
I couldn’t help but ask “Are you alright?”
She should have been the one asking me the question.
“Yes, yes…….I am fine” she said. She was disorganised. If she had been holding a coffee cup in one hand and a mobile in another, which would complete the picture of perfectness. However, it was a different story. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for her.
She finally got to her feet, straightened down her high-end coat, brushed her well-coloured auburn hair and wiped her badly streaked face with a sweet-scented paper towel she kept in her bag. Behind the sunnies, her face was like Jennifer Hawkins. Very sweet and pretty. But, she had a sense of sternness about herself. No ruffles. No nonsense.
I held on to her mobile. It was a Samsung Galaxy – top of the range. I may be only 15 years, but I know what’s hot and what’s not. Like I said, I was street-wise.
Once she composed herself, I handed her phone back.
“I hope it works,” I said.
“The phone.” I gestured towards the phone. “It dropped on the floor.”
She looked at the phone and remarked unenthusiastically, “Oh…yes. Well, if it does not work, I’ll buy a new one.”
Okay, I thought. She must be filthy rich. She may have neglected her phone, but she did not neglect her manners.
“I forgot to introduce myself, I’m Catherine,” she said extending her right hand while her left hand brushed away a strand of hair that blocked the view of her left eye that was caused by a gust of wind at the doorway.
“Louisa,” I said.
I was taken aback that someone of her profile would even give me 1 second of their time, let alone 5 minutes. To people, I was non-existent, an outcast, trying to make a decent living from hand to mouth.
“Hey, aren’t you the girl who plays the violin in front of the cafe?”
“Yeah, that’s me. My mum taught me how to play when she was still alive.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. It must be hard without a mum.”
“Yup,” I said. I shifted my eyes away hoping she would not notice a tear.
Ever since Mum died and things became worse financially, I practiced the art of bottling up my feelings. It helped me get through the day. It created an illusion of what people can only see on the outside. I perfected the art of acting which is vital for survival. I was in survival mode.
I normally notice the faces that frequent the beer café and I remember her. While playing my violin, she was one of the very few people who would drop a $5 note on my rucksack. It lifted my hopes to carry on playing a few more tunes.
Honestly, I am pretty much of a tomboy having an older and younger brother. But I was very fascinated by this woman. The way she dressed gave me a few thoughts on how I should conduct myself. Losing Mum a year ago, especially during the puberty years robs something really special in a child’s life. Who do you look up to as a role model when the whole world is corrupted, let alone Dad who is abusive? I was never one to be complacent, but having to work during the prime years of your life is no fun.
“Where do you school?” she asked
“Black Rose public. Good school,” I said. She nodded.
“Do they know you come all the way to the city?”
“Do you go to school every day?”
At that point, I had a feeling that she might report me to school for earning money after school hours. There’s no harm in that as long as you did your homework every night, which I did. But, still there was this nagging thought. What if playing my violin after school to earn money was considered to be child labour.
“Does your Dad know that you play the violin on the streets?”
“No,” I said without a hint of interest about Dad. To me, Dad was non-existent. He is always angry and physically violent. He never once shared a joke with me.
“Hmmm....look, I do not know what your relationship is with your Dad, but…..still he is your Dad and he needs to know where you are and what you do after school hours,” she said looking concerned.
I just stared blankly at her. Not interested.
“It’s getting dark. The rain has stopped. My phone’s dead. Why don’t I send you home?”
I was surprised. A wealthy person actually cares for a person like me.
“If you oblige, I am willing to give you some money for you to buy yourself a jumper. You can’t be wearing your torn school jumper on the streets. It’s not good reputation for your school, you know,” she said with a wink. She gently nudged me on my shoulder.
For once in my life, my hopes were lifted. I felt happy that someone cares for me. In time, I did not know that this stranger would change the whole course of my life.