“Are we there yet?” I asked for what felt like the hundredth time, no longer expecting an answer, since I hadn’t got one for my earlier repeated question of “where are we going?”
My parents sat still and silent in front of me, backs upright, heads straight, an aura of cigarette smoke and low winter sun around them. Dad seemed to be driving the Morris Marina quite fast, and the radio was unusually quiet.
I looked at Dad’s thick black hair curling down over his shirt collar. He hadn’t shaved for a few days, and when he had bent to help me into the car that morning I had stroked his chin, and felt the stubble rough against my palm.
I picked up one of the books on the seat next to me, and started to look at the pictures, but almost immediately began to feel queasy. “Mummy, I feel sick,” I whined, and without turning round she gave me her standard answer: “Try looking out of the window for a bit, see if that helps.” Her voice sounded odd.
All I could see through my window were the tops of lampposts flashing past at regular intervals. I tried kneeling up and looking out of the back. I didn’t recognise where we were. I concentrated on the car behind. It was green, and the man driving was wearing the kind of brown hat that my Grandpa always wore. The lady next to him had a round face, and purple flowers on her dress. I waved at her, and she smiled.
“Andrea, sit down now!” barked Dad.
I twisted round with a sigh, and flopped back into my seat again. Kneeling on the textured brown vinyl seats had left raised lines across my knees, and I studied them carefully, tracing the pattern with my fingertips. On a warm day the back of my legs stuck to these seats, but today everything felt cold.
My parents continued to smoke in silence. I slid across the backseat so I was behind Mum. Her light brown curls hung down almost to the top of her seat, and I amused myself for a while by poking my fingers into the middle of each individual curl.
The car suddenly slowed and pulled over to the kerb. “So this is it? This is where you’d rather be?” Dad said. His voice sounded odd too, and I began to feel frightened.
“John…” Mum started to speak, but Dad leaned over her and opened her door.
“Where are we?” I whispered, as Mum got out and shut her door behind her.
She leaned to my window, and looked at me. I was surprised to see her cheeks were red and wet as if she had been crying. She put her hand to the glass and opened her mouth to say something, but Dad pulled the car sharply back into the road, and we were off. Although I didn’t know it then, it would be one year, eleven months and three days before I saw her again.