Better late than never

Somewhere out there is a chap who by now, must be in his early to mid-50s. His jet-black hair has probably turned grey. He’ll still be wearing the wire-framed glasses of an intellectual, but may have discarded his once-fashionable sports coats. Maybe he’s given up teaching for something more lucrative.

And maybe he still believes that one night, more than 20 years ago, he sat next to a half-Irish, half-French artist whose mother had absconded with a Lebanese millionaire to Switzerland.

He didn’t. I lied.

It was a long journey, and I had to amuse myself somehow. As we pulled out of Victoria coach station, the hours stretched before me like a void to be filled. So fill it I did. One lie led to another, and another.

And he was easy prey: smiling, trusting, and slightly reserved. He warmed to me, and I warmed to my deception.

By the time we reached Bristol, I realised I had to pace myself. The story was beginning to spin out of control. So I pulled it back, and adorned it with the sort of minute details that would make it sound real.

Newport, Bridgend, Port Talbot, Swansea. As the placenames flashed past, I wove my web. Cars, holidays, Russian counts, bilingualism. Holidays in France and maids.

I lost him at Fishguard, and retreated to a lower deck on the ferry. But at Rosslare, we were back together, and the story continued. Adventures in Italy, and narrow escapes in Morocco. The long search for my lost mother.

As we pulled into Cork bus station, I gathered my things.

“Lovely to meet you,” I said brightly. And it was. I hadn’t had so much fun in years.

And there to meet me was my mother, alive and well. My real mother. The one who’d never been to Switzerland or met a Lebanese in her life.

As we strode off, I turned around and saw him adjust his glasses and blink in the slanting December sunlight. And I felt a pang of guilt.

So wherever you are, and whoever you are, please accept my apology. And the next time you sit next to somebody, take what they say with a pinch of salt.

Crossing the line

She was short, round and portly. Hair scraped into a chignon and horn-rimmed glasses. Skin like parchment, criss-crossed by a lifetime of lines. Eyes of sapphire blue, and fine down on her upper lip. She wore slate-grey dresses with high belts, ribbed tights and sensible shoes.

She must have been 60. I was four. And I adored her – but then, I was her pet and could do no wrong.

Until I did.

One day in the cloakroom, I shouted. A full-throated, out-of-control, devil-may-care shout. The sort of shout that gets you into trouble. Which is precisely what it did.

The doorway darkened, as her rotund figure filled it. From the depths of the cloakroom, I saw her framed in an angelic light. But this was no angel.

“Kevin!” she gasped. “I’m so disappointed. I expected more.”

And that was it. She marched me to the corner, and there I remained, penitent, shamed, till the end of the school day.

Life would never be the same again.