Back on station the story has got round faster than cholera in a french public toilet, the LA on duty sniffs the air as I walk past.
“Can anyone smell shite…?”
“I’ll take shite on my shirt over a dead bairn, mate.”
“Wouldn’t we all, pal?”
Twenty hours later I’m driving to work with a blazing hot fizz in my blood, I turn my music up louder as I drive, sing along with the windows open, waving and smiling at folk in traffic who stop to stare.
My arms twitch and effervesce, the grin cracking my face again and again, my soul flooded with a ferocious, victorious joy.
It’s the exact antithesis of this guy. Then I had an ache that chased me for days and drove me to read war poets and write and rewrite until, my thoughts distilled, I sat on my bed and wept.
And the pain came from the denial of future.
“Oh it’s such a waste.” bleat the public flocks, but it’s the absence of chances that cuts me up. Maybe No. 6 was an asshole, maybe he was violent, or a drug dealer. But I’m a Pollyanna and believe that everybody’s generally pretty nice at heart.
When I grieved for No. 6 I was mourning the thought that he’d never marry, that he wouldn’t introduce his parents to their grandchildren, that he’d never retire to a ripple of embarrassed applause from a crowd of colleagues.
He’d never shimmer with the excitement of turning twenty or, ten years later, fret that thirty was closing faster than he realised.
He’d never graduate. Never be struck by that thought that, holy shit, he’s turning into a grown up.
The thickly embellished needlework of scenes that should have hung from the walls in his history remained as empty frames.
And I was witness to the undoing of potential.
And that hurts.
Ten months later. Along comes Emily. Squirming and breathing and squawking on the road to hospital with purple grey fingers and peering at the sweating paramedic over her new born face.
No. 6 is undone. Rebalanced.
Because in Edinburgh there’s a new person.
A whole person who will, hopefully, go on to play Mary in her Nativity play.
Who’ll bring home works of art to stick on the fridge, barely pasted-on pasta and a line of blue for the sky.
I hope she falls and hurts herself and learns to stand up again.
I hope she makes her Mum tear her hair out on occasion.
I hope she rides a bike downhill, fast, with her legs splayed out and her hair running back.
I hope she makes her Mum breakfast in bed, smeary toast and cold tea (because she’s not allowed to work the kettle).
I hope she learns that her siblings love her, even when they’re being dicks.
I hope her Mum tells her the story of how she came into the world, I hope it becomes family folklore.
I hope she wakes up early at Christmas and can’t get back to sleep.
I hope she breaks someone’s heart and has hers broken too.
I hope she finishes education when she wants to, not when she thinks she should.
I hope she creates something one day that makes somebody so happy they cry, be that a work of art, a chocolate cake or a surprise telephone call.
I hope she meets someone lovely and has a family of her own.
I’d love it if she won a Nobel Peace Prize, or a Booker, or Turner, or revolutionised clean water supplies in the third world.
I’d be ecstatic if she cured AIDS, or negotiated peace in Gaza.
She may not, of course, do any of these things.
But here’s what makes the base of my skull shiver, my brain spin and, when I tell Scamp my thoughts in the messroom the night after, what makes her tear up and wave her hands – “Stop…stop…you’ll have me greeting.”
Penfold and I? We’re responsible for restarting a whole lifetime of achievements and failures and dreams and disappointment.
We caught her when she wobbled, set her back on a path and gave her a shove.
I dare say the two of us will ever meet Emily and Beth again.
But meeting them once is enough to ignite another year of drive and passion for what we do and why we do it.
I hope it was enough for them, too.