I step up on to the bus for a journey I’ve taken so many times before. Usually it takes about twenty minutes to get into town, but I know that today it’ll take much longer. I’m going to see my father.
The birthday card came out of the blue. It arrived on my birthday, of course, so it wasn’t out of the blue in that sense, but it was the first I’d ever had off my dad. It was the first he’d ever sent. In it he’d written, ‘if you’d like to meet, please call me,’ with his number.
She must have the card by now. I timed it to arrive for her birthday and even if it didn’t get delivered on time it must be there now. I know I hardly deserve a response. but I’d so much like one. Need one. Even if it’s to tell me to get lost. I’d understand it if that’s how she felt.
I didn’t reply. Not at first anyway. Then I texted him and told him I would meet him. He texted back almost straight away with a picture of himself. I wouldn’t have recognised him. He left my mum and me just after I was born.
I didn’t send him a picture of me.
No photo, but at least she’s prepared to meet me. More than I hoped for really. Thank God for the Internet. I’d never have found her otherwise.
I sit on one of the seats facing into the bus. I don’t want to look out of the window. I read his instructions again: ‘meet @ the café in market square @ 12. please wait for me. I’ve a long way to drive. looking forward to seeing you after all this time, dad x x’
I haven’t told mum I’m meeting him.
Hold-ups on the A66. I left enough time and now I’m going to be late. She might not wait. Wouldn’t blame her. I’m hardly the most reliable person in her life. Pray to God she will. Text her to ask her to.
After an eternity, the bus lurches to a halt. I put up my brolly and walk through the rain to the café. I buy a decaffeinated coffee and sit at a table in the corner. I’m early but it isn’t long before he’s late. Another text: ‘held up in traffic please wait.’
Finally. I made it. Parking took ages too. I pull my coat round me and run to the cafe, nearly an hour late. Good job there, Tom, that’s the way to treat her. The place is half empty. I scan the faces, looking for someone who looks like me, or Katherine, but no-one holds my gaze. Which of them is she?
I know it’s him as soon as he walks into the café. He looks much older than I thought he would. He glances round, surveying faces, but has no way of recognising me. He sits down at the table in the window and looks out. I look away, just in case. I step back and watch him from across the street, secure in the shadows. I feel sorry for him.
She’s gone. Who can blame her. I blew it. Again.
The return bus comes into view and I step up to the bus stop. This was a big mistake and I want to be at home, with mum. Thirty-two years is a long time not to know someone. Not to know your own dad. The bus stops and when everyone is on board, pulls away again.
As the clock strikes, I cross the road and push open the door to the café.