It can be hard living in another land. You miss out on stuff, the big events you can plan for but the boring everyday stuff you miss out on and this leaves you connected but not. You see the events on Facebook but that’s over there, you miss out on the jokes, the banter, hearing of the trials and tribulations.
Then you get a phone call in the middle of the night. The phone’s on silent but the buzz isn’t just a notification, it’s something more. And I’ve been lying awake for almost two hours, with a terrible unease. Like I was expecting it.
I pick up the phone and it’s my sister. Before there’s even an ‘hello’, I say ‘What’s wrong?’. This isn’t anything regular, something’s up.
‘He’s gone’, she says, down the phone as the floods of tears race down both our faces. ‘He’s gone’. Our great big teddy bear of an uncle. It was his time.
Flashback memories race through my head, back to the earliest I can remember. Sitting on his knee, bouncing me up and down, pretending to let me fall and catching me just in time. That was Uncle Ollie.
The Easter when we were all in Nana’s garden, all us cousins together, making gnat guns from clothes pegs and lining up one after the other to get his approval on our construction. I chanced it, and let it go, aiming straight at his arse, causing him to jump up squarely. Not knowing if I was in trouble or not, he came running after me, not to scold but only for a round of tickles.
Then you grow up, he calls me in his hour of need and I go running, he never let me fall. The trials of life reveal stuff I never knew, the good, the bad, the downright ugly but I’d never let him down. There was always a place here.
Then we step into the other world in which we both exist, the real world. He lifts a pint of black and rubs his belly ‘It took a lot of money to put it there. It’ll take a lot of money to keep it there.’ I walk up to the bar and say ‘Hiya Uncle Ollie’ and give him a hug. ‘Don’t be fuckin’ calling me Uncle Ollie, Ollie, just fuckin Ollie. Are you trying to make me feel old?’. ‘Okay then auld fella?, how’s that?’.
Then they put him in that bed, six in a ward, where the seagull visited the windowsill every evening. He’d tell me tales of those ‘awful fuckers’ in the bed next door. Every evening he’d say, ‘No, I don’t want anything’ then he’d take a couple of biscuits and fold the packet back closed but not before asking ‘How’s your friend?’.
He was there during that Winter, when the streets came to a standstill as snow rose higher and higher, when we needed someone to talk to, he wouldn’t let us fall.
I hadn’t seen him, I had moved to foreign shores. I went to the door of the bar, swung it open, hoping he’d be sitting second spot from last. Raising my voice, incase he overheard ‘Is Uncle Ollie here?’. ‘Ah love, he’s gone home hours ago’ says the barkeep, I say ‘Tell him Vanessa says ‘Hello”.
And that’s it, our paths never crossed anymore. He had to go to a better place where the black stuff flows and where Nana drinks her tea from a cup and saucer and lets him drink from a mug. And I’ll remember his big strong bear hugs and how he never let me fall.