BY AMANDA CUMMINS
When I was a little girl in Trinidad, I ran away from home.
Teddy clutched in my arms, and emergency supplies (I can’ t remember what they were, but they were important) in my school satchel, I opened the garden gate which was usually locked (more to deter incursions than for containing a 5-year-old).
I remember it vividly. Standing on the road outside the gate, wondering in which direction I would turn. Turning left was a bit scary as beyond the empty plot at the end of our garden lived a snarly dachshund with delusions of stature, who would rush towards the fence as if a Rottweiler.
To the right was a big empty plot, used as an allotment by people in the nearby village. Beyond that was a house in which a lovely couple lived. Uncle Tim and Aunty Nydia.
He was the deputy commissioner of police in Trinidad & Tobago, she was headmistress of a girls’ secondary school in Port-of-Spain. Uncle Tim was immensely tall, with a voice identical to that of his fellow Trinidadian Don Warringon (Rising Damp and, more recently, the ridiculous but entertaining Death in Paradise). Aunty Nydia was even taller and of a build one describes using the epithet titanic.
Moving to a new country was a challenge for both my parents, but a challenge made easier by the people who became friends for life. Uncle Tim and Aunty Nydia took all three of us under their wing.
When they visited London for a Commonwealth police-related conference, they insisted on getting my grandmother’s address so that they could visit her and tell her, face to face, that all was well with her daughter, son-in-law and grand-daughter.
That first visit ignited another friendship. Whenever they were in England they would visit my grandmother. When she moved from London to a tiny cottage in Oxfordshire, a large car would arrive bearing Uncle Tim and Aunty Nydia. The boot of the car would be opened and from that would emerge spoiling treats, always including Charbonnel et Walker violet creams.
Into the tiny cottage with its low ceilings they went, alongside my tiny Granny; the two colossus figures bent double.
“Betha, this is such a dear little cottage: it’s a doll’s house.”
My grandmother nearly renamed her cottage The Doll’s House.
So: the little girl running away. I chose to turn right and go towards the house where Uncle Tim and Aunty Nydia lived. Where there was always a policeman on guard. Teddy in my arms, satchel over my shoulder, I walked past the policeman.
“Missy, where are your going?”
“I’ve run away, and Teddy and me are going to find a new place to live.”
“Well” said the policeman “I think it’s too hot for you and Teddy to run away now, so how about you go inside and have some lime juice.”
It was hot. And my legs were already quite tired. The policeman and I walked up the drive to the house. Aunty Nydia was on the gallery. She didn’t look fazed at the sight of me and Teddy appearing.
The policeman coughed and said I was running away.
“Well, we can’t have a runaway being hot and thirsty. Come to the kitchen and we’ll have some lovely cold juice and you can tell me where you and Teddy are going.”
In all of this, it transpired years later, my mother was watching from a distance. Not quite in a panic, but nearly in a panic.
The policeman reassured her that all was well.
I remember the wobbly-lipped moment when Mummy walked into the kitchen and scooped me (and Teddy) up in her arms.
“Please don’t do that ever again. Next time there might not be a policeman around to look after you.”