‘Farewell then, little lodger. I wish you would stay for ever but I understand that girls in their early twenties meet boys and go off to live with them in flatshares in Tooting.
I had such a soft spot for her, the builder boyfriend nicknamed her ‘mini-me’.
I taught her to ride and would pull her behind me on Grace like a duckling.
With her pink specs, white blonde hair and tiny frame, she looked like a miniature Daryl Hannah in the film Steel Magnolias. When we first met she peeped shyly at me through the thick lenses.
She began chattering away nervously and I don’t think she ever really stopped until she gave me notice a few days ago. I have never met anyone quite like her. We’re all unique, but some people are more unique than others.
She was absolutely pint-sized, and wore a lot of children’s clothes. She once told me: ‘I just want to be a fairy princess.’ She took herself off to Disneyland Paris at regular intervals on her own. When she returned she would have a phone full of photos of herself posing with Mickey Mouse, or hugging women dressed as Sleeping Beauty or Belle.
She was philosophical in the extreme. Perhaps because she was a social worker, nothing seemed to surprise her.
‘It’s one of those,’ she would say (pronounced ‘one a those’), in response to almost everything that happened to her. She would come home, I’d be making dinner in the kitchen and she would tell me a troubled teenager had attacked her. I would gasp and she would say: ‘Yeah, it’s one a those.’
I could never quite decide if she was mature beyond her years or disarmingly childlike. I think, if it’s possible, she was a perfect mixture of both.
I wanted to mother her almost immediately and quoted her an all-in price for bed, board and me doing all her cleaning and laundry. Increasingly, I cooked her evening meal as well. With the three of us sat round the table at night it was as if we were one small happy family.
She once told me how old her mother was and, with a pang, I realised she was the age my daughter would have been, if I had had one.
She taunted the builder b by snapping sarcastically ‘Yes, Daddy!’ at him whenever he attempted to give her advice. We both did, quite often, because the world is a terrible place.
She had a lot of hobbies and goals. She made lists of skills she wanted to master, everything from ballet dancing to riding a bike. She said she had been a carer to a younger sibling with profound autism as a child and was trying to catch up.
Ice-skating was on her list, so off we went to the Guildford Spectrum and I threw myself round a few times for old time’s sake. I was once, believe it or not, a somewhat serious ice-dance enthusiast in my youth, and I was delighted to find that ice rinks still feature an interlude where a shaky old organ plays the foxtrot and the waltz. I pulled her round by skating backwards as she held my hands.
But we bonded most as she learned to ride. She would clamber up on Grace and the pony would give me a knowing look.
‘Come on, Gracie!’ the little lodger would chirrup and Gracie would plod along. ‘You’ve got to get her going. She’s not listening to you,’ I would advise.
‘Come on, Gracie!’ the little lodger would chirrup again, shaking the reins and rocking herself backwards and forwards in the saddle, a gesture that Gracie would make an executive decision to ignore.
‘Squeeze with your legs!’
‘Come on, Gracie!’ And the little lodger would twiddle her calves and Gracie would plod slowly on, eyes half closed, enjoying a light afternoon snooze on her feet.
Sometimes I would attach a lunge line and run ahead and then Gracie would shoot forward into trot and the lodger would bobble about, up down up down, for ten paces or so before declaring she had had enough. In truth, she was quite happy plodding quietly around the field. One time we rode out together and at her favourite sand gallop the pony shot off into canter. ‘Sit up!’ I screamed, slowing Darcy down. But I need not have worried. Gracie came to a halt soon enough and though pink in the face the little lodger was unscathed.
When she brought a boyfriend home, I did my best to hide how hostile I felt towards him because I doubted he was good enough for her. Then the day came when she told me she would be moving in with him. I tidied her old room. I guess I’m empty nesting.