Following her husband’s arrest, Polly is forced to flee her small Welsh village. While she is in India visiting an old school friend she meets an older man, Finlay.
She is hugely affected by the way he is trying to alleviate the terrible suffering of Kolkata’s children who live on the streets in poverty and deprivation. As she becomes more involved in the day to day work she begins to fall in love with him. Together they share the heartbreak and also the happiness.
Then something changes and Polly begins to believe Finlay is hiding the same dreadful secret she ran away from.
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The child crammed cold rice into his mouth. He wore a dingy and oversized pair of Y-fronts and nothing else.
‘Looks like our numbers are back up, Poll.’ Finlay placed a cup of milk on the table and when it had been gulped down said, ‘Hold him still, will you?’
The poor thing shook with fright as the scissors crunched through his hair, but by the time the last wisps had been razored away he was looking around him with interest.
Finlay spoke a few words in Hindi. The child shook his head.
‘He doesn’t know his name, or how old he is.’
‘He’s about the size of Shushma’s youngest sister,’ said Polly, ‘but it’s strange…’
‘His features are different to the other children, the shape of his eyes, the nose.’
‘Maybe one of his parents wasn’t Indian.’ He peered at the boy, then shrugged. ‘Can you get him in the shower, Poll? Clean him up? I’ll look for something he can wear, find a bedding roll.’
The caked dirt proved stubborn and she was still soaping the wailing child with Lifebuoy and determination when Finlay came back with a shirt and pants. She looked at the clothing and grinned. ‘No good. This boy’s a girl.’
The emergency clothes bag held nothing small enough, so, when she got off the bus the next morning, Polly returned to the second-hand clothes stall. After a lengthy search and even lengthier negotiation as to price, she arrived at Finlay’s hot and headachy. She produced the garment for the child, now named Pushpa, and Finlay staggered back, arm across his eyes.
‘Bloody hell, Poll, there’s no chance of the child getting lost wearing that.’
They both studied the acid yellow dress.
‘It’s all they had,’ she snapped. ‘If you can do better, go yourself.’
‘Sorry, Poll. It’s… stunning.’
She gave him a withering look, then turned to the sea of smiling faces waiting for her. Her heart lifted. They all looked so well, apart from Pushpa, and alive with energy and enthusiasm.
‘Come on,’ she said, ‘writing group this side, reading group over there.’ While they scuffled and squabbled and organised themselves, she beckoned to Babita. ‘Could you look after Pushpa today, help her settle in? I’ll see to the dinner.’
‘Yes, Aunty. She is maybe frightened.’ As she approached her the child ran towards Finlay, grasped him around both knees and gave Babita a defiant look.
‘It’s okay, she can stay with me for now,’ he said.
And stay she did. At lunchtime she ate her food with one hand, her other arm circling his leg.
Most of the following years were spent as a single parent with an employment history which ranged from the British Embassy in Bahrain to a goods picker, complete with steel toe-capped boots, in an Argos warehouse. In between I earned my keep as a cashier in Barclays, a radio presenter and a café proprietor on the sea front in Penzance. All good material for an author!
I always enjoyed writing and kept a journal whenever I travelled abroad, but it wasn’t until I retired I had the chance to write a book. My first novel Outcast was published as an ebook in March 2016 by Tirgearr – after 32 rejections! This has been followed by A Hundred Hands. Both books are set in India and are based on the diaries I kept when I did voluntary work one winter, teaching English to street children in Kolkata.
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What did you read as a child? What started your love of reading?
In England, in primary schools, most children were started off with Janet and John books. See Janet run, this is John, see Janet and John run. After that we would move on to Noddy and Big Ears then fairy stories – although some of these were quite gruesome. Remember Hansel and Gretel and the child being kept in a cage and starved to death? And what about the woodcutter slicing open the wolf’s stomach to let Grandma escape? I’m sure many childhood nightmares were triggered by The Brothers Grimm.
By the age of seven I became hooked on Enid Blyton. I know that today she is pilloried and mocked for her middle class families and values but she instilled a devotion to reading in me which has never waned. The Magic Faraway Tree was a big favourite, followed by Amelia Jane and Malory Towers. And who could ever forget the adventures of The Famous Five and The Secret Seven? My torch was confiscated when I was discovered reading The Valley of Adventure under the bedclothes at gone midnight.
At secondary school we were forced into Shakespeare. I didn’t get him then and I don’t get him now! I do, however, accept that I’m a Philistine, all those many millions of people can’t be wrong. One author that all schools insisted on was Dickens and I loved him, still do. The BBC in England have televised many of his books, Bleak House and Little Dorrit to name just two, and they do a brilliant job of it. I hope that viewers will be tempted into his works after seeing the richness of his characters and the diversity of his plots.
And once we’d done with schooling where did we turn for literature? If you’re anything like me you read a great deal of drivel before, eventually, coming back to established authors like John Steinbeck (love him!) and Margaret Atwood. There’s room on the bookshelves – or Kindle – for anything that we enjoy. There is no greater pleasure in the world than to curl up with a good book, and the greatest thrill of all is to discover a new author and then find there are a dozen more of their books to feast upon!