gazed at the mouth watering display of pastries in the City Bakeries
window. The sun was bright behind him and he was agonizing over his
final decision, a fresh strawberry tart or a slice of rich gingerbread.
To be practical the gingerbread would be more filling, making up for the
last school dinner had missed by skipping school, but he could just feel
the juice of that succulent strawberry tart run down his chin, at the
same time he wondered if he should sneak back to school in time for
dinner, they had good meals at school, stew with thick gravy and magic
things like rhubarb crumble. Ninian’s mother was a single parent which
meant he got free dinners so the investment he was about to make in the
bakery was his bus fare to school, thus the decision could not be taken
lightly. The matter was abruptly taken out of his hands as he was
grabbed from behind by the hood of his duffle coat and a voice he knew
only too well blared in his ear, "Holy Mother of God, are you at it
again? It was his mother. She marched him home, threatening all the way
with the usual choice-a home for waifs and strays or the jail.
Ninian was a sturdy lad of fourteen, constantly growing out of his clothes, the cuffs of his school jacket almost reached his elbows making his wrists and hands look awkward and enormous. He had a round pleasant face with a broad nose which was covered with freckles. He hated his mop of red hair and lived for the day when he could join the skinheads.
Somehow Ninian knew enough not to share that particular ambition with his mother, her dreams for him were on a much higher plane. The word university had been mentioned with great reverence. Ambition for her son burned fiercely in her breast. Unfortunately, Ninian found school a great trial and he had no intentions of prolonging the agony beyond his 15th birthday. Mary Feeney surveyed her wayward son, the result of a single indiscretion in her teens. She was the only child of Sean and Kate Feeney who ran the general store in the little town of Buncranna in Northern Ireland. Mary spent her school holidays and weekends helping out in the store, she didn't mind; it was quite exciting compared to the narrow confines of the convent school she attended. Mary’s parents were decent people rather reserved and joyless, but then, what did she herself know of the joy of youth? It was stifling existence living in a small town, she yearned for excitement and romance.
Thus it was her fate to fall with a great thud for the worldly charms of Hughie, a visitor from Glasgow who had taken to dropping into the store frequently for his cigarettes. He had come to be best man at his friend’s wedding and decide to extend his visit to take Mary to the New Years dance being held at his hotel.
Mary could hardly contain her excitement, they had been out for walks and met for coffee a few times but this was to be their first formal date; she was ecstatic.
Her first thought was her parents, it was one thing sneaking out for walks and coffee without their knowledge but she knew they would never consider allowing her out with a stranger especially a tourist from Glasgow. She swore her best friend to secrecy and told her parents that she and Anna were going to a movie and she would stay over at Anna’s house. Her next problem - what to wear? She didn't own anything that was remotely glamorous so she had to be realistic and settle for the green velvet Xmas dress, she would remove the girlish lace collar and cuffs. Her mother's pearls would add a touch of sophistication, it shouldn't be difficult to smuggle them into her purse. Thank heavens she’d managed to talk her mother into the black patent shoes for Xmas, her first grown up shoes with a little heel. She could hardly think straight and did feel a little out of her depth, Hughie was not only older, he was also more worldly, coming from a big City. She wanted everything to be perfect but unfortunately lacked the experience and knowledge to deal with her reckless emotions. Hughie had really swept her off her feet - just like the heroes in all the romance novels she read. She longed to share this special joy with someone but Hughie convinced her it should be "their secret" until they made future plans. Mary felt guilty lying to her parents and she hadn't really been totally honest with Anna, but she just wanted to hug this wonderful feeling to herself a little longer - Hughie was right.
The hotel Ballroom was like a fairyland of coloured lights dipping in and out, she marvelled at the large orchestra and the rainbow of coloured gowns swaying in time to the music. She would have been content even to be an onlooker, it was beyond all her expectations. Hughie had reserved a table for two - his friend and his new wife were away on their honeymoon. The waiter appeared with two tall glasses sparkling with, what Mary thought was lemonade. Hughie gallantly proposed a toast to "His Wild Irish Rose". Mary was overwhelmed with happiness, it was a truly magical evening for her especially when she learned that the lemonade she had been drinking so freely was, in fact, champagne. She felt slightly giddy when they got up to dance but Hughie held her closely, it was a wonderful feeling and Mary abandoned all her nervous concerns and devoted her attention to Hughie and the gaiety around her.
Mary lived the following days without word from Hughie, but, as the days grew into weeks she felt desolate. What if Hughie was sick and wasn’t able to let her know, she clung to the memory of that magic evening and continued to waylay the postman every morning. It was finally obvious to Mary she had to face the truth, Hughie had no intention of writing. She, who had been so scornful of summer romances had, herself, become a willing victim, she was heartbroken and disillusioned. Before long Mary realized she had more serious problems than her pride, she was astonished and horrified to discover she was pregnant! Reality came crashing around her. How could she have been so naive? It was a lonely frightening time for her and she was hardly in a frame of mind to make decisions. The only thing she was sure of was she couldn’t possibly discuss this with her parents or anyone else in the town for that matter, there was no choice, she had to leave, and soon.
Sunday morning Mary waited till her parents had left for Mass, she had already packed her case the night before, the only thing left was to leave a note for her parents. She had agonized all night what to say, how could she make this easy for them? Finally she decided on a brief note saying she had to leave to find her independence, promising to repay the money she had to "borrow" from the cash register. She assured them of her love and begged their understanding. And so she left, her mind full of recollections of the past and frightening thoughts of the future.
Mary sat huddled in a corner on the steamer to Glasgow, the March wind was bitterly cold but she didn’t want to risk going downstairs for shelter in case she met anyone. She was numb partly from the cold but mostly from shock at the situation she was in. In her panic to leave she had given no thought beyond getting on the steamer, now she had nothing but time to dwell on making some kind of plan for when she arrived in Glasgow. There must be a lot of Hughie Campbells in Glasgow and she had little else to go on. He had talked a lot about his job as a welder in one of the shipyards and his dream of one day sailing to Canada on one of the big liners he worked on. Through her tears Mary was overwhelmed with shame and sorrow, she swallowed the yearning to stay aboard and make the return trip home to beg forgiveness but the thought of facing her parents in this state was devastating.
As the steamer docked, Mary’s heart sank at her first sight of Glasgow, it looked so bleak, the huge Victorian buildings were blackened by smoke from the shipyards and the sounds of traffic and industry made her feel intimidated and depressed. She had only known the lush verdant pastures and sleepy pace of Buncranna. There was a moment of panic, then, taking a deep breath she clutched her case and gathered her cape around her body like a mantle of protection.
Having made her decision Mary headed to the nearest Catholic Church which was fortunately within walking distance of the River Clyde. She rehearsed her speech as she walked, praying it would fall on sympathetic ears.
The Church, though a most imposing building felt neither warm nor welcoming, it took all Mary’s courage to take the first step toward paying for her sins.
The initial interview with the Mother Superior to whom she had been referred by the parish priest, didn’t help to quell Mary’s fears. Having confessed her condition she was coldly informed "You are one of a large group" and promptly assigned an interview with The Moral Welfare Worker, it was a humbling experience. Once established in a dormitory with five other members of the "very large group", Mary had a chance to survey her surroundings. St. Ninian’s convent was stark, silent and sanitary clean, three single beds lined each side of the room, each bed was identically covered with well mended white linen, stretched taut managing to look most uninviting. A crucifix was the only adornment on the white wall. The room looked like an ironic symbol of purity. The nuns were quite impersonal, they moved silently about their business with their heads bowed as though in shame for their inhabitants.
The hospital wing was separate, babies, or their manner of arrival were never discussed, it was expected that all babies would be adopted at birth by good Catholic families. Mary, however, was one of the few who rebelled, when her time came she had no intention of handing her baby over as though it was part of her penance.
When she gave birth to a healthy son Mary was fiercely protective of him and, despite the pressure brought to bear, refused to be parted from him. Once again the Moral Welfare Worker was summoned. The result was that contact was made through the authorities to Mary’s parents. Mary was astonished and angry to hear this, she had planned to approach them in their own way after the baby was born. She was further informed that her mother was only now recovering from what was tantamount to nervous collapse brought on by her daughter’s shameful behaviour. Both parents were prepared to have Mary home after a decent interval but their pride would not allow them to accept "the boy". There could be no reconciliation for Mary under those terms, she could never abandon her baby and felt anger hearing him referred to as "the boy".
Until now Mary had been so fearful of losing her baby she hadn't given much thought to naming him, now it was uppermost in mind, he would never be referred to as "the boy" again.
Mary cast her mind back to her arrival in Glasgow, although life had been bleak and lonely in the convent, she realized it had been her salvation. Not only had she won the battle to keep her son, but the Mother Superior had found a domestic position for her with a wealthy Irish family in the prosperous West End of Glasgow. She was given her own room in the servant’s quarters and they had even produced the old family crib for the baby. The room was rather dark from the shadow of the large rowan trees. Mary didn’t mind that, they were cosy together and far enough away so that the baby would not disrupt family life upstairs.
Mary had given birth on September 16th, which, by coincidence was the feast day of St. Ninian. There had been special masses to honour the patron saint of the convent. St. Ninian was born in Galloway, not far from Glasgow in the year 500 A.D. As a young man he travelled around Britain teaching Christianity to the Picts. He was later ordained a Bishop. Mary decided that she would name her son Ninian, it could only auger well for his future, she thought, it seemed like a special sign.
Although isolated by poverty and shyness Mary had settled quite well in Glasgow, the satisfaction of seeing Ninian thrive made her feel blessed. Now that he was four years old he needed more freedom and the company of other children. On recommendation from her employers Mary was hired by The Glasgow Western Infirmary as a kitchen helper. Although the wage was meagre she was able to rent a tiny flat in a tenement building close enough for her to walk to work. Once again the Catholic Church came to her rescue by taking Ninian in to full time day care at "The Tiny Tots Glade" which he loved.
The situation with Mary’s parents remained unchanged, a Christmas card with a baby picture of Ninian enclosed was not acknowledged. The rejection of her son left Mary feeling greatly impoverished in spirit for some time, but it forced her to face the finality of the past and make decisions for their future. She was fraught with concern over her place in society. Although she had discovered the true warmth behind the rough facade of the Scots, Mary knew that the cloak of respectability was necessary to fulfil her ambitions for Ninian's future. From now on they would be known as the widow and son of the late Corporal H.C. Feeney. It was an insular life for Mary, although she appeared aloof to others, in actual fact she was very lonely, she knew if she became too friendly with anyone she may inadvertently expose her past. The closest she came to making a friend was with a neighbour. She was fortunate to have good neighbours on one side was a maiden lady, Grace Kerr who lived alone surrounded by pictures of her past, the other side was loudly inhabited by Bob and Lizzie Philips and their brood of three boys and two girls. Mary was very touched the night she and Ninian moved their few bits and pieces to their first home. Hearing a knock at the door she opened it to find Lizzie there with a plate of scones, fresh from the oven. Mary felt a lump in her throat at such unexpected kindness, she managed to show her gratitude and introduce Ninian who had followed her to the door. Lizzie’s boys made much of Ninian allowing him to join in their street games. This pleased Mary greatly, she had been concerned at the lack of male influence in his life.
Ninian was going through the school system which he found quite a trial. The first problem he had to overcome was his name, or rather the children’s reaction to it. It was bad enough being nicknamed Ninny but what he hated even more was when the Parish priests came to give religious instruction, it never failed - he would be singled out to recite the history of St. Niman. The only good thing to come out of that was, from then on he was know as "The Saint" which he preferred to Ninny, he thought it made him sound like a detective in the comics.
Religion was another cross Ninian had to bear, like most growing boys his mind was more on football than preparing for his first confession and communion. Mary had not yet come to terms with her feelings about the church, until she left home. She had faithfully attended her duties, however, since she had started to think for herself she realized that "duties" were what indeed they were. It did seem natural to bring Ninian up in the Catholic faith, she knew no other, and felt he needed the discipline and guidance of the church. Ninian looked upon religion as a grown up mystery, for instance, words like God, Jesus and Hell were punishable words in his vocabulary but perfectly permissible when his mother was driven to call on God or sweet Jesus when she got mad, he decided that she must be on more personable terms with God. Pocket money was another problem, his friends got theirs on Saturdays, then they all went for their weekly debate - comics and sweets or the latest adventure of The Lone Ranger at the matinee. Ninian had to devise his own methods for pocket money, he knew his mother never parted with money without a lecture of some kind, so he invented expenses. Having to pay a fine for an overdue library book - that was a mistake, it just reminded her about never seeing him read - he, in actual fact had never been in a library in his life. One brilliant idea was school outings although the last one was a bit testy, a class visit to a riding stable, while Mary wanted her son to be like others boys, she just exploded at this extravagance "Horse riding, horse riding, dear sweet Jesus, sure you'll be needing' a Polo stick next to play with Prince Philip, holy God horse back riding. Ninian was by no means a brilliant student. Mary would try to help him as he agonized every night over his homework. Having gone to a small parochial school her education had leaned towards religion rather then the three R's. Very often she fell asleep frustrated and exhausted after chasing a tearful Ninian to bed.
Mary’s dreams of University were fading fast, she tried to console herself with the fact that Ninian was healthy and happy, surely he would show signs of ambition as he headed toward his teens. The only ambition Ninian had was to leave school as soon as possible and get a job. He did have a sensitive streak and worried about his mother having to work so hard, maybe that was why she was so short tempered.
One night Lizzie's eldest daughter, Phemie dropped in for a chat and a cup of tea, she and Mary were the same age and it was the closest Mary had come to making a friend. Ninian was regaling them with a long laboured tale about a class mate who was in trouble with the police resulting in the judge sending him to see "one of them trick cyclists". They studied him in silence "Dear God, Ninian what are ye rablin on about - has he joined the circus?"Oh no Mammy" Ninian couldn’t get the words out fast enough "he sees this man at a big clinic every week so he does, and when he’s shrunk his head he can come back to school". The silence lengthened. Mary gazed at her son despairing his inability to articulate a simple incident, what was to become of him? Phemie started to laugh and Ninian, only too glad to be the source of amusement, joined her. Mary studied the pair of them. Phemie was trying to explain "he means a psychiatrist" Mary finally caught on and joined the laughter. Ninian was amazed, he’d never seen his mother laugh like that, he still didn’t understand what was so funny, he could only feel thrilled that he was the cause of it. As he lay in bed that night he kept seeing his mother’s face, free of strain - she was lovely when she laughed, he decided to tell her a funny story every night even if he had to make them up. When Mary checked on him later she noticed he had fallen asleep with a smile on his face "Trick cyclist - bless his heart" she shook her head.
Mary was aware that the nuns had little patience with Ninian, they seemed to bring out the worst in him and found him obstinate, nevertheless, she was very nervous to get a note from the headmaster summoning her to an interview. She could tell by Ninian's stance that he was feeling guilty, he looked wildly about him as she read the note. Mary couldn't bring herself to speak, her face was white with anger "Go to bed" she said, through tight lips.
The next day found Mary being shown into the sanctity of the headmaster’s office, memories of her humiliation in the hands of the Moral Welfare Worker tempted Mary to take flight but there was no question of that, Ninian had to be dealt with. It was a subdued Ninian who left for school that morning, he was filled with remorse knowing his mother would be intimidated by the headmaster and discovering how much school he had missed. He actually toyed with the idea of running away, then when they found him his mother would be so relieved to see him alive she’d welcome him with open arms or maybe he could even become a famous movie star, then everybody would want his autograph. He was exhausted just thinking of the possibilities as he dragged his feet schoolward. The headmaster treated Mary with an air of dignified condescension, "Ninian needs firm handling" was his opening remark" but then fatherless boys do tend to be a problem". Mary bristled and felt her cheeks burn, it was alright for her to recognize Ninian's shortcomings but she felt bitter resentment at the man’s tone and implication. She didn’t trust herself to speak yet, thinking it wiser to hear what the problem was. The headmaster’s sanctimonious voice read off a litany of offences - not showing up for school, mixing with a group of hooligans older than himself, etc. etc. Mary was dumfounded, she expected to discuss Ninian' s lack of scholastic ambition, instead what she was hearing was that her son was not only lying to her but was well on the way to delinquency. Her heart was pounding and her mouth was dry, she tried to gather her wits about her but the headmaster had risen, his words of dismissal were, "Perhaps a visit with your Parish priest would be in order, the boy needs a man's control if he's going to amount to anything". Mary stood outside the office door, her legs were weak and she felt ill. Fortunately, the girl’s washrooms were across the hall, she managed to lock herself in a cubicle and sat down. She was too confused to think straight, taking deep breaths she fought for control, she needed to get home and calm down before Ninian arrived. The walk home seemed endless, by the time she reached her door she was fighting back the tears. She put the kettle on and made herself a cup of tea. The bustle of getting the tea ready had a calming affect on Mary, as she sipped her tea she tried to rationalize the whole situation. Certainly she was angry and hurt at Ninian's behaviour, she would have to deal with that, but hearing the cold dispassionate voice referring to her son as "the boy" resurrected emotions she’d worked all these years to bury. Mary had to admit to herself that the scars had never healed, she found it too hurtful and confusing to deal with the past.
What had she achieved living in this depressing tenement surrounded by derelict wasteland - not a tree in sight. Ninian had only known this environment Mary realized, what incentive did he have to achieve, he needed encouragement to strive for a better future, he also needed a lot more faith in himself. She too, would have to be more sensitive to his needs. Ninian was not looking forward to the confrontation he expected, he had been rehearsing excuses and promises all day long. His mother’s silence startled him, it was the last thing he expected, he looked so guilty and dejected that Mary's heart softened, "sit down Ninian" she said quietly" we have to talk". Feeling wary and suspicious he did as she bid almost wishing she'd cuff his ear and get it over with. "I'm really very angry and disappointed in you Ninian, said Mary, you’re going to have to mend your ways and show more responsibility, until you do there will be no more football." That was the worst punishment she could have chosen - it was the one thing he excelled at and what would his team mates say? He waited till he was in bed to let the tears come, and for the first time he went to sleep without saying his prayers.
Mary made a conscious effort to spend more time with Ninian - every Saturday she planned a special outing, a picnic in the park, a visit to the Transport Museum and when funds permitted a matinee. None of it was of any interest to Ninian, his mind was on the weekly football game with the team. As time went by he became withdrawn and sullen. Mary was losing patience and the Saturday outings became painful for both of them. She also suspected he was skipping school again and despaired at the change in him.
Matters came to a head a few months later. Mary arrived from work and there was no sign that Ninian had been home from school. She started to prepare their meal when she heard a knock at the door. "He's forgotten his key again" she said, ready to scold him, the words froze on her lips when she saw the police constable. "Dear God", she cried "What’s happened to Ninian?" "He’s quite safe" replied the constable "yeer laddie's got himself into a wee spot of bother". Mary grabbed her as he spoke, the thought of Ninian being held in the police station was her worst nightmare come true - it seemed as though Ninian was leaping from failure to failure, where would it end?
When Mary saw the sorry group at the police station she was shocked to see the types Ninian had been involved with, the leader Sammy was almost six feet tall and wore an army surplus overcoat - he looked like he might be armed to the teeth thought Mary. Their crime was shoplifting - cigarettes, of all things, she was sure Ninian didn't smoke, she would have smelled it on his clothes. Ninian had actually tried since all the rest of the gang smoked but he was so sick he didn't repeat the experience. They were ordered to face the Magistrate in court two days hence.
There was no conversation on the way home. Mary felt utterly defeated and Ninian had the good grace to be ashamed. It was a long two days. Mary was not receptive to Ninian's attempts at explaining his innocence, that he had just wanted to be one of the gang. On the day of the hearing they both made a special effort at looking their best. Mary checked Ninian from head to toe, noticing his boots were shining. Just before they went out the door she took out her powder puff and battered her face with it - courage, she told herself. They were the first to arrive at the courtroom. Mary instructed Ninian to say his prayers till the Magistrate arrived. There was a commotion at the back of the room. Sammy had arrived, still weighed down by the army coat which looked as though he’d slept in it. He was accompanied by his mother and they were obviously well known in these surroundings. There was a delay while Sammy's mother was relieved of her cigarette, her orange hair was clamped down close to her head with curlers. Mary was consoled when she looked around, she and Ninian looked as though they’d wandered in there by mistake, it was cold comfort. The policeman read the charges as the boys lined up before the Magistrate, Sammy managed to look bored, while the rest of them looked as though they might topple over in a rigid heap. The Magistrate dealt with Sammy first declaring that, since the accused learned nothing from his last visit, he would be sent to a remand home for six months. Mary gasped "Oh, please God" she prayed" don't let them take Ninian away, he really is a good boy". The Magistrate then addressed the rest of the culprits in a severe fatherly manner promising them the same fate if he saw them here again. At that Sammy's mother leapt to her feet". "Here now, just a minute there ye've nae right tae pick oan ma Sammy, he wiz an innocent bystander, ah could sue ye for defloration of character, you know". She was escorted from the court loudly threatening "A’ll write to the Queen so A will". The Magistrate concluded proceeding by putting each of the culprits on a years probation and released them. Not a word was spoken on the way home they were both too emotional.
Mary put the kettle on while Ninian set the table, their pain was palpable, in an effort to apologize to his mother Ninian broke down and sobbed. Mary put her arms around him, they hugged each other silently for a long time as their tears mixed unheeded on their cheeks.
The probation officer came the next evening, Mary’s welcome was less than effusive and Ninian was very nervous. Colin Matheson quickly put them at their ease, before long the kettle was on and the atmosphere was more relaxed. Colin filled them in on his background, he had joined the Police Force in his early twenties but somewhere along the way he was drawn to the plight of all the little Oliver Twists who passed through the courts daily. He studied the Child Welfare Act and decided to become a Probation Officer finding it more rewarding to follow up on youngsters who may otherwise be lost in the shuffle of court procedures. It didn’t take him long to recognize the source of Ninian’s rebellion, it was known as "complete submission of the personality, in other words, what you are told to become". Ninian knew he could never hope to fulfil Mary's dreams, the guilt he felt became a heavy burden and he had no one to share it with.
When Mary saw how positively Ninian was reacting to Colin she decided to be more receptive to the suggestions for Ninian’s future - she reluctantly agreed he would be better learning a trade than wasting his time at school. Colin felt Ninian would learn responsibility and self discipline, contributing to the household would also give him a feeling of self esteem. An interview was arranged for him by Colin, a reference was also supplied and much to everyone’s delight Ninian was hired on a three month trial basis as a mail delivery boy at the Police Station. He would take courses at night school in the hope that he would eventually qualify as a Police Cadet. Mary was so grateful. Who would have thought his run in with the Police would be the turning point in their lives? Colin had been a godsend, the change in Ninian was remarkable. Mary decided it was time to give him a bit more freedom, he had earned her trust since he started work and was making good friends. Ninian was pleased with his lot, he had grown taller and, although he didn’t get around to joining the skinheads, he did get a stylish haircut, kept under control by hair cream. Mary was fascinated as she watched him prepare to meet his friends at the Pop Inn Cafe, he applied great gobs of hair cream then pulled the comb through the crinkly mess splattering the wallpaper with rows of oily dots. By the time he was ready to leave, the hair cream would be running down his face like bacon fat. Finally Mary was relaxing and feeling a degree of contentment. She looked forward to the evenings when they would sit and chat, mostly about Ninian’s future. He was showing signs of maturity and often surprised her by taking the initiative like the day he received his first pay, a few coins in a little brown envelope with his name on it. He had been planning to bring it home unopened and proudly present it to his mother, but Mary surprised him by telling him he was to keep his first pay, he couldn't believe he was hearing right" Yes Ninian, it's something you'll always remember, having money in your pocket with the satisfaction of working for it". She quickly added that from then on he would get pocket money and the rest would lessen her financial burden. Ninian had a great time spending the money ten times over before he got it, such riches all to himself. As Mary served him his porridge that first pay day, she could sense his excitement and wondered what foolishness he’d get up to with his hard earned cash. As he left he casually called over his shoulder "I'1l be a wee bit late tonight, don’t make supper till I get home". Mary assumed he’d made big plans with his friends, she had to bite her tongue, so strong was the temptation to insist he not spend his money foolishly - oh well, she was learning!
The house felt quiet Mary was feeling a deep contentment mingled with a pleasant feeling of achievement, the sense of having earned this present leisure. She was surprised to hear Ninian’s key in the door and even more surprised when she saw the brown carrier bag. She rose to put the kettle on but he led her back to her chair by the fire "It’s my turn tonight" he said with a wide grin and proceed to put a fresh cloth on the table and unpack the bag. Mary was mesmerized, out came two fish suppers, a bottle of lemonade, a cigar and two succulent strawberry tarts. Mary looked at the feast and her eyes filled with tears. A sublime happiness possessed her. Ninian seated her at the table with a flourish and entertained her throughout the meal with stories of the people he worked with. He loved his job and had been given more responsibility as time went by. When Mary started to clean the table Ninian insisted she remain seated "the party isn't over yet" he said. She thought for a dreadful moment he was going to light up the cigar, but he rummaged through his pockets and produced a Woolworth’s bag "Just a wee present" he said as he handed it to her. Opening the bag she discovered he’d bought her a lipstick of all things. Before she could say a word he insisted she put some on, she stood on her tip toes to see in the mirror above the mantle. She shivered when she saw her reflection, her lips were bright purple. I look like a good candidate for a coronary, she thought, as she smiled at him. "You look beautiful Mammy" he said with great sincerity, that was good enough for Mary, she kissed him on the cheek and they both laughed as he looked at the purple imprint on his cheek reflected in the mirror. He had obviously spent every penny of his wages on this special evening but it was worth it to see his mother so happy, she deserved it. The cigar, Mary was relieved to hear, was for Colin who dropped in to see them regularly as a friend. Life settled into a pleasant routine, Ninian worked hard at his job and studies earning the respect of his peers, her son’s success had become Mary’s too, she still worked hard but it didn’t bother her nearly as much for she knew at the end of the day she and Ninian would share a meal and enjoy each other’s company. Ninian was almost six feet tall now and, in the past year his youthful body had filled out. He exercised regularly at the local youth club, determined to be in top condition when his application came up for the police force. Mary was now beginning to make friends at work and was feeling more hopeful of her own future. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that Ninian would pass his entrance exam, the course would be twelve weeks. The day he took the exam Mary was more nervous than him, she couldn't swallow her breakfast, and fussed over him like a mother hen, Ninian was glad to see her leave for work. His stomach was churning as he looked around the classroom, there were fifty candidates and only twenty five would be accepted, please God, he would be one of them. He did his very best covering everything he had studied now for months, he wouldn’t’t allow himself to feel too confident, the result was in the lap of the Gods. He tried to reassure Mary, they ended up going out for a walk to take their minds off the subject. Fortunately, they were informed of the results the next day. Mary rushed to the door when she heard Ninian's key - one look at the elation on his face told all - he had made the first hurdle and the next would be surviving twelve weeks at Police College.
The house was so empty without him, Mary was like a lost soul, she realized how close they had become and how much she was living her life through Ninian. Now that he was noticing girls she must face the fact she would have to share him one day, she decided not to dwell on that morbid thought, time enough when his career was settled. Ninian found the cause very strenuous, every day was demanding and then learning the mysteries of writing reports - that part he disliked most. He dropped the odd note to his mother knowing she would be concerned and missing him. The end of the course couldn’t come soon enough for Mary. She spent her evenings making jam, baking his favourite shortbread and finally gave his room a thorough cleaning. Ninian returned looking very weary and drawn. Mary tactfully kept all her questions to herself, they could wait. The boy needed a good home cooked meal and a rest - it was enough for now to have his presence. Gradually, she heard the details and worried at how competitive it all was, she pampered him as much as she could it was all she could offer to keep his spirits up. They both lay awake every morning listening for the postman' s heavy step on the stair, when it did come they leapt out of bed bumping into each other as they bent to pick up the envelope. Mary drew back, this was Ninian’s big moment she reminded herself going into the kitchen to put the kettle on. Her hands were trembling, there was silence in the all "Oh dear God, give him this, he deserves it" she pleaded. Ninian came and handed her the letter. His face was impassive. She had trouble focusing on the words, then she gasped "Ninian-Ninian - you've made it" - she could not articulate, her eyes blinded suddenly with tears. The next thing she knew Ninian had grabbed her by the waist and they were dancing around the kitchen laughing and crying. Oh, the joyous relief that surged through her, she had to sit down. Ninian made her a cup of tea to calm her before she rushed off to work. Ninian read the letter again, he couldn’t believe his good fortune he rushed out to phone Colin with the good news. The instructions in the letter were to report to Police Headquarters the following Saturday morning at 8 a.m., the formal ceremony would be at 10 a.m. Each candidate would be allowed to bring two guests who were invited to take part in the luncheon after the ceremony. It was here - the great triumphant day! Mary was dressing for the ceremony, her cheeks were flushed and her movements were flustered. Ninian had already left and Colin would be picking her up in his car. As she pulled her dress over her head, she felt a bit apprehensive. Lizzie had run it up for her from a piece of brown voile, a special bargain at the remnant shop, but what matter the dress, her triumph was to see her son receive his diploma from The Lord Provost. She had given a lot of though to the final touch - as a tribute to Ninian she powdered her face and applied the purple lipstick.
When Colin arrived she checked herself one last time in the mirror, she was dubious about the colour of the dress, was it too drab? She wished now it was something soft and flimsy. She felt reassured when Colin gave her an admiring glance and told her she looked too young to be a policeman’s mother. There were reserved seats for guests near the front -Mary sat erect and proud, she had no idea what to expect, Colin told her it would be a very traditional ceremony. Suddenly there was a drum roll, followed by The Glasgow Police Pipe Band in full regalia marching down the aisle followed by the dignitaries and twenty five immaculate, fully uniformed policemen complete with white gloves, the silver badge number on their helmets shining.
The audience stood as the procession made their way to the stage. Mary was sure her legs were going to buckle under her, she was finding it difficult to contain her emotions. In his welcoming speech the Lord Provost paid tribute to the successful candidates and also congratulated the parents adding "they will be a credit to you and your City". As each diploma was presented, the Lord Provost received a smart salute in return. Suddenly Mary's body grew tense - rigid with expectancy, at last Ninian's name had been called, he advanced to the dias, his figure erect, his face was pale but he had perfect poise. Her heart thrilled within her, she was overwhelmed. The ceremony finished with the Police Chaplain offering a prayer of thanks for these fine young men. The soaring sound of the Pipes once again led the party down the aisle into the Chief’s private dining room, the newly inducted constables were allowed to sit with their parents. As Ninian approached them, Mary tried to conceal her emotion as Colin shook Ninian’s hand. Mary decided humour would lighten the moment "So who do you think you are" she teased. Ninian stood to attention, gave her a smart salute and replied, "Madam, I am the law". A tear loaded with face powder rolled like a pearl down her cheek.
"Jesus wept", said Mary.
by Ena McCulloch (Canada) nee Ena Mc Cartney from Glasgow