“I made the characters children because that is how a lot of us feel we are being treated: sweeping decisions are being made, much goes on behind closed doors … and meanwhile some dear, dear friends and colleagues are either leaving, or trying to.” Sarah Knapp
When I was in Year 4 there were three Katys in my class.
Mrs Bell asked us if we could think of any way of making sure we didn’t each have to turn round every time anyone called: “Katy?”
I was new and quite shy, but Mrs Bell’s question got all of us Katys talking, laughing and swapping ideas!
What we did was simply add the first letter of our last names. We became KatyBee, KatyVee and in the middle, me: KatyJay.
We also became best friends. And because we were so very close, our parents got to know each other too.
When we weren’t at school we were at each other’s houses. I remember Olly (Mr Vincent) creating the best smoothies ever. And Teresa (Mrs Beamish) making us each a nesting-box to paint. And no-one could barbecue like my Mum and Dad (Eve and Rob Jackson), so any excuse and the house was full of the smell of charring peppers.
And the giggles of three Katys.
But in Year 5 Teresa (KatyBee’s mum) got this worried look. As a nurse she worked funny hours, but I saw her enough to know she was losing her temper more than she used to (she never used to at all, actually).
Kyle (KatyBee’s dad) once walked right past me, thinking so hard he couldn’t see me.
Then it was Teresa’s birthday. We planned a surprise party. Me and KatyVee painted Happy 35th, Teresa! on bunting and hung it up. Olly brought round a pump and blew up 35 balloons and KatyVee and me tied floaty bundles to chair-backs. Kyle found an excuse for him, Teresa and KatyBee to ‘drop in.’ Neighbours, workmates and friends from her pilates class jumped out yelling “Surprise!”
Teresa burst out crying.
The crying wasn’t just sniffs. Really gulpy sobs shook her shoulders. She hid her face in Kyle’s neck. KatyBee was hugging her Mum. I saw quiet shiny tears on her cheeks.
Nobody knew what to do. Finally Kyle sighed: “Sorry guys. Thanks so much for the party, you really are the best! But we have to tell you: we’re leaving in summer.”
He stroked KatyBee’s head. “I don’t know if you ‘ll understand. Teresa has worked as a nurse here for 14 years. So we filled in the 85-page Permanent Residency form. But they said no.”
He swallowed. “Four times patients have told her she’s taking a Brit’s job. Or she’ll soon be ‘sent home.’”
My mum drew in a sharp breath. My dad swore quietly.
Kyle’s voice tightened. “Nearly a year, and no-one can reassure us that our family can stay together.” His hands clenched. “I’m not waiting to see if they are going to separate me from my wife and daughter.”
I felt huge tears rush up to my eyes then, so fast they ached.
“Oh, KatyBee -ee!!” I wailed.
Then Teresa wiped her wet face and said, in that soft Polish accent: “When we’ve settled, you must, must come over, KatyJay. Won’t that be great, Katarzyna! ”
And KatyBee – Kat-tar-jeen-a – sniffed and nodded. “Yes, mamounia.”
So my dad ting-ed a fork against a glass. “I think we now have even more reason to drink to Teresa,” he suggested, trying to smile. And everyone said “To Teresa!” and “Happy Birthday!” again.
“And to friendship”, said my mum. And we all toasted that, too.
KatyVee and I, the only two Katys in our Year 6 class, stayed very close. We Skyped KatyBee and talked about her a lot. We also talked about going to Beethamston Comprehensive together. Olly taught maths there. One November day, when my family was round theirs, I told him I hoped I’d have him for maths, because he explained things so well (like how to make smoothies).
Olly likes making people laugh. I thought he’d reply that he’d be asking for protective clothing, then, if I was going to be in his class. Or something like that.
But he looked miserable.
Just then my mum and Rachel (KatyVee’s mum) came in from the kitchen, followed by KatyVee and then my dad bringing his speciality potluck casserole.
“Everything okay, Olly?” my Dad asked, setting down the dish.
Olly looked at Rachel and KatyVee, and said “Not really,” and my mum frowned. My dad started shaking his head. My stomach did a huge flip and I stared at KatyVee and said “No, no, no, NO.” and Olly said “I’m sorry, but …. we’re leaving at Christmas.”
Rachel explained in a little voice: “They welcomed Olly with open arms twelve years ago because of the shortage of Maths teachers. It didn’t occur to us he might need Permanent Residency. Now they say there’s some problem with an insurance he didn’t have, that no-one said he needed. It’s horrible!!”
“Ma chérie,” said Olly (Ol-i-vi-er) Vincent (pronounced something like Vangsang) softly, patting her hand. He looked at us. “18 months, and still no-one can tell me if I’ll be able to stay with my wife and daughter.”
I could tell he was so angry that he couldn’t put it into words. Instead he gently turned KatyVee around and said “Té, Catherine! (Kat-ter-een), aren’t you going to invite KatyJay to visit us in Marseilles?
And KatyVee said “Si, papa”.
When I was in Year 4 there were three Katys in my class.
Now I’m friends with Grace and Holly in Year 6 but I’m the only Katy. I still don’t understand it.
Some people say “Oh, your friends overreacted. They would have been fine.”
But they don’t know that.
And anyway, the things that people said to Teresa, and say to lots of people like her every day – those things can’t ever be unsaid.
In the end, the place Teresa and Kyle, and Vincent and Rachel, thought was home for themselves and their Katys, was not home any longer. And I wonder: what happens when your home becomes somewhere your best friends feel uneasy and threatened?
Is that my home?