Kibble Palace: A Winter Tale by Leela Soma Glasgow Writer
Kibble Palace by Leela Soma: Glasgow Writer
A greater good than being kind.”
I closed my dog-eared book of ‘Thirukurral’, given to me by my dad when I left India, refreshed by the truths in this ancient book written five thousand years ago but had never lost its relevance to society in all these years. I looked out the window, the winter chill was visible in the bare trees and the sun reluctantly peeked lazily from behind the clouds. Winter, was not a particular favourite season of mine, as I had to wrap up against the cold that cut into me. My tropical bones wished for warmth, as I added another layer of clothing to get ready for the day.
The phone rang.
‘Mum, its Sophia. She’s in tears. Not saying anything at all. Seems upset again, I don’t want to leave Robbie when she’s in such a state. I need you to watch Robbie for me. Can you come over?’ It was Rani, my daughter. She was agitated, she needed to get to work and I could hear the tension in her voice.
‘Give me twenty minutes and I’ll be there.’ I said.
Rani was waiting at the door for me.
‘Mum, I need to rush.’ She jumped into her car, and blew a hurried kiss to Robbie.
‘Don’t worry darling.’ I said, and held Robbie tight. I took hold of his little hand and made him wave goodbye to his mum.
I set about clearing the breakfast dishes. I could hear Sophia in her room. I turned the radio on. John Humphries on Radio Four was haranguing a politician. I moved the dial onto Classic Radio, the notes of a piano concerto was soothing.
I made a cup of tea and took it upstairs. I knocked. A teary-eyed Sophia opened the door. I could see a candle burning in front of the little picture of the Virgin Mary in her room. She accepted the tea gratefully and sobbed into her cup.
‘Are you okay?’ I asked her, hovering near the door. Her sobs became louder.
‘If you need to talk, I am always here…’ I moved over to her and touched her shoulder trying to give her a hug. She moved away, looked down and tears streamed down her cheeks. The sobs subsided.
‘I’ll be downstairs with Robbie, come down when you’re ready.’ I said to her. She nodded.
Half an hour later Sophia came down. She had brushed her hair back and tied it neatly into a ponytail. I was just getting Robbie ready for his walk. She kept twisting the cord bracelet she was wearing on her left hand.
‘I’m so sorry, I’m always giving you trouble.’ Sophia said softly.
‘It’s okay. Do you want to come out with us? The walk will do you good.’
‘Yes, I’ll take care of Robbie.’ she said. She got the buggy out.
We walked over to the Botanic gardens. It was a glorious winter morning. We sat on the wooden seats beside the Kibble Palace.
‘What’s bothering you Sophia? Do you want to talk about it?’ The young girl twisted her bracelet again.
‘I, I …’
‘Go on what is it?’
‘It’s my little brother, he’s not well.’
‘Sophia, what’s wrong with him?’
‘I may have to go back to Poland, but I can’t.’
‘Why ever not?’ The tears started again.
‘I’m sure we can manage. I can help Rani out if you want to go home right away.’ I put my arm around her, and tried to console her.
The story came out in bits. Her brother had been diagnosed with leukaemia. She was not sure how long he would survive. The poor girl was torn between wanting to see her brother or stay and earn enough to help the family back home. There was more. Sophia had left Poland after a row with her mum about her new boyfriend. Her job as an au pair in Glasgow had been to get away from her mother. He had come over with her to Glasgow but had dumped her soon. Lonely and broken hearted she was at her wit’s end. I felt sorry for Sophia, going through a roller coaster of emotions.
‘Come with me Sophia I want to show you something’ I said.
The girl was perplexed as I dragged her inside the Kibble Palace.
The warm, humid air enveloped us. We went into the Palm Room. It took me back all those years ago when I frequented this building of glass and steel, filled with exotic plants. I fingered the ferns that swooped along the sides of the path, as we walked in, heading further inside. I pointed out the Monkey Tree to Robbie, though he was still too young to understand. The scent of the flowering jasmine and the aroma of heavily watered plants in the heated atmosphere gave me a frisson of joy. I felt like I was in India during the monsoon season, a heady mixture of a peculiar scent of rain on mother earth that one never forgets. We sat in one of the wooden seats and looked at the marble sculpture of a beautiful lady.
‘Sophia, thirty years ago I was in a similar position to you. I was a newly married young Indian woman. Just a year after I arrived here I heard that my dad was very ill. He passed away soon. My husband was wonderfully supportive but we had no money for me to fly back to India, even for my dad’s funeral. My husband was also busy working all day. Do you know this was the place, the Kibble Palace which offered me some solace? The warmth, the tropical plants, something about this made me get through that awful period. I prayed, I cried.’
Her eyes widened. ‘What happened? How did you bear it?’
‘I sat here, alone, sad, worried, in despair, wanting to be with my mum. I’ll never forget that day when this kind woman, Margaret came and sat beside me. She smiled and I broke down. I told her everything. She hugged me and took me to the café for a cup of tea. She stayed with me for hours that day and promised to meet me every day that week. She kept her word. I survived the most difficult days of my life only because of the kindness of that stranger. I will never forget that.’ Tears blinded my eyes.
‘You still see her, that Margaret?’ Sophia whispered softly.
‘Sadly, she passed away two years ago, but we became firm friends and saw each other as often as possible.’
Sophia’s mobile rang. A crimson hue rose from her neck to her face. She spoke rapidly in Polish, switched off the mobile and wiped the tears with a tissue.
‘That was my uncle; he says that Marek is getting worse. He says my mum is crying all the time. I don’t know what to do.’
I held her in a tight hug.
‘Listen, I’ll make sure that you can get to see your wee brother.’
‘Mrs. Iyer, but my mum, she… she’ll still be angry with me.’
‘Sophia, your mum will be worrying about your wee brother. She’ll need you now.’
Sophia wiped her eyes as we walked back in silence. Little Robbie was fast asleep in his buggy. The warm sun spilled over, golden rays caressed the grass. The fresh air, I felt, would heal even the most troubled heart.
Sophia was away at St.Simon’s at Partick for the evening Mass when Rani arrived back from work.
‘I’m shattered, I should have specialised in Dermatology, not Paediatrics.’ She flung her bag on the settee.
‘How was Robbie today, did he eat okay?’ she gave him a big hug and kiss.
‘Rani, he’s fine.’
‘Where is Sophia? She’s so unreliable, mum! She was fine to begin with, now …’ I interrupted.
‘Rani, let me tell you what that wee girl’s going through.’
‘Mum, she is a moody old thing never says anything even when I ask her.’
When Rani heard Sophia’s story, she was shocked. She swung into action immediately. ‘I’ll ask my friend at Yorkhill if he can help in any way. I am sure with the European Union’s reciprocal arrangements we can get the treatment done here if she wants.’
When Sophia arrived back from the church, we sat her down and explained what was possible. I could see the relief on her face.
‘Why don’t you call home and see if how they feel about bringing your brother over?’
‘But I can’t afford...’
‘Sophia, I want to help you.’ Rani smiled at her. We persuaded her to make amends with her mum.
I looked on with pride, as my child was now in a position to help a newcomer to Glasgow. I remembered the words of Robert Burns. They couldn’t be more apt.
‘That man to man, the world, o’er
Shall brithers be for a’that?’
As I drove back home I passed the Kibble Place, resplendent in its newly refurbished splendour. The moonlight was reflected in stripy, silvery shards on its glassy roof and it twinkled.
This section: Christmas Poems , Stories and Winter Tales
Filed under: Christmas Poems , Stories and Winter Tales
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