Tommy huddled over his homework, protecting it from any onlookers. His only onlooker was his mum, but it was still very private. As part of his studies, he now underwent “cultural awareness”, which was intended to give himself and his classmates an insight into the life experience of others. At the age of nine, it was a bit overwhelming but he did enjoy hearing his friends relating their stories and cultural differences. Everyone seemed to have special events to celebrate during the year.
Easter was approaching and the task in the classroom was to encapsulate (he had to look that up) the ideas of Easter on a card that would be recognised by the rest of the class. The talk in the playground was about something quite different. Another event in the calendar seemed to be taking centre stage, and it appeared that this year, the target date was the same day as the beginning of the Easter thing. All the girls seemed to be particularly excited about it and they checked their mobile phones regularly for updates. Tommy didn’t have a mobile. Mum said it was an unnecessary distraction and that the budget (another check in the dictionary) wouldn’t stretch that far. Mobiles were banned in school, but those who could, seemed to ignore that particular rule. But the intense interest and giggling about the subject gave him an idea. He had deliberately messed up his first attempt at his Easter card and asked if he could start again. His teacher was very accommodating and gave him another blank card which he was to take home to complete. He had kept the original of course. At home, he had busied himself with the Easter card, complete with rolling eggs, a sort of human image on a big cloth and a man appearing out of a cave. Able to recover his earlier deliberate errors, it was now almost finished to his satisfaction and he had set it aside, but within easy reach if he needed it. He now worked on the other card, which he did not want his mum to see.
He didn’t have a dad. He never had. The man, who he might have called dad, had disappeared before he was born. Mum never spoke about him and Tommy never knew if he had died, left home or might even be in prison. It didn’t worry him too much at the moment, and anyway, he was not alone in his class having a single parent family so he did not feel particularly different. Mum was great. He knew she worked really hard to keep them in comfort in the home and his Gran came in to be with him when mum was working late. He even had the occasional treat of a small bar of chocolate which he and his mum shared. She would hide it somewhere in the house and he would have to look for it. Then he would hide it and she would search. They had played this simple game ever since he was very small. His mum had never met anyone else he could remember and he had recently heard his Gran say to her that she should find herself someone. Mum didn’t sound too interested. She said she was managing and wasn’t sure if she had the patience to cope with another man in the house. Tommy couldn’t work out if that was a compliment or not. She was now in the kitchen and he could hear the sound of cupboard doors opening and closing. She would be back in there later, making pancakes. He liked pancakes.
The card was finished. It was simple but neat, and said all he wanted. He had watched as she had searched all the usual places in the lounge before she moved to the kitchen and he selected his school bag as the place to hide it. That would be the last place she would look. He put the card in the bag, on top of the chocolate bar.
She came back into the lounge and gave him a quizzical look. He just sat with a well-practiced blank expression on his face and shrugged his shoulders, a little. She looked at his school bag and her eyes widened and a little smile appeared on her lips. Moving slowly over to the bag, she opened it slightly and the card was there, facing her. The large red outline of a heart on the front surrounding the word MUM, gave away its intended message and as she opened it, the simple phrase in Tommy’s handwriting said You Can Be My Valentine.
Tommy watched her as she sat down on the sofa to read the card again, then he turned back to put the finishing touches to his Easter Card.