The war was on, so things were difficult. But they could also be rather fun. I met a young man, a soldier. A very nice boy. We went out together. He used to come and see me on all his leaves.
One day I had a postcard from him. His unit was on the move. He couldn’t say where he was going. Not only didn’t he know, but even if he did he couldn’t tell me. This was a little bit hard to take at the time, because I’d just discovered I was going to have a baby. She was a lovely little girl when she was born, my daughter. She didn’t live long though, just a few days, and I was left without her, without him. Things weren’t good. Life was hard.
Then I heard that Freddy had been killed.
I sort of went to pieces after getting that news.
Well, to be honest, I ended up walking the streets. Not a very pleasant thing to tell, even now, when it doesn’t matter anymore, when I can see it as it really was. It doesn’t really mean anything other than being a mere fact of life, my life.
However, one night I was standing in my usual place, looking for customers, when a car came screeching round the corner and mounted the pavement. I jumped out of the way just in time, but I got such a fright that I walked off.
A little while later, feeling foolish, I thought: Better go back and see if you can help. Someone may have been hurt. The car had come right up on to the pavement and crashed into the wall of the building.
I went back, and it was only then that I saw there’d been someone in the way. There was a girl beneath the car. She was obviously quite dead. It made me feel ill. I moved off and went back to my room; straight to my bed I was so terribly upset.
The next morning I went back again. Everything had been moved away and all was quite normal. My place of work was once more all nice and tidy. So 1 went for a walk in the park, sat down and watched the ducks. I often used to do that. I sat and thought of Freddy; of our little daughter; how it might have been; how it was. I decided that I didn’t feel any better even though it was a very nice day. It didn’t help to cheer me up.
Well, eventually I got up and went back home, and there I got quite a shock, I can tell you. They’d turned my whole room upside down. There was my landlady and Mary, one of my so-called friends, going through my things. Ooh, I sailed into them, I can tell you. I told them what for in no uncertain terms. And, you know, they didn’t take the blindest bit of notice of me. It was as if I hadn’t been there. I got so annoyed I gave Mary such a clout but she didn’t seem to feel a thing. Something was very wrong, very definitely wrong. I felt my senses reeling. Then I must have fainted.
When I woke up it was night. I was still in my room, but it was all different somehow, changed. I went downstairs and found Mrs. M who ran the house. I. asked her: “Mrs. M what on earth is going on? I’ve paid my rent. You’ve got no right to go through my things and turn my room out like this. What on earth do you think you’re doing?” Mrs. M., she just didn’t take any notice at all. The louder I shouted, the less she seemed to hear me. She just pottered around doing her normal chores in the kitchen: filled the kettle and put it on, sat down at the table, picked up the newspaper and started reading. It was as if I wasn’t there at all.
I stormed out of there and went down to my place of business. Well, that was a fine ‘how d’you do’. Maggie, one of the girls, was there. This was a conspiracy of some sort, I was certain. I was really getting very, very cross. I went up to her and gave her a piece of my mind, too. She didn’t take any notice.
At that point I had another — can’t call it a fainting spell, a breakdown is more likely the word for it. This seemed to happen every time I got cross with someone, as if it burned me up inside.
I remember the words going through my mind, “Oh God, what’s happened? What’s wrong? God help me!” There was a hand on my shoulder. I looked round and there was this gentleman standing there.
“Lillian,” he said to me. “Lillian.”
“You asked for help. You said, ‘God help me!’”
“Oh, I didn’t know I said it out loud.”
“No,” he said, “you didn’t, but you said it with your heart and you really meant it. I’m going to help you.
There’s something wrong, isn’t there?”
“You a parson?”
“No, nothing like that,” he said. “Well, maybe something like that, but I think I can help you. Just walk with me, just for a little way. Can you walk alright?”
“I think so,” I said.
He said, “Right. Let me put my arm around you to give you a bit of support. You just lean against me. Close your eyes. Relax. I’ll guide you.”
I must have been some sort of dope because normally I wouldn’t have trusted anyone. Close my eyes indeed! Let someone lead me? But I did. We moved off. Then suddenly we stopped.
“Right,” he says. “Lillian, look around you.” We were in a room and there was this group of people there, sitting around. He then says, “Lillian, these are my friends. They’ll help you. You just sit down here.” He gently eased me down into a chair, and they immediately started to speak to me. They asked me my name and a little bit about myself. I thought they’d got a darned cheek, and I told them so.
The one man, he said, “Lillian, tell us when all this trouble started, the problem you’re having, and then maybe we can help you.’’
I thought back. The problem seemed to start from the time of that accident with that girl.
He said, “Yes, that’s when it started. Lillian, you didn’t jump out of the way quite quickly enough. That girl under the car was you.”
“Lot of blooming rot,” I told him. “What a lot of rot.”
He said gently, “Lillian, you’re talking through a man’s body. If you don’t believe me, feel the arms, feel the head, the hair. Go on, reach up and feel and tell me if it isn’t a man’s body.”
I did. And I did something else which has been a source of embarrassment to me ever since. I examined that body very closely, and it was a man’s body, there was no mistaking that.
He said to me, “Yes, Lillian. You know now, don’t you?”
Yes. Yes, I knew now.
Someone said, “Lillian is there anyone you know, whom you love very dearly?”
“Ooh, yes. There’s my Mum, and I had a little girl. If she was alive she’d be three years old now.”
“She is alive, where you are now, and she’s three years old.”
Oh, and I wanted to see her so much.
I heard the gentleman’s voice in my ear. “Come, Lillian. Come and see your daughter. You’re home now.”
I remember standing up, and then the whole room swam in front of my eyes. The gentleman put his arm across my shoulders in such a fatherly way and said, “Come with me.”
I remember those nice people. I must have shocked some of them, me being what I had been. And I told them about them being such nice people. But, one and all, they said, “God bless you, Lillian. Come again when you’ve had your rest.” I looked at the gentleman and asked, “Will I be able to come again?”
“Yes, but first you come with me. There are people waiting for you.”
We walked, and . . . I don’t know, we also seemed as if we were walking on air. I know I felt like it. Then suddenly, almost without realising it, we were standing in a courtyard of a very fine building, as if it had just appeared.
I remember thinking: What sorts of a life have I lived? I was weak, took the line of least resistance. I wondered if I could face any of the people who were likely to meet me… if they could meet me…if it was allowed. And I turned to the gentleman and said, “Look, you haven’t been having me on, have you?”
“No.” He smiled. “We don’t ‘have people on’ here.”
“Is this the Hall of Judgment?”
He laughed out loud. “No,” he says, “this is no Hall of Judgment.” Then he said quiet-like, “You’ve just judged yourself, by every action, by every thought, as you stood thinking.
You’ve also judged other people. You’ve felt that no-one would want to meet you. You were thinking for them. You mustn’t do that, you mustn’t think for them. They’ve already thought, and they know. Those people are close to you with love, with sadness for what you’ve done, what you’ve had to do.
What you’ve done through weakness, this doesn’t count. You only condemn yourself with it. No-one else will condemn you here. Here, come inside with me and see who’s there to meet you.”
We went up those steps and, as we walked up, there was Mother holding the hand of a little girl who reached out towards me.
“Hello, Mommy,” she said.
I swept her up into my arms and everything else was meaningless. All that mattered was that moment. How did she know? How did she know me when she couldn’t possibly remember? How did I recognise her when I’d only seen her as a tiny baby? It didn’t even puzzle me at the time. I just knew. But later I found out how and why.
We moved into a room. There were so many friends there. People I’d forgotten, people who’d ‘died’ ages ago. They were all crowding round me.
“Welcome home, little one. It’s all over now. Welcome to Life.”
And I knew what they meant.