Stephen Williams - Little Pieces of Sophie first page


October 2003 

Kate turned off the engine and looked at Jack. “I’m nervous about meeting them."

Jack put his hand on her arm. “Thanks for doing this. Honestly, my dad will be on his best behaviour. Try not to look horrified when he shows you the African wildlife.”

They got out of her car and went up the path to his parents’ house. His mum must’ve seen them and opened the door before he could press the bell.

She touched the tight curls of her perm. “It’s lovely to meet you, Kate. I’ve heard so much about you.” She held out her arms and they hugged each other.

His father stood behind his mother, his gaze moving over Kate’s brown face and her long black curly hair. He reached out and gave her a firm grip. “You’re very welcome.” Holding out an open palm, he gestured for her to come inside. “Let’s go into the living room.”

Kate followed his father into the lounge. She stopped in front of the fireplace and ran her fingers along one of the two elephant tusks that arched over the mantelpiece. “These are amazing.”

His dad grinned. “I saw a man hide them under the scrub while I was at a café outside of Kampala. He must’ve poached them. When he drove away, I sneaked out and put them in the back of my car.”

Kate laughed. She eased her skirt over her knees as she sat on the sofa next to Jack. He smiled at her.“How was the journey?” his father asked.

“It was good,” said Jack. “A bit slow coming out of Manchester but fine after that.”

His dad looked at Kate. “It’s changed a lot since I was kid. I went to see Jack there and could hardly recognise the place.”

His mum smiled. “Jack says you’re from London.”

Kate nodded. “Notting Hill.”

“Have you always lived there?” asked his father.

Jack put his hand to his face. What was his father going to say next?

“I was born there.”

“A man from London used to work for me when I was in Uganda.” His dad started coughing and then cleared his throat. Jack was relieved he didn’t spit into a tissue. “He was fresh out of university and had high hopes. I felt sorry for the poor lad. Because he was half caste the men in the office treated him as an African.” He sighed. “He didn’t last long.”

Heat crept up Jack’s face.

Kate clenched her hands on her lap. “That’s sad.”

Jack’s mum pressed her palms together. “Jack says you two work together.”

Kate nodded. “We used to share an office. He was a bit shy, so I had to do the talking.” She looked at Jack and gripped his hand. “But now I can’t stop him.”

His mum laughed. “He was like that when he was a kid. His teacher said he was quiet at school. And I said you should see him at home, he never stops chattering.” She glanced at Jack as he nodded. “When he was a baby, he used to babble away to himself. He was a content kid. Perhaps it’s because he’s an only child.”

“Do you have any brothers or sisters?” asked his dad.

“I’ve a younger sister who’s at medical school and a brother who’s a teacher.”

His mum got up and went over to the sideboard. From one of the drawers, she took out a stack of photos and sat next to Kate.

She thumbed through them and pulled one out. “That’s Jack when he was a baby.”

In the photo, his mum was beaming as she held Jack up to the camera. She wore a pearl necklace and a red and white floral dress.

Kate pinched Jack’s cheek. “Isn’t he cute?”

He rolled his eyes.

His mum flicked through more pictures, then pulled out one of him in hospital. Sophie was sat next to him on the bed, both holding up their thumbs. His mother touched Sophie’s face. “We were lucky with Sophie, weren’t we Jack?”

He nodded. “It was a miracle.”

His mum sighed. “We were so lucky.”

Kate glanced at Jack’s mum and dad. “Jack told me. It must’ve been hard.”

Jack gazed at the photo. He had seen it so many times. “I was convinced I was going to die. We tried everyone, didn’t we mum?”

His mother wrapped her arm around him. “We’re so lucky to have him.”