Aaliyah is Delphine’s best friend. Some people go further and call her Delph’s only friend. I don’t think that matters. I think if you only have one true friend in your life that’s probably enough. The only concern is if Aaliyah stops being Delph’s friend. I mean, the kid’s eleven. She’s perfectly entitled to. When I was eleven, I shopped around for friendship. This is what makes the breath catch in our throats. Because without Aaliyah Delph really would be lonely.
Then reality shows itself. Pocket arrives at our house. Just a side note – as soon as Aaliyah enters the bungalow she assumes the name ‘Polly Pocket’. Jack gave her this name when she was seven years old. It was one of the first times she came round to our house. Jack names everyone you see; he is the family namer. I remember that she pulled a disdainful face even then. She has definitely grown into her name since. Ironic really since she hasn’t grown that much. Still, I hear her referring to herself as Polly Pocket while she’s here, so it can’t be that bad. But only in the bungalow. She is clear on this. Outside the bungalow she is always Aaliyah. Do you think the kid has any problems with knowing her own mind? Exactly.
Polly P comes through the door. ‘Hello, my third home,’ she’ll say. Fin comes to say hello and jumps all over her. She screeches and always gives her a hug. ‘How are Finny Fin? Did you miss me?’ Fin licks her all over.
‘How are you Polly?’ I say while usually in the vicinity of the kitchen sink. I know; stereotypical or what. But I do like a good sink.
Polly never quite answers me. It’s a breezy hi from her and straight to the living room. And there she stays for days. With Delphine. This is because she and Delphine are a self-contained unit. They entertain each other, squabble, laugh uproariously and go to bed reluctantly every night. Then they wake up and do exactly the same thing the next day. And the next.
After two days together, they can get a little grumpy. They’re no different to anyone else who hangs out intensely with someone else for a slightly too long. Do they begin to argue at this point? Get offended and cry as some kids might? Ha! They withdraw from one another instead. Who’s to say that kids aren’t as smart as grown-ups? Aaliyah goes on her phone and Delphine starts to draw. Their great Barbie game comes to a temporary close.
I have to say; in these moments I can get a bit nervous. My imagination tends to run away with me. What if they stop being friends I think? What if Aaliyah doesn’t want to come over anymore? Sometimes too, Aaliyah is around when the family hot-headedness takes over. Nine out of ten it goes like this – Lu gets rude, Jack gets offended and I have to deal with it. Sometimes I don’t deal with it right either and everyone ends up being mad.
At the end of the chaos, I suddenly remember that Polly Pocket is still here. This fact hits me and I have to sit down. Now she definitely won’t want to come back I breathe. Delphine will be lonely now. And sad. So much so that we’ll need to change things around and she’ll need to go to real, sorry I mean mainstream school. Oh shit. I’d better call the school on Monday.
With my heart thumping like a panicky drum, I peek into a quiet living room. Delphine and Aaliyah are playing together as calmly as two children could play. They’ve heard the shouting (obviously) but they certainly aren’t mirroring this bad behaviour. They are doing the opposite: demonstrating how people should behave with one another.
I shake my head and retreat. Later, I’ll bring it up casually when Polly P is in the kitchen.
‘What did you think about the argument earlier, Polly P?’
Aaliyah swallows her water down. ‘It was terrifying.’
My eyebrows raise. ‘You were scared?’
She nods but she doesn’t look scared at all. I’ll go a step further, and say I know that there is zero fear in this child. Without a second look she’ll go straight back into the living room. ‘Delph, I think we should play that Baywatch game again.’
Delph gets up faster than if I’d ever asked her to do a single chore. She wipes her brow. ‘Let’s go.’
Polly P does go home eventually though. And when she’s gone, I admit I do feel my imagination creeping up on me. Insecurities come back knocking. Aaliyah won’t want to come back to this crazy house. She’s going to make other friends and she won’t want to hang out with Delph. I mean, at some point they’re going to have to grow up. And they won’t want to play kids stuff anymore. Right?
The phone pings at the end of the week. ‘Am I coming over this weekend?’ the message will say.
I never answer straight away. I like to leave it a little while. Finally, I’ll start typing. ‘Do you want to come over?’
‘Yes,’ the reply comes back. That’s it. No please and no negotiation. Just yes.
So Saturday arrives and the front door opens. Aaliyah blinks around in satisfaction. ‘Back home,’ she says, ‘thank goodness. And how are you Finny Fin?’ Since Fin is jumping all over her. Just like last week.