The Nanny Diaries

I type her name, an unusual one, into Facebook and there she is in an instant.
The same freckles. The same hair, now a burnished auburn. It looks like she’s wearing a bridesmaid’s dress.
The last time I saw her she was clinging to my legs, pleading with me not to go, her face blotched with tears. She pressed her best scented rubber into my hands as a keepsake. I had to prise her fingers off me one by one like a villain does to his victim on a precipice.

Promise me you’ll come back.
When I was fresh out of university, a tender 21 with no key to the door, I devised a plan to get to London before I was smothered by suburbia. I answered an ad in The Lady to be a nanny. I had no experience (unless you count looking after my much younger sister and the odd babysitting gig), no references. No magic carpet bag of tricks or a parrot handled umbrella. But the mother and I just clicked. A recent widow, she said “Take the children somewhere, anywhere, for the day, and if they like you, the job’s yours.” God knows what was going through her head as I waltzed off with them.
And so I was taken on, in a white stuccoed house with 5 bathrooms, cleaners and my own quarters. The neighbours were faces I recognised off the television. And two recently bereaved children. The little one thought her dad was Andy Warhol.
I had the days to myself to explore. When I picked them up from school we went to the planetarium or put on puppet shows.
At night I met a man who picked me up on his Harley and I clung to him as he took me back to the house in the early hours, before the children woke up. We drove through an eerily quiet and empty London; the only creatures awake seemed to be the wolves at the zoo.

The days stretched on, a year turned into eighteen months.
My plan had worked perfectly. Only I hadn’t factored in one thing. The emotional attachment I would feel for those children.
Then the mother met a new man. One day I woke up to see the entire front lawn filled with black bags. His wife had dumped his possessions. Every time I answered the phone this woman screamed obscenities before I could say I was only the nanny.
He would hold his napkin in his hand after dinner and catch my eye when she wasn’t looking and mouth silently ‘Pick it Up.’
I began to have to look after his kids at the weekend. The children clashed terribly. The mother started having dreams that a big black stallion was going to whisk her children away. The children began calling me Mummy.
A new baby was on the way. Then she started bleeding, only to discover it was twins and she was losing one. I had to find him – he wasn’t at work. I rang round frantically. I’ll never forget what he said when he heard she’d miscarried. Several hours later he turned up with a young giggly researcher fawning over him.
As she was on bedrest, he was able to manipulate me more and more.
I spent nights sobbing to my mother in a phone box. “I don’t know why you went to university to end up doing this.” she said. “Come home.”
It was the general election. He told me I could go home and vote with two stipulations.  One, if I voted his way and two, if I took the children with me. And so I did.
My mother showed them round the garden – they didn’t have a garden at home. She showed them each plant, the names of each flower. ‘This is Jesus’s flannel. Feel the leaves, how furry they are. ‘ They were entranced.
They came to the polling station with me, the neighbours twitching the net curtains thinking I had gone to London like Dick Whittington and somehow come back with a 7 and a 4 year old.
One night back in London there was a showdown. I felt threatened. Unsafe. The mother didn’t stick up for me. My friend came and got me out – a true moonlight flit. I had to go back the next day for the last of my belongings and say goodbye to the children whilst he was out of the house. That was the worst bit of all.
I thought so much about those children over the years. What they were doing. How old they’d be. I had recurring dreams where it all worked out differently.
I compose a Facebook message. Not a friend request but a ‘Hi. You won’t remember me but….’
I hesitate, but then my finger presses ‘Send’.
A message comes back.
She remembers. Only vaguely but still. She remembers the garden


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