If you remember the remarkable film Kes, you may recall the intense and prolonged patience needed to win the trust of a wild animal. You have to respect the animal’s fear. It is a costly and very drawn-out process, extremely uncertain of success.
By Sunday evening Bink was calmer, small thanks to me. By Monday morning she had a shopping list: a new large suitcase, an even larger plastic storage box and many, many boxes of wet-wipes, more than one shop could provide. By Monday evening she had gathered together what she would need for the foreseeable future.
On Tuesday she started filling the box and suitcase.
“Could I,” she asked, “open the presents you gave me, so I can pack them?”
One had been waiting outside her room, in brown paper backed-with-gold and a gold-and-white cotton ribbon, for so long that someone else had to open it: the paper was now deemed “dirty.” Others only recently wrapped: books signed by writers at a bookfest I’d been speaking at the week before; a new Manga Bible inscribed by the illustrator Siku, who had spent much time thinking what to write to her; an annotated journal and a new, clean pen.
That afternoon she asked if my promise – not to let anyone into her room before November – would still hold if she went in on Wednesday, not Tuesday. She wanted to shower and brush her teeth, a day’s work.
Wednesday, 10th October. World Mental Health Day.
I find I am still shaking as I write this: on World Mental Health Day Bink was ready to go into the Priory.
She was frightened of saying goodbye to my father. She didn’t want anyone to touch her: would Grandfather understand? Would he? He has wept and prayed over Bink since she first went missing over twenty years ago.
He will be 101 in less than a month. He may never see Bink again.
Not on these shores, anyway.
Teatime. She was ready to go.
Hair shorn to within half an inch of her scalp. Very obviously-new loose cotton pyjama trousers, and a loose cotton top. Open sandals.
Bink looking as vulnerable and gamine as she ever has.
Shaun cancelled a long-standing appointment. I went to get in the car too. I hadn’t realised there wouldn’t be room for me: Bink didn’t consider the newly-shampooed boot clean enough (the dog has been in it once, though everything was covered with a sheet) so her luggage was on the back seat.
Just as well. We were leaving the house at 6 the next morning for a flight to Scotland, the holiday Bink postponed her admittance for; I had to return the final proofs of my novel before we left; I had a short article for the Daily Mail to write by morning; and the next day’s blog. And I hadn’t begun packing. Bink isn’t the only one who finds it difficult: I normally need a week. I would be up half the night as it was.
I waved goodbye – no hugs or kisses allowed – and watched the car pull into the street.
I have no idea when Bink will ever be back, nor how changed she might be.
I went inside to ring the florist I already had an arrangement with, to make sure flowers and chocolates were in her room before she got there.
Then I sat down at the kitchen table, shaking as I was, and cried.
For the briefest of moments only. I have twenty years to cry about. But I also had a novel to proof-read and return.