How I loved talking to George. He was the only one who listened to me and he didn't make fun of my short hair either. Whenever I needed him, he was always there for me, without fail. He never scolded me. He was never angry. He was my best friend which made me feel good inside. I loved his smart soldier's uniform covered in lots of medals.
It was nearly lunch time. I could tell by the strong smell of boiled cabbage wafting through the home. It soaked into the nooks and crannies of every room and corridor. There was no escaping the pungent smell. I also knew it was lunch time by the muffled sounds of pots and pans clattering in the kitchen. The sounds were welcome. I hated the heavy silence when all the children were away at school. The home seemed so empty without them. I longed to go to school but I was still too young.
I suppose that's why I enjoyed being in George's company, in the committee room, at lunch times. He never looked upon me as a nuisance. He listened as I related in detail all the bad things I was going through. I told him everything, about all the times I was smacked or when someone was unkind to me or even when I was happy. But I didn't feel that way very often. George was old and wise. His eyes always smiled as he looked down at me, patiently listening to all my long tales of woe.
The committee room was in the private and more comfortable part of the home. It was always unlocked in the middle of the day. That was why I was able to sneak in and talk to George for a little while on my own. I sat down at the large table in the centre of the room waiting for the house mother to appear.
She arrived moments later. Luckily for me, she always assumed I'd been in the room for no more than a minute or so ahead of her. To be found in there without the house mother's permission meant a telling off at the very least, or much worse if she was in a bad mood. Although I knew the room was out of bounds to all children, I was prepared to take the risk if it meant I could talk to George. She never discovered my secret.
The old lady dressed in scruffy clothes always joined us for lunch. But she never ate anything, only watched. I loved it when the sun shone through the tall bay windows, warming the highly polished table. The committee room was sparsley furnished with an old black fireplace built into the centre of the wall at the far end. An old fashioned mahogany chest of drawers stood against an adjacent wall. I loved to walk around the large room, smelling the freshness and polish and admiring the many paintings hanging on the walls.
A bowl of hot soup was placed in front of me. It was the same evey day. The house mother stirred the soup and broke a slice of bread into tiny pieces. Then she placed the pieces of bread in the bowl. I watched them swimming around in circles on the surface of the soup.
"Look at the fishies!", she always said.
I was all but invisible after that, neither heard nor seen, even by the staff who popped in from time to time to serve up the rest of the meal. Perhaps it was because I was so small, sitting on the high backed chair with my head barely peeking above the table's edge. I was easily missed. I was unimportant. But I didn't mind. All I could think about was the school playground a short distance away from where the sounds of children playing drifted in and out of the room.
As I turned my head towards the joyful sound, looking out the window and across the garden filled with roses of all different colours, I just longed to be there with them, to escape into their world of happiness. When the school bell rang and the playground emptied and the sounds faded and died away to nothing, our lunch was over, too. The house mother and her friend never saw me give George a little smile as I quietly left the room.
George White listened but never said a word because he couldn't. He was a painting hanging on the wall. Although he lived and died many years before I was born, somehow I felt connected to him, perhaps because we shared the same surname. So he filled the emptiness I felt at the time. With his silvery grey hair and dressed in his bright red uniform, George brought a little comfort to a lonely child crying out for love in a world which made little sense. A few months later, I was old enough to go to school. I couldn't sneak into the committee room any more. George, like all old soldiers, gradually faded away. But he was never forgotten.