‘Put those back!’ It’s those two lads I chased out of here only last week. They’re always trying to pilfer the chocolate bars. They both run off, laughing, one throwing a wrapper on the floor. They bang into a customer on the way in.
‘Oops!’ says one, startled for a moment, then both rush off. I see who it is. It’s a wonder she didn’t say anything. From what I understand, those two are in her class. I can usually rely on Suzie to help me out with the school kids if they get a bit boisterous. She’s a lovely girl. I’ve been friends with her mother for years. She normally comes in for a sandwich or sometimes sweets for prizes for the kids at the end of term.
Suzie does seem to be in a bit of a daze today. It’s probably the new boyfriend. They do make a lovely couple. She riffles through the magazine rack and picks up a daily newspaper, placing it on the counter. She fidgets around in her purse for the money.
‘Hello, Suzie,’ I say smiling. She stares at me, frowning slightly, but doesn’t respond. She sets out the exact change and leaves without saying a word. That was odd.
I decide I will have to put a notice on the door:
ONLY TWO SCHOOL CHILDREN ALLOWED AT A TIME.
I can’t afford to lose money like that. I’m busy making my sign when Suzie walks in again in the afternoon. She beams at me.
‘I wanted you to know,’ she says.
‘What?’ I say.
‘Marvin and I are getting engaged!’
‘That’s wonderful! I thought you were a bit preoccupied.’
‘When?’ she says.
‘This morning. What was wrong with you this morning?’
‘I wasn’t in this morning.’
I’m puzzled. This doesn’t make sense. I saw her. I know it was her.
‘You came in. Bought a newspaper,’ I say.
‘No. You know me — I never buy newspapers — only food!’ She breaks in to a hesitant laugh but we both feel uneasy.
‘Well, you’ve got a doppelganger, and that’s never good news,’ I say, grinning at her.
‘It’s probably someone with the same hairstyle or something,’ she says.
‘A bit more than that. She could be your twin,’ I say.
‘If you see her again, find out her name,’ she says. I nod slowly. I don’t want to make a big thing of it but I feel uncomfortable for some reason. Someone is playing a trick but I can’t quite see who or why.
I can’t stop thinking about Suzie’s double. I decide it would be a good idea to have a word with Bella, her mum. It’s funny, but something Bella told me when she had Suzie always stuck in my mind.
‘It was a very difficult birth,’ says Bella, her face downcast remembering what must have been a traumatic time. ‘There was a point when they didn’t expect Suzie to survive.’
‘That must have been dreadful,’ I say. I have vague recollections of some twenty-five years ago. Bella’s husband Phillip had just been killed in a car accident. Bella had no family near the hospital. I managed to visit once but only fleetingly to see the young Suzie. There had been lots of staff changes in the maternity ward and no one could really tell me what was going on. I tried to help out a bit when she got home with the baby, but by then, her sister had travelled from Europe to be with her.
‘There’s no way…’ I don’t know how to bring this up so I suppose I just have to go for it. ‘There’s no way you could have had twins?’ Bella looks so sad. I wonder whether I should have said anything. It’s bringing back so many difficult memories for her.
‘It’s funny you should say that,’ she says. ‘I wasn’t in a good way.’ She shakes her head, the pain of the moment coming to the fore. ‘In a semi-stupor, I actually thought I heard a nurse talking about a second baby after I’d given birth. I was in so much pain.’
‘What happened afterwards?’ I say, reluctantly pushing for detail but mindful maybe I shouldn’t. It was incredulous that Bella had been pretty much unconscious at such a crucial time.
‘The nurse I spoke to was very brusque and looked at me as though I was mad. I wasn’t at all well and had been heavily medicated. I felt as though I was being brushed aside — no man around to stick up for me.’
‘I remember how ill you were… and what with losing Phillip like that just weeks before.’
‘Yes, it was a horrendous time. I wonder…,’ she says, her eyes giving way to a slight smile.
‘Well, I’ll certainly look out for this doppelganger of young Suzie’s. If she comes in again, I’ll make some discreet enquiries… if that’s okay?’ I venture. Bella seems to be happy with the idea.
Luckily, I see the young woman the next day.
‘Hello. I’m sorry if I startled you yesterday, only you look so much like someone I know,’ I say.
‘Oh,’ she says, taken aback. ‘I did think it was odd. It’s not as though I have any relatives who look like me. In fact, I don’t even look like my parents!’ she says laughing without humour. ‘Funny story,’ she adds, ‘I only recently found out my “parents”,’ she does air quotes, ‘can’t be my real parents because of my blood type. How about that for making you feel… well, completely lost?’
I feel this young girl coming into my shop is fate. I’ll let Bella know what she’s told me. I do hope this has a happy ending. I can’t help feeling for her parents — perhaps there was a mistake and their child died. Perhaps we’ll never know the truth. All I can do is put the two of them in contact with each other and hope.