Bella on the bench never looked for any pity, and nobody had ever known her beg. She gave the same polite “hello, my dear,” to anyone who passed, whether they gave her a sandwich or a couple of pound coins or not. In summer she made her home on one of the wooden benches by the beach huts, and though the police sometimes moved her on, it was just going through the motions and they turned a blind eye when she came back. She wore thick socks even on the warmest days, but never seemed to feel the cold, and often, at dawn, left her bags and her blanket, and walked briskly out to the beach to see the sun rise through the mist over the North Sea.
But she never left her brooch there. That was always pinned, firmly, to her clothing, and she often touched it to check it was there. When she took a shower at the shelter, she took the gardenia brooch into the cubicle with her, carefully shielding it from the moisture. She slept with her hand over it.
“My husband gave it me,” she said, simply, to Donna, the local charity worker who had befriended her. “And it was his mother’s.” Bella had always got on with her mother-in-law. She had told her tales of a world Bella wished she had seen; a world of tea dances and salon orchestras, and potted palms, and the sweet, elegant scent of gardenias. Rachel was a born storyteller, and sometimes Bella felt she had been there herself. Before she met Rachel she’d barely heard of gardenias, but they became her favourite flower. Adam planted them in the garden for her, and they became a part of her life, and of their life.
Donna had what folk called a “way” with Bella – and she would never try to change her.
She was not afraid when she saw that this September morning, Bella’s hand had slipped from the gardenia brooch pinned to her coat.
She was in a place where gardenias bloomed, and soft music played.