The Manchester Review
Jackie Kay
Mrs Vadnie Marlene Sevlon
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On the way home from a long and final day in Sunnyside Home for the Elderly, Mrs Vadnie Marlene Sevlon was relieved to notice a little breeze. Much better than yesterday when the weather was close, so close she felt the low pressure in the air. As long as there is a little breeze, a person can cope with most things - even if she is in the wrong place. It’s the days when there is no breeze at all when Vadnie is convinced she made a mistake. But it wasn’t like there ever seemed much choice. It wasn’t like she could just take her pick. Only people with money have choice; only rich people can take their pick; everyone else must stumble from pillar to post, from hope to promise, and believe in luck and God, or maybe just God, or maybe just luck, depending on the day and the breeze. Vadnie Marlene Sevlon often said her own name, her whole name, to herself when she was alone. Perhaps because it reminded her of back home, her mother shouting Vadnie Marlene Sevlon come and get your dinner, or maybe because it made her feel less lonely or maybe even just to remind herself of who she was. Time for you to get up Vadnie Marlene Sevlon she would say in the morning; bed for you now, Vadnie Marlene Sevlon she would say at night. And in between the morning and the night sometimes not a single living soul said her name out loud.

Vadnie walked past the College for Boys, past the Brondesbury Park Rail Station and the Islamia Primary School, past Willesden Lane Cemetery where sometimes if she had a little time on her hands she would sit on a bench and contemplate the differences between the living and the dead. She liked to read the gravestones and imagine the lives of the fascinating names she read, and work out the ages, practising her mental arithmetic. Some people find graveyards gloomy, but not Vadnie Marlene; she felt as if she was being kept company by the peaceful dead. There was an atmosphere in Willesden Lane Cemetery that you never found in Kilburn High Street or at work or even at home. Intense contemplation! Vadnie sometimes envisaged her own headstone, though she knew nobody in her family could afford one, and anyway they wouldn’t want her buried in England, and anyway she was too young to be thinking such thoughts. (She was fifty two, hardly a spring chicken, but then not likely to be at death’s door anytime soon, please God. Her father was dead long time back now, but her mother was still around and living in Darling Spring, Jamaica, with three of her sisters who all wanted Vadnie to come back home. ‘South of here is Grateful Hill, South West, Lucky Valley, further south then, Prospect,’ her mother used to say often, ‘I’m hoping our prospects improve soon.’) But even so her mind would wander off, as it often did, to imagining her own death, and she’d envisage