Books

The changes experienced in sustainability over the last ten years or so have been nothing but phenomenal. More and more companies have embraced the need to act more responsibly and manage their impacts. What started as ‘doing less harm’ has turned into bottom line benefits as companies have found new ways to match managing the triple bottom line with shaving costs off the business bottom line. But you don’t cut yourself into growth and growth is the bread and butter of companies. And it’s the holy grail of sustainability – growing the business top line. That’s why we need consumers to come and join the party – they already do, just look at TOMS, Patagonia, Method, Seventh Generation, Dove and many more. What is missing isn’t the consumer but a better grip on what makes them tick – a sustainable brand they can trust, buy and advocate. In my new book I cut through the myths and noise to create a sustainable brand model, a fusion of product and branding. It’s when these two dance that we create consumer breakthrough and the magic happens. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Let’s simply create more sustainable brands – and this is the ‘how to’ guide that will help you get there.

Use the code Campher15 in the voucher section to get 15% discount!

Link to the book here – Creating a Sustainable Brand: A Guide to Growing the Sustainability Top Line

Nelson Mandela

For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others

Mandela…

To the world his death is the loss of a leader. Someone that remembered and lived for the people. Someone who fought for the rights of everyone no matter who or what they were. Someone who stood for peace first but with an iron fist and voice when needed. Someone who knew that to lead was to take a journey no one else was brave enough to take.

To the world his death is the loss of a friend. Someone who loved all people big and small, rich and poor. Someone who cared for everyone no matter who or what they were. Someone who knew that his love came with both a warm embrace and a stern word when we lost our direction. Someone who led from the front and guided us on the journeys we had to take but were too scared to take.

To the world his death is the loss of an inspiration. Someone who showed us how to love every single person in this world even those who don’t deserve it. Someone who taught us how to care for every single soul whether they needed it or not. Someone who inspired us to fight for peace when love couldn’t get us there. Someone who made us brave enough to take those journeys we were too afraid to face on our own.

To the world his death is the loss of an idea. Someone  that stood for everything that is good in this world. Someone that stood up for those who couldn’t stand up for themselves. Someone who refused to be quiet when he saw a wrong.  Someone who knew to be a man was to stand for something good. Someone who stood up and protected us against the nightmares of this world. Someone who made us want to be better than what we really were. Someone who comforted us even when his own pain was too much.

To the world his death is the loss of Mandela. Bigger than anything else that walked this earth. A giant amongst men. A giant amongst all people. The giant who carried us on his back when the road was too tough. The mother who carried us in his arms when we needed just a little comfort and love. Mandela. King of kings. God amongst gods. Nelson Mandela.

To the world he is all Mandela.

To us South Africans he is Madiba. Our father. Our soul. Our Ubuntu. We are because he was. No, because he is. Our daily inspiration. Our voice of conscious. Our everything. Our South Africa. We walk in his shadow. We strive to be the people and nation he saw. We try to love the way he loved all of us. We try to be a little bit of him.

To me he is Tata. Father. Dad. Papa. Respect, honor, love, duty, responsibility and everything I have been taught about being me. The man I want to be is a reflection of him. Who I am to become. He is me and I am him. Because of Tata I am.

Goodbye Tata. Stay warm, Tata. Stay with us just a little longer. Just a little longer until we are brave enough. I love you. I miss you. My Tata.

Rest, my Tata. Sleep well, Tata. Tomorrow is coming. We will make you proud. I will make you proud.

Viva Mandela, Viva. Amandla Madiba, Amandla. Long Live Tata, Long Live.

I don’t know how to express how I feel about what happened at the Boston Marathon. I have a hollow empty feeling in my stomach. It is not only because it was the first place we lived in when we got to the US. It’s not only because I see Boston as my US hometown. It’s not only because I am part of Red Sox Nation. It’s not only because I have so many friends who live there and watch the race each year. It is not only because I was worried sick about them all. It’s not only because the 2nd bomb went off 25 yards from my old office. It’s not only because I started running to one day do “The Boston”. It’s not only because I am angry and sad because of the death and injury to all of those out on a beautiful Patriots Day. It’s also because I am a runner…

My first marathon in 3:59:32

My first marathon in 3:59:32

I am a runner…

I am a runner. I run because we have no politics. We runners represent the world. We don’t represent any organization or country. We run as runners. We run and we are equal. We just run. No hidden agenda. Nothing but us and the road. We run because we can. We run as equals whether we are at the front or the back – we all run the same path. We are comrades battling ourselves and not each other. We are ordinary people doing an extraordinary thing for a few hours of running. And cheering each other on. We run for many reasons but in a single spirit. I am a runner free.

I am a runner. I run and I smell. I hear my wife and kids complaining and moaning about how I stink when I get back from my run. But I do it for the smile and kiss I get when I’ve done a race. I run for my kids to say how cool the medals are even though everyone got one. I run because my wife makes a little shrine of my running stuff. I run for them.

I am a runner. I run when I travel. I used to stay in my hotel room and just do nothing. Now I run. I see the cities and places that used to just flash by while I sit in a cab on my way to my meeting. Now I run and find the beauty in places so unexpected. I am a runner for beauty.

I am a runner. I run with my mates and sometimes we talk and sometimes we just run. When the world and all our problems feels a little bit too heavy – we run. All we need is the road and our running shoes to make it a little bit lighter. I am a runner for friendship.

I am a runner. I can run in silence or listen to the music of the world flash by. It can be on the road and cars roaring past or on a treadmill listening to my latest playlist or the trails and nothing but wind through the leaves and grass.  I am a runner for music.

I am a runner. We don’t run to write long stories because we know that we can never really tell you how we feel while running. Runners know. We just know. It’s freedom. Just you and the road. And sometimes a few mates.  I am a runner in silence.

I am a runner. I run and think of the funniest most politically incorrect jokes I will never tell the world. I think of the funny runners I have met on the road – the guy with the long socks or the girl with the fairy wings. I am a runner for jokes.

I am a runner. I imagine I am as graceful as a gazelle running free. I see myself gliding over hills and mountains. I know none of that is true. But I run sweating and struggling, and I run free. I am a runner running free.

I am a runner. I think I run alone but I never do. I hear the voices of my friends telling me to push a little harder. I hear the voices of strangers encouraging me to do one more mile. I am a runner with others.

I am a runner. I know I am no Haile Gebrselassie and won’t even win my age group in a local race. I won’t even get close. But I run because I can. I am a runner for me.

I am a runner. I run to be free of the worries of the world – even though it is just for a few miles. To clear my head and recharge. I am a runner for tomorrow.

I am a runner. It isn’t complicated. It’s a very simple thing. It’s just you and the road. We put our shoes on and we run. I am a runner because I can.

I am a runner. For every mile we fight pain and ourselves. Never others. We push and pull each other to do 26.2. I am a runner for marathons.

I am a runner. For the people cheering us on. Feeling our pain and giving us strength. I am a runner for them.

I am a runner. For every mile that will never be the same. I will never run alone again. I am a runner.

I am a runner. For every mile. For them.

I am a runner. For every mile.

I am a runner.

I am.

Running in my Red Sox cap

Running in my Red Sox cap

We’ve been married for 19 years today. She is my ubuntu. My meaning. I am because we are. I can tell you how much I love her and never get even close to telling you how I really feel. How she makes me feel. How she makes me better than what I am. I can never tell you How I Love My Wife…

How do I love my wife? In so many ways…

I love how I never want to write about my love for her because I know that I can never say it just the way I want to. And how I know that I still wouldn’t be able to say or write it the right way even if I was more gifted than Shakespeare. How words can never tell the story of my love for her. Because words have boundaries.

I love how I travel all over the world and still eat in my hotel room because nothing is worth experiencing without her next to me. How every scene is so much more beautiful and every morsel tastes so much better when she can see it and taste it. I love how she doesn’t get why I eat alone my hotel room.

I love how she holds me and asks me what is wrong when I don’t know how to say what is wrong. When all that is wrong is that the world just got a little bit too heavy. And that all I need is her arms around me to make me feel safe and strong again.

I love how I listen to that stupid Hero song of Enrique and cry because I just want to be her hero. I just want to wipe away the tears. I want to kiss away the pain. I just want to stand by her forever. Because she always takes my breath away.

I love how she has to bite her lip when she laughs when I do my silly South African accents. And how she laughs with no sound and the tears runs down her face. And she’s laughing at my stupid jokes.

I love how she pretends to need me even though she is so much stronger than me. I know she doesn’t climb mountains. She will make the mountains come to her. And that they will just obey.

I love how she speaks with a “little voice” when she gets back from shopping and asks me “Don’t you want to help me carry?” And how I know there will be a little something in there for me.

I love how I try to be funny and tell silly jokes and how I peep at her to see if she is laughing. And how I carry on until I see the beauty of her smile. And the happiness in her laughter.

I love how I used to hate Tom Cruise for taking the best line with “You complete me”. But how I know he didn’t even get close. She makes me. Not complete. She just makes me. Me.

I love how she laughs and shakes her head and says “What am I going to do with you?” whenever I make one of my suggestive comments. And how I do it just to hear those words.

I love how people make fun of me for always talking about my wife whenever they travel with me. How they poke fun at me for missing my wife and always phoning her.

I love how I look at her and compare every girl I see to her. And how no one compares even if they are on the pages of magazines or in leading roles in the movies. 

I love how she is the centre of our universe. How she holds everything together and give meaning to our family. Stronger than gravity or any law of science.

I love how my smile gets bigger the closer I get to home. How I just want to run and laugh because I know she will be there and everything will be just fine.

I love how she asks me to tickle her back and that I have no hope in hell of getting one back. But how I don’t mind because I just love touching her.

I love how she wanted me even though she could get anyone she wanted. And how she stays with me even though she can get anyone she wants. 

I love seeing her walk and watching her when she doesn’t know I am looking. And how I still have to build up the courage to ask her out.

I love how her hand feels in mine when we walk with the girls. I love how I touch her while she’s walking and kiss her on her cheek.

I love how I tell her I love her whenever I see her. Even if I just came into the kitchen from the lounge. I love how she says it back. 

I love how my heart still races when I kiss her when we make out. How her lips make me forget everything that makes me mad.

I love how she had a picture of Sawyer from Lost on her screen and how she doesn’t know I have one of her on mine.

I love how she acts all needy when she wants me to get her some Coke or crisps. And how I love getting it for her.

I love how it sometimes feels as if I am going to burst because our love feels like it is bigger than the cosmos.

I love how she buys me the new Springsteen album even though she hates his music because I overplayed it.

I love how she used to remind me of Sinead O’Connor, but how Sinead now reminds me of my wife.

I love how she is the last person I speak to before I fly off and the first person I phone when I land.

I love how I still get butterflies when she reaches for my hand without her knowing she is doing it.

I love how she eggs me on to go play with the girls even though she knows it will drive her crazy.

I love how she is the first thing that touches my lips in the morning and the last thing at night.

I love how she holds me and looks into my eyes when she tells me that she loves me more.

I love how I know why John was clinging to Yoko like that on the Rolling Stones cover.

I love how she phones me 4 or 5 times a day even if I can only take a call or two.

I love how I know what it means to love someone more than I love life.

I love how I know every part of her body but still don’t know enough.

I love how she completes my sentences and makes more sense.

I love how she puts her hand on my leg when we go for a drive.

I love how she believes in me even when I have my doubts.

I love how I would rather be at home than anywhere else.

I love how I do everything just to impress her.

I love how I know real love because of her.

I love how she loves me.

I love how I love her.

I love her.

I love how I can write another million words and still not tell you how I love my wife.

_________________________________

I can write and write about my baby and never get enough or ever get close to telling you how I feel. Here are a few more about my baby and me:

Quick! Pull My Finger!

She Had To Wee

The Girl I Didn’t Like (or How I Met My Wife)

Ubuntu (or It’s Like Breathing)

We expect riots to happen in places like Egypt, Libya and Bahrain. Places where people are oppressed in one way or another. Places we see each day on our television and in our newspapers. We follow the stories of those unhappy people on Twitter and social media. It’s them. It’s not us. Good for them to stand up and fight for a better life.

And then London…

What do they riot for? What do they fight for? A television set and a laptop? A few beers and a packet of crisps? Is that what liberation of the West means? Material stuff for a material society?

But it’s not what they do and what they steal and what they burn that makes me worry. The riots are despicable. It’s wrong. It’s meaningless. It’s violence. It’s opportunistic. But it is no more despicable than the rioters burning the houses and businesses of the innocent in those far-off “exotic” places. They are in essence the same people doing these horrid acts for the same reasons.

The lost voices fed by idiot boxes.

They are fed by media who are meaningless. Television of nothing. They are told to stare at the television and absorb all this great information. Information of what? Controlled news. The voices they hear are those of posh people who have what they want. A life. But stare into the idiot box and eventually you find nothing in there. Just empty promises and posh voices. No life. No future. Just an idiot box to make more idiots.

The powerless being fed fake reality.

They are being fed lies about a better life. Watch some reality show and maybe your dream can come true. Maybe you can be somebody too. Maybe that is your way out if the lotto doesn’t do it for you. A quick fix. But the reality of these people is no better future. They are told to follow the stories of those who came from their backgrounds and who made it into this world of those who have. But eventually they see that those are the exceptions to the rule. The majority stay behind with no life. And maybe even a life cut shorter. They don’t make the news. They are just those who live on the other side of the railroad track. The people without a life. Another life lost won’t mean much. It doesn’t make for good reality television.

The hungry being fed brands and consumerism.

They are told to own the latest music system. The latest tablet. The latest sneakers. The latest hip product. Buy it and you will become one of us. And they buy. And buy. They cut corners and steal money to make that dream come alive. And then they get the product and nothing happens. They still live in those same streets. They still live those same lives. Just with cooler products. And then the money runs out and something new comes along. And they are back to where they belong. With no life and just the need for the latest gadget or hip product.

The meaningless being fed politics of change.

They are told that there are people who really care. Who cares about them and their future. That they will make a difference. They will be the difference. But the difference is really aimed at them. It’s aimed at the middle class to keep them happy. The real majority isn’t in the number of people but in the numbers in money. They are told that companies care about them. They can see it in the charity handed out daily. But none of this makes them become one of them. They don’t hire them. They don’t vote for them. They just promise the world and then turn their backs. The only change is that they are told that they are the problem. That they are lazy. That they are uneducated. That they fail to deliver on the promise of this great society. A society they were never invited to. A party for the invited only.

The social being fed social media.

They chat and they talk and they tweet. They like and they poke and they link. They are the heart of social media. They become part of the social movement. They connect with people from all over. They are the social movement in social media. But then they open their eyes and see that it’s still the same. The people following them are still those who sell them promises and the latest hip products. The social media turns into media. The social media become a me-me-me want more-more-more media. The social part of media breaks down like the social fabric of their lives.

How can we be surprised at the riots? It’s happening around us daily. In little ways. The kid get abused. The kid getting hooked on drugs. The homeless guy down the road. The unclaimed victim of a shooting. The drugs on our streets. These are all little riots happening daily.

The sad truth is that when people feel powerless they do stupid things because they see no alternative. They direct their anger at the wrong people. Not because they want to but because they know no better. No one has told them how to raise their voices. The only people telling them what to do are those same people who use them and abuse them daily. But they are not the answer.

I don’t know the answer.

All I know is that middle class people don’t riot. They have too much to lose. No revolution or riot happens from those who have something. We live in a world where the gap between those who have and those who don’t is increasing every single day. Those who have lost little during the recession. Or at least they see some hope and a way out. Those who were on the outside to start off with knows that getting in just got even harder.

The world is burning. They don’t care about tomorrow anymore. They care about today. The system is broken and no one knows how to fix it. It needs too much to fix it. We need people to buy less stuff. We need people to hire more people. We need people to live with each other and not just amongst each other. We need people to be a community. We need businesses driven by social profit. We need those who have to share in their responsibility as members of our society. We need them to embrace their role and not judge their worth on how much they own or their margins alone. We don’t need to fix the system – we need a new system.

I don’t think we will get there. I just don’t think we have it in us to build anything new anymore. Those who have don’t want to change because they are sucked into a world where they have too much to lose. We’ve been invaded by laziness. We’ve been sucked into a world that we created – flashy cars, latest gadgets, better holidays. These things make us dependent on them and we can’t get rid of the drug called “living the life”. They don’t know that we can lose it all in a flash. They don’t know that they are Mubarak but living in a world of fake freedom and liberty. It’s a fragile house we built around ourselves and we just don’t see it coming. Or we don’t want to see it coming.

We won’t get there. We’ll chip away and try to make it a better place by doing our little bits. And we’ll do it in the system we live in. It’s not the answer but we know no better.

That’s what I’ll do. Keep chipping away at trying to make our broken system a little bit better. Last a little bit longer. It’s not the answer but I have nothing else as an answer. It’s the best I can do with what I know and where I am.

In the meantime they riot because they know no better. They riot because they have not answer. They riot because they know no alternative. They riot because they don’t know what else to do. They will riot because that’s all the system knows.

It’s been 2 years since our Angle Maker passed away. We miss her every single day. This is our Angle Maker.

_________________________________

The worst news of the year hit us on the last day of 2008. Lynette Robb, the Angel Maker, passed away today. I… Can’t… Write. Not now. Maybe another day…

Lynette Robb, the Angel Maker…

I don’t know where to start with this. I’ll just start by telling you how I feel.

A piece of my soul is missing. That is how it feels. This big empty space inside. Because I couldn’t be there with Lynette on this dark day in December. And I can’t be there with her family on this last day of 2008. My family.

Anyone who knows me will tell you I was a real mommy’s boy. I loved my mother more than you can think. I lived for only her for most of my younger life. And then she left me to go to a better place. I was happy for her. She had a tough time down here on our little earth.

But I was blessed again. I had another mother. Lynette Robb…

It’s easy to say that you have another mother. But I mean it. Really mean it. She wasn’t a substitute for my first mother. No. She was my mother. She is my mother. Because she made me feel like I was her son.

If I am tired I wanted to go to her house. When I was sad I wanted to go to her house. When I was happy I wanted to go to her house. When I wanted to be me I wanted to go to her house. I always just wanted to be at her house. With my mom and my family called the Robbs.

She made the baggage of life feel like a feather. She made you feel like the world was there for your taking. She made you feel like you can love more than what you ever thought you could. She just made you feel alive…

Just being at her house made me feel as if the dirt of life was washing away. You knew you were in the presence of something greater than yourself when you were with her. A greater love.

But how do I tell you about Lynette?

Lynette Robb made me a better person. Her mere presence in my life made me a better person. Makes me a better person…

You want to know the meaning of Ubuntu? I am because we are? You want to see that and feel that? Then you go to Lynette. She is Ubuntu. She is Ubuntu.

She made all of us better people than what we deserved to be. You should have met her. I wish everyone could just have met her for one second. Just hung out with her for a little while. To know how it feels to be touched by an angel. If there was ever an angel on earth it was Lynette. It is Lynette. She is gone. But she will never be gone. Never be forgotten. Never… It is impossible to not remember her. Memories of her will never fade. They grow like the seed of love she planted inside all of us. You can’t ever forget that. Not once you have been touched by an angel. Not for us. Not now and not ever. She is Lynetter Robb. Our mother and our pillar of life. Our foundation angel.

She didn’t preach. She didn’t teach. She didn’t have some power you could see. She didn’t talk about these great lessons in life. No. She didn’t. But she taught me more than any teacher could. Without knowing. Just through love. The funny thing is that for Lynette the world was never about Lynette. It was always about us. Lynette giving to us. Food. Love. You name it. She always just gave. Never wanted anything back. But what she got back was us. With love. And everything we could give her.

It is just who she was. Just her presence. The way she was. She was all that without ever wanting or trying to be all that. Because she is Lynette Robb.

Have you ever seen a moth just going towards the light without thinking? That was us around Lynette. Even now. It is us. We can’t help it. We just go there. It’s a force of goodness and love that pulls us to her. It still does because her presence will never go away. She is inside all of us that knew her and loved her. Who know her and love her. We know that just being around her makes us better people. Even now…

And there were always people around her. At her house. In her life. Because we can’t stay away. We lived for her love and her life. Her light to shine on us.

Her house. With her in it. That is where I want to be. I know that when I am in South Africa I can recharge my batteries of life at her place.

…There are no words…

She was a gift God gave us. As if God placed her on earth with the plan to let us see who we can be. What we can become. If only we loved more. Lynette Robb is the love that God shows us.

I always heard nothing but love from her mouth. What she tells me she will tell anyone else. In their face. And if she doesn’t agree with someone… She will let them know. But that person will still know love.

Oh. You don’t mess with Lynette and her family. Her wider family. Me and my wife and my daughters included. We were… No. We are family. You touch any of them or speak badly about any of us… You do not know Lynette Robb. She will do everything to protect us. Anything. Because of her love. Unconditional love. Just natural love.

There are a million things I want to tell you about Lynette. My mother. But how don’t know how. There are no words to describe Lynette.

I wish I could be with her right now. Me and my wife and my kids. That is where we should be. With our other family. With Lynette and Derek and our sisters and the kids. And now? Now with my sisters and Derek. I miss them today more than anything. I just want to tell them I love them. That I will always love them. Because they are my family. We share a mother and a love. And what she gave us will never break the bond we have.

I want to sit on her stoep at the back and just rest my soul for a little while. Just laugh and joke about the langnekkie. Watch a game with Uncle Derek. Share a joke with the girls. Maybe take a swim in the pool with the kids. I can hear her laughing right now. I can hear her say “Foksies“. I can see her sit on her chair outside that afdak. Lynette sitting somewhere laughing. But always keeping an eye out for everyone around her. Making sure we are okay. Making sure we know we are loved. I wish I could be there now. And just feel her presence and see her smile.

Take your happiest feeling and bottle that. Because that is how Lynette made us feel.

…Lynette Robb…

She made angels. That is what she did. She took us and turned us into these angels. And she let us fly off and do what we had to do in this world. But we always went back to her. Because we were not strong enough. We needed her to recharge our lives. We need her to recharge our lives…

To remind us of the good in this world. To remind us that we can make this world a little bit better. To remind us that tomorrow there will be even more love. Even in the darkness of today.

She made angels. That was Lynette Robb.

No… She makes angels. That is Lynette Robb.

I love her. Not because I have to. But because she is Lynette Robb. My mother. My Angel Maker.

I will live my life to make her proud. I will make angels for her. I will need help. I am not strong like her. But we can make angels for Lynette.

Lynette. I know where you are. I am closing my eyes and I can feel your hand on mine. I needed that. I am holding it. You will always be with us. Always. You made us better people. And I will take your love and make it grow. Make more angels. I hope you are proud of me when you look down sitting there with God. He is a lucky God. He will have you on His side. It will make Him even stronger. Like you made us stronger. You made us angels. I will make angels for you.

I love you. We all do. We are your angels. You made this world a better place. And me a better man. It would have been enough just knowing you. But you showed me love. I am your son. I love you. And I will make angels for you.

Lynette Robb. Angel Maker.

I know, most people have read this one already. And you know me and my girls… They are my life.  But they also remind me of The Little Girl In The Blue House… Is there someone missing her? Someone talking to her each day? Is she waiting for someone? Is she okay?

 ________________________

2008_0944

The Little Girl In The Blue House

I always walk the same way to the train station. I take the shortest route. I have too. Way too early to walk one meter further than I have to. Or one minute longer than what is needed. There is another route. Slightly longer. But all the time in the world if it is so bloody early in the morning. My normal route is an easy walk. Turn right, then a quick left and straight down to the station. A quick and easy 20 minute stroll.  And who said I don’t get enough exercise… But today I had to go the slightly longer route. Turn left, turn right and down the slightly longer walk to the station. Not by much. Just about 5 minutes added. But sometimes the longer route brings more than just a longer walk. And this morning I got more than I wanted. Another reason why I never like walking that route. A reminder. A memory.

My oldest daughter always does the “left turn” walk. Her friend from across the street walks with her to the bus stop. They pick up another friend along the way and off they go. But not this morning. The girl from across the road didn’t feel too well so she couldn’t walk with my daughter. Dad duties called. I am the backup. So off we went. On our left turn. 

We were joking as we walked. Doing our “home boy” walk down the street. Me doing funny walks and funny voices to show her how I was going to embarrass her in front of her friend who has never met me. Doing my typical dad stuff. We got to the house. I gave her a hug and a kiss and watched her walk to meet her friend. And off I went. Taking my right turn down the road. The slightly longer road.

I put my iPod on and was listening to A Fine Frenzy when I walked past the blue house. And it brought back memories of the little girl who lived there. The little girl in the blue house.

She was the first friend my oldest daughter made at her new school when we moved here. They were in the same class. Hung out together. I saw her often. At the school. Or at the park. Or just in the streets when we were walking. But she was always there when we took my daughter to school. Running to great her friend. She was scrawny just like my daughter. But she was a little bit too thin. A little bit too pale.

In summer she always had just a t-shirt on. And in winter. A very worn and tatty thin little jacket. And trust me. It gets damn cold over here in Boston in winter. I remember seeing her with her arms folded to try and keep some heat in that little body of hers. You could see she was cold. But that was all she had for winter.

Her mother was always well dresses. With the latest fashion. Clothes and accessories she bought at the mall. She looked well looked after. And warm. Not like her little girl. But we didn’t see her at school often. Or anywhere for that matter. She didn’t walk with her little girl that often.

And they stayed just down the road from the school. It looked like a pretty house from the outside. That blue house where the girl stayed.

I often took my girls to the park at the school. And we’ll see her there often. On her own. On the swings. And she’ll be so happy to see my daughters. She was always so good to my little one. Running up to her and giving her a hug and a kiss and playing with her. She was a nice little girl. That little girl from the blue house.

My daughter always told us about her friend. And how she shared her snacks at school with her because she never had snacks. So my wife put in a few extra snacks for two. Never mentioned it to the little girl. Didn’t want her to feel odd. My daughter just shared because that is how she is. It was her friend. No questions.

And one day she told us that the girl was so exited about going to visit her dad in Arkansas. Her parents were divorced. And she lived with her mother and boyfriend in the blue house. The boyfriend had a nice BMW convertible. Nice car. Pretty new. They obviously had some money. Just not always for the little girl. But she was excited. She was going to visit her dad.

And then we saw her during the holiday. When she was meant to be at her dad. It was the first time I really saw her sad. The smile wasn’t there. She spoke to my daughter in a low sad voice and I didn’t want to ask too many questions. Didn’t want her to feel uncomfortable. I just wanted her to be a little girl. Playing with her friend. And having fun the way 10-year old girls are meant to have fun. So I let them talk and watched as they started playing and giggling. And the smile started coming back. She was with her friend.

The odd thing was that apart from that day I always saw her smile. A big old child smile. I never heard her complain. Not in front of me in any case. She always looked happy. But you could see that there was something missing. You just had to look carefully.

I always hug and kiss my girls. No matter where we are. When we drop them off at school. When I say goodbye in the morning. When they go to sleep at night. Or just because we feel like a hug and a kiss. Which is often. No matter where we are. And this little girl saw this. Saw how I hugged my girls. And she wanted one too.

I used to see her looking at me and my daughter when we hug. And then one day she came up to me when I took my girl to her school and asked for a hug. She was a little bit shy about asking. But I just gave my girl a hug and she looked at me with her tatty top with the long sleeves and peeked at me. “Can I get a hug please?” “Of course!” I said. I gave her a big old hug. And she hugged back. Hugging maybe a little longer and harder than what I expected. Almost as if she didn’t get a lot of hugs and would like to get hugs more often. She was only ten.

And that was how it was. Whenever she saw me she would come running up to me and give me a hug. And I’ll hug her back. And I’ll give her a smile and ask how she was doing. It became a standard thing. I never really thought much about it. I knew she wanted a hug and I gave her one. We can do with more hugs in this world. And I didn’t think that she got too many hugs elsewhere in any case.

And then one day she was just gone. Just gone. Her mother packed their bags in the middle of the night and just disappeared. Gone. Not even a goodbye. Not even a last hug. Just gone with her tatty little top. We never knew what happened to her. How she is doing or how she is feeling. Is she with her dad? Is she okay? Is she happy? Is she being a kid? Did she get a warmer jacket? Is she still smiling those big old smiles of hers? Is she getting any hugs? Or is she still playing alone in the park?

Time passed and memories started fading. We’ll mention her every now and again and just wonder.

And then we started looking at buying a house. And one of the houses that was on the market was the blue house. The blue house where the little girl stayed. So off we went to look at the house. Thinking that maybe we can buy it and make it our little house. Until we opened the front door and walked in.

My wife and myself just looked at each other when we walked in. I knew what she was thinking. It was my thoughts to.

The house stank. It was dirty. So dirty. Everything was a mess. Stuff lying on the floor everywhere. Clothes. Plates. Old food. Ashtrays overflowing. Wet spots. I have never, ever seen anything like this anywhere. And I have been to some places… It has been like this for a long, long time. Our shoes got stuck on the sticky dirt that was on the floors. All the rooms were in a mess. You couldn’t even see what color the walls or carpets were. It was brown. From dirt and cigarette smoke. I felt nauseous. Sick. The ex-boyfriend was lying in bed downstairs watching something on a big screen television. On his huge water bed. With plates and empty bottles and cigarettes lying all around him. A pig in a pigsty.

We went up the stairs to look at the real bedrooms. And we walked into the room that would have been that little girls room. It was a mess. Just a mess. No place for a little girl. Any little girl. Dirty. Filthy. Disgusting. You could see little things she must have tried to do to make it a little girl’s room. A little picture here and there. A ripped out poster. A wonky little table where she must have tried to study. Some girlie jewelery lying on the floor amongst the dirt that she must have forgotten to pack in the haste. But it was covered in a floor that ran skew. Holes in the floors and roof. And cold. And this was in winter. No heating. This was the room of the little girl with the big smile.

My wife and myself just looked at each other. We knew what each of us were thinking. We just wanted to get out. Just wanted to forget that we ever came. That we ever knew that little girl. And that she lived there. Her little room in the blue house.

We sat in the car and just stared at nothing for a while. And then she said it. “She lived in that house.” That’s all that needed to be said. We knew. The little girl in the blue house.

And walking past that house this morning reminded me of her. That little girl in the blue house. Made me think. Again. How did she do it? How did she manage? How did she remain a little girl in that house? How long can she be that girl with the big old kid smile? How long before she falls through the cracks? Is she strong enough? Where will she find the love she needs? The hugs she deserves? How is the little girl from the blue house doing?

The little girl from the blue house. I hope you remember me. I hope you remember those hugs. I just wish I hugged you a little harder and a little longer.

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