Each number had been painstakingly coloured in, the edges decorated with drawings of ladybirds, unicorns and stars.
Gabriella Ratcliffe is far from the first child to make her own calendar, marking off the days until an event they’re looking forward to – my son, the exact same age, has done it many times, impatient for his birthday, a holiday, Toy Story 4.
But when Gabriella finally crossed out the last number, meaning the long wait was over… nothing. Just crushing disappointment that, yet again, the mother she’s desperate to be reunited with still hadn’t come home.
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was sent to an Iranian prison in 2016 for crimes she didn’t commit. On Monday she was sentenced to another year in jail, with a 12-month travel ban on top, meaning she might not be back with her family for two years.
Nazanin and husband Richard haven’t seen each other once since her arrest and the couple made the difficult decision to send Gabriella to school in Britain, meaning the six-year-old hasn’t even been able to visit her mum in prison since 2019.
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Nazanin has apologised to Gabriella, saying: “Forgive me for all the nights I was not by your side to hold your warm, little hand till you fall asleep.”
She has no need to feel guilty, of course. She still does though, of course. How can you explain to a child something that doesn’t make sense to adults?
Maybe Gabriella understands more now she’s getting older, but as a baby, a toddler, a pre-schooler, all she will have known is that she wanted her mum, and her mum wasn’t there.
I have no idea what it’s like to be locked in an Iranian prison, but I can imagine – although I’m almost too terrified to – what it might feel like to be ripped away from your only child.
Missing the milestones, the photo album opportunities, the markers of growing up would be agony.
But worse somehow to be robbed of the ordinary, everyday moments – the 3am soothing, the giggles, the hand that automatically steadies them when they wobble, without either of you really noticing.
The sandwiches, the stories, the silences. The millions of tiny pixels, each unremarkable on its own, that make up the picture of a family.
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My son has a failsafe bedtime delay tactic – if he says: “But I neeeeeed you!” I find it impossible to leave his room, and I’m only going downstairs. How Nazanin finds the strength to carry on amidst this endless separation is simply inconceivable.
So much of her story is down to sheer bad luck – the Foreign Secretary when she was arrested happened to be Boris Johnson.
In a week where what he did or didn’t say is the subject of much debate, a reminder that something he said in 2017 apparently sealed her fate. Nazanin was in Iran on holiday, so Gabriella could spend time with her grandparents.
Johnson completely incorrectly stated she was “teaching people journalism.” Three days later, his comments were cited as proof she was engaged in “propaganda against the regime” at an -unscheduled court hearing she was summoned to.
Nazanin can’t get justice on any level – she remains trapped, the politician whose -incompetence harmed her case promoted to the most powerful job in the country. Johnson has been preoccupied with plans for decorating his Downing Street flat, the only -interior design Nazanin has seen for half a decade is the inside of a prison cell.
Meanwhile Gabriella probably doesn’t look at her homemade calendar any more. The days are all crossed off, but she’s still waiting. Longing for her mother to come home.