Growing Up, 1975

I grew up this morning before dinner-time but I didn’t really know about it. I knew I wasn’t wetting myself cos it was too slow and it didn’t last that long. Miss Ryan wouldn’t let me go to the toilet because we’re supposed to go at playtime. When she came over in the end, I told her I was bleeding. Then she let me go. They were all whispering that I’d cut myself. I thought so too, but I wasn’t sure because it didn’t hurt like it should when you really cut yourself, like when you fall down skipping or you’re trying to catch someone when you’re ‘it’.

Mrs Watts, our nurse, she’s really nice. She gave me something for it and a pair of… fresh knickers. She keeps a spare set of clothes for things like that, she said. I had to wash mine out. She hung them up and I had to come back for them after school. Then we had a little talk.

When Mandy went back at lunchtime, Mrs Watts also had a letter in a sealed envelope for Mrs Green. Mrs Green read it, put it back in the envelope, tucked the flap in. Placed it on the telly, thought twice about it, picked it up and slipped it into her trouser pocket. Wendy was also home for lunch.

“You know what it is, don’t you?”

Mandy had told Wendy and Wendy had told their mum before Mandy summoned up the courage to give her the letter and the plastic bag which wasn’t see-through because her mum had a thing about see-through bags.

“You’re going to get in trouble!” was the first thing Wendy had said when she saw Mandy at the door in a skirt not her own.

“No I’m not. My skirt’s dirty.”

“You wet yourself at school!”

“No I didn’t! I got my period. So there!”

Wendy fell silent.

“You’ve got to tell mummy.”

“You tell her,  go on.”

“You know what it is, don’t you?” her mother asked – said more like –  as she placed a plate of spam, baked beans and chips in front of her nine year old daughter.

Mandy nodded, her eyes on the spam. It looked like white people.

“Good.” Mother went to fetch the squash.

(From Long Time Walk on Water)

‘Weaves love, self-discovery, race, class politics, immigration, and the British postcolonial imaginations into a beautiful tour de force. A moving account of black sojourners’ day-to-day in a new alien land as they tumble forward for a better life and belonging.’ (Amazon)

‘Beautifully crafted (…) will leave the reader as changed as Simon’s characters. Highly, highly recommended.’ (Amazon)

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