Butter would not melt in my mouth when I was the springiest of chickens, the buttercup trick underneath my chin told me so. Mother just about permitted the faintest of black kohl on my eyes for school parties and shooed me out before Father could have a good look at me to notice there was something unnatural permeating from underneath my little lashes. I did not know what a Boy was, I related them to be insatiably cheeky creatures of nuisance. Of course I knew what a baby was, but I had not yet reached that stage of dissecting the Butterflies and the Bees. I thought babies were born of the rainbows sparking from fingernails when the truly betrothed held hands, palm in palm, strolling by The Secret Garden.
I always had my favourite person so to speak but nobody went so far as saying or doing anything outwardly inadvertent, the laws of attraction were an unexplained vacuum. I was only nine or ten years old, the only phenomenon I came upon was realising that everyone seemed to have a secret. People were drawn to me, revealing their innards in the grandest detail. I was the Secret Keeper with a twist, since I also had the solution to every problem that ever arose. Intuitively, I saw through the transparency of snickering and shy laughter and nervous denials and white lies and presented each person with a way forward which was almost always a success.
There were of course occasions where any of the hypothetical matrimonials would speak for more than three minutes or worked together as ‘partners’ for an entire morning, by and large a chorus of echoed whispers, ooohs and aaahs would skirt around the classroom with the sole aim of turning their faces into the colour of the brightest red felt-tip pen. At this point, Teacher would advise to hush and we obeyed. Teacher could see who was favourites with whom, but I tried to outwit them or they might accidentally mention it to my parents on Parent’s Evening and before I knew it, I would be packed aboard an inevitable flight to Pakistan where the entire village knew my holiday itinerary but me.
At ‘play-time’ before registration (I always missed this because I was late), mid-morning, lunchtime and then mid-afternoon, because it was time for us to actually play (as the label ‘play-time’ correctly suggests), we stretched our legs and played British Bulldog or Hi-throw in one of the two 100-acre playgrounds. If by some horrid incident someone misbehaved, the entire class suffered as a result. The worst possible punishments Teacher dished out were being expelled from either playtime or PE or god forbid both – which was not at all so bad if I’d forgotten my PE kit.
Teacher was like mini-Hitler, nothing prevented me from taking part in PE, if I had the bubonic plague I would still have been expected to play Tigball (how this was even remotely fun when the boys tried to smash the balls into my face as hard as they possibly could, I commend the person who invented sponge). Even if I accidentally left my shorts or t-shirt in the washing machine at home, I would have to embarrassingly pain myself by playing Rounders in blue-and-white-flowery-knickers and matching floral vest.
I happily waited for the days when the boys forgot their kits having to play football in their white y-fronts, I would point and laugh wildly in revenge (I take this opportunity to remind you we were still only at Junior School). Therefore, to avoid these scandalously horrendous times, I made sure I never forgot my PE Kit, there was nothing more devastatingly fathomable to a nine-year-old having to carry gym mats and horses in one’s undergarments (is arranging PE equipment still permitted, I can only imagine some Health & Safety regulation would be contravened for small children lifting heavy objects four times their size!)
I have digressed slightly so I shall steer towards the plot, and see if I can thicken it somewhat. Not being able to take part in playtime or PE was a humanitarian crisis, it was an apocalyptic disaster of mass proportion beyond the likes of which imagination could not conceive. I lived to run around without a care in the world, kite-flying was practically a dream come true, running so fast I actually believed I was flying and levitating using my arms like the great wings of Pegasus and convinced everyone I could actually fly. When Teacher was pre-occupied, we would cross-join hands with a partner and fling ourselves around and around like spinning tops. This is an example of when it was more fun to play with a boy since he was just that iota bit stronger which meant we spun around faster.
I would try my hand at any active idea, skipping games with two ropes simultaneously rotating in opposite directions chanting “Not last night but the night before…twenty-four robbers came knocking at the door…” and then cursing the boys as they jumped in and muddled the ropes because they were hopeless and wanted to cause trouble (insatiable nuisance reference reproved). I would steal sticks of chalk from Teacher and how excited I was if I managed to extract blue or pink or green pieces so we could draw out hopscotches for the rain to wash away.
I did love my junior school, nothing could pleasure me more than to jump into the Tardis and escape back to those carefree and happy days. At Christmas, I would make snowflakes from paper cut-outs; Diwali would see me draw chalk designs on to each concrete step heading up to the classroom; Eid would bring home-made food, Pass-the-Parcel and Musical Chairs; Easter would bring Easter Egg competitions (and how annoyed I was that I spent so much effort and concentration delicately decorating my beautiful egg to come second to a boy who had the inspired idea to create a boxing ring from a cardboard box and place two eggs as boxers cellotaped to the centre – and it was not even him, it was his dad or older brother: boys and nuisance again proven theory!)
Each year, there was a stage story to be told in the School Hall (passing note: I did not go to an Islamic School and yes all my teachers were white, we sung hymns each morning during Assembly, how I did not turn into a Fundamentalist Christian Crusader, God only knows). The Rama & Sita production thrilled me with the evils of the ten-headed demon Ravana and I am sure one year I was quite scared half to death with a Ghostbuster / Thriller production where all the actor-kids caused chaos running amok in pure darkness wearing sheer tights as masks (I also remember when this was the best disguise bank robbers could think up whilst appearing on CrimeWatch, oh how times have changed…) and how the small children cried.
I would run away from the bumblebees and dragonflies in the Spring time noticing the buds on tree branches knowing life was just about to set itself alive once more. In the summer, I would eat rose petals (I was a strange child) and sprint to the cornershop for a Funny Feet ice-cream, Juicy Luicy ice-lolly, a Strawberry Split, Feast or a Raspberry flavoured tip-top which made no sense because it was azure blue, secretly stealing a few bon-bons or cola bottles when the Shopkeeper’s back was turned – penny sweets used to be penny sweets (shocking I know) who ever missed a couple of pennies back in the day? I breathed the snappier and increasingly chillier Autumn air as I relished wading through the sea of two-foot deep multicultural green, bronze, orange and yellow leaves crunching the brown ones underfoot, each day waiting for the chestnuts to fall before me so I could open up the seed casing, seizing the freshest most precious prize.