Strength and honour.
I’d suddenly leap out of the wardrobe and demand her pearls. It was our game and one of our favourites. We called it the Lady and the Robber. She was the lady and I of course was the robber. She’d feign surprise every time but the clear and present danger of a pointing index finger and a threatening upraised and menacingly cocked thumb would be enough after a few offended protestations to relieve her of her jewels.
I’d be about eight years old and my sister would be about twelve.
We were immigrants, the four of us all lived in a single room, which to be honest didn’t give a young robber just learning his trade many decent places to hide in, so the blind spot of the wardrobe became sort of traditional. While our parents were out there working their asses off doing literally the three jobs a day thing to get the rest of their kids over, it was our playroom.
She’d always totter around in our mother’s high heeled shoes, faux fur and simulated pearled finery, which she was totally forbidden to do, I’d always leap out of the wardrobe, which was a permissible activity for the young curly-haired dervish monster which I undoubtedly was.
I’ve a feeling that it was originally an eight year old boy’s imaginary game but the creative and dramatic embellishments on it were all female. It’s called civilising a little savage and I’m sure wouldn’t turn out to be her first and only project in that respect. Children playing together has that hidden bonus of learning to give and take. You want your fun, but they’ve also got to get theirs as well, or nobody can play.
The best bit was the end. We’d run out of improvised lines and she’d lift me up high and then throw me down hard on the double bed, but before I’d bounced up, she’d pounce and tickle the very ribs out of me. I loved it but in the end had to cry out stop, stop, I’m going to pee myself.
Her formal education never got beyond twelve because the family was in trouble and it was an all hands on deck situation. She worked her socks off doing her part in the unskilled and cash in hand labour jobs, but was and still is one of the sharpest people I’ve ever met and as they say, the cream always floats to the top in the end.
Formal education or not, she’d go on to be a real mover in Ontario’s childcare system. That rarity, senior management who knew exactly what they were doing. She’d get into the closed social enclaves the rest of the childcare establishment had been butting their heads against for decades. She’s that good, but she’s still a little bit scary. I’d bet her grandchildren enjoy running a mile when she wiggles those tickling fingers at them. I would.
A lorra years down the line, it finally occurred to me to wonder why the seventh child of thirteen should be one of the first to be moved over. The family answer is I was my mother’s pet, which is partially true, but the real one was my father’s considered reply – you wouldn’t have survived being left behind by us. Us was him and his woman, a boss twosome if there ever was one, a couple under great stress at the time but accepting the added burden of looking after the runt of the litter.
Many years later I was leading the charge for a finishing tape in some fun run for some good cause the details of which escape me now. I’d been nagged into doing it against my better judgement by my flatmate Alex, who was ex-navy and in typical military fashion was determined to finish, despite I suspect the last time he’d run anywhere there was probably a copper blowing a whistle hot on his heels.
We’d been training for a whole two weeks or more on a strict sports diet of Belgian beer and doner kebabs drenched in chilli sauce. Hold the sauerkraut but give me some extra of those killer onions in their place. The sacrifices you have to make to be an athlete. It was brutal I tell you, just plain brutal. The worst two weeks of my whole life.
I’d a sprinter’s musculature. I’d be fastest out of the blocks but after a hundred yards, it’d all become hard work. Some people have that all bony legs and elbows and big chest build that makes them endurance athletes who can run you down into the ground. I would always finish behind them, but for once in my life I was going to win a distance race. Jesus H bloody Christ on a chariot, finally. I was there, so close I could almost taste it, but I ground to a halt. I tuned out all the shouting and screaming and watched people running by me in slomo.
Somewhere in the mix I’d lost my wingman. I walked back, weaving my way through the runners and found him totally shagged out sitting on the kerbside having an exhausted smoke. “Typical wimp ass navy pongo”. The dismissive insult was enough to electrify his ass up off the kerb. He’d his war face on again and it was pointing at me.
“Come on, let’s finish this fucker off” I said before he attacked me, and I hoiked him up and we pretend jogged towards the tape. Everybody goes home.
Both the girlfriends were there at the finishing line jumping up and down enthusiastically, so we naturally puffed ourselves up and jogged nonchalantly like it was a stroll in the park thing, rather than something that’d nearly bloody broke the ass off the both of us.
The best thing about crossing the line together was we could finally abandon our strict sport’s diet.
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