One minute it's hopscotch in bare
next you're four foot up in a sedan
your pink stockings get dirty.
prepared me for marriage.
Me and Alba
were the wild girls of Londinium,
sought to discover the secrets
of its hidden hearts, still too young
to withhold more than we revealed,
to join this merry cast of actors.
She was like a rag doll who'd lost
spiky brown hair kept short 'cos
everyone said she was either anorexic
or had worms, but Alba was so busy
chasing the dulcis vita that she
everything she ate before it turned
She'd drag me out on dangerous escapades,
we were partners in crime, banditos,
she said there was more to life
than playing with friggin' dolls,
trouble and discovering what grown-ups
did in private without getting caught.
We were gonna steal from the rich,
give to the poor, keep seventy-five
for ourselves and live in one of
with a thousand slaves feeding us
all day every day, but until such
time . . . Her dad
owned the butcher's next door but
Mine couldn't care less what I did.
His precious Catullus got the abacus
I got the sewing kit and tweezers.
He was even bought a ponytail
for his curly
little head, so's he fitted in at
with all those trendy Roman kids.
Bless his sockless feet. Imagine.
Some days we'd tour the tenements
of Aldersgate. He'd trail
like a giant sloth, his big muddy
under sleepy hoods (just like his
and plead with us to slow down;
I'd tell him to futuo-off, you
leaving him behind as we raced towards
the slums, swarming with immigrants,
freed slaves and factory workers
We'd play Knock-Down-Ginger, throw
break windows, then leg-it down an
outa-sight, arrive home breathless
and itching with flea bites and jigger-foot.
What with the alfresco sewerage
between paving stones, now
in my neighbourhood, summer evenings
were spiced, trout fried on stalls,
out of the Thames, you could eat
or run home for supper in the back-a-yard
Dad called an atrium. That's
if the rush-hour traffic allowed,
clogged up the main drag to the
produce from up-country or abroad.
Sometimes, I'd hear a solitary flute
through an open
window, and stop . . . . . . . .
. . breathing.
Later we'd sneak out for the vicarious
of the carnal experience. Like
we'd prowl the darkened alleys,
sniffing out the devastating odour
Peeping through candle-lit shutters,
we were amazed at the adult need
to strip off
and stick things in each other.
Men and women, women and women,
men and men, multiples of all sorts
groaning in pain. Absolutely
And then we encountered death,
Luca Africanus, the baker of Fenchurch.
I was the daughter he never had,
(though his eyes spelt wife),
gave us fresh bread dipped in honey.
Our thanks? To raid his store
find his great, black, rigor mortis
in a cloud of flour, two burnt buns
too much yeast in his bowels, emptied
on the floor. That stopped
for a while. Some nights we'd
go to the river,
sit on the beach, look out towards
the marshy islands of Southwark,
and beyond to the jungle that was
teeming with spirits and untamed
We'd try to imagine the world beyond
that country a lifetime away that
called home and Dad called prison;
the city of Roma which everyone
went on about as if it were so bloody
We'd talk about the off-duty soldiers
who loitered in our town, everywhere,
they were everywhere, watching for
on our chests, to see if our hips
from our waists, always picking
plucking at me in the market,
Is our little aubergine ready?
"No, I'm not, you stinking pervs,"
skedaddling hotfoot out of their
Sometimes we'd hear grunting
on the beach and imagine some illicit
extramarital action was in progress,
we'd call out in our deepest, gruffest
Hey, polizia! and rock with
'cos we'd interrupted their flipping
we'd hear them tripping over themselves
as they scuffled off and then everything
changed, I got engaged. I wasn't
out no more, I had to act ladylike
and Alba said it wouldn't be the
once I'd been elevated.
© by Bernardine Evaristo