When I grow up.
Blurb: It’s 1989 and 15-year-old Rhea is a 5th former about to embark on her GCSEs – so of course she’s going to be stressed.
And of course, it doesn’t help that career’s advice is coming up and her teacher is on at her to decide what she wants to do. She doesn’t know.
And of course she looks unwell; she’s been struggling to overcome this chest infection.
And of course it doesn’t help that her mum won’t let her stay at home and recover, as “it’s a very important year… no missing school.”
If it’s such an important year, why is everyone on at her? Why can’t they get off her case?
And so what if she’s not eating? She’s just not that hungry.
Growing up is getting all too real… but little does Rhea know that her reality is about to change forever.
Monday 23rd Oct 1989
Lunchtime standing in the chippy.
That’s all I am doing! Just standing here minding my own business, purchasing 1 bag of chips with a battered sausage, 1 chip buttie with a pickled onion, another chip buttie plus a saveloy together with 3 bottles of panda pops (two orange and the other lemonade) when Davinder Shah walks in with his mates Mubs, Tony and David.
Davinder! Utterly divine is all I can say, especially since last week. He’s had his hair cut like Jason Donovan and now puts gel in it. To top it all off, he’s just been made the captain of the school football team and one day I am going to marry him.
I could not ask for a more perfect situation…
There is no Sangeeta (Snake-face) Sidhu to be seen. She’s a girl in my year who also fancies Dav – that’s what everyone calls Davinder.
She’s always hanging around him like a bad smell. Unlike me, who, according to my big sister Sophie, is behaving with feminine decorum. Sophie is a grown up. She’s 24 and gorgeous, and men seem to go potty over her, so naturally she would know about these things.
I am looking good.
Until today my skin has been looking a bit dull. This is something I entirely blame my mum for. She won’t let me buy this cream I’ve read about in Sophie’s Cosmopolitan magazine. It’s from Lancôme and you can only buy it at those posh counters in big department stores. Cosmopolitan Magazine says it’s one of Kylie Minogue’s beauty secrets and keeps her skin rejuvenated.
Okay, at over £20, I don’t expect Mum to buy it for me. But I’ve saved up my pocket money and she still won’t let me buy it. (Yes, my pocket money that I get to spend on what I want.)
She says there’s nothing wrong with my skin. The reason I’m looking pale is because I don’t eat properly… and sleep late… and watch too much TV… and spend too much time talking on the phone to my friends…
My mum is clever! Oh yes.
Take note - Anyone with a mum knows what I’m really talking about.
Blaming me takes the heat off her penny pinching ways.
Of course my form teacher has also jumped on the bandwagon. Trust grown ups to stick together! Every morning, “Are you okay? You’re looking a touch tired today.”
Last week, over half term, I had this nasty chesty cold, and I’m still not over it. Not my fault Mum won’t let me stay at home and rest properly, so it can get better. Mum says that, as this is my final year it’s important I don’t miss any school, especially if I want to get good grades in my GCSEs. So naturally, if I’m not recovering properly, I’m going to look tired.
I told Sophie all this when she took me out shopping at the weekend. I was still feeling congested but Sophie thought getting out might do me some good.
Sophie’s been caught up with ‘work and life’ as she puts it. She works as a marketing consultant and goes out with Robert. He’s a wally. Unfortunately, Sophie is marrying the wally.
Sophie and my brother Neil are from my dad’s first marriage to Barbara.
When I was younger I’d see a lot of Sophie and Neil, they’d come to stay one weekend a month and longer on school holidays. But for a while it’s not been like that. When I was 8, Neil was 18 and went off to university. A year later Sophie went as well. They now both live in their own places, so don’t come and stay anymore, just come over and then go home.
Recently Sophie’s been feeling guilty about ‘neglecting me’; as she puts it. So she’s been spending time doing fun things with me.
It’s been great! (Apart from the fact Wally joins us now and again, so he can ‘build a relationship’ with me.)
However, this particular Saturday he didn’t. Yay!
She’s told me exactly how to handle the Dav situation - “be aloof yet alluring.”
And as for Sangeeta Snake-face - “be patient, give people like her enough rope, eventually they’ll hang themselves.”
Oh, and Sophie tends to mime quotation marks on key phrases - you’ll get used to it. Apparently in her marketing job, ‘it’s a necessary tool to identify key objectives instantaneously.’
No, I don’t know what that means either!
So once I told her of my dull skin predicament, in typical Sophie style she took me into Superdrug and bought me a little concealer stick from Rimmel.
You have to use it under your eyes to make your face seem more awake and bright!
We came home and she showed me how to apply it. “Radiant,” Sophie remarked when she had finished.
Still standing in the chippy
Now do you see how this is so perfect? Dav Shah, no Sangeeta Snake-face, and me with my radiant eyes. So in accordance with Sophie’s advice all I have to do is to catch his attention (subtly), smile and he’ll soon fall for my radiant eyes.
Before any attention grabbing can be done Mr Theo, who owns the chippy, (Theadopolus - Greek that is, but everyone calls him Mr Theo) bellows, “one chips with battered sausage, one chip buttie with a pickled onion, another chip buttie with a saveloy. Three drinks, anything else darling?”
A hole to swallow me up? Put like that, that’s one huge order. What must Dav be thinking? The most unfair part is that none of it’s for me.
Hema and Kavi, my two best friends, with help from Kavi’s boyfriend Raman, are finishing their maths homework whilst I get their lunch. I don’t even feel that hungry, so I’m not actually getting any lunch. The way I see it is, what a waste of money when I can put it towards my ‘buying beauty products for my glowing skin’ fund.
But Dav doesn’t know that!
I could just die. I quickly pay for the order and hot foot it out the shop.
I’m halfway down the road, my pace slowing rapidly, eventually stopping to lean against a wall.
I’m not unhealthy; it’s this stupid chest infection over half term. I’m still struggling to catch my breath when I hear, “Hey, your change!”
I turn round. It’s Dav. He’s caught up with me and is stood there, looking divine. The sun rays behind him are glistening through his hair. He looks like a gorgeous God in a shampoo advert.
“Didn’t you hear me? Been calling you for ages,” he asks before his expression changes, “You okay?”
“Yeah,” I squeal, barely managing to take in the gulps of air needed so I can bring my breathing back to normal.
He’s looking at me dead weird. It doesn’t help that I must sound like a grunting boar.
Trying to catch my breath with a chest infection = grunting boar.
Add to that my squinting, as the sun behind him is completely blinding. So much for female finesse!
We both continue to stand there in silence for a few more seconds.
“Your money.” He continues.
“Your money, you left it on the counter, here,” He holds out the change for me to take, which I can’t as I’m cradling enough food to feed the entire school. “I’ll put it straight in your pocket, shall I?” and slips the coins into my jacket…
“Thanks,” I mutter.
We stand in silence for a few moments. Neither of us are doing or saying anything.
As the seconds tick, the atmosphere goes from silence to uncomfortable silence.
What if he’s waiting for me to say something? An explanation. It is a lot of food I’m holding. What if he thinks I’m running off to hide somewhere and devour it? It was only last week that we talked about anorexia in Humanities.
Perhaps I should take the opportunity to explain who the food is for. That I’m not unhealthy either. That I’m recovering from a bad cold and maybe that’s why I wasn’t able to hear him calling me when he ran after me with my change. That although it may look like I have eyesight problems, it’s the sun behind him.
Whilst I weigh this all up, the energy between us has gone from uncomfortable silence to dead awkward.
Dav turns to walk off. I need to say something now or risk him having a weird impression of me. “I’m a bit chesty.” I blurt.
“Right,” he says, glancing down towards my chest. He looks up, realises I’m looking at him looking at my chest. Rather mortified he mumbles “see ya,” and speeds off.
I walk off equally mortified, and embarrassed.
Chesty? So the wrong thing to say when you are already a D-cup.
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