Thursday, 7 June 2012


He throws a tennis ball up and down behind my head. I carry on typing. My temples throb. I press fingers to forehead and glance out the window. The sun shines. The trees sway in the breeze. It looks like an ordinary morning. It’s not. I look at the time on the right of the screen: an hour to go.

“So have you got everything?”

“Yep,” he replies, nonchalantly. But he’s not nonchalant. He is tense. Up goes the ball again and then back down, padding solidly into his palm. 

“Do you want me to test you on anything?”


“Do you want some lunch?”

“Nope. Can’t eat.”

“You can’t go to your first exam without lunch, it’s illegal.”

“I had pancakes.”

“That was ages ago.”

I get up to go and make him something. He follows me down to the kitchen. He says he’d like haloumi in a baguette with lettuce. I bake the baguette in the oven. I cut the haloumi into thin slices and fry it in a little olive oil with some chilli and some lemon juice and a bit of black pepper. He stands behind me. He is chatting all the while. His nerves are palpable. It makes me remember: the smell of the school gym, scrape of chairs on parquet, the chorus of dry coughs, sweat making the pencil slip down my hand, the sunlight from the summer day outside streaming in through high windows, the fastest hour and an half of my life so far…

We sit outside at the table under the umbrella on the decking. He eats. I’m too tense to eat anything now. He’s ravenous so I’m glad I made him something. He eats every bit. I get him a glass of water, haloumi is so salty, I say, and he agrees. He goes upstairs to pack his bag. I thought he’d packed it already. I start to clear up.

I hear him thundering down the stairs to the hall so I go to say goodbye at the door but he’s not ready. He goes back up. I go back to the kitchen. I gather washing. I fill a recycling bag. I sweep the floor. Again. Still he is not ready. 

He said he wanted to leave at 12.30 so I start to watch the clock. 12.30, 12.31, 32, 33, 34… I want to shout for him to get a move on but I know he’s trying his best. He comes back down and I start to relax. He puts his shoes on. I begin my good-bye speech … just relax, read the questions carefully, try and enjoy it, this is your chance…  but he’s not listening and I don’t blame him.

He unzips the contents of his bag and checks everything again. Then he zips it back up. Then he does the whole thing all over again. I start to tense up. I look at my watch. “I.D. card,” I say, brightly. 

“Check,” he says.

“Clear pencil case,” I say. 

“Check,” he says.

“Bottle of water,” I say, “without a label on it!” 

“Check,” he says. 

“You know the room number?” I say. 

“Check” he says. 

“Well… I think that’s it, then.”

I start the pep talk again… you’ll be fine, good luck, just keep calm… He still isn’t listening. He opens the front door, he’s nearly made it out, then he comes back in to the hall again. He opens his bag, checks everything all over again. I count to ten in my head. Again. 

And then he’s gone.

At the hairdresser:

“I don’t want my hair too short,” says Youngest watching his older brother having his hair cut. “Long hair is cool.”

“True,” I say, “but it will grow. If you hardly have any cut off I’m just wasting my money. And short hair is cute." I ruffle it on the top of his head as if to prove it. "And you’re still only nine.” He looks up at me. I smile. 

“I’m ten next week,” he says, holding my gaze, looking worried. 

“So what's better, Mummy? Cool or cute?” 

I hesitate and then, “Cute,” I say. And he is happy. 

For now.

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