‘You pure love yersel”, she scoffs through a dry, powdery mouthful of Tangy Toms. Head down, I do my best to fake laugh it off and continue to wash my hands. I stare at the plughole grot. I try to drag the task of drying my hands out for as long as I can, but eventually there’s no getting away from the fact my hands are now dry and I will shortly have to move away from my safe spot.
I scrunch up the wet sheet of coarse green paper I was using as a towel and, realising she’s blocking the bin with her swinging, ruddy red legs, I just push it in to my pocket. Even though my hand is only in there for a second or two, I think, ‘Oh. That feels nice’, to myself.
(The pockets of my school coat are fun fur lined. As it happens, my school coat attracts nothing but trouble and cat hair, but at least I can put my hands in my fun fur lined pockets whenever I like and think, ‘Oh. That feels nice.’).
While she sucks tomatoey crumbs from her fingers and slugs radioactive-green juice from a plastic bottle, I pick my school bag up off the sludgy floor tiles and pray the sink she’s sitting on gives way and that she breaks her neck and dies. There are so many things I want to spit back at her (including actual spit), but instead, I say nothing and just slide out through the swing door, relieved that I avoided a Chinese burn to the face.
She tells me that I ‘pure love masel” every day. Sometimes she says it because I’m good at spelling and because I know what a silent ‘e’ is. Sometimes she says it because my mum does her best to keep me warm in winter by dressing me in a fun fur lined school coat and a snood and woolly tights and mittens. Sometimes she says it because I tell her I don’t want to play Chinese burns. Sometimes I think she says it because I don’t own a Capri jacket but maybe also because I do own a personal stereo. I don’t fucking know. Sometimes, like on this day, I ‘pure love masel” because I am washing my hands after having done a piss in a scabby primary school toilet where approximately 100 other children have been pissing and shiteing and wiping their snotters on the cubicle walls.
But what if I did love myself? What if she was right? Would that have been the worst thing? For 7 years, I allowed someone – someone who ate her lunch in a toilet – to convince me that being good at something was bad, that liking yourself was mental and that Capri jackets were cool. I can’t tell which of us was the bigger idiot.*
*I can. I totally can. It was definitely her.