1. Pink Eskimos
At the bottom of the hill is the Superette. The lady is in gingham behind a glass counter. She has butterfly wing glasses and a thin mouth. I don't like her but I have to go to the Superette: there is no other shop for miles.
The pink eskimos are in a glass jar along with the white eskimos and the yellow eskimos. I only like the pink eskimos. The lady with butterfly wing glasses has a small stainless steel trowel which she uses to manoeuvre the pink eskimos into the little white bag. The bag is snowy white. I am glad she is fastidious because the pink eskimos are the cleanest things I know. There is a dusting of white powder on them which I know is fine and dry and would absorb a greasy fingerprint. When they are snapped in two they are the purest and most consistent pink. They are unsullied. I am pleased I don't have to smear-test the pink eskimos I buy from the lady with the butterfly wing glasses.
Today I am going to share my five pink eskimos with my friend Bruce. I know he is my friend because he has just shared a secret with me. This is that his father's name is Baldwin. I am sorry that Bruce has to live with the shame of a father named Baldwin, but I am proud he has chosen me to share this secret with. I am going to give Bruce three pink eskimos. One for my sorrow, one for my pride, and one for the cement of friendship.
For all that, I will not tell Bruce why I am giving him three pink eskimos. That will be my secret.
The American boy has shiny slip-on shoes he calls moccasins. They do not look like the moccasins red indians wear. They have no tassels. He has a crewcut cut to a flat-top like an aircraft carrier. His father is an officer in the US Navy and he is allowed to wear long trousers to school.
We are hiding in the pine tree hedge on the bank above the bus stop. The pine needles have piled up into huge birds'-nests into which we can burrow. page 176 An old lady waits at the bus stop but she cannot see us hiding in our birds'- nest. I have a feeling she can hear us, though. Her head is cocked.
The American boy has promised to tell us words.
Fanny, he says. Asshole.
He says, it's called a cunt.
This is the most secret word.
We sound the word in our mouths. Cunt. It has a funny sound. Like sherbet. Like shoulder. Elbow. Bonk. Clunk. Baldwin.
We whisper the word. It is now something we know. It is something the old lady cannot know. We say the word. Louder. The old lady stiffens, starts, and looks around. It is a word from a birds'-nest but she cannot know what it means and this diminishes her.
She has red lipstick and a blue coat and white face dusted with face powder like sherbet. Cunt, I whisper loudly and wonder whether her face would taste of sherbet if I sucked at it through a licorice straw.
My grandfather's fingers are varnished yellow with nicotine from the roll- your-owns. He wears fireman's braces and a pink singlet. On his bookshelf by the radio he keeps a jar of blackballs.
He dips his yellow fingers into the jar and brings out a blackball. When he sucks it at the side of his mouth it looks like a small protuberance. A ganglion. I would like to have a ganglion in my mouth too and my mouth waters for want of one.
Only rarely does my grandfather give me a blackball.
He grins at me and I can see his orange plastic gums and unnaturally white teeth.
I cannot ask for a blackball.
Children who ask don't get, sniffs my grandmother. Children are seen and not heard.
Children who are seen don't get, either.
4. Magic Balls
Magic balls change colour. They progress from maroon through to blue to red to pink to yellow to green. All the colours of the rainbow. When you suck them you have to take them out of your mouth from time to time to check what colour they are. Or you must suck them with a friend so that you page 177 can open your mouth and your friend can give you progress reports.
The girls are sucking the magic balls I have given them. Their tongues change colour. Turquoise. Chartreuse. Aquamarine. Crimson. They poke their tongues out. They put their hands behind their backs and lean towards each other and touch tongues. Amber and aquamarine. Crimson. Mauve and marigold.
The fat girl with the glasses does not like the girls touching tongues. She tells the teacher.
The teacher does not like the girls touching tongues. Dirty, she shouts. Disgusting.
The girls break up and glide away to all parts of the playground. The teacher returns. The girls glide together again. Regroup. The fat girl stands uncertainly. She knows now she must suffer.
The girls in a line poke their tongues out at the teacher's back and at the uncertain fat girl. Their tongues are coloured petals. Turquoise. Mauve. Orange. Aquamarine. Coloured petals of hate. Poked.
Just before the intermission in Bowhani junction there is a horrifying stampede. The Indian elephants career towards the front stalls, the back stalls, and the circles, trumpeting wildly.
I am with Bruce. We scream with the terror of it.
Only jaffas can save us now.
6. Fruit Bon Bons
Billy brings fruit bon bons to school sometimes. I have no idea what shop they come from. I only know he gets them from his mother, the piano teacher. I think they must come from overseas. An overseas sweet shop.
They are precious and perfect. Packaged beautifully in tiny parcels, the paper wrappings with ironed creases and miniature paintings of oranges, lemons, cherries, raspberries and strawberries. Unwrapped they glow with an inner light and they tingle on your tongue. They are hard at first, and then they dissolve into softness.
Billy's mother, the piano teacher, plays brilliant arpeggios. Wears flashing rings of amethyst, turquoise, emerald, and ruby.
She is strict. Sometimes she is strict with an ebony ruler. But if I have practised and can run up and down my scales without error she smiles. Her page 178 rings flash as she unwraps a fruit bon bon and pops it into my mouth. Amethyst ring. Amethyst bon bon.
Billy's mother, the music teacher, calls them fruit bong bongs.
I think of them as fruit bonk bonks when they are hard. Like Bruce's father. Then I suck them until they become fruit bong bongs.
Fruit bon bons are precious to bestow.
6. Lolly Scramble
The superintendent has silver hair and rimless glasses. He has a plastic bucket of paper-wrapped toffees which he dips into with his perfectly manicured hand. He flings huge fistfuls of toffees up into the blue and they rain down like coloured hail. There is tremendous verve and gusto in his flinging. And there is method.
He flings to the left, and the children sweep to the right: rolling, scrambling, fighting, grabbing, snatching. Then he flings to the right, and the children swing to the left, scrambling and snatching with renewed ferocity.
He repeats this pattern a number of times until a few smarter children get wise to it and anticipate the alternation. No sooner do they do this than the superintendent catches them in a double-play and swings to the right, then back to the right, stranding the smart children.
I am one of the smart children, and smart with the humiliation of being outsmarted. The superintendent laughs at his cleverness and flings and laughs.
I thrust my few toffees into my pocket and hate him perfectly. Other toffees skip across the lawn like stones across water. Panting desperate bodies pursue them pecking and clawing.
There are seagulls and there are sparrows. And there are those who prefer to feed seagulls and those who prefer to feed sparrows.
I am a sparrow and I will feed sparrows.
7. Bubble Gum
The American boy brings us Bubble Gum from a place he calls the PX. Bubble gum is quite different from chewing gum. It is a large cube of vivid pinky orange the colour of my grandfather's artificial gums. It is faintly spongy to the touch, smells rather like talcum powder, and tastes rather as I imagine sweet soap would taste.page 179
You can make bubbles with the gum. Large whitish bubbles which fill then pop faintly and leave their slightly cool residue hanging like spider webbing from your cheeks.
The American boy is a dealer. He deals in Phillip Morris, Kent, and Camel cigarettes, in things he calls 'joeys' , and in bubble gum.
What can I give him? He has so much: long trousers, a flat-top crew cut, slip-on shoes, the words 'fanny' and 'cunt', American cigarettes, joeys, and bubble gum.
It is easy.
He wants money.
I have no money. But I have a bone-handled pocket knife and a clip of army badges from my grandfather which I sell to Bruce.
He gives me enough money for several packets of bubble gum. I give him three packets back: one for his secret, one for our friendship, and one for the deal.
8. Seal Fat
At the Film Society I see the Robert Flaherty classic Nanook of the North. 1922. Nanook is dark and shiny. The snow is mostly grey. Nanook is intrigued by an Edison phonograph. His bright black eyes follow the silent record round and round and round.
It occurs to me that pink eskimos more rather resemble Egyptian mummies.
That pink eskimos are not esquimaux.
Esquimaux are dark with the soot of burning blubber and shiny with seal fat.
9. Dolly Mixtures
The stamp man has a white moustache and smells of pipe tobacco. He has albums of stamps. The albums have covers of maroon and deep navy blue. Dark bottle green. The stamps inside are old and small. Blue. Pink. Brown. Green. Brick red.
The stamps come from strange places like Moldo-Wallachia, jubaland, Griqualand West, Trengganui, and Benadir. The stamp man prefers the stamps of British Possessions with pictures of King George V and King George VI. He has collections devoted to British Possessions in Africa, British Possessions in America, British Possessions in Asia, British Possessions page 180 in Oceania, and British Possessions in Europe.
He likes Bruce and me to visit him and he shows us his stamps. He likes us to sit on his knees and although we feel a little foolish doing this as we are not little kids we go along with it for the Dolly Mixtures.
The Dolly Mixtures are kept in a bowl on his dresser. They are really tiny licorice allsorts. Miniature slices of marzipan separated by equally small slices of licorice. Black and pink and black and white and pink again. Or orange. Or green. Or yellow. They are sweet. Tiny and sweet.
I can peel the slices and eat each segment separately. The marzipan is a faint dissolve of crumbling sweetness and the licorice is a tiny chewy juiciness. Bruce, who bites his fingernails, cannot do this and must eat each Dolly Mixture entire. I find something a little gross in this.
We sit on the stamp man's knee, Bruce on one side, me on the other, and he fingers through the British Possessions and feeds us Dolly Mixtures. Tiny kings and tiny sweetmeats.
10. Fruit Ball
My favourite moment in the Wizard of Oz is when Billy Burke as Glenda the Good Witch arrives in a wonderful ball which dissolves and fizzes and she steps out all in pink and wanded with a sparkler.
It is my belief that Victor Fleming has captured the very essence of fruit ball in this marvellous scene.
11. Acid Drops
The teacher has his fingers in my hair. It is clear, although he is attempting to be just, that he finds my very being repellent.
There has been an accusation of nits.
I am bewildered. Who is my enemy? Bruce's father, Baldwin? The American boy's mother? She wears dark glasses and smokes cigarettes with white filter tips. The old lady with sherbet talcum? The stamp man's neighbours? Who among the children?
All of them. None can meet my eyes. Not even Bruce.
I hear whispers like the rustle of pine needles.
A note is sent home. There are no nits, my furious mother discovers, and a note is sent back. There is a short, placatory announcement which convinces nobody.
I buy a snow-white bag of sweets to buy friends. There are few takers. page 181 Acid drops are too sharp and bitter and give you goose-bumps on the inside of your mouth.
12. Fruit Gums
I am watching a soccer match on a raw winter's day. The easterly wind lifts at the inadequate nylon shorts of the players. The local team has orange tops and lemon shorts. The visitors have black shorts and blue and white vertical striped shirts. They are under-age teams: ten years old. I like to watch the boys play. They have more enthusiasm than art and are free to express their feelings. I like it when they redden with fury at the injustice of the referee.
At half-time they share quartered oranges. They tear at them. Suck at them. Spit out pips. Sometimes they take the peel into their mouths, cover their teeth with it, and smile hideous orange smiles.
The parents, shrugged into their coats, stand along the sideline during the game. At times they shout bullying encouragement, and the boys flash white faces at the advice. When the coach instructs the team at half-time they stand like mourners around the crouching boys with their orange smiles.
I am startled to see that one of the parents is Bruce. At first he does not recognise me and then, warily, we shake hands. He points out his little boy. I do not ask his name. I explain that I do not have a little boy. It is apparent to me that Bruce is a little uncomfortable. He glances at my head as if there were nits there. Soon he finds some action to pursue and abruptly leaves, running up the sideline. He does not return.
I am not troubled by Bruce's behaviour. I follow his little boy, a back, as he runs and ineffectually tackles. He lacks skill and stamina, and I under- stand that Bruce is probably ashamed of him.
I feel a sympathy for the boy and finger my bag of fruit jubes. Tiny half lemons and oranges. Sugared half-moons. Orange and lemon. I pop one of each into my mouth and smile with a familiar pleasure as they begin to dissolve.