So I’ve just been to Tescos to get a half pack of cigarettes. I’m waiting for my mother to put some money on my debit card for me, and planned to check to see if she had done it as yet.
As I was walking out to the cash machine, unwrapping my pack of cigs, I saw two little girls puffing on ‘something’ out of sight of the main door.
I didn’t really pay attention, went to the cash machine. My mother is sticking, the money wasn’t there yet.
On the way back to the house, I caught up to the two little girls, who were still puffing a little ahead of me. I recognised one of the girls. She lives here in the housing development where I am, pretty close to my cousin’s house.
I’ve seen her riding her bike with some of the other kids, and a couple weeks back, on a similar trip to Tescos, I saw her walking to wards me, kicking the ground and swinging a stick pretty angrily. When she passed me that day, there was a grim kind of distress in her face. I said ‘Hi,’ because we had talked before. She replied, but she was clearly distracted.
Tonight, the other girl dropped the cig and the little girl I knew cussed her ass and picked it back up.
As I walked pass them, I said hello again, and said softly, “I won’t tell,” when they looked up at me nervously.
So we were all going in the same direction.
The girl I know, she said to me, “I don’t care. I’m in foster care because both my parents are dead.”
Somehow I don’t believe the part about the parents being dead.
“Is that why you were so angry the last time I saw you?” I asked.
“Yeah,” she replied, but she clearly didn’t want to talk about it. “Don’t tell…”
“I won’t tell,” I assured them. I was hardly in a position to criticise, since I myself was smoking a cigarette at the time.
“I like your hair,” the other one piped up.
“Why thank you. Some people like it, some people don’t, but when you get to a certain age, you can pretty much do what you like when it comes to things like that.”
“So what’s your name?” The unfamiliar one asked.
I told them, and asked their names. The unfamiliar one was Stacy. The girl I knew, she was Tina… Tina the Tough I’ve dubbed her in my head.
I tried to talk to them about the smoking, but they were only curious as to how I pulled the smoke all the way down, and how my hair got like that.
“Is it extensions?”
Now this is the fourth or fifth person that has asked me that in Kent.
“No, it grows right out of my head.”
“How’d it get like that?” Stacy asked.
“I twisted it one day, and just left it. Now I just wash it…”
“Did you say you don’t wash it?” She asked, clearly surprised.
“No dear, I said, ‘Now I just wash it’ and sometimes I put it up in curls, but most times I just let it fall down.”
“So you don’t have to brush it or anything?” Tina asks.
“No, no I don’t.”
“So how old are you girls?”
Tina is thirteen. Stacy is twelve.
“That’s much too young to be smoking, ladies. You don’t mind I’m smoking, I’m thirty and I was living in my own house, paying my own way in life when I started smoking.”
Stacy asked how long I had been smoking. I confessed, off and on for about six years.
Tina laughed and said, kind of proudly, “I’ve been smoking for seven years!”
“That’s not good,” I said, internally shocked.
“When I was your age,” I added, “I was dead set against smoking. My mother used to cut my ass for stealing her cigarettes.”
They both laughed.
We were rounding the wall of the complex, and Tina the Tough tossed away the still smoking butt she was sucking on.
Then they began to pull away, getting ready to go into the house.
“So you’re just off. No goodbye, nothing?” I protested.
“Aww…” Tina the Tough came back and gave me a hug.
“Aww… that’s a nice girl,” I told her.
As they began to cross the entry to the housing development, Tina called back at me, “Are you Jamaican?”
“No, no darling. I’m too good looking to be a Jamaican,” I said. “I come from the deep southern Caribbean, a little island called Trinidad and Tobago.”
“Oh I went there once, on holiday. We just scotched on the beach for a month”
“Did you enjoy it?” I asked.
“Yeah… it was nice.”
She went on, “I’d love to come from Jamaica. I’ve love to talk black and stuff.”
I am consistently amazed at the level of ignorance I find all over Kent, here where you can count the number of Black people you see on one hand. Shit, on one finger.
It’s as if they live in a racial bubble.
Then they were off.
I worry about Tina The Tough… so young, growing calluses around her heart, and a toughness that’s not really real.
Stacy… hmmm… dunno. I think she’s just doing it to be cool.
Me, I did my best with children that have nothing to do with me. But there is some good there… definitely some good.