As a little boy, the local newsagent shop owner
assumed I was a little girl.
He’d say so in a volume set lower,
as I chose which sweets to buy from the pick ‘n’ mix.
He’d lean forward and say,
“Aw, what a pretty little girl.”
He’d turn away to address
anyone else within earshot,
swapping “Aw” to the end of the sentence,
placing emphasis on the words “what” and “pretty”.
An aged man, I wouldn’t have known how old.
Large in size, a dull complexion,
and charcoal-grey fingers
from handling newspapers.
An oversized chunky cable knit cardigan,
released never ending waves
of stale cigarette smoke,
each time he moved.
With my embarrassment well fed,
I said nothing,
did not correct him,
cheeks blushed red hot, instead.
small paper bag clutched in one hand,
half full of sweets,
anger would rise,
the torment begin:
“Why does he think I’m a girl?”
I said in my head
several times over.
Granted, I had lustrous long blonde hair.
But I didn’t wear a dress,
usually baggy jeans and a T-shirt.
Although, I wore sandals (in summer)
and travelled by scooter.
With my best friend Kaye,
together inside the shop,
he never said then,
that I was a pretty little girl.
Because, compared to Kaye,
I didn’t look like a pretty little girl?
She wore a skirt, her hair in plaits.
She carried with her a teddy bear,
As my life grew larger,
this happened more often with others.
The ladies in the bakery shop, post-office,
The ladies in the library, too.
And the dirty dustbin men calling after me,
once-a-week in the morning,
as I walked from home to school.
It turned out, even Kay’s parents thought she was
“Always out playing after school with that pretty little girl.”
stood atop a three-legged stool,
scowling at the mirror reflection
I cut my hair short
with scissors found in Mum’s sewing box.
In the morning, at breakfast,
Mum said I couldn’t go to school.
“Not looking like that.” She said.
We went to the local hair salon,
on High Street,
where Mum visited
about once every six weeks.
There, under a brown,
I sat in a stiff plastic chair,
this big, perfumed lady,
re-styling my hair,
cutting bits and trimming
so that people wouldn’t stare,
what’s such a pretty little girl doing,
cutting her hair short?”