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|One day men will buy Sunny drinks, exotic cocktails with fruit on the rim of the glass, a slice of strawberry as red as her lips or a kiwi fruit imported from a far off country finished off, decorated with an umbrella when she reaches a certain age in clubs or bars or discotheques. No one calls them that anymore. They’re called discos.
They will hover at her beck and call in high school; those dumb and immature boys who don’t know of any better, their hormones all a flutter, racing as she walks past them. They will flirt. Her school skirt hitched above her knees, her legs smooth underneath her socks not nicked with a razor leaving cuts behind; only black and blue because of more athletic girls hockey sticks on the playing fields of schools in posh well to do suburbs. She wears slides in her hair to keep it out of her face. She laces everything around her with glances of envy.
High school will be perfection. Not painful, not humiliating, she will not hide from bullies in the school bathrooms. For her high school will be filled with all the joys of learning, of paying attention in class especially in the subjects she excels at, she will do everything she enjoys. Boys will engage in conversation with her. She will learn about words like ‘sex’ and ‘french kissing’ from her closest girlfriends. Her first boyfriend will marauder all the innocent visions that she has in mind of her first love.
Perhaps he will push her away if she rejects him first and tell her that she kisses like a fish. Perhaps she will be hurt by this. Anyway she will be blissfully young when this happens to her and the young are resilient but have long memories when it comes to being hurt especially by the opposite sex.
Playing sports, ballet, singing in choirs, playing the violin, the recorder and the piano will take up all of her time and soon it won’t matter that she didn’t have a father growing up or someone that was close to a father figure. In her world as a child I wonder does she only see fairytales when she reads her books of stories, biology, history, anatomy. Books filled with dreamy pictures, destinations, private journeys that know no end, no borders and no boundaries that were never-ending because she could just turn back to the page and read it all over again.
Books anchor her in a way her own home life never will or can. At school she sets goals for herself. Even at this young age she is very feminine. You can see it is important to her to be seen as pretty. Although she knows the meaning and how to spell the word ‘belated’ she has not come across the word ‘ego’ yet or ‘everything is going to your head’. She is not self-conscious but she is self-aware and slowly beginning to realise how omnipotent she really is because of being already half-formed as a beauty already. Someone said in the store that she looked prettier than Charlize Theron, that famous South African actress who won an Oscar for looking not so pretty, for playing a lesbian who was also a prostitute.
Women suffer for beauty but Sunny never will. Only time will tell whether or not she will become conceited, remain naïve about the ways and the will of men but for now she is only ten and precocious. She wants to play all the time. She wants attention. She wants it now. It seems she usually gets everything she wants. She has a handsome older brother that just got married to his perfect match, an equally attractive girl. Then there’s another brother, a teenager drifting, losing focus, lost. I am well aware that this can happen to Sunny as well. So I try and listen to her, listen carefully to what she is saying. Otherwise than that there is nothing I can do for her but pray she doesn’t land up pregnant as teenager because of her circumstances.
No boy will yell out as they stand in line after break as she walks up the stairs into the school building ‘age before beauty’ and set about the cruel laughter, the titters from girls whose hair misbehaves, shrinks and frizzes in wet weather that only a boy can start up.
She is teaching my mother how to play the piano; it’s another game for Sunny, (in the afternoons my mother will bang away at the keys) and I often wonder what Sunny’s journey’s end will be like for her when she hits her twenties. How her life will unravel, the instincts she will gather from her life experience gained in high school. Her mother is a nurse and works shifts. This is hard work and she doesn’t come from an easy, steady home life but her mother tries to give her the best of everything. A bicycle, clothes from Woolworth’s, black boots that seem to fit more a model in the pages of a fashion magazine than a little girl.
Even at ten she’s wearing make-up now, cheap accessories; rings on her fingers, jewellry. Blue eye-shadow that does not hide the dark circles under her eyes which means she’s getting very little sleep or does not sleep well at night.
In her company, my mother has found herself a friend, an ally, someone to walk on the beach and eat ice-cream with, examine the fragments of shells on the beach, she draws on my mother’s face with her cool fingers, embraces her when she comes to our house in the afternoons.
She reminds me much too much of that girl in that book. Perhaps you’ve heard of that writer, Vladimir Nabokov. Perhaps you’ve heard of his book, Lolita. Perhaps you’ve watched both versions of the book that was turned into a movie. First by Stanley Kubrick and then by Adrian Lyne or perhaps you’ve never heard of them. It doesn’t matter.
It is too easy to simply feel jealous of this child. She’s graceful, chatters away like a grown up, confides in you as if you’re both women who have been done wrong by men. My aunt when she was drunk would turn up at their house and sit there until sundown crying about the relationship she had with my uncle and the terrible things he would say and his even more terrifying temper.
His fists that instead of meeting air would meet my aunt somehow, somewhere and leave an imprint; not just of a slap, a knock that would rattle her, unsettle her deeply. He could and would draw blood, leave a spot that would be tender for days, knock her around until she passed out and hit her head against a wall. This is what they, Sunny’s mother Hilda and my aunt Carol would probably talk about in front of her.
Perhaps this is why Sunny’s mother, Hilda and my aunt Carol became friends. They clicked immediately and became instant friends. Sunny is a pretty girl, my mother said. My aunt was a pretty, popular girl too when she was little, so I pray that the situation and the home life behind doors of my aunt does not happen to Sunny because she doesn’t deserve it. No woman does. Abuse is demoralising and people are becoming more and more desensitised to it. It leaves the person who is being abused on a daily basis with no sense of self-worth. But my aunt goes back to him every time. She loves him, she says. They’re married, that counts for something.
I think she doesn’t want to be alone and that scares her to death. She doesn’t want to end up living in an old age home. But Hilda and my aunt Carol seem to have a lot in common. They have both been let down my men. Men who they probably believed in, had faith in and instead of acknowledging that with warmth, with heartfelt kindness, those same men destroyed their spirit and took them for a rollercoaster and emotional unstable ride and left them riddled with guilt and with babies.
The abuser is also a victim in the mess of a domestic disturbance but that’s not what the radio, television or magazines say. Perhaps you’ll find a line or two about it in a self-help book or a well-meaning psychologist or social worker or counsellor.
My aunt doesn’t deserve to live the life she is living now in fear of the next confrontation. One day he pulled the phone out of the wall, threw the blankets off her in the next room where she was laying, hissed under her breathe for her to ‘gerr out.’
Sunny has all of this information at her disposable. So what does a ten year old do with it? She uses it to her advantage without even knowing what the meaning of the word ‘manipulation’ is. She’s so bright it’s scary. You can see how gifted she is but she still plays this game. She doesn’t have to work hard to be liked, to have friends, to get a boyfriend when she’s a teenager. They’ll be lining up for her. She has yet to make a discovery of a world where girl meets boy and certain demands have to be met.
One day Sunny will be all grown and then where will that leave me? I am not anything like my mother; sweet and kind to people who she feels are in dire straits. Now Sunny and her mother will live in two rooms that they’re renting from someone in an undesirable neighbourhood. She sees what we have and she also sees what she has to live with on a daily basis. But she’s always neat and clean. No scuff marks on her school shoes, her hair shining and brushed. My life wasn’t like that.
I don’t know if Sunny’s games hurt other people but there’s a knife edge that comes with being born attractive, growing into a beauty can come with both positive and negative motivating factors and jealousy still makes people nasty. Everyone around her tells her all the time how lovely she is, spoil her, placate her and talk to her as if she was an adult. I don’t wish I was a Sunny. I wouldn’t want my life to have turned out any other way.
I wonder about the all the ‘other women’ in Sunny’s life as they reached their own journey’s ends as teenagers and the milestones in their life of being wooed, getting married, settling down, raising children, a family, fighting and making up with their husband, family night, date night; the path that she is just beginning to follow.
It is a path that I have never followed; it is a path I have only ever dreamed about when I was reading a book under the covers with a torch. I never dreamed of getting married and having a husband who looked after you and you looked after him and having a whole brood of children that came with birthdays, Christmases and New Year’s, family lunches on Boxing Day. It only belonged in the head space of other writers. Not mine. It is still as far away from my mind; as far away as the constellation of Cassiopeia.
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