YOU ARE SIX

Today is your birthday. You wear a badge on your blue school sweatshirt that says so. You look at it as you stand by the school gates waiting for your mum to fetch you. I… AM… 6. Your badge was on a birthday card that you opened this morning. You woke up earlier than usual because it was your birthday. It was still dark outside. Your mum and your dad were still asleep when you went into their room. Your tummy had a tickle in it. Their bedroom smelt funny, like pears or old apples. You put your hand on your mum’s shoulder and said, Mum. She woke up quickly, sucking her breath in fast, her eyes looking at you funny like she couldn’t see. You told her it was your birthday and she smiled.

You and your mum and your sister Scarlett waited downstairs for your dad. Mum said your dad was tired. Your presents and cards were in a pile on the table like a little pyramid. You did about pyramids at school. They were built in Egypt for the pharaohs to be buried in. You liked that they were buried with their treasure. Your teacher Miss Honeyman said it was because the pharaohs believed they could have their treasure in the life after death. She also said that sometimes the pharaoh’s slaves were buried alive in the pyramids with the dead pharaoh. Everyone in your class went URRR and Jodie Turner said That’s horrible. You said that you thought Jodie was right. Miss Honeyman gave you a silver star for good debating. Your teacher said that good debating is when you talk about things and you see someone else’s point of view. By the time your dad came downstairs you’d eaten all your Cocopops and you were trying to guess what was in your presents. He put his hand on your hair, rubbed your head so the bristles crackled and he said Happy birthday Joe. Then he sat down and breathed out long. You smelt that smell of pears or old apples again.

A car horn pips and you look up from your badge. It’s your grandma in her little yellow car and not your mum. When you get in the car your grandma gives you a wet kiss and says Happy birthday Jojo. She smells like the sweet shop in the Market Hall. She says your mum is still making your birthday tea so she came to fetch you instead. Then she says something about your hair but you don’t say anything. Your grandma says she’s taking you to Toys’R’Us so you can choose a present. She says it’s better this way because then she can see you get your present. She tells you that’s why she only sent you a birthday card and a Pokémon deck to open this morning. You get that tickle in your tummy again and tell her Okay. She says that when your mum was six, her and your granddad bought your mum a little bike with a basket on the front. Then your grandma goes quiet and starts to cry a little. You know she’s crying because she says in a croaky voice Let’s have some music, then she turns the radio on. You look out the window at the houses going by. Red door blue door brown door red door white door. Your grandma does that croaky voice thing every time she talks about your granddad. He died a few years ago, and your grandma often says If only he were here to see you. Sometimes though, she says that your granddad watches over you and Scarlett and your mum from Heaven. Once you asked her if he was watching dad too, and your grandma said Ohhh yes.

At Toys’R’Us your grandma says you can spend twenty pounds. You choose a skateboard with Pikachu on the bottom of it. That leaves you with five pounds left so you choose another deck of Pokémon cards. You choose a deck that has a shiny Charizard in it. You like Charizard because he’s a bit naughty and doesn’t always do what his trainer Ash tells him to do. When your dad is happy and having fun with you he says that Pokémon is a form of slavery. He says this is because the Pokémon trainers keep their Pokémon trapped inside the Pokéballs until they need them to fight a battle. You tell him it’s not slavery because the Pokémon want to do it and anyway the trainers are kind to their Pokémon. Dad says Pants when you tell him this. It makes you laugh when Dad says Pants.

On the way home your grandma says So who cut your hair then? The council?... You look at your shiny Charizard. When you wobble it, it changes colour. You tell your grandma that your dad cut your hair. She says Good God did he have to cut it so short? and then she rubs your hair with her hand. Charizard goes red then orange, red then orange… It’s a blinkin skinhead, your grandma says. Your dad said he was sick of the nits and sick of using the nit-comb on you. You didn’t like having nits. They made your head itchy and you didn’t like insects living in your hair. Your mum washed your hair in special shampoos but they didn’t work. They smelt horrible. Your dad said last week that he’d had enough. Your sister Scarlett was crying because she said her head was itchy too. She said she’d die if she had nits. You didn’t want your hair shaved off but your dad told you to stop being a girl, his hand on the back of your neck as you sat on a stool in the kitchen, your hair falling onto the lino in little brown clumps, the shaver buzzing against your head making everything wobble, bzzzz bzzzz bzzzz.

Today you are six. Mum and Dad and Scarlett and Grandma and Nanna and Granddad sing happy birthday to you. You blow your candles out and make a wish. You can’t tell anyone what it is because if you do it won’t come true. After tea, Grandma and Nanna and Granddad go home and Dad plays Pokémon with you. Then you and Mum and Dad and Scarlett watch Pokémon the Movie. Scarlett likes water Pokémon like Ash’s friend Misty does. Mum likes Pikachu because she says he’s cute. Dad likes Meowth. He says it’s because Meowth has attitude. Dad tells you to drink from his beer because it’s your birthday. You tell him you don’t like it. Mum tells Dad not to give you beer. Dad calls her a mard-arse.

When you go to bed you think about how Mewtwo felt sad in the film and then he gets all angry. You felt sad with him, and it made you feel a bit like crying. Mewtwo said he was sad because he was made as a grown-up by scientists so he couldn’t remember things from when he was little because he was never little. This made him want to fight and beat all the other trainers with his army of Pokémon clones that he made just like he was made. Mewtwo said at the end of the film that he was just looking for meaning, and he didn’t want to be told what to do by the scientists that made him. You asked your dad what Mewtwo meant by meaning, and your dad said it meant something worth living for. Then he trumped really loud and squeezed his beer-can flat. Dad is funny sometimes. You listen to his voice coming from downstairs. He’s singing again. The light from the landing means you can still see some things in your room. Your school clothes are hung on the back of your door and it looks like another you without your head or your feet. Your birthday badge glitters a little. You are six. Your badge says so.