By Constance Briscoe
‘Do your parents know you’re here?’ asked the lady at Social Services.
‘No,’ I said, ‘but I want to know about children’s homes.’ I had to stand on my toes to see over the reception desk.
‘How old are you?’ asked the lady.
‘Things bad at home, are they?’
‘Yes,’ I said. ‘What do I have to do to book myself in?’
‘Let’s have some details,’ she said.
I gave her my name and address and said that I would like to move in today, if that was possible.
‘You cannot refer yourself to a children’s home, luvvie. You need to get your parents’ consent first. Why don’t you go home and think about it? You can always pop in again and see me.’
‘But I don’t want to go home.’
‘Well, I can’t book you in just because you feel like leaving home. Do you want us to contact your mother?’
‘No, thanks,’ I said. ‘I’ll handle it myself.’
If my mother found out what I was doing, I would only get a beating. I walked back up the Walworth Road towards our house in Sutherland Square, south London. It was a nice sunny day, but I felt very down. Nothing I ever did came right and now even the children’s home did not want me. Life was not worth living at all.
That night I decided that no one would miss me if I just disappeared. Before I went to bed I wrote a letter to my mother. I put the letter in my school embroidery bag and went into the bathroom. I removed the top from the bottle of bleach, diluted it with tap water, drank it and went back to bed.
I chose Domestos because Domestos kills all known germs and my mother had for so long told me that I was a germ. I felt very sick, happy and sad. I was happy because tonight, if the bleach worked, I would die. No more tomorrows. Hip, hip hooray. I was also very sad because I wouldn’t see my sisters again, but maybe that was no bad thing. As for my mother, I swore to God I would come back and haunt her for the rest of her life. Slap her on the head, trip her up on the stairs and pull the covers off her as she slept. Yes!
The following morning I woke up and thought I had died. My bed-wet alarm was ringing in the far distance. The lights on the bed flashed on and off and I lay in a daze, unable to move my feet or my arms.
My mother was looking down at me. ‘Get out of bed,’ she ordered. I stayed still. I could not talk as my mouth was sore from the bleach. Blisters bubbled up around my lips like Rice Krispies. ‘Come on – out of bed.’ She pulled the blanket back. ‘I’m not going to tell you again. Out.’
She grabbed my arm and pulled me up. Then she let go and I flopped back, half on the bed. I began to vomit. That was when she realised something was wrong. ‘Eastman!’ she shouted. Eastman was her new man. He called for Pauline and she called for Patsy, my two older sisters.
‘Lord God,’ said my mother, ‘she’s going to get me into trouble.’
Ugly is published by Hodders & Stoughton and is available at most bookshops
Constance Briscoe is a senior lawyer and one of Britain's few Black Judges. She lives in London, England, with her partner and children.
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