“Oh god. Ohgod-ohgod-ohgod-ohgod.”
A thick ooze of rich scarlet stained her knickers. Sunita sat on the toilet with her head in her hands, knickers around her knees, nose dripping, tears streaming down her cheeks, not knowing what to do, and terrified of telling Mummy. She winced and clenched her fists as another cramp ripped through her.
She could hear Mummy yelling already. They were running late for her thirteenth birthday celebration dinner. It was her fault. It was always her fault. Mummy would tell her she was slow, dragging her feet, continuously making them late for everything. This wasn’t going to make Mummy any happier.
Mummy had booked the restaurant last week and had been tetchy and irritable ever since then, as if Sunita’s thirteenth birthday couldn’t come quickly enough. She had talked for months about how Sunita was becoming a woman. How she could no longer run around playing chasey with the boys, or climbing the big Japanese pepper tree in their back yard.
Sunita had been heartbroken at that thought. That tree was her refuge. When the world shouted too loudly, when she was confused or heart broken, she would clamber up the generous sturdy branches of that lone tree at the bottom of the garden, and sit in a fork towards the very top. From her leafy perch she could look out over all the surrounding houses.
Behind was Widow Gallagher’s back yard, where their family’s black and white cat had recently taken up residence. Occasionally Widow Gallagher would come out to hang out her laundry on the hills hoist, bending her portly body to chat with and stroke the cat. She could see next door to where the three brothers shared a house. Vehicles lay strewn like discarded toys in the unkempt garden. There was always at least one empty bottle of beer lying somewhere, a lone sunbather, reflecting the rays off its dusky skin.
On the other side, she could see the back garden of the recluse Chinese family. They didn’t seem to speak much English and were generally skittish, scuttling quickly into their darkened house whenever any of the neighbours tried to establish contact. If she craned her neck, she could see past the three brothers’ house and into Nan and Dor’s back garden, filled with neat rows of silverbeet and radishes, edged by rose bushes and violets.
She wished she could transport herself to that tranquil perch right now.
Mummy’s shriek, stretching out the last vowel till it sounded distorted, interrupted her reverie. She couldn’t delay it any longer. She would have to tell Mummy. Sunita tore off some toilet paper, wiped her face and nose, then cleaned herself and her knickers up and prepared herself for Mummy’s reaction. She braced herself for the anger.
When she opened the door, Mummy was waiting immediately outside. She turned her tear-stained face to Mummy’s. Mummy smiled, opened up her arms and drew in her baby-no-longer.
“Welcome to the club,” said Mummy softly.