At school, I was jealous of Alisha because she had a Forever Friends lunch box which was peach coloured with a purple handle, and a picture of two round teddy bears on the top. When Mum bought my lunch box for me I was not impressed.
It wasn’t even a box. It was a bag.
A lunch bag. Who has a lunch bag? It was striped: forest green, mustard yellow and dark greyish purple, with a long green strap the same material as a baby harness,
“So you can hang it over your shoulder like a handbag”.
It reminded me of the slimy aubergines Mum used to put in the lasagne which I didn’t like.
“Well.” Mum would say, “Charlotte likes lasagne you know”.
Alisha used to laugh about my lunch bag. No one else had one. I pretended not to care.
I remember the inside was white plastic which made it waterproof. One day I trod on it accidentally and my softened fruit snack squidged straight through the culpable layer so that when I carried it I was left with a fragrant wet patch on my summer school dress. The bag always reeked of banana after that. It was a stench that Fairy liquid just couldn’t shift. I used to love my peanut butter sandwiches, with white bread, which mum made me everyday; but not when they smelt of banana. I really liked marmite sandwiches as well, and Mum even said I would turn into one because I ate so many, but best of all was marmite and peanut butter mixed together.
Charlie was always jealous of my lunch because I had soft, sliced, white bread. Her family had bread and cake for tea everyday but the bread at her house was a tough, boring, brown loaf that wasn’t even sliced. Battenburg cake and a slither of bread with a scraping of Clover. Every day. I thought that was a rubbish tea and when I went over to play, I couldn’t wait to get home to have something like waffles and spaghetti hoops at my house.
Charlie never made fun of my lunch bag.
Charlie had to have school dinners because her Mum had M.E. and was too poorly to make her a packed lunch. Sometimes I had them too, and sometimes they were ok. Mrs Gripp was the small lunch lady who smoked and used to hawk her greying, dated perm and small, hooped gold earrings over us in the dining hall:
“Eat it all, or you won’t go out to play”.
One day I got sent to the headmistress because I didn’t like any of the food so I didn’t have any lunch. It was sardines followed by rice pudding.
Vomit on toast.
I didn’t like school dinners in general, but I really hated the plastic, avocado-green plates that screamed when you cut anything on them because their shiny coating had worn away. That day I didn’t cut anything at all. Charlie didn’t either.
I was always bigger than Charlie so I had to look after her, even though she had a bigger brother, and even though our school only had a hundred and six pupils (including reception).
Armond was one of the big boys at our school. I didn’t like him very much because his head was too square and he had thin, mean lips. One day Armond was mean to Charlie so I kicked him in the goolies. I think it hurt.
I remember Luke’s dad, who was on playground duty, asked me if I’d kicked him in the back, and, because I felt bad, I said yes, even though I knew it wasn’t technically true, Armound must have just been too embarrassed to say where it really hurt.
Charlie used to look out for me too though. She showed me her answer for a question about birds’ eggs in the eleven plus science exam when I couldn’t figure it out.
Charlie wasn’t always Charlie. Actually, she used to be Charlotte until Becky (who spelt her name Bekki) started at our all-girls grammar school. Bekki was from London so she knew that ‘Charlotte’ wasn’t cool, but that ‘Charlie’ was ok.
Bekki got pregnant and had an abortion when she was sixteen. Then she got pregnant again a bit later and her Dad kicked her out so she lived in a hostel until the council found her a flat. This time she kept the baby,
“’cos you get money from the council for it”.
I wasn’t friends with Bekki after that but Charlie still tried to help her.
Marcus is a boy.
Charlie and I made him a cake for his birthday with a picture of him in a pink tutu because he studies dance at college, but he isn’t gay. Until last week Marcus was Charlie’s boyfriend.
When Charlie told Jennifer that Marcus didn’t want to be with her anymore, Jennifer said,
“Pete and I have decided to separate. We are going to sell the house but for now I am sleeping in your brother’s room. I’m sorry to hear about Marcus”.
Jennifer and Pete are Charlie’s mum and dad.
I’m too old to kick people in the goolies now so I don’t know what to do.
P.S. Charlie didn’t like lasagne but her Mum made her feel guilty about, “those poor starving children in Africa who have no food at all”. One day Charlie told her Mum to put the lasagne in an envelope and send it to them.