I ran away once. Down to the park. I planned never to return.
The glazier had propped the sheet of glass against the sideway fence, thick and glossy. He dropped it off that morning to replace the glass in the back bedroom window, which one of my brothers had taken out with a tennis ball. My mother had been angry when it happened, only a little. She understood she said, ‘accidents happen’.
She was in the kitchen cooking porridge, stirring the lumpy white goo in the pot at the Kooka. She stood in her dressing gown, pink quilted chenille with an apron tied around her waist. Not much waist to see. Her stomach muscles had gone she said, she had lost them having babies.
I heard the tinkle of glass and ran out into the back yard where my brothers stood red faced and panicking.
Our father had left for work. His ghost was there, the traces of his spirit hovering in the background. We knew had he been there, he would have burst into rage. But my mother was only a little bit angry. Enough to remember to turn off the stove when she came out to see the damage done.
My mother had lived through the Second World War when the Nazis invaded her country, she had lived on nothing but tulip bulb soup for weeks in a row. They flavoured it with salt. She knew about the unexpected things that happen and she could get scared, but not today because my father was not there.
My mother was only ever scared when my father was there because he was the angry one and most often times he was angry with her. I do not know why he was angry with her, except she seemed always to get it wrong. She upset him. She cooked his food wrong. She ironed his clothes wrong. She dressed herself wrong and most of all she could not keep us quiet when he was trying to study for his accountancy exams; when he was trying to watch the television; when he was trying to sleep.
After breakfast, I ate the porridge holding my breath because although she had remembered to turn off the stove before she went outside my mother had still burnt it. The porridge had a bitter taste.
After breakfast I went outside with my tennis ball. I bounced it up and down in front of me as I walked. I bounced my ball down the kitchen step onto the concrete path that led to the laundry one way, the washing line the other. I followed the concrete path out and around the washing line then retraced my steps back to the kitchen door, down beside the laundry and out onto the footpath that leads to the front yard and the street.
I walked up and down the side path past the sheet of glass, counting the whole time, 95, 96, 97. I was aiming for 200. The ball hit a rut in the concrete. I had aimed badly and the ball ricocheted off in the direction of the glass. It smashed a chunk off the corner and the broken piece landed on the footpath and shattered into smaller pieces. They glinted in the sun. It was not a loud shattering but it was loud enough to send my mother running from the kitchen.
She looked at the glass, she looked at me and her face went red, her eyes narrowed and she yelled at me.
‘Not again. How could you?’
What did she mean not again, as if I had done it in the first place?
I ran away from home, determined never to return. My father’s anger was a given, but my mother’s anger was intolerable. I had lost her forever.