I put my sneaker tentatively onto the slippery side of the creek, or “crick” as my new American friend called it. She had run down so easily but I was more scared. I wasn’t a good swimmer, at least not that summer; not in fact until the following summer when my father took me kicking & screaming to the community pool and told me in no uncertain terms that I was going to learn “for my own safety.”
Mindy was fearless. She had long legs and longer blonde hair that was always full of twigs and knots and I wondered if I’d ever be a good enough friend to feel it, that “rat’s nest” as her mom called it, and I wanted to see if rats really lived in her head. It was certainly possible – she had enough hair. It was so pretty after her mom held her down (also kicking and screaming) to wash it, and soft. I liked to want to touch it, but I didn’t dare. Mindy thought I was a baby. Scared of everything.
I was determined not be a baby on this day though. I saw Mindy hanging around a bunch of cool kids and I wanted to be part of their group. She was already leaving me behind, again, running away from me and that damned “crick” in between us. I backed up to get some speed and ran with all my might, hurling my little girl’s body into the air and not daring to look down. It wasn’t very wide, but the water seemed churlish at it clutched at my toes with its little fingers of white caps – come here, little girl, let me wash your body, broken and bruised, away from this world. I tried to drown out its voices with a scream that came out more like a gurgle, but as I landed hard on the other side, the sound was only a grunt that caused Mindy to look over her shoulder and wave for me to catch up.
My knee was bleeding, but I ran as fast as I could, feeling exhilarant. If I could cross that damned creek I could do anything.
We ran all the way to train tracks and fell down, out of breath. Mindy pulled out some grass shoots and stuck them in her mouth, putting her fingers in the shape of a gun and sticking them inside the elastic band of her shorts and pulling them out fast and blasting in my direction.
“POW POW! You’re dead, Injun! Now I’m going to scalp YOU and see how you like it!”
I was only vaguely aware at this point of cowboys & Indians that Americans liked to play and not all that interested in American history. They seemed so far away and had so little to do with us.
She’d come towards me and for a minute I really was the scared and defeated Indian. Then she saw my reaction and flopped down next to me, sighing. “I hate this stupid country. I want to go HOME!”
I was surprised. Mindy had always seemed perfectly content and had a lot of friends. She’d certainly never said anything about disliking England before and certainly had never confided in me. I felt both proud and worried. She’d confided in ME, which meant she must have thought I was important enough to share confidences, but what if I said the wrong thing and she took off again, leaving me behind.
I nodded. She punched me gently in the shoulder. “Yeah, it’s BLOODY this and BLOODY that. Why they gotta’ be so goddamned BLOODY. Sick.” She picked at a scab. “So, like, how long you gotta’ stay in BLOODY country?”
I nodded again and shrugged. I knew what she meant. The Foreign Office kids – kids whose parents were involved in international diplomacy and so on. We were always moving, always a few years here and there, never long enough to really put down lasting ties but long enough to make good friends that was wrenching to leave them each time.
“Come on. Let’s go see what the little BLOODY sourputtins are doing.” She got up and dusted the dirt off her shorts. I noticed one of the long slivers of green grass had wound its way into her hair and I wanted to pull it out, but I didn’t dare. “Sourputtins” is what Mindy called the British kids she surrounded herself with. The way I overheard her explaining it to her mother, who was getting exasperated with Mindy’s complaints while I silently sent her silent strength as another FO kid, that the sour was for their constant scrunched up faces asking “Whadd ye go and do dat for? Bloody ‘ell!” and the puttins was for the nasty BLOODY blood pudding some of them ate.
I ventured a joke. “Probably eating some of that nasty BLOODY pudding!”
Mindy rewarded me with a big grin, opening her mouth so wide I could see where she had two missing teeth on the side. I knew about the Tooth Fairy and wanted to ask, but bit my lip. We started following the tracks into town and it began to rain.
Mindy sighed. I knew she was mad that it was raining too. She came from a state called South Carolina and from her telling it, the sun was always shining there, and it got HOT. It didn’t sound very enjoyable to me, but I agreed with her that England had too much rain.
We shivered a bit and walked closer together as if to share body heat, but the space between us remained cold from the breeze. I longed to throw my arms around her and skip down the tracks like best friends, but instead we walked faster.
In town we ducked into a little shop where Mindy knew the owner, a gentle woman with a triple chin who wore a gigantic apron with a bow as big as my head, tied neatly about her waist. She wasn’t fat, so I never understood why she had all this extra skin under her chin. It heaved and shook when she laughed, which was often. She’d always slip us a piece of candy too, and we walked away today with our treasures in our mouths, sucking down the sugary sweetness.
The gang I’d noticed Mindy hanging around with was gathered at the bus stop, hiding under the small roof out of the rain. They waved to us and I smiled back as I felt I belonged. We went to a boy’s apartment and his mother turned on the Telly and we watched weird cartoons. I noticed that Mindy also didn’t laugh when all the other kids did, so I felt better.
I was part of the group now. Accepted and had friends. I played with Mindy some days but she’d begun missing more and more days after school and I found out later she had a boyfriend. She was only 13 so she had to hide it from her parents. Besides, he was a black male from Africa who had immigrated to France and then to the UK. She told me once that her father would have a fit if he found out, but she loved him. I missed Mindy, but she seemed happy.
And then one day she was gone. Just like that, as happens sometimes with FO kids. Politics and other things in the outside world intervene and often their minions are called away for another duty or assignment or to take care of a problem that’s cropped up in the world. Sometimes they take their families, sometimes they don’t. This time they took Mindy. I never heard from her again. I wondered always if she didn’t have time to say goodbye to us, her friends, if she ever told her boyfriend she was leaving and if that had anything to do with her abrupt departure.