Mum and Dad are going out again. They seem to go out all the time. Perhaps they need to get away from me. Mind you, I get to watch more TV when they’re not here, which means I avoid the homework pile.
We live in a little house balanced on the side of a hill. I’ve always felt like it’s about to topple headlong into the harbour at the bottom but I’m assured by the limping fisherman that it won’t. The views are nice I suppose. Mum and Dad’s friends are always saying that. I don’t really get it.
I’m sitting in my tiny little box of a bedroom where I can look out onto the quayside. It’s a cloudy Saturday afternoon and they say it will rain tonight. The cobbled street in front of our house trickles down to the main square like a river into the sea. The seagulls are pretty noisy, especially when the fishing boats come in, but I don’t mind them. I think one of them wants to be my friend. Every day he flies onto my windowsill and peeks into my room. I’ve caught him tap, tap, tapping the glass a few times but if I get close he scares off. Perhaps I should put out some bread?
I can hear Mum getting ready. She always flaps and runs around, rummaging through her wardrobe and chest of drawers for hours until “the right thing finds her”. If Dad took as long as Mum did to get ready I’m not sure they’d ever leave the house. At least he sorts himself out in good time and wrestles her out of the door eventually. And just before the door closes behind them, it opens to let Granny in.
I adore Granny. She’s my bestest friend in the world and she pops over to look after me when I’m left on my own. She’s very good; she let’s me do what I want because she says I’m old enough to supervise myself. I suppose if I was hell bent on burning the house down or making off with her car she’d soon put her foot down. Generally, she’s very laid back. She’s very happy with some knitting or a Dick Francis book.
So here I am. Granny downstairs doing whatever, and me upstairs plotting a temporary disappearance. Today I’m going to hide. I’ve done this loads of times before and I absolutely love it. I might tell Granny, I might not. I enjoy not telling her because she gets worried when she can’t find me. I have been wondering though if this is a good idea any more; she’s not getting any younger.
The one thing I will do is stay in. I can’t be bothered to go wandering off into town especially as the weather isn’t looking very good. Plus, I did promise Mum that I wouldn’t go out so I suppose I’ve got to play fair. I want to go out with my two best friends at the weekend and if I muck Granny about, that’s definitely not going to happen.
There are many places that you can hide in our house. It’s quite an old building which makes the rooms all sorts of funny shapes. In one of the bedrooms is a built-in wardrobe with old wooden doors. I love the brass hinges that hold the doors up; they have a pretty pattern etched into them and a few years ago, I took a piece of paper and rubbed a crayon over it to make a picture. Brass rubbing I think they call it. We did it on a school trip to a cathedral once. A famous Queen’s ashes were buried in this massive tomb and I rubbed over the plaque.
As you open the wardrobe doors the top shelf seems to greet you like the meringue on a lemon pie; it froths and bubbles with blankets Mum stores up there. It’s far too high for me to reach but I don’t mind; what do I want with blankets anyway?
You usually get a waft of fabric softener as the doors open, which is either lavender or cherry blossom depending on what Mum’s used. Your eyes then see the main hanging rail. Dad stores his work clothes in here, lots of them. Striped jackets and matching trousers, chequered ones with strange colours running through the material. And then shirts, lots and lots of them, all carefully ironed by Dad who spends his Sunday afternoons pushing and pulling the iron around. I think it’s a complete waste of time. If he put them on a hanger straight after tumble drying them he probably wouldn’t need to.
I’m not sure I’ll ever get adults.
Shoes and walking boots are stacked up in a big heap at the bottom, all sitting on the floor, the same salmony-pink colour carpet that goes up the stairs from the hall and round the 3 small bedrooms. Its quite a nice carpet, quite soft underfoot, but when you sit on it for a long time, it can get quite uncomfortable. I prefer sitting on a cushion.
Right at the very back of the wardrobe at the bottom is a tiny little door. It’s on the right side wall, from the floor to about halfway up the height of the wardrobe. Attached to this door is a black latch that fastens to a little hook pushed into the wall.
Equipped with my pocket torch, small cushion, and packet of biscuits that I sneaked past Mum earlier, I decide that now is the time to hide. I used to take all the shoes and boots out to get to the inner door but I’ve since worked out a better way.
If I push all the shoes to the left side of the floor just enough to allow room for the little door to swing open, I can then crawl over them, through the small opening before pulling a few of them back a bit. It’s not obvious then that anything has moved, I still have enough room for the little door to open and shut, and nobody knows that I’m there.
Once inside, I’m as cosy as a mouse. There isn’t a great deal of space in here to be honest but that suits me. I’m only little. I’m not sure how big you’re supposed to be when you’re 11 but I don’t seem to be very tall yet.
The only thing that’s annoying is my hair. It’s really long and catches on things or falls into my eyes. I try to remember to tie it back with a band before I come in here. It makes life a whole lot easier. It also makes me look less like a girl and I prefer that. I’m not a pink fluffy girl at all. I much prefer tree houses, muddy fields and watching the ships come in. A real tomboy, I suppose, much to my Mum’s annoyance. She’d have me in dresses all the time if she had a chance.
I wriggle myself in. There is more than enough room for me to sit upright because the space itself doesn’t really have a roof. I have no idea what it’s meant to be used for but it’s perfect for me.
If I want to lie down, though, I need to curl my knees up to my chest and get into a ball. This is great for a short time but can get a bit uncomfortable after a while. Once, I fell asleep in this position and woke up to find that I couldn’t feel my legs. They had gone to sleep too! Getting out was interesting as I had to drag dead limbs through a small opening and out across smelly shoes.
Right. I’m inside now. Phew. There seemed to be more boots than ever to clamber over. I wonder if Mum has had a tidy round and put more in here? Either way, it’s taken me a bit longer than normal to make enough space to get the little door open.
I’ve pulled my torch out from my fleece pocket and switched it on. Pow. Let there be light! And it’s such a small space that it lights up like a Christmas tree. It’s magical. I love the way that this little hole suddenly comes alive with the press of a button. I turn myself around, drop the cushion onto the carpet and sit down.
As I move the light around the walls I can see the grooves in the wood in front of me. This is the wall that the little entrance door is set into. There is another wall made of wood to my left which has the bedroom on the other side of it. The wall behind me and to my right are the outside walls of the house and they feel cold and a little bit sticky. This is nice in the summer when the house becomes too hot; I can creep inside here and just sit back against these walls and cool down. That’s if I’m not down by the quayside watching the fishing boats bob around.
I’m getting wafts of the fabric softener from the blankets. It’s quite comforting. It’s nice to be reminded that whilst I’m hidden away, albeit inside a wardrobe, I’m still close to home. I can also smell Dad’s aftershaves, probably from his suits. On the downside, I get to smell the boots and shoes, too. There’s also something musty and damp. One of the pubs on the quayside smells a bit like this. I only know because Dad took me in once for lunch after a shopping expedition and it was the first thing I noticed.
The other thing that I really love about this place is the silence. Nothing but me and my breathing for company. The bedroom is on the third floor and the very highest room in the house so I’m usually a long way away from my parents, which is a good thing because they don’t always get along and I prefer not to hear them argue.
When Granny is here, there isn’t much to listen to except for when she has the radio tuned into old fashioned music. Even worse is when she has the television turned up way too loud to watch the soap operas. She loves them and I have no idea why. They’re terrible, all that swearing and arguing, explosions and murders. She says they’re very real to true life. If that’s true life, I don’t think I want to grow up.
I used to bring my MP3 player and headphones in here with me when I first started hiding. That was before I didn’t hear Mum calling for me once. She eventually got to this bedroom and by the time she got here, she was crying lots.
She had become so frightened tat not being able to find me that she became kind of frantic, like one of those characters you see in a film.
I remember it every time I come up here; part of me will always feel really bad for making her that upset.
So I don’t bring the MP3 player any more. Plus, my hiding place was nearly discovered. At the point that I heard Mum she had already crashed into the bedroom. Luckily, her back was to the wardrobe and I was able to quickly wriggle out through the shoes and pretend I had been sitting with my back to a chair. My headphones were still round my neck and she didn’t think that I had been hidden away somewhere. Phew.
Perhaps one of the best things about hiding are the treats I bring. Mum and Dad are quite strict on what I can have between meal times and if I can steal something naughty from the cupboards enroute, then all the better. They taste so much better knowing that I shouldn’t be eating them.
Today I have Rich Tea biscuits. I put them down next to the cushion and slowly tug on the little red tab where it says “Open”. My fingers are trembling slightly with excitement and I can already taste them, the dry sweet texture on my tongue slowly turning to mush. Yum. As I turn the packet in my hands whilst the red strip tears open, the uppermost biscuit falls out onto my lap. My first victim – crunch!
And here I am. In one of my most favourite of places munching on biscuits. Could it get any better than this? I like to ponder different things when I’m here. And when my mind isn’t distracted with thoughts of my Mum’s upset that day, I often find myself thinking over things that I want to sort out.
I’m not very popular at school. I get picked on quite a bit, something that I haven’t mentioned to my parents because, well, they’re my parents. It’s not a very cool thing to do. If I had a best friend, I’d probably rather tell them, but I don’t.
I have been trying to work out why this one group of girls have decided to pick on me out of all the other people in my class. I used to think that it was because of where I lived. Our house is thought to be in the “posh” end of town, but that’s hardly my fault. I didn’t choose to live here. Besides, one of the girls who is horrible to me lives three doors up so it can’t be that.
Maybe it’s because I love learning? Perhaps they see me as a bit of a nerd? I’ve always been fascinated by discovering new things and school for me, bullies aside, is fantastic. I really enjoy going and right now, they’re spoiling it for me. They pull my hair, call me names, grab my rucksack from my back and throw it across the playground. They’ve even taken homework from my bag and destroyed it. I’ve had to do detentions because of them. No-one knows except me and this space.
Was it because I had long hair? I never wear it loose to school and usually put it in a plait. None of the group have long hair….maybe this was it?
And they do grab hold of my hair quite often.
Another biscuit. Gosh, these are good. I’m flicking the torch down towards the little door. It really is quite a small door. It reminds me of the door that Alice crawls through in “Alice Through The Looking Glass”. Perhaps a part of me wants to get to another world by forcing myself into such a tiny space?
I do ask myself lots of questons, don’t I? That’s what hiding does to me, though. I am quite a curious person by nature and I’m at my happiest when I watch people, when I look at what they’re doing, how they walk, how they move.
I spend hours in the summer sitting with my legs dangling off the quay watching the fishing boats drifting in and out of the harbour. I look out at the fisherman busy pulling on nets or throwing baskets over the sides to catch things.
Some of them know me, some don’t. And then there are the visitors that moor up for a few hours and time their pints to the rise and fall of the tide before making off again.
I suppose I just like escaping. That’s it. Escaping. With a torch and some biscuits to help me along, of course, but escaping is exactly what it is. Life here is so mundane and boring, with Mum and Dad always working or going out. I don’t feel that anyone spends any time with me. Having no brothers or sisters forces me to be fairly creative with my spare time and that’s probably why I enjoy finding a secret place that I can just be.
I’ve been here a good hour or so now and Granny will be wondering how my homework is going. Damn it. I’d rather sit here munching biscuits.
I reluctantly fold the top over the biscuits and ram them firmly into my pocket. I lean forward enough to pull the cushion out from beneath my bottom, and move the torch to the little door once more. I push it open and a little rush of light floods through.
I have to perform a mixture of crawling and pulling to get myself through the entrance and I always hold my breath as I cross the sea of footwear. Geez, they’re gross.
I push gently on the last door, the main wardrobe door, and I flop out onto the bedroom floor. Better turn the torch off. Click. That goes into my pocket, too. I get to my feet and tuck the cushion under my arm, walk out of the room and across the little landing towards my bedroom door.
“Jesse? Are you hungry?”
I couldn’t have timed my release any better. I shouldn’t have eaten so many biscuits, though.
“No I’m okay thanks, Gran. Just got a little more maths to do and then I’ll be down.”
Let’s see if my seagull likes Rich Tea.