I don’t like you

A little girl

With golden hair reaching her tan

Told me, tongue to one side, half-licked lips

I don’t like you.

Afterward I asked

A disinterested person

Who was paid to iron my dad’s shirts and begrudgingly

Watch me until he returned

Why would someone not like me?

I hadn’t said this with some inflated belief that I deserved universal liking

But rather, an innocent question

That first time

Branding with the word knife

The girl with flax hair

Didn’t include me in hopscotch or skip rope

Ring a ring a roses, a pocket full of posies, a-tissue, a-tissue, they all fall down

She was the most popular and they chose her for Mary in the school play

Whilst I played a donkey, braying when gift bearing wise men arrived

The local woman who ironed my dad’s shirts

Begrudged making me a canned supper

I was a nuisance, playing in her dour house until 6pm every day

Throwing dirt on drab paving stones, pretending to be invisible

I don’t know why

She crossly replied

Her forehead wrinkled with steam

Curly hair rising, sleeves rolled up, sweat stains coloring

Maybe you’re a nasty little girl.

The next day when my father dropped me off on his bike

At the school gates

I walked the other way

I have been ever since

Learning to salvage myself

From unexpected spite.

If I met the peach-kneed Danish girl today

She’d likely have track-marks and bruised eyes

Turned out she was beaten beneath her starched frocks

Turning the wickedness back into the world

Isn’t that what hurt children do?

Perhaps it’s not wise to always listen to your elders

I’d warn the five-year old me

Playing with empty hands on the stoop of someone else’s street.

As an adult, when someone doesn’t like me

Which happens like storms and rain in May

Their voice reminds me of that first loneliness.

Children who stop believing in a kind world

Feeling sharp thorned scorn

Grow into adults who keep themselves sheltered

From the humans in wolf skin, prowling outside

Like castaway cries of surprise

When we think we are safe and

Still, we trip and fall.