Monday, 10 August 2015



Miss Hollins, the headmistress, was large and wore floral print dresses. We were all slightly afraid of her, though she never did anything to cause us fear or distress. Just that I don’t remember her smiling. She was very much there, part of the school architecture. We never saw her leave, or arrive in the morning. Shirley Moss thought she lived there.

Miss Hollins was also the aunt of Andrew Russell, my best friend. Andrew Russell wasn’t so enthusiastic about my being his best friend, which puzzled me: I was young and had uncomplicated views as regards fairness. Andrew was the fastest runner in the school, until by a freak turn of events, I won the running race at Sports Day, and he came second. This curiously didn’t fall within my views as regards fairness. Andrew’s family moved away soon afterwards and I never saw him again, and soon got a new best friend.

There’s a woman I see around, I’ve passed by her for a decade or more, who looks like Andrew Russell; some people around here don’t move away, they like it here, like me, so it’s possible she’s been here for as long as I have. I’ve often wondered whether she is related to Andrew Russell, or to Miss Hollins. ‘Hey,’ I’d like to say, but I’m not sure what I should say next. ‘Is your family name Russell? Are you related to Andrew Russell who was my best friend – you have the same high cheekbones and slightly too broad forehead that demand prolonged attention? I hope you don’t mind my asking, but can you run fast?’ I don’t suppose, after she’s probably noticed me looking at her features for 15 years every time we pass in the street, that she’d say ‘Yes, that’s me, I’m his cousin, and I know you, in fact I’ve been waiting to congratulate you on your athletic prowess that day, subject of conversation every Christmas, Andrew was massively put out but over time, and with the help of friends and relatives, he has come to acknowledge you as the better man on the day.’

So I avoid making eye contact, and it’s better that way; I long ago gave up thoughts of being an athlete, and sidled over to the life of the mind, though I can still show a clean pair of heels when needing a way out of conversations that turn embarrassing.

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