Thursday, 26 August 2010

Rites of Passage

A teenaged handyman is creosoting my neighbour’s fences. He’s not happy. He’s got one hand stuffed in his pocket, and he keeps stopping to sigh, and text. I wonder if his mother volunteered his services: mine did things like that. She was determined I should have a part-time job, and nothing could deter her.

One day, she and I were in Antonio's, the local ice-cream parlour. I was tucking into a knicker-bocker glory when she suddenly leant across the table.

“Quick,” she hissed. “Hide your hands.”
“What?” I had no idea what she was talking about.
“Hide your hands. Put them under the table.”
My brain toiled to work out what she meant, before I got into trouble.
“Why?”
“Put them under the table now, before Mrs. Antonio sees your nails.”

I did as I was told. I knew better than to challenge my mother. My nails were painted bottle-green because Lena, the beautiful blonde girl in the year above, had her nails that colour. Somehow mine didn’t look the same.

“Morning Mrs. Antonio,” my mother beamed as the starched matron approached our table. She gave me the ‘sit up straight’ glare. I sat up.
“This is my daughter who’s looking for a Saturday job,” she said, nodding at me.

I was? Well, yes, I was looking for a Saturday job, but I didn’t want to work in Antonio's. No one did. Mrs. Antonio was terrifying.

“She’s a good worker, Mrs. Antonio. She won’t let you down.”

I tried to smile, but I was quaking. Fortunately Mrs. Antonio looked at me as though I were a slug she’d found frozen in the ice cream, told my mother the vacancy had been filled, and walked off. But it wasn’t long before my mother did find me a job, washing plates in another restaurant.

So I’m watching the handyman struggling with the fences, and I’m betting he has a similarly determined mother. Ah poor boy! We’ve all been there.

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