In the bookstore today, I spotted a woman whose shape astounded me. It wasn’t so much the size of her — she was overweight but not really all that fat in most places — but that her arse was like nothing I’ve ever seen. It was disproportionately large to her body but, more than that was the fact that, instead of sitting wide and low like almost anyone else’s bum would, it sat high, impossibly high… weirdly high… The top of it jutted out at a right angle from her back like some kind of fleshy bookshelf, and the lower portion of it actually angled up on a diagonal to reach it. From the side, her bum was distinctly triangular. It was simply one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen and I had to force myself not to stare.
Turning away, I threw my focus into hunting for the book I’d come in for and the girls lingered at my feet, perusing the shelves for something colourful and interesting. Not finding it, they began to wander, and I let them go to the next aisle and then the next, happy that I could keep my eye on them over my shoulder.
I found my book, and opened it. They found a step-stool — the kind with a trefoil shape and little kick wheels that they always have in libraries — and sat down on it together. E1 pulled out a book, and began “reading” it to her little sister. I could hear her voice and see the top of her curly head, and so turned back to my book.
“Where did you get those curls?” It was a man’s voice and, when I turned around, I realised it was the husband of the woman whose shape had so perplexed me. E1 answered him, something I couldn’t make out, but it would be one of her standard answers — she gets that question every time we go out. I turned back, but kept them in corner of my eye. He said something else to her, and she answered him, and his wife came over to join them. I flipped the pages of my book.
And then I heard E1 start to speak and, somehow, I knew what she was saying before she’d even got past the first four words. “Why do you have…” My heart stopped.
I wanted to stop her, but I was too far away. If I leapt out to quieten her, to slap a hand over her mouth, I’d never reach her in time. If I’d opened my own mouth to yell, even the sound would get to her too late. I didn’t know what to do. I was paralysed… horrified… frozen, as she continued.
“…a big bum?”
I didn’t know what to do! Should I dash up and usher my child away? Should I apologise? Should I leap forward and chastise her? I didn’t know… I didn’t know…!
And so, I did the only thing I thought I could do, the thing that came naturally, the first thing that came to my mind. I did the thing that you would do… I sank down onto my heels and hid behind the bookshelves.
The lady hadn’t been paying attention, and the man was a bit deaf. “What did she say?” the lady asked her husband. He looked at E1 and repeated the question, “What did you say, dear?” Oh good!, I thought. Oh good! They hadn’t heard! Perhaps she’d forget her question, or perhaps he’d ask another. Or… someone… someone quickly! Ask her about her curls!
“Whyyyyyy…” She was speaking very clearly now, very slowly. She hadn’t forgot her question. I snuck a look between the books — both the man and woman were leaning down towards her with expectant smiles.
“do yoooou...” She pointed up at the woman.
“have…” I sank back down and put my hands over my face. There was no stopping it now. I felt the blood rushing hot to my face.
“a BIG BUM?“, with extra enunciation at the end for full clarity. Oh, to have the floor swallow me up! Oh, to abandon my children just for this moment!
Hidden away in my shame behind the bookshelf, I suddenly felt a hand on my shoulder, and glanced up to see a woman looking down at me pityingly. She was biting her lips to keep from laughing out loud. “There’s nothing you can do,” she whispered. “Just stay there. It will all be over in a minute.”
My shame and helpless written all over my face, she continued, “It can’t be helped. Children just say whatever they are thinking.” To be fair, it had been what I’d been thinking only moments before. She was right — I mustn’t be too angry with E1. And then, as if to try to soften it further, she added, “But she’s got beautiful curls!”
I heard the couple saying something to each other, and then they spoke again to E1. I make out what was said, but when I glanced between the books again, they had begun to move away. I stayed crouched behind the shelves and waited for the all clear from the lady still standing by my shoulder.
She drew breath sharply, and then hissed, “They’re coming this way!” I quickly recomposed myself so as to appear as just another shopper, crouched down to look for a book here on the bottom shelf… Nothing at all to do with the obnoxious child they just encountered…
I peeped through the books again — they were nearly upon us. I pulled out a random book and began rifling through it earnestly. The couple began to round the end of the bookshelf. I looked up, casually, and smiled vacantly as if I’d never laid eyes on them before. It had worked — I was home free!
And at that very moment, E1 came tearing around the other end of the bookshelf, ran straight up to me and, throwing her arms around my neck, she yelled, “Mummy! Oh Mummy! I did think I’d lost you!”
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