My mum is such a cry baby, I think, as I let her wrap her arms around me. I think its because Daddy is gone.

Four years is a long time, some people think, but really there is never a time when it is okay to say “stop missing your daddy, he’s been gone long enough.” I miss him everyday now like I did the first few weeks when I didn’t see him.

I sometimes wonder how bad it is for Mum.
I look at the Communication book lying on my bed beside her and I remember again the conversation I had with my teacher before she wrote the message.
“You’re a fantastic speller, Brenda-girl,” she said. “I think if you represent our class at the spelling bee next week, we will win.”
I felt good when she said that, I felt good right to my tummy. I love words, I love how there are words for everything, I love how words change. I love that I can learn new words every day.
“Thanks Mrs T,” I said. “But I don’t think I want to do the spelling bee.”
She looked at me and asked why not.
I didn’t want to bring up my panic attacks. I hadn’t had one since the term began, at least not in school.
I couldn’t give her any reason, so I let her write the note.
I saw mum’s face when she saw the note. I saw the fear that she tries to hide whenever she thinks about me going out into the world. Hahaha.
It hurt kinda, because I just wanted her to tell me I could do it if I wanted to.

Deep down in me, I know I will enjoy doing it, but I can’t seem to picture myself doing it, me standing in front of those people, parents, students, teachers, everyone.

“Mum,” I protest, when the hug gets tighter and uncomfortable.
She releases me and looks at me, sure enough, her eyes are shiny like she wants to cry.
“I’m sorry, ” she says.
The first time I told my friend Ona, that my mother apologises to me, she laughed and said her mother would cut her hand before she ever said sorry for anything.
A part of me wished I had a mum like Ona’s. One who was strong and who could make such bold statements.
“I’m sorry you had to see that,” Mum continues. “I know you can do the spelling bee, but I was also afraid that…you know.”

Yes, I know.

“I’m better,” I say. Even though I tremble just thinking about the crowd of people who will see me.
“So you want to do it then? You will change your mind?” Mum asks. “I’ll support you, I promise.”
I close my eyes.
I want to promise, I want to say yes, but I can’t bring my lips to move.
“Bren?” She prompts.
“Can I think about it, please Mum?” It is the only thing I can think of to say. I don’t want to lie to my mum. Its something we agreed some time ago. No lies, she said. We can’t keep secrets from each other. We are all we have.
I was just seven then, and I had taken a bar of the foreign chocolates she kept in her room, to give my friend who said we should do an exchange of gifts.
Mum was upset when my friend’s mum called to ask about the chocolates.
She didn’t talk to me for a whole day, which was scary because I knew I was in trouble.

It was after that incident that we had a talk about secrets and lies. I haven’t lied to her since then, because really, she’s right: We are all we have.

“Okay honey, think about it,” Mum says, standing up. “When do you want us to talk about it again?”

“Um…maybe next week?” I raise an eyebrow at her.

“Next week? Baby, that’s too close to the spelling bee! What are you thinking about? How to make heaven?” Mum is laughing now.
I join her and it feels so good to laugh. Laughing is normal, laughing is why I am friends with Ona. She makes me laugh, she doesn’t treat me like something breakable.
“Okay, how about in two days?” Mum asks, after we recover from laughing.
“Three, please,” I beg.
“Three then.”
We shake on it, which is weird and funny at the same time.
“Hurry up and let’s make dinner downstairs,” she says, hovering at the door.
I groan.
“You have five minutes, young lady,” she says as she leaves.
When the door closes behind her, I sigh.
Three days? I think. I don’t need three days to decide that I am not going to stand in front of a crowd of strangers and spell. I have decided already, I just didn’t tell Mum.

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