I lost my innocence in 1983, the year Michael Jackson became a werewolf and Dynasty made middle-aged women desirable. I had just turned thirteen and life was a butterfly in early summer: a riot of colours and beauty ready to take flight. My friends and I were obsessed with fashion and boys –which translated into huge shoulder pads and endless chats about the latest teen star. We ran in packs: from school to the high street to the parent-approved dances. Everything seemed possible, and whatever ugliness roamed out there, it did far away from me the world I lived in.
It was on a hot afternoon when the walls came tumbling down. The sweltering air was heavy, a wet sponge squeezing against my neck. I was on the bus, on my way back home. The seats were full with the same people I saw everyday: Mr. Andrews, my neighbour, reading the newspaper; the assistant at the shoe repair shop I visited once a month; two of the church choir singers; the old lady who had a sweets stall at the farmer’s market; two men I’ve seen at the car garage. I knew them all, either by name or by trade, so when the seat next to me creaked with a puffing weight, I did not bother to open my eyes.
I was leaning against the window, trying to find some comfort in the cool glass, when the smell hit me. It was a rolling wave of putrid fruits and over-cooked, stale pork. I coughed and opened my eyes. The first thing I saw were the neon pink nails. From there, my sight travelled to the round, plum hand, the muscular arm, the hairy armpit, the pink sequin dress. The man tried to hold back his tears in vain, the soaked mascara drawing spiders from the top of his cheeks to the sides of his brown moustache. He shook his head slightly, to keep the plastic blond curls of his wig at bay. Then he looked at me and smiled, as if I could understand what was going on and offer some consolation. To him: a stinky guy in a pink dress, wiping black tears with a shoddy lace hankie. He raised his hand. Towards me, towards my breasts, the pink nails a whisper away from my white school blouse, nearly, almost, like if –he’s going to touch me!
From nowhere, hands toppled over him and sucked his body into the mouth of a monster made of arms and fists and shouts. He disappeared for a second or two. Then his wigless head came out again, wheezing, a thick stream of blood painting his moustache red. The mob pulled him down onto the floor and kicked him, bones crashing, bruises forming in front of my eyes, all while he held his legs against his torso and shrieked. The driver pushed him out of the bus. The candy selling lady cursed him as we drove away. The guy in the pink dress sat there, on the pavement, hand over his eyes, sobbing uncontrollably. Sobbing like a girl.
Mr. Andrews took me home and explained what had happened. Nana brewed some chamomile tea whilst my brother called Dad at work. Mum hugged me and as she did, I saw it there, reflected on the hallway mirror: a ladybird, perilously hanging from the collar of my blouse. Mum saw it too and brushed if off. Just like that. Just like anyone would have done, really. The insect slid down slowly, swirling three times before landing on the dark wooden boards.