by Angharad Sillitoe
Once upon a time we were the same, Sarah and I. We had the same lunchbox that year – with the name of some doll brand I wasn’t sure still existed anymore emblazoned across it. We had the same uniform – of course, going to the same school, we had the same uniform. But it was exactly the same. The same Clarks shoes. The same Marks and Spencer’s perfectly ironed grey pinafore. The same blouse (not a polo shirt). We went to the same after-school activities – we were in the same six at Brownies.
We were still friends, but we weren’t the same anymore.
‘She’s too young, don’t you dare do anything like that to us,’ my parents said as Sarah talked about her husband, brought her beautiful ugly 13-month-old baby around. They loved that kid and spoiled him like he was their grandson, but they also loved that he wasn’t their grandson. The shame.
She wasn’t a university drop out, at home, working as a barista to get money. Instead she’d got a job as a teaching assistant in our old primary school the day we got our A-level results.
We didn’t look the same any more. She looked settled, as she all but dragged me along the pavement. My parents had moved house when I was fourteen, no longer within walking distance of the blue railing-ed playground, so I’d driven to Sarah’s and we were walking together, the stroller tagging along in front of us.
I wondered for what must have been the gazillionth time today what I was doing here. I was going back to my primary school – and on a Saturday. To open the time capsule that we had left there ten years ago as we left to go to senior school.
The time capsule opening was always an ‘integral part of our annual summer fair’. I remember them opening them every June as I went through the school. I also remembered that no one from that year ever turned up to see it being opened again. I also remembered seeing those precious few old people turning up and being guests of honour. Old. I’m too young to be old.
We arrived at the gate. I remembered racing through the gates and away from my parents when I was a kid . . . Right now I wanted it to be that time.
There were a load of people manning the stalls I didn’t know. I wondered if they were new teachers or PTA members. Either way I didn’t want to engage in conversation with them, or frequent the stalls for books that looked like they’d been dragged out from the attic and previously last seen in the late 80s, dolls who had suffered amputations and tattoos at the hands of big brothers and the cheapest nastiest most melted choc ices they’d been able to find.
I could see the time capsule resting on a battered school table (one metre by fifty centimetres, standard regulation) like it was the prize of the fair. We walked past the face paint stand that was probably transmitting some nasty skin disease… I guess that maybe it was.
The box was big and plastic, with a rubbish seal that was supposed to have protected our precious objects. I hoped it had been left somewhere dry. I remember a group of us working the box all over with stickers though there was no evidence of that now, just a big 2006 written in permanent marker.
I made my excuses to Sarah who seemed intent to stop and talk to everyone – parent, teacher, student, pet goldfish – and found an unoccupied bench to sit on. At one point an old man looked like he was coming over to sit next to me so I quickly deposited my handbag there instead. It looked like he got the message.
I had a good vantage point of the time capsule from here. Every five minutes or so there was a big huzzah as a nearby vicim was chosen to pick something out, hold it up and ooh and aah and then display it on the table.
I remembered Connor Goldacre putting his mobile phone in. The Motorola had been a hand-me-down from his big brother. I had no idea who had put the handful of half-finished Scoobies in, or the Cub badges that had been ripped from the uniform shirt. I did remember mine and Sarah’s first lip glosses – though I had no recollection of whose was whose.
Sarah sat down next to me. ‘Isn’t it wonderful? It was half a generation ago we were here.’
Maybe for her. Half a generation of my life and I was still sat in the school playground.