“That’s him getting on now. No, Jasmine, don’t turn round. Move over.”
“Mummy, is he the tall one?”
“No, the blond one in the black coat.”
“Hey, Padmini. Hello, little Petal. Can I squeeze next to you?”
“Answer your dad then, use your words. Sorry, Darren. I think that’s why she’s always in trouble at school.”
“It’s good to see you, Petal. Can’t believe it’s been two years. You’re a young lady now.”
“Course it’s gone quick for you, out in Dubai. We’ve been stuck in Sydenham, with drizzle and engineering works.”
“Mummy, what’s drizzle?”
“Water that can’t make up its mind about what it wants. Ask your dad about that.”
Pause for throat-clearing and staring at knees.
“Where’s this bus going then? I don’t know where I am.”
“The Horniman. There’s an aquarium, Jasmine likes the seahorses. And I need a coffee. Had to go and get Cocoa Pops cos madam here wouldn’t eat her toast.”
“You don’t need to eat your crusts, Petal, because your hair’s already curly.”
Tiny noise that might be giggling.
“Nah, I got that half-and-half bread, thought I’d sneak some vitamins in. But she won’t touch it.”
A squeaky sound, a face rubbed against leather. A swish of something that has teeth.
“Stop that, Jasmine. You can’t just do things like that to people. Leave his sleeve alone.”
“Why you gotta pocket there?”
“It’s alright. That’s my place for important things. They’ve all fallen out now, tell me a secret to make up for it.”
The hush of a mouth brought close to an ear.
“No, Cocoa Pops won’t make you as brown as your mum. What’s that?”
The kind of silence that makes your ears pop.
“She said… half-and-half is what the kids call her at school.”
Anita Goveas is British-Asian, based in London, and fueled by strong coffee and paneer jalfrezi. She lurks in libraries and her local independent bookshop, Bookseller Crow. She was first published in the 2016 London Short Story Prize anthology, most recently in Pocket Change, Haverthorn, Moonchild Magazine, Riggwelter Press, Anti-Heroin Chic, former cactus mag and Litro. She tweets erratically @coffeeandpaneer