'Is this your daughter? Hello pet!'
The leering, grinning face bent down to get even closer to me, every detail picked out by the morning sunshine. We were on our way to school and my mother had met one of her friends.
I dodged back behind my mother, as far as I could go without coming out the other side. The woman looked confused for a second and she and my mother exchanged glances - the sort of look you come to recognise as people asking 'what's wrong with her?'.
'She's just shy,' my mother answered the unspoken question. I sighed in relief and hung my head. Once people knew you were shy they backed off and ignored your behaviour because shy people are timid little creatures and can be ignored without it seeming rude.
The rest of the conversation was almost pain-free. I stood behind my mother, looking out at the view over the Solway, the sparkling water promising freedom and days out and making me think of Summer when me and my Granda would go there for hours at a time.
Then dragged back, brutally, into the conversation as my mother's friend suddenly raised her voice to indicate she was talking to the child and lowered her face again.
'So are you going to be a nurse like your mam when you grow up? Just like your mam, eh?'
They both laughed complacently, as if this was something good and expected, that a daughter should be like her mother. The sheer horror of having this future thrust upon me gave me courage and I burst out,
'No! I'd never be a nurse! Ever!'
Again, the moment where they looked at each other, put off by my odd reaction. Then my mother reached down for my hand and explained,
'Amanda hates anything to do with blood. She wants to be a writer.'
The woman's face changed again, a look of excitement as she said,
'Do you? That's lovely!'
For a moment I was in the loop, part of a real conversation where I didn't feel like hiding. It was good to be briefly seen as the person I was - or someone close to that person.
Then the conversation moved on and we had to leave for school, hurrying up the hill, late yet again. My mother regaled me with who the woman was and how she knew her and I appeared to listen, the greater half of me thinking about how this was the first time I had spoken up against my expected future.
From then on I never stayed quiet when people asked if I was going to be a nurse, like my mother (and they asked it a lot). I always said how I felt and often saw a fleeting shade of embarrassment cross their faces, as if they wondered what they had done wrong. Didn't every girl want to be a nurse? Didn't every girl want to be like her mother? And why did I seem angry?
Years later and I don't hide behind my mother anymore and people don't describe me as shy. I hide behind the facade I've built up with good, honest dedication and practice. I hide behind a screen which the good and the like-minded see past and love me anyway.
I can speak to people, pretend the words, pretend the conversation, appear at ease and often I am, as long as it's nothing deep or personal. I can be as close to what people expect as I am ever likely to get but beneath the surface, behind the facade, underneath the glimmer insisted upon by modern living, is the little girl who could not bear to look at the friendly face of the stranger.
'She's just shy,' the cue words to let me know I could hide without expectation of interaction or speech. How much I miss those words sometimes.
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