I share a room with my sister. She is fourteen years old, four years older than me and her body is different from mine.
At night from under my blankets I watch her undress for bed. I watch her silhouette as she slips out of her tunic and blouse into her nightie. She wears a bra and the fine point of her breasts rise up from her chest like mountains.
I touch my own nipples, hard now, but flat against my ribcage.
One day I will grow breasts like my sister and mother. One day, I too will be big.
In the daytime when no one is looking I take an old towel from the laundry cupboard, one my mother keeps to use for dishcloths. I tear it into one long rectangular strip.
I take a piece of coloured ribbon from my sister’s ribbon basket and tie it around the centre of material to make a gathering where I can imagine my cleavage to be after I have tied the material around my chest like a bra.
At night when everyone sleeps I wear my bra under my nightie. I like to feel it in place and imagine myself to be grown up like my mother.
In the morning I scrunch up my bra into a ball and stuff it into an empty cigarette pack, which I have taken from the rubbish bin, I hide it between my bed and wall.
One day I come home from school. My mother sits in her usual chair beside the fire, my sister beside her. They look up at me when I walk in and my sister smiles. They look at one another in a meaningful way and without knowing why or what I sense that I am about to be found out.
I see the cigarette box first and the strip of toweling laid out on the table.
‘What’s this then?’ my mother says. She holds the bra up to the light. She does not wait for my answer. ‘You know you’re too little for one of these, but never mind, you’ll be big enough one day.’
My sister smiles, an inward smile, as if she has just been given top marks at school.
I do not know what to say. My hands are clammy. My Singlet feels wet under my arm pits where the skin prickles.
My mother picks up the empty cigarette box and stuffs the bra back inside.
‘Now be a good girl. Throw this out where it belongs. In the rubbish.’
‘What are you doing?’ my brother says as he sees me at the rubbish bin. He sees the cigarette pack. ‘Have you been smoking Dad’s cigarettes?’
‘No, “ I say. And now I know that my face is as red as the hair on the lady on the front of the cigarette pack.
‘You have been smoking,’ my brother says. ‘It’s written all over your face. Don’t worry,’ he says. ‘I won’t tell.’