My father who had always wanted a boy, named me Junaid when I was born. He had a friend, Junaid, he played cricket with, and liked the name especially when he learned it meant warrior. If he wasn’t going to have a child with male genitals, he was at least going to have a child with a boy’s name starting with the letter J, same as his. My mother, Merle, who secretly relished the attention showered on me, thought the name Junaid too masculine for a girl
, and called me Joonie, a kind of compromise between Junaid and June, the month in which I was born. Fifty years later, I still like the name. Joonie has a nice ring to it. I also like the name Junaid as it was unusual sounding.
Masquerading as a boy drew me closer to my father, although he sometimes forgot I was really a girl and kicked the ball too hard when we played football on the field across the road from where we lived on one of the avenues. He took me everywhere with him: to the airport to watch the planes arrive and depart, and I would dream of flying off to a foreign country when I was big; to his clients on building sites where he provided quotes and told the bricklayers and plumbers what to do; to the hardware shops where he bought bags of cement and crete stone. Later, in the storeroom in the yard of the house in Grassy Park where we lived in the servant’s quarters, he would show me the fittings and pipes and explain how things worked. I liked sitting in amongst the pipes and porcelain toilet bowls on an overturned crate watching my father fix a tap or do some drawings of things he liked to build. He would have a brown packet of pink stars or gum balls hidden behind some of the tools on a shelf and would give me some, and say things like, “What you going to do one day when you’re big, Joonie?”
And I would tell him things I thought he might be proud of. “I’m going to be a runner, Dad. And I’m going to fix things.”
“Fix things?” he would laugh. “You’re going to be a fixer?”
“But why a runner?”
“Because I’m fast, Dad, and I know I can beat Stephanie who always comes first. She brags a lot when she wins.”
He laughed. I always amused him. Once I stood behind the bedroom door listening to his whispered conversation with my mother and heard her say, “You spoil that child, Joe. Just because she’s pretty doesn’t mean she’s an angel. She can be bladdy naughty.”
“She’s really my child, Merle?” he teased. “Look at me. My hair’s hardened from cement. I’m dark. There’s nothing coloured about this child.”
They both laughed; why, I could not understand.
Still my childhood wasn’t all peaches and cream. Having a tomboy haircut and wearing boys’ clothes didn’t spare me from bullies and rogues.
, it was raining heavily when I had to go to school. My routine was to walk to Auntie Olive’s house a few streets up the road where my cousins Beryl and Charmaine would be waiting for me. On this particular morning there was no one outside their house and I waited for a few minutes. After a while my navy blue raincoat was dripping with water. My walkers were soaked. I took them off. I couldn’t wait anymore and dragged my feet through the rushing water in the sluits and walked to school with my shoes under my arm. I heard a car approach from behind me. It was Uncle Lionel in his beige Peugeot driving Beryl and Charmaine to school. He stopped the car and told me to get in. I could smell the liquor on his breath, but was only too glad to get into the car where Beryl handed me the dog’s towel and told me to dry my feet and wring out my socks and put them back on. It was one of those miserably dull winter school days where you sat in a cold classroom with damp hair and wet shoes wishing for the day to end.
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