I have a scar on my left eyebrow. I don’t think many people know it’s there, because it’s overshadowed by a mole. Even I forget, until it’s time to pluck my eyebrows and then unlike the right one, which hurts like eyebrows do when you pull them, it has this strange tingling thing going down. Every time I remember its existence I’m catapulted back to the day I acquired it when I was a young girl living in a very different society. I lived on the edge of a rough neighbourhood that grew up when the local council built hundreds of homes in the 1930’s. They cleared the slums in the wet quarter of the city and dumped 2500 people in a soulless area that became infamous for vandalism.
There was no-one to play with in my road but one girl in my class at school lived inside this troubled circle, we were friends and as soon as I was allowed to spread my wings it was to her I flew. I never ventured to the park – that was far too dangerous; we’d hang around on street corners instead. In time the next phase of building began, this time private homes were built on the broad fields where I’d been taken for Sunday afternoon walks as a very little girl. A building site was very tempting to Linda and I – don’t ask why, I haven’t a clue what made a couple of eleven year old girls want to snoop around there. Maybe the risk of getting caught scrambling through breeze blocks and unframed doorways imagining the room they would become. It was always sunny back then, we all say that don’t we? When I was a kid summers were long, hot and dry. Well on that day it was and in the early evening we were looking for some trouble to raze when it came to us with a bang.
First came the shouts, ‘Oi blackie,’ ‘nigger,’ ‘gollywog,’ ‘we’re going to get you.’ Worst of all a ‘joke’ from some disgusting TV comedian of the day, ‘What’s black and lives in a hedge?’ I’ll leave the answer to your imagination or memory. Jokes like that were commonplace back then before the Race Relations Act was introduced and Alf Garnett argued that Jesus was English rather than acknowledging that he may have had some interesting skin tone.
I was a feisty little thing; I’d had to defend myself a few times so that night I turned to look at my tormentors, hands on hips. I even watched one of them pick up a stone a hundred yards away and take aim. I watched its arc through the air towards me, closer and closer, one of those moments when that air was pre storm silent. Ten feet, five, one, bang. Into my head, I spun with disbelief and shock.
‘Run’ Linda said and pulled me along. I tried to shake her off and somehow lost several minutes. I was vaguely aware of her returning with adult voices. I was taken, bleeding and dazed to hospital, an echoing, high ceilinged place with slamming doors where they shone bright lights to check my eyes and I could hear them say ‘Half an inch lower and she would have lost her eye.’
I enjoyed the attention at school the next day, showing off my stitches, but I didn’t play on building sites again.
Verbal racist abuse continued through my early and mid teens. I was never physically attacked again, but those years when skin heads ruled the town at night coincided with my night club age. I could never just relax and I still hate being around town after dark, I look out under my scarred eyebrow, over my shoulder.