I used to see the Poor Girl on the way to school. She had curly blonde hair, liked to skip, and didn’t have a coat. I think that’s how I found out she was poor; I asked my mother why she didn’t have a coat even though it was cold, and she told me it was because her parents couldn’t afford to buy her one. Maybe my parents had seen their house, or their car, or their lack of a car, and the lack of a coat on their daughter, and had come to the conclusion they were poor. It was the first time I learned all children didn’t have the same things. Some children had certain things, some had other things. Some children had lots of things and others had only a few. Maybe some children had all the things it was possible to have and some had nothing at all. I had some things. I had toys, a football, and a coat.
I felt sorry for the Poor Girl, but she herself didn’t seem sad about being poor. She skipped to school and smiled just like any other kid. It made me unafraid of being poor, because I saw you could still have fun without money. You might be a bit colder in the winter because your parents couldn’t afford to buy you a coat, but you would just skip harder. Maybe that’s why the Poor Girl skipped so much — it was a replacement coat. Her parents had asked her what she would prefer, a coat, or skipping, and perhaps having a basic understanding of how much money her parents had she realised they couldn’t afford to buy a coat, so she chose skipping because it didn’t cost anything. She then put skipping on each day as she went to school, hung it on her hook in the classroom, then at the end of the day she took skipping off the hook and put it back on for the journey home.
The Poor Girl was a kind of celebrity around the village. Everyone knew she was poor, but she didn’t look it, with her smile and shiny blonde hair. I can’t remember her face in any kind of detail, just that she smiled a lot. I don’t think anyone ever talked to her about her being poor, and I don’t think she was bullied about it, either. It’s not like anyone in the village was rich, there were just families that could afford to put coats on their children, and one that couldn’t. I can’t actually remember her being inside the school, only on the way to it, perhaps because when we were in the classroom nobody wore a coat. I don’t remember anything about her parents either, even though one or both of them must have walked her to and from school each day. It was hard for me to look at other children’s parents at the age of 4. I always looked at the Poor Girl as she skipped, holding her parents’ hands, and because I didn’t look at them her hands seemed to be swallowed up in these looming shadows of adulthood. Perhaps my not noticing her parents was a testament to how blonde the Poor Girl’s hair was.
My family moved away and I never saw the Poor Girl again. I often wonder if she ever got a coat. If she did, it must have felt really good to put it on on a cold winter morning, like a friend constantly hugging her, keeping her warm, and to skip to school, showing everyone she wasn’t poor anymore, that she had entered the world of coats, of hidden pockets, swooshing sounds, and secret inner lining which others could only glimpse as she hung it up.
I was on my way home from a party a few days ago when I realised I’d left my coat behind. It was a freezing cold December night, and I had to walk all the way from the bus stop back to my tiny apartment in just a shirt, which quickly sobered me up. I suddenly remembered the Poor Girl walking to and from school, coatless, and when I did, something shot through me which momentarily staved off the cold.
Edd Rose’s work has appeared in the online literary magazine The Metaworker and is forthcoming in a number of publications. He has read at the Port Eliot Festival (UK). He was born in 1987 and lives in Cornwall, England.
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