When I started kindy, I was 5 and already reading. I had a baby sister and my mum was pregnant again. I loved Kindy because my teacher, Miss Feely, had pinky orange hair and wore big bug eye glasses that were purple – it was the 70’s after all. She was the most exotic thing I had ever seen. I was a quiet kid (I know, shock horror) who was already learning to keep my head down and not draw attention to myself.
There was a boy in my class called Geoffrey. Geoffrey was a much adored only child. He was loud and mouthy and a show off. He always had something to say for ‘News’, but more annoying than that, he always had something new to show for ‘News’. His loudness made me feel uncomfortable, and his new things made me curious but also hot and red inside my head.
I didn’t ever have much to say for ‘News’ but one day I had something very interesting to say. In fact, I was not going to do it because I was still so shy but Miss Feely suggested that I get up and tell my exciting news. With her supportive smile pulling me up like a laser beam, I went to the front of the class, cleared my throat of the frog who didn’t like me talking to more than two people at a time, and told the class that the night before my mum had gone into hospital and she had had a baby boy, who was now my baby brother. For the first time in my life, I had the wrapt attention of the class. The kids asked me questions, and I felt warm and interesting and special. At least, I did until Geoffrey stood up and said “That’s nothing! My mum opened me my very own bank account and I got my own bankbook! I bet you don’t have one of these!” he said, waving the important looking red book in my face. Indeed, I did not. It was beautiful. The class as one gasped with surprise. I did too. And as Geoffrey told the class the details of how he and his mum opened his own bank account, I hardly registered Miss Feely pulling me into her arms and giving me a hug before telling the class it was time to find their seats and start to get their readers out.
I suspect Miss Feely suggested to Geoffrey that he give me an exclusive on his bank book at lunchtime, and he found me sitting quietly on my own eating a sandwich. He rattled off the details and asked me if I wanted to hold it. Like every kid in the class, I was desperate to look at the mystery of this very adult symbol of wealth, and I put down my jam and cheese sandwich, and went to take it. “Wipe your hands first!” Geoffrey commanded. I wiped my hands on my skirt and took the book. Now, Geoffrey may have been a bold and self-confident little boy, he may well have come from a wealthy and doting family who could afford him his every pleasure. But he had the attention span of a goldfish and no sooner had he given me the book to hold, but he was racing off down the hallway to join in the fun of spitting water into the faces of girls as they came out of the toilets. I tucked that book into my pocket. Geoffrey didn’t notice. Later I slipped the book into my bag. Geoffrey didn’t remember. I took that book home with me after school, and it glowed like a red hot ember in my bag or in my pocket or in my hand when I took it out in the privacy of my bedroom. While everyone fussed over the new baby and my baby sister, I cradled that bankbook and stroked it and hid it under my mattress where the very thought of it kept me warm. I had a secret that thrilled me to the core and scared me a little bit.
A week later, Geoffrey stood up for ‘News’ as usual and announced “Someone has stolen my bankbook!” Gasps of surprise rippled through the classroom again. Who would do such a thing? My skin burned – every inch of it and I was shocked that no-one could see just from looking at me, the guilt that surrounded me like air. I went home heavy headed and frightened. My mum told me that the school had rung because Geoffrey’s mum wanted to find her sons bankbook. The frog in my throat wouldn’t let me tell her that I had taken it. That frog wouldn’t let me say that it was under my mattress. I went and got the bankbook and I managed to squeak out that I’d found it on my way home from school. Mum was mortified. She told me I had to give it back the next day. It was the right thing to do. I asked her if she would come with me, but she was too busy with the babies. “Just give it to Miss Feely,” she said “she’ll know what to do.”
The next day I dragged my feet to school, the stupid bankbook weighed down my pocket and got heavier with every step. Each landmark got me closer to the final confrontation – the one I was certain would put me out of favor with the class, Miss Feely, and very possibly put me in jail. If Geoffrey would just go away, if it would all just go away, if the stupid book would just disappear….I put the bankbook into a random letterbox and continued to school with a lighter load. LaLaLaLaaa.
Life changed. I had a baby brother that I hadn’t really noticed before. My sister broke her collarbone. And then so did I. I discovered I could write with my right hand, while my left was in a sling. And then Geoffrey stood up for “News’ again two weeks after I had gotten rid of all my troubles, and he announced very exciting news, that “Alyson stole my bankbook!” The class shrieked with shock as he went into the lurid details of the road travelled by his bankbook back to him, while the kids sitting near me distanced themselves so they could more easily swivel their heads between the tennis match that was Geoffrey’s soap opera storytelling and my shame and horror.
Miss Feely asked the overexcited Geoffrey to sit down and give someone else a turn. She asked him again, and then she asked him once more with an edge to her voice we had never heard before. “I was finished anyway,” he said, a verbal poking of his tongue to her. “Paul, tell us about what fish you and your Dad caught on the weekend,” she said to another shy little boy. And while Paul started to tell his story, Miss Feely sat behind me cross legged on the mat, pulled me into her lap and rocked me till my solitary tear dried on my cheek.
What you don’t know just from looking at me is the secret I had when I got that book home. From the age of five until years later, when I was old enough to know better, I thought I was a bank robber.