Richard Pierce


Day 140

What am I doing not being on the radio on a Friday morning? I have done two unscheduled shows already this week, because of technological problems elsewhere, so I decided I’d have to give it a miss, and give Huggy the chance to air the show he’d planned for yesterday. For me to do four shows in a week would have caused me to get even further behind on what I need to do, and the feeling of groundedness I wrote about yesterday would have vanished totally. So, this morning, I’ve been at the desk since 6:30 doing day job work, gave A a lift down to her early shift, have done my back stretches (which I’ve neglected a bit the last two days because of the aforementioned tech problems and the bunching up of time), saw M off to her second day in the city office, had two espressos (so feeling a bit hyper), and have called the skip company to pick up the skip the builders have filled. And now I can really push on once I’ve finished jotting this.

While I was brushing my teeth this morning, another contradiction in me surfaced from nowhere. I remember, vaguely, that my parents put me into a Lutheran Kindergarten when we moved to Germany, a Kindergarten run by Protestant nuns. I was a fidgety child, and one of the clearest memories I have of that time is sitting at a table to supposedly colour something in. I couldn’t sit still, and I just didn’t have the patience to keep my colours inside the lines (a trait I still have now, so those wellbeing colouring-in books are not suited for me), so the nun supervising me slapped me and told me to stop acting up. What I did after that escapes me. The thought came to me because I was thinking about how much I hate being watched when I do things, when I have household tasks to do, or when I’m writing or on the phone and hate is not too extreme a word, really. The contradiction, of course, is that I love performing in public. The biggest buzzes I have had in my life is when I was speaking in front of hundreds of people at my book launch, reading poetry to people, being on BBC radio (audience unseen but still there), and yet I hate to be supervised. Is it because of that nun, because of the way children outside of the norm were automatically punished in the early 1960s? I think that incident probably did scar me for life, just as my father’s emotional bullying of me did, something that I often overcompensate for nowadays (in my early parenthood I think I was turning into my father, something which thankfully hasn’t happened).

I told my therapist on Wednesday that a significant part of me is really enjoying not playing cricket this year. I am sad on the days and times when I know the lads are walking out onto the field, but I have gained so much time by not playing, time I am free to waste or to use to do something I see as productive. The thing is, and this became clear when I started therapy four years ago, is that cricket actually has a significant adverse impact on my mental health because I am forever striving to make the most of what is a small talent, that I start questioning each and every action I take on the field of play, that I worry constantly about underachieving, about letting people down, about not being good enough; the list actually goes on. And those feelings have got worse as the years have gone on, however much I love the game. I don’t find it surprising that many professional cricketers have had such significant mental health problems – and I was meant to be playing for fun.

Gradually, I am finding my place in the world, the place I want to be. Learning to say no, not just to others but to myself. And, most importantly, saying yes to myself, validating myself rather than forever wanting others to validate me. This is progress.



Time shift. Everything stops. Everyone around her is motionless. Absolute silence. Aggie is there again, next to the mentor, in the dark, Anna dancing beyond the undergrowth round the fire, face alive with freedom, uncontrolled movements, dancing to inaudible music, music they were never allowed to listen to inside the wood-panelled walls of the prison the mentor had created for them. She’s incomplete. Back to that moment. Almost slow motion now. Turning to the mentor, watching the mouth as it moves, the green eyes staring. Then suddenly Aggie’s vision and perspective pull away, like a withdrawing long shot, and she sees the mentor in their entirety, the long grey hair, the muscled forearms, the cheekbones, the long fingers, the rage, the long limbs, the litheness under the gauntness, the slight curves, the rings on the fingers. Aggie gasps and coughs, and the world jumps back into motion. ‘Oh, Christ,’ she barks from her sore throat. ‘The mentor; she was a woman.’

‘No, no,’ Anna says. ‘I remember it being a man.’

‘I just saw her,’ Aggie says. ‘That night, when I shot you, it came back to me.’

‘You’re wrong,’ Anna says. ‘I remember thinking, at the time, it had to be a man who collected all these orphan girls around him, to turn them into something…’

‘Weapons,’ Aggie interrupts. ‘That’s what she said to me, that I was to be her greatest weapon, her warrior princess.’

‘He said the same to me.’

‘Hang on,’ Zav says. ‘Are you sure you’re talking about the same person?’

‘My wife?’ Martin says.

Anna and Aggie shake their heads.

‘No, not your wife,’ Aggie says. ‘She was Polish. She saved my life.’

‘Oh.’ Martin’s face is blank, slack.

‘You must be wrong,’ Anna says. ‘How would I remember wrongly?’

‘Do you remember anything about that night?’ Aggie says.

‘Just the expectation of the shot, just the running away, and then getting out through the fence.’

‘Which was electrified.’

‘Which was electrified,’ Anna says, stops. ‘But then how?’

‘And after that?’

‘Nothing. A blank. Until I was back in Hong Kong, amongst my own people.’

‘I thought you said you were orphans,’ Zav says.

‘Not my family,’ Anna says. ‘Just people like me. Where I didn’t feel like an outsider.’

‘And you say you were in Poland?’ Robert says. ‘Where?’

‘No idea,’ Aggie says. ‘I … I can’t even remember where I’m from.’

‘Warsaw?’ Martin says.

‘No, no.’ Aggie shakes her head. ‘I remember the sea, I think, before the prison camp. Ships. Parts of ships. Flags, Red and white flags. Writing.’

‘That’s ridiculous,’ Martin says. ‘That’s Gdansk, 1980. You’re in your thirties. That’s before you were born.’

‘How old did you say you were when you were in this camp, my dear,’ Robert says, his voice soothing.

Aggie feels like she shouldn’t be able to breathe, but her body just keeps going. ‘Seventeen,’ she says. ‘A baby in my belly. Ripped out.’

A collective shudder.

‘And that would make you 57, if you’re remembering the days of Solidarnosc,’ Martin says. ‘And that’s impossible. You’re a slip of a girl, for Heaven’s sake.’

‘Then who am I?’ Aggie says. ‘What am I?’

‘False memories?’ Katharina says, outside the circle. ‘It’s not impossible. You’ve just been made to believe and remember things that aren’t real.’

‘Is that a thing?’ Anna says.

‘Of course,’ Katharina says. ‘It happens all the time. To suppress your real memories.’

‘So everything I remember could be false?’ Aggie says.

‘Parts of it.’

‘Surely not the things we both remember,’ Anna says.

Katharina shrugs.

‘How did you get back to your people?’ Robert says.

‘I can’t remember,’ Anna says. She takes a deep breath. ‘Nothing. The fence. And then nothing.’

‘No plane or ship or travel?’

Anna shakes her head.

‘We need a name for your mentor,’ Robert says. ‘And we’re not going to find it here.’

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