Photo Illustration: Jonathan Barkat
When you're ten years old and wearing a new paisley-patterned pastel bikini, the top cinched, sophisticatedly you imagine, with a yellow ribbon, and you have your blanket spread out on the grass of the Cathkin Braes, over the hill from where everyone else has clustered together, and your dad's transistor radio, borrowed for the afternoon without his knowledge, is lying snugly in its brown leather carrying case, blasting out your favorite songs—when all of this is true, you just know it's going to be a great afternoon. This is how I found myself one sunny day in July in the middle of a Glasgow summer. The Cathkin Braes lay behind the tower blocks of flats (inspired by Le Corbusier but hopelessly inadequate to withstand the damp Scottish weather) where we had moved to start a new life when I was 5. The hills were steeped in history; it was from the ridge I sat on that Mary Queen of Scots had watched her troops lose the Battle of Langside, and with it all her hopes of claiming the English throne. I loved these hills, and loved to have them all to myself the better to indulge my sense of difference from the worker bees around me. I had climbed higher into the braes than anyone else ever bothered to do. I could hear the families gathered on the slopes below, hear their games of football, yells of laughter, and occasional screams from a baby. I wanted nothing to do with any of them.
I kicked off my new sandals, removed my shorts, and settled with a book I wanted to finish that day. I also had a sketch pad with me and imagined I would read for an hour or so and then draw some flowers. I'd just turned a page or two in the novel when I became aware that someone was watching me from behind. I sat up, turned, and saw a lanky man, short haired, ruddy in the way Scottish men sometimes are, ambling from the woods. Something in the certainty of his step told me he was heading for me, not just accidentally passing where I was. I watched him advance, noting the moustache, the slight bag of the trousers, the general air of purpose that enveloped him. He came and sat at the edge of the blanket and made a little chitchat about the day and how he wondered if I knew which bus he should take to get back into the center of town. I couldn't really tell how old he was—he looked oldish as everyone over 18 does to a 10-year-old. He became very still and I could feel gooseflesh rise on my arms and thighs; his gaze was disturbing and in the stillness it crystallized for me that he was observing me in an unnatural way and that he liked what he saw. Instinctively I knew that something was really not right. With a calmness that came from God knows where and that completely belied the panic I was starting to feel, I moved onto my knees and started to gather my things together. He smiled as he watched this, and I said, politely I thought, "I have to go home now, but there are a lot of people just over there, grown-ups and dads, and they'll know which bus you need." He smiled again, then reached into his trouser pocket and asked, "If I gave you this two shillings, would you agree to be my girlfriend?" Everything cartoons suggest about fear now became my reality—I moved in slow-mo, my heart thumped, my words wouldn't come out. All I knew was that I needed to run very fast and right then. I clutched what I could and made to bolt, which is when he grabbed my ankle and twisted it so hard I guessed he'd just broken it.