I’m having an argument in the playground with Gail, who’s seven, like me.

A crowd has gathered as we scream at each other. “Anyway, you’re adopted!” she shrieks. “And you’re a pig!” I yell back. She carries on shouting. “Your real Mummy didn’t want you so she gave you away. You haven’t got a proper Mummy.” “It’s not true! You’re lying!” But at the back of my mind I can hear Mummy telling her friends, “This is my daughter Rita and this is my adopted daughter Marie.” I was a lot younger then. I’d forgotten about it until now. A bell rings. I can’t stop thinking about what’s just happened. When Mummy collects me she sees how quiet I am. “What’s the matter?” she asks. “What have you done now?” “Nothing,” I answer. We walk home without talking but I know she won’t give up. At home I drink my milk. Mummy puts her newspaper down and looks at me. “Why won’t you tell me what the matter is?” I know she will make me tell her. “Am I adopted?” “No. Whoever told you that?” “Gail. She said her Mummy told her.” There’s a long silence. “She’s telling lies.” I sense that it’s my Mummy who is telling the lies. “No, really… Please tell me - am I adopted?” She sighs. “Daddy and I were going to tell you when you were a lot older and would understand.” She sounds as if she’s practised these words in her head many times. “We went to the orphanage, a place where people take their babies when they don’t want them. Out of all the babies we chose you. We could have had any baby and you were sickly and covered in sores; you had nothing except a filthy rag doll that we had to burn. And when we brought you home it took me ages to take you out in your pram. You just kept screaming when I tried to take you out of your cot. Except for that you were a good baby, no trouble to anyone, you would spend hours quietly in your cot. I kept trying with you because we wanted a sister for Rita. She was three then. So you see, you‘re very special.” Why don’t I feel special? Why don’t I feel safe? I want her to pick me up now like she says she did when I was a baby. I want her to hug me but she doesn’t. “What if someone tries to take me away?” “Nobody can ever take you away. You’re ours.” I wish I felt sure. I know no one will take me away if I’m always good but as soon as I’m naughty it seems anyone can. “Listen,” Mummy says when I don’t do as she tells me. “Can you hear the ragand-bone man?” And I can hear his voice in the street calling out for bits and pieces. “Well… if you’re naughty he will take you away.” And there’s the Black Maria: that comes to remove wicked children too… The lady down the road with the cross face: she’ll make sure that I never see Mummy and Daddy again if I’m not careful… Suddenly my world has changed. I cannot rely on anyone. I will never be safe again. Not now that everyone knows I’m adopted.

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I feel that all the children in the playground hate me. “You haven’t got a real Mummy like we have…” “Your Mummy gave you away. She didn’t want you…” Gail and her friends make sure I know I’m different, that I don’t belong. I’m lost and lonely. Mummy takes me late to school the next day. She says the headmistress is going explain to the children that they mustn’t treat me differently from anyone else. But I feel different. I am different. And though the others don’t tease me as much, Gail still says nasty things. I can hear her whispering, “Your – Mummy - didn’t - want – you…!” Every day is a nightmare.

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