My mother said I would be on TV.
I was five. We were eating ice-cream in the city earlier that day, on the pavement by an ice-cream stand, and it was delightful. Vanilla and pistachio and just a touch of strawberry on a waffle cone. The sun was bright and burning, and the only downside was that the ice-cream was melting in my hands and the fingers got sticky and I spoilt my new white T-shirt. She took out a napkin and began to wipe my fingers clean, which was embarrassing because I was five and I thought I could do that myself. At five, I wondered what if a girl could see me.
Then, seconds or minutes later she pointed me in the direction of two men at the far end of the pavement. They were a bit of a blur, as everything was in those days. Or perhaps I was blinded by the scorching sun and my previous embarrassment. I could see that both men were looking in our direction and that one of the men resembled an alien. He had his hands on a huge black machine that to me looked like some monstrous part attached to his body. “That’s a camera, they are filming us”, my mother whispered. I felt frozen, I did not even know if I was supposed to breathe. “They are TV people”, my mother said. “And they will show you on TV”.
The excitement was getting into my head, deeper than the midsummer sun, and I was hopping like mad on our way to the railway station. Because later that day, we were supposed to go to the country. To the hammocks and the plum trees and my granddad’s old garage that made so much more sense to me than the city. The city was noisy and pointless. It only had one thing going for it: vanilla ice-cream, with a touch of strawberry, on a waffle cone.
Two hours later, I thought of the currant smell in our garden and forgot all about the camera and TV and fell asleep on the train. On my seat, by the window.
The village was colder, darker, rainier, and it all came back to me: the big black camera on tiny legs and those strange TV people filming us earlier that day. I could barely pee or have dinner, I spent the whole evening in front of our black-and-white TV set that you had to tinker with because of constant voltage drops. I was nervous, and kept moving from the sofa to the armchair to the carpet on the floor. My grandparents were also there, as was my sister who kept taunting me about my ‘famous’ TV appearance. Outside, the weather was soaking my heart with heavy rain, and I was growing restless by the second. My mother came into the living-room a few times, her hands white with cooking flour, and told me to calm down. I had to wait for it, quite possibly, for the 8 o’clock news. But the wait was becoming unbearable, and I had snakes and lizards licking me from the inside with their sharp, fiery tongues. “Maybe tomorrow?” my granny said at some point, and my heart sank lower than all hell.
This was 9 o’clock. My sister got on the phone, and my granddad told me the rain had stopped and I could go play with my paper ships while it wasn’t dark yet. I glanced at the TV set. Black-and-white people staring at the grey skies, over and over again. I picked up the three paper ships my granddad had made for me back in spring and went outside.
Oh the pools in our yard that evening!.. They were magnificent. Lakes and rivers and seas and oceans all around our house. I got down on my knees (my city trousers, what use had I for them now?), launched my paper ships on the water and began to invent bloody war battles and romantic journeys and intriguing business trips and fantastic sea voyages. My feet were all wet as I kept muttering something to myself, and my mind was humming and whistling to the ripple of the summer waters.
I couldn’t even hear my mother’s voice, not at first, as she got out on the porch and began shouting something. When eventually her voice got through, breaking the walls and the barriers of my new story, I heard something about me being on TV. I jumped up and I ran, slipping along the grass and the damp porch, and I plunged into the living-room with my grandparents and my sister and my mother all watching our small black-and-white TV that showed black-and-white people staring at grey skies. Over and over again.
“Where?” I cried.
It was just seven seconds, they said, and it was all over. My sister smiled at me, kindly, and got back on the phone. “Maybe they will show that again tomorrow?” my granny suggested, and my mother dragged me close to her and hugged me.
No, I did not cry, and I wasn’t even that disappointed. After all, I had been on TV that day. After all, they had seen me. And, most importantly, I had thirty minutes of bright dusk ahead, and those white paper ships were waiting for me outside. I had no idea what I had looked like on TV, but this time I could be anyone. I could be Captain Nemo. I could be some Greek hero. I could be anyone.