I sit in a room with glass boxes and draw the spiders that live in them. I am not scared because they are dead. Normal people are not in the museum. But we are in the museum. My dad is the cleaner. I come here at night because Mum is at work.
There is a walrus here. It is a real walrus but not an alive one. My dad says it is stuffed. I think the man was full up with thoughts when he stuffed it, because it is very fat. At home, I stuff all our plastic bags into a big sock for Mum. Yesterday I kept stuffing, even when it was bursting, because I was so full up with thoughts about George and Donnie and frankfurters. The bags fell out a hole in the bottom of the sock.
There is a hole in the walrus too. From when it was caught. My dad told me how the walrus would have felt, to be chased and captured. To have a harpoon, a big spear, stabbed in its side. To end up in a museum, in England. My dad held my hand. He loves animals and so does Mum. I love animals too. That’s why we are vegetarians.
My school is a bad place to be a vegetarian. On World Food Day, George brought along sausages called frankfurters. I know a sausage is the worst meat. The pieces of a dead pig, the bits from the floor. They smash them into a new shape so no one knows and people eat them. But I know. A sausage is bits of toes and teeth and eyeballs.
George is bad but he pretends to be good so the teacher will like him. He caught me under the monkey bars and pushed a frankfurter in my face.
‘Turnip-head Sylvie! Eat the sausage!’
All the kids were laughing.
He held my arms back and Donnie pushed the frankfurter up against my nose. It was an orange-brown colour and skinny. It smelt like a boy’s breath.
He said, ‘Dirty bean girl, eat it!’
The frankfurter was taking up a lot of my eyes. I couldn’t see any toes or teeth. Only the teeth of the other kids. They had their big mouths open and laughing.
‘Okay,’ I said.
George let go of one hand but he held tight on my wrist so it hurt. I held the frankfurter in my fingers. It was slimy and warm, as if it had been in the bath. I put it in my mouth and closed my eyes. I tried to imagine the sea, so I wouldn’t feel scared.
I bit down. Something burst. I thought it was an eyeball popping. Hot watery stuff went in my mouth. I screamed and my mouth came open and the frankfurter fell on my skirt in dribble strings.
The teacher ran over and the kids with teeth ran away. The teacher said it wasn’t an eyeball. It was oil from the cooking. I was crying. I told her about George and Donnie. She said, ‘It’s just a sausage, Sylvie.’
I wanted to tell my dad. But I didn’t. Some things make my dad feel sad. My mum says he feels sad because he thinks a lot about Sierra Leone. That’s where they lived before they came to England. Before they had me. I think maybe it’s the same way I feel when I think about frankfurters.
I hold out my palms towards the walrus. I think it still has a heart even though it is dead and in the museum. I think I can feel its heart. Everyone has a song of life that sings from them, even if we can’t hear it. That’s what my dad says. The walrus has a song of life in his heart. I can hear it. I hear lots of things.
I get under the rope. I go up close to the walrus. I can see where bits of it have been rubbed out. Pink bits of skin where the dark top skin has gone. It looks like Donnie’s arm. Donnie sometimes tries to cut me during art, with scissors. He says he will make my arm look like his.
I run my finger softly along the walrus. I put my palms on his side. The skin feels like my dad’s old jacket. I reach my arms wide and lean against him. I am small and he is big. I can hear his heart beating behind the stuffing. I tell him I am sorry for the big spear, for them hurting him and making him bleed. For taking him away from his family. I press my cheek and my ear into him and I close my eyes. I can feel the sea. It is a soft sheet on my legs. I can hear a boat, shouting and splashing.
There is another noise.
I open my eyes.
My dad is running across the room with a bucket and a mop. The bucket is in his hand. The mop is under his arm because that arm doesn’t have a hand.
He looks scared. He’s shouting with his mouth but not making any noise. I jump back from the walrus. I crawl under the rope. I can hear the spear splashing.
My dad is looking around the room but no one is there. He is sweating on his lip.
I reach out to touch my dad’s hand. The skin is crackly. He puts down the mop and bucket. He holds my hand with his hand.
‘I was telling the walrus I was sorry. For the spear.’
His eyes are shiny.
He puts his arms around me and his one hand rubs my back. Sometimes I can feel the other hand too. The hand that’s gone.
He holds me and crouches down. He is my size. He strokes my hair.
We go back to the room with glass boxes and dead spiders. I sit so I can see the walrus. When my dad leaves I close my eyes. I can feel the sea. It’s warm and soft. We’re diving fast and the harpoon misses us.