(This follows on from Zero Through Six, which is here.)
1987, aged seven: We are living in England again, but only for a short time. I attend a school where I have to wear hats: in the winter, a grey felt pillbox with a purple ribbon, in the summer a straw boater that makes me look like a miniature gondola rower. A few months later, we move to Hong Kong, where we live in the Hilton for a month while our new apartment is being built. We order a lot of sorbet from room service and watch old people do Tai Chi in the park from the thirty-seventh floor. When it's time to start school, I meet with my new principal who asks me to read aloud a paragraph from a book so he can assess which class I'll be placed in. The only word I stumble over is "species."
1988, aged eight: On vacation in the Philippines, no-one thinks about sunscreen. I lie under a towel on a sun lounger, reading Archie & Jughead comics, watching people swim up to the swim-up bar. When it's too hot outside, my brother Tom and I curl up in the hotel room with the air-conditioning on full blast, watching reruns of MacGyver, with which we both become vehemently obsessed. After a few days, all four of us are red and raw, tender and peeling. Tom gets blisters on his shoulders; they're the size of quarters and half an inch high. Frantic, my mother takes him to the hotel infirmary, where the kindly Filipino nurse tells him she's going to have to pop them. "Be brave," she says, holding him down. "Come on, be brave like MacGyver."
1989, aged nine: My mother is pregnant. She wears voluminous dresses and spends a lot of time in bed. In some small secret part of my brain, I wish for a sister, and then immediately feel bad for wishing for a sister in case I get a brother, and backtrack into wishing for a brother instead. When my dad takes Tom and I out for dinner and tells us we're getting a brother and a sister---Twins! Mummy's having twins!---I am convinced that my dual wishing had something to do with it.
They're born, Luke and Susanna, and when they come home, we receive a steady stream of visitors. Susie is vivacious, smiley, adorable; when people come over, they pick her up first. Somewhere in my nine-year-old brain, I worry that Luke---quieter, more serious---isn't getting enough attention, and so I vow to give him every cuddle, every kiss, every tickle that visitors give Susie. For the next few weeks, I keep a careful tally. When someone pinches Susie's cheek, I pinch Luke's. When someone picks Susie up, I pick up Luke. I'm seized by a passionate desire to keep score on his behalf, to take on the role of his silent defender. And then after a few weeks, I forget about it.
1990, aged ten: It's decided. I'm going to be going to boarding school in England. It won't be until next year, when I'm eleven, but I visit the school with my father over the summer anyway, just to see if I like it. It's a hot afternoon and most of the students have gone home for vacation and I wear a blue and white dress with butterflies on it---a dress, in fact, that we bought on that vacation in the Philippines two years ago.
Back in Hong Kong, I spend the rest of the year practicing mock tests for the exam I'll need to pass to get in to the school in England. I go to a tutor, an ancient Chinese woman called Mrs. Zaheed, whose equally ancient husband often wanders in from the bedroom in his pajamas while we're doing long division at the dining room table. I hate going to Mrs. Zaheed and my mother---guiltily, apologetically---knows it; every time she picks me up, she brings me some sort of small present.
At the end of the year, I take the exam in the principal's office of my school in Hong Kong while the rest of my class is on a field trip, and halfway through it, my fountain pen runs out of ink. I panic, tear out of the office and run wildly through the empty halls, looking desperately for a new one. Afterwards, I am stubbornly convinced that I've failed the exam. Weeks later, the news comes that I've passed.