I still remember the first time I ever saw snow. I know it was before my brother was born, when we lived in a ground-floor flat near a train station, which means I must have been about four. Now I know, that the snow we saw was nothing impressive, just a satin dusting on the hoods of cars and the undisturbed edges of pavements. The kind you’d need to scoop up in cupped hands in order to make a snowball and even still it would be more dirt than snow.
My dad is Nigerian, was filled with a weird wariness of it, had bundled me and my two sisters in polyester snowsuits, three layers of fortifications against the five minutes we’d spend outside. The sun was setting on the cobbled driveway.
“Can I touch it?” I remember asking, and my dad looked alarmed. We were children in a petting zoo and I’d asked to push my hands through the wire-link fence. “Why would you want to touch it?” He’d asked.
I’d seen happy people on tv lie down in snow, splay their arms and legs like stars. I didn’t know, then, that the word for it was ‘snow angel’ so instead I asked, “Can I lie down in it?” My father looked positively disgusted. Fumbled in the pocket of his tracksuit for the house-key. Mission prematurely aborted. For the rest of the evening, over the heat-haze of the radiator, I watched the snow melt outside. My last chance, maybe my only chance, my gut clenched with longing. It might all have turned out differently if I’d given him the right answer. “Why would you want to touch it?” I kept wondering, my hands on the glass. I still don’t know.
While researching Do You Dream of Terra-Two, I bought freeze-dried space ice-cream from the science museum, and then, for two months, was too scared to eat it. I was scared I’d try it and it would taste awful, scared I would try it and discover what I already suspected. That I am not adventurous enough to be an astronaut. I’m not even an adventurous eater.
I am the same height as Audrey Hepburn. For a while, I thought I’d be tall. I was almost 5”7 by age 10 and intended to be six-foot, the way NFL players hope to make the playoffs. I woke up early in the morning and plotted my height on the doorpost, excited to reach my goal. But maybe my bones heard my boasting and I never grew another inch. I went from being the giant of the class — back bent like a willow tree as I stooped to make eye-contact — to what I am today, which is a person no one has ever described as 'tall'. 5”7 like a grade I missed.
I’m a Leo. If called to testify about it in court, I will deny ever considering star signs. And yet it can’t mean nothing that my husband is an Aries or that almost everyone I love was born in the spring. March, April and May, months like clocks that set all of their hearts ticking.
When I was fifteen my music teacher cast a pitiful look at me and my best friend, and said sympathetically, “You know, girls. I know you won’t believe me now, but a lot of people have a hard time in school. It’s okay, people don’t get you now, but one day, maybe when you go to university, I promise you’ll be cool.” My friend and I looked at each other incredulously, scandalised. “What?” We asked. “We thought we were cool now?”