On Mothers: Passing the Baton of Papergirl
People never talk about the weight of newspapers. An inch wide, pinched between your thumb and finger. A couple of inches when folded in two. An inky wad that will jam nicely into the letterbox, hovering above the doorstop that’s saturated from last night’s downpour. The metal bar of your trolley is rusted, and black paint peels off into your palms, in protest of 5am winter mornings. The importance of financial independence as a woman takes the shape of butterfly bruises that kiss your Achilles as you rattle over curbs.
You are not used to the silent hours that seem to exist on these London residential roads. You are both grateful and utterly distressed. A car compromises the familiar morning scenes with the addition of a stranger. But this concrete desert invites imaginary scenes of quickening footsteps around corners because you are metallically-slow and inconspicuous across the crunch of the long-since fallen spring. She is top of your call-list. And she never fails to pick up.
You often wonder if this was an understanding that London-mothers had when they had daughters. That each time she shook your legs every morning, first for school days and then every day when you came of age for this responsibility, she knew to have the TV just loud enough to hear and her phone on her at work, at all times. She taught you to love that time before sunrise, when you eventually emerged from your duvet, with cups of tea on the side and precisely four biscuits.
Over the course of the year, you take on two rounds when the early mornings prove too much for the only other girl that worked there. Double the workload but double the pride in her voice when she tells you to be safe as you leave. You strategize the most efficient route, weaving the two together. You know these roads and their shortcuts better than any local now and it pays off in Christmas tips. The hill you have stormed up in all weather has thickened your thighs. You catch yourself squeezing them on the bus on your way to school. Solid. Strong.
It is hard to imagine a child emerging from tree-climbing and yet another BMX accident, into adulthood in the heart of London. These polaroid milestones are pocketed away on council estates and 20-minute walks from the bus stop to quieter residential roads. We will still hear the hum of the main road from there. We will tear our trousers on the bricks of the garages we clamber up onto, to look out at the city. We know the top block on the left is the warmest but also where the older kids go to smoke weed. We will ignore the “NO BALL GAMES” signs on the back greens. As dinner-time approaches, the mothers will appear on their balconies. They will howl our names and we will come running. She was raised here first. She will teach you to carry a joint caution and trust for London’s landscape.
I’m from London will become your answer to every person, after her, that tells you to be safe. She will not ring you to check in on you as much as your friends’ mothers do when you leave for university. She won’t tell you that you can’t run at night anymore, after idiot teenagers tried and failed to pinch your phone out of your hands as they sped by on a moped. You remember the time was 7am, and that you had the last stretch of your round to do along the nice houses, when she met you to walk. Your other siblings and father were still asleep at home. Summer was flush on both your cheeks and her knees hurt less in this air. She passed, you posted.