I get to the crèche with two minutes to spare. Gabriel takes one look at me from his spot on the mat and bursts into tears. He just sits there, on his little bum, fat fists clenched, mouth wide while the wet from his eyes begins to mingle with the snot from his nose.
I scoop him up, quick-quick. And then there is the lady handing me his bag, with the nappies, and the bottles and the change of clothes. “Think he might be getting a cold,” she says with a tsk. She is always treating me this way, like I’m his ma, not his auntie. Ma’s told them what they need to know, but that don’t stop the tongues from wagging and making stories.
“No temperature today,” she says, “but if he gets one, he can’t come here.”
“I know,” I say. “We’ll keep him home if he’s sick.”
“Because I can’t have all the babies coming down with flu. I have to think of everyone.”
I nod and bid her a good evening, because what else can I do? If I get a smart mouth then Ma will be hearing about it and then I’ll have to listen how I’m turning out just like Justine.
So I walk out the door, lugging my school bag, a nappy bag and an eight month old baby boy who is rubbing his snotty nose into my school blazer which is the most expensive item of clothing I own, even though it’s second hand.
I try not to think about what we’re going to do if Gabs is sick. Ma comes home tonight at seven and then she’s off tomorrow and most of the next, and then she switches to night shift. So that gives us a bit of wiggle room. Even so, she’ll be tired and cranky and in no mood to take care of Gab during the day. But at least this time I won’t have to miss school.
“Just stay well, little man,” I tell him, kissing his forehead. He grabs one of my plaits and stuffs the end of it in his mouth and sucks. Probably likes the salt.
Tell us: Do you think Tazmin’s ma is right to compare her to her older sister, Justine?