Three overdue apologies

I’ve never found it very difficult to apologise. Someone bumps in to me in the street, I say sorry. A shop assistant drops my change, I say sorry.

I’ve been known to apologise after an argument, even when I knew it wasn’t my fault…anything to avoid bad feeling. 

So here are some apologies that I should have made years ago. 

Dear little Asian girl aged five,

You were in my class at school. You were very pretty, and quite shy, and we all liked you, but the name we called you, wasn’t your given name, it was a nickname that I can’t even say on here now, because it sounds so cruel, and worse than racist. You didn’t seem to mind, you answered to your nickname, and seemed to accept it in the way it was given, in a matter of fact way. I hope that the nickname didn’t stick in your memory. I hope that if I met you now and asked you, you’d look puzzled and say “Really? I don’t remember.” I tend to think that an apology qualified with an excuse is devalued, but I would like to say that when I joined in with the other five year old children in calling you by your nickname, I didn’t have any concept of race. You were just another little girl in our class. It’s only since I’ve grown up that I recognise you as being Asian.

Anyway, I’m really, really sorry.

 

Today when I was cleaning for an elderly lady, I watched her take her old shopping trolley out into the garden, loaded with various seeds, nuts and fruits. She was going out to feed the birds, as she does every morning. During the last two weeks the weather has been unseasonably warm, but today the temperature had dropped, and there was drizzle in the air. 

Rita had put her coat on, and had covered her hair with a fabric rain hood. She is little, and frail, and  osteoporosis has caused her back to bend, so she is hunched over.

Watching her, I was transported back to my childhood, when we were living in Germany. I was about seven years old, an avid reader of fairy tales, with the heightened imagination that studying illustrations in story books can cause to an impressionable child. So here is my second apology.

Dear elderly German lady,

When I was a child, my mother would send me to the bakery in the mornings to buy rolls for breakfast. The path ran all along the edge of your back garden, and there was a high chain link fence, through which I could see your lovely vegetable patch, and fruit bushes, and apple trees.

One of my friends had told me that your house was called “The Witch’s House”.  I would run along the path as quickly as I could, trying not to look in the garden, just in case the wicked witch that I was sure was living there leapt out and grabbed me. I’d read the book…I knew what happened to children who were caught by witches.

One day as I was walking back from the shop, my greatest fears were realised. You were in your garden. You were not a lot taller than me, hunched over, with a big hump on your back. You were holding a very knobbly walking stick, and carrying a wicker basket. You hadn’t got your pointy witch’s hat on, because obviously you wouldn’t want to arouse suspicion, but you were wearing that other bit of witch uniform, a long black cloak with a hood. I can feel now the fear I felt then. My heart thudded, and I just took off and ran as fast as I could, back to my mother.

There is safety in numbers, and over the next few weeks I would go along the path with my friends, two or three other little girls. We would hang around, staring into your garden, willing you to come out, and yet terrified that you would. Once or twice we were rewarded with the sight of you struggling along your garden path, and we would shriek with excited terror. I’m sure you didn’t speak English, so you wouldn’t have understood what we were saying, but you soon got fed up with your little tormentors. One day you came towards us, shouting angrily in German, and banged your stick on the fence post. We ran off home screaming. That was the last time you had to suffer our bad behaviour.

So here it is, my sincere apology to a poor old lady trying to live her life as best she could. I can’t make it up to you directly, but I hope that by being kind to elderly people I come into contact with now, I can make up for it in some small way. I am very very sorry.

 

My third apology goes back to that same period of my life, when I was seven.

Dear Carol,

You were my best friend. One day I stole a broken orange wax crayon from your bedroom, because I didn’t have one that colour. I hid it in my pocket and took it home, but I felt so guilty about it that after a week or so, I sneaked it back. I hadn’t even felt able to use it. Sorry….

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