Johannah

I know it was a Thursday

It is hard to be a teenage schoolgirl –
to be – in navy pleated skirt and blazer,
white knee socks, white shirt, red-house stripy tie
– racing colours on a concrete estate

You negotiate the safest route home.
Risk the lift? Or take the several flights
of hard stairs to the fifth floor – to your flat?
You have to make decisions like that daily

with your racing heart betting on safety
first. The lobby is empty. You gamble on the lift; it shudders – a creaking
silver
metal cage; you sound-check behind you – all
still clear- the thump of its landing – await

the slow-sliding opening – impatient
as a filly under starters orders
at the gate – bolt inside and check outside.
He is hard. You realise. You see
that
he speaks with a glassy eye. You take in

the words but hope the lift door will keep on
closing. You calculate he will not have
time to step inside, holding his hard penis
outside his unzipped trousers. He is not

old but he’s older. You are glad you did
not politely press the ‘Door Hold’ button
to answer the query that issued from
his mouth as sociable inanity.

It was an eternity until you
willed – you urged the lift door to shut out – to
shoot off (not cut off his penis) while you
answered ‘No. Sorry. I don’t know what floor

Susie lives on.’ And stood still shuddering
alone in Benny Hill territory:
the world of chubby, bespectacled men
squinting and lolling their protruding tongues.

We should be laughing. The lift bears you
up and away. What if the door had slammed
and sliced it in half? And you would now be
in this metal box with something bigger,

thicker than a dismembered white finger
bloodied on the silver floor. A
buckle
on your black school shoe gleams up as you figure
the number of inches and feet to cover

the flit from lift to front door; he can’t beat
you and the lift to the fifth floor, can he?
The lift judders. You’re easy meat.
It opens
on two flat doors. No spying eye
except

on number eight- a drilled hole in the door
to invigilate against strangers’ claims
to entrance. Feet float in trance on concrete
ground; your house key blinks about the lock.

You dwell in silence. Enter your front door.
You tell no-one. You and your sister go
to Sainsbury’s to do the weekly shop
– stock up on cans and meat near Stockwell tube.

(That’s how you know it happened on a Thursday.)

We giggle, swopping prices on pork chops
to get the cheapest deal; and later, laden
with weighty jars in plastic carrier bags,
thin, red bands strip raw our small, white fingers.

Back to Clapham from the shop, it’s a trudge:
we are not flying steeds but burdened beasts
under a winter-navy, silver sky.
‘Let’s hope,’ says Mary, ‘the lift is working.’