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ENGLAND STARDOM AWAITS
The jostling on the touchline gets worse. Parents are still trying to get autographs off Faye White, the famous England football player who's scouting for England U15s. There are only two players on the pitch who can get picked for England – me and Mikaela. Most likely Mikaela will bag the place because my mum and dad were shouting all through the night last night so I couldn't sleep and I'm now dog-tired. I didn't even do my eyebrows this morning, I got up so late. I just scrunched my hair into a pony tail, applied some lippy then jumped in a taxi to the match.
It's 0–0 and Mikaela is doing her show pony thing. Everyone gives her the ball and she passes it out to the wingers, who pass it back. She then passes it between the midfielders, who pass it back. She does each move ballerina style, on her toes, every move fully extended. Showing off. The only thing she's not doing is passing it to me. I'm waving like a Bieber fan who's just spotted Justin at the airport, and Mikaela's completely ignoring me, going for glory on her own. Enough, I decide. I pull off my hair tie so my hair flows loose. I always feel freer playing like this, even if Miss Fridge says it's against the rules. I feint to run past Mikaela but instead nick the ball off her toes. Now watch me go. I leap over a tackle, spin round three other Bestwood Academy players, shimmy past the goalkeeper and tap the ball into an empty net. 1–0. Miss Jones (or Miss Fridge as we call her because she's cool and shaped like a fridge) is dancing on the touchline. Parents are whooping and clapping. Faye smiles right at me. I take a bow. I'm bathed in starlight. A girl could get used to this. Everyone in our team runs over to congratulate me. Everyone, that is, except Mikaela.
Mikaela mouths bitch at me. From the restart, she doesn't give me a single pass. Ever. After ten minutes of this, I stop running, tie my hair back up and look over to the touchline. Faye is still signing autographs. That will be me in three years' time, I dream. Gold earrings. Latest Louis Vuitton handbag. Red heels. A modelling contract with L'Oreal. Trophies spilling out of my cabinet.
I see something on the touchline that spooks me. A policeman. He's staring right at me. My heart lurches. I think about the crazy thieving I've done, nicking perfume, jewellery, sunglasses, purses, you name it. Am I going to get handcuffed in front of Faye White and led off the field in shame?
I wander across to the far touchline and free my hair again, slip my socks down to my calves and smooth my hands over my thighs. These legs are not only smooth, they're silky fast. If the cop makes a move, I'll outsprint him, I'm sure. Of course if they've brought a police dog, I'll give up instantly. I'm not having my legs torn up by some psycho police Rottweiler. I look over at him again.
The cop shouts. 'Go, Jessie! Go girl!'
Suddenly everything's OK. He's just another pushy parent.
At half time it is 1–1. Miss Fridge tells Mikaela to get the ball to me more often.
'How can she score if you don't pass, Mikaela?'
Mikaela shrugs, flicks her braids out of her face then crosses her arms. She's wearing brand new, pink Nike boots, and she's flicking her feet to make sure everyone's noticing them.
Faye White comes over and puts her arm around Miss Fridge and they move away. Faye White definitely points at me, then Mikaela.
'Faye, Faye, show us some of your skills!' I shout out after her.
She shakes her head and points to her classy red heels.
'Oh, go on!' I kick her the ball.
Faye flicks the ball up to her head, does a spin turn while the ball's still balanced on her forehead, then lets it drop. She back heels the ball to me then says, 'No more, Adele. Another time, girls!'
I'm awestruck. Faye White knows my name.
'Tell! Tell! Tell!' everyone yells at Miss Fridge once Faye White has left. 'What did she say about us?'
'The prize is within your grasp,' says Miss Fridge to us all. 'Adele, she said your last goal "would have made Pele swoon".'
'Who's Pele?' I ask.
'Only the greatest striker who ever lived,' says Miss Fridge. 'And Mikaela, your control, your passing. "Beckham would kiss your boots", she said.'
'She never said that in a million years. But still I'm all ears!' Mikaela pulls her ears to show Miss Fridge that she is all ears. It's funny. I laugh, even though Mikaela is a bitch for not passing to me.
'OK, enough, Mikaela. Do your rhyming on the pitch. And Adele?'
'Concentrate. Get the ball. Then stick it in the net. Simples. Mikaela. Pass the ball to Adele.'
'What the feet don't know, the mouth can't tell.'
'Just do it, Mikay,' snaps Miss Fridge, sounding suddenly like a Chihuahua that's sucked on a helium balloon.
Mikaela gets the ball and fires it at me hard and fast. She forgets I have an older brother who smashes the ball at me like that every day. One touch and the ball turns from a cannonball into a feather. Watch me go. England team here I come. I weave round one defender, spinning away so tightly she falls on her bum. The goalie tries to crowd me but I feint to shoot left, then shoot right. The ball rockets into the net. As easy as painting my nails. I mime painting my nails just so they all get the point on the touchline. Everyone's all over me. I love it. Even Mikaela high fives me.
I dash upfield again. Mikaela plays a peach of a pass to me. It drops soft as a cotton bud onto my left thigh. I trap it then do a neat little chip shot. The ball spirals over the goalie, kisses the post and rebounds into the net. I do my nail polishing again.
Everyone's patting me on the back. Faye White is clapping. If that doesn't get me into the England team nothing will.
Bestwood don't want to play anymore. Every time we pass the ball all the parents on our touchline are shouting Olé! When I say all the parents, that's all except mine. My dad only goes to MTB's matches. Mum came to a match once. She stood on the touchline, drunk. I scored but it was ruled off-side. Mum ran onto the pitch to try and punch the referee. Luckily, she tripped and fell so the punch missed. Miss Fridge carried Mum off, firefighter style. I told my mum never to come again.
The final whistle blows. Me and Mikaela are shattered. We're flopped on the pitch, leaning on each other, panting. All we really want to know is: who made it onto the England team? We're gathered around Miss Fridge.
'Faye White has left early to get up the motorway,' Miss Fridge says, 'but she left me this.' Miss Fridge waves an envelope.
'Come on, spill the beans, Miss, who's da Queens?' yells Mikaela, back in rap mode.
'What did Faye White say?' I chip in, translating.
'Inside this envelope is the answer,' Miss Fridge says. She slowly pulls out a piece of white paper, which she unfolds. 'Your whole team played fantastic,' Miss Fridge says, reading from the paper.
'Who? Who? Who? Who?' everyone yells.
'Wait for it!' Miss Fridge shouts over us.
We're all there, waiting.CHAPTER 2
THERE'S ONLY ONE ADELE VIALLI
Miss Fridge moves her finger along the paper to read the note from Faye White, like she's five years old or something. 'She gave Mikaela Most Valuable Player,' she declares.
Mikaela jumps right up in a tail-shake dance. 'I'm on the England team! Dream! Dream! Dream!'
'I score a hat trick and I'm not?'
'Adele, stop sulking.'
Miss Fridge keeps on. 'Nobody's on it yet. Mrs White said she needed to see a few more matches. Now let's celebrate. We're in the Semis. Off you go, girls. Showers. Training's tomorrow. Nobody be late. Remember – you can make it into the England team if you train hard. No more late arrivals, Lucy! No more sloppy performances, Sid! No more daydreaming in the middle of the pitch, Adele!'
I trudge back to the dressing room with the rest of them. I was sure I was going to be picked for England. I scored a hat trick. What's a girl got to do?
Mikaela's dives into the showers and does this awful warbling. I imagine wildlife for miles around fleeing. She is Rhianna, without the talent or the looks. She gets the others to join in. I scrub up, spin out of the showers and start pulling on my clothes.
After ten minutes, Miss Fridge cuts off the water. There's calls of 'No, Miss!' and 'I only just got in!' and 'I'm still soapy!' Miss Fridge pays them no attention. She waddles back into her little changing room office, picks up her headphones and goes back to Skyping her mum, like she always does. Someone turns the showers back on. They're singing my praises now in there. I'm the hat trick hero after all, not Mikaela.
'There's one and one only! Adele Vialli!'CHAPTER 3
I'm walking to the bus stop. I think a little bit about Miss Fridge. Yelling on the touchline. Throwing all the kit into the store room with one easy flip of her arm. Maybe she used to be a shot-putter? Then I'm thinking, why does Mikaela not pass me the ball more? It doesn't make sense, I'm the leading goal-scorer by far. Then again, not much about Mikaela makes sense. Still, she's my best friend.
Five Random Thoughts:
* DO SQUIRRELS EVER EAT ANYTHING OTHER THAN NUTS?
* IF PEOPLE HAVE BEEN DYING FOR MILLIONS OF YEARS, WHERE ARE ALL THE BODIES?
* WHY DO BIRDS SING?
* WHAT IS IT LIKE TO BE A BOY?
* WILL I EVER SCORE IN A WORLD CUP FINAL?
I catch the bus. As I get closer to home, I start to feel queasy. It's always like this going home on a Saturday after a football match. It's the not-knowing that gets me. Will Mum be conscious? Will she be sober? Mum's always worse at weekends. Dad's never there. He's out at MTB's matches or then busy on business. When MTB does get home, he whizzes straight up to his room and does whatever boys do in their rooms with their door locked and music blasting. Everyone leaves all the worrying about Mum to me.
I get off the bus. Thoughts skid around in my brain. Each thought is worse than the one before. I imagine my mum drowning in the bath. I imagine her standing in the middle of a road, swaying, drunk. I start running. My phone goes off. It's Mikaela. She's texted me. I stop and get my phone out.
Well done, hat trick grl. [??]
I text her back.
Thnx gf u were brill 2 [??]
We do a snowball of best friend texts. Suddenly I'm not alone.
Why is Mikaela my best friend? We are total opposites. I'm thin, she's chubby; I'm tall, she's short; my hair's straightish, hers is tight, black curls. She's close to her mum, I never do anything with mine. I've got a boyfriend, she hasn't. She can name the capital city of every Caribbean Island in ten seconds flat, I can name the street that every Nando's in town is on in ten seconds flat. My skin's olive, hers is ebony black. Yet we're best friends. Why?
Five Reasons Mikaela Is My Best Friend:
* SHE KNOWS WHERE TO FIND ME WHEN I'M HIDING
* SHE CRIED WITH ME WHEN MY RABBIT DIED
* SHE LETS ME COPY HER HOMEWORK
* SHE'S FUNNY, LIKE WITH HER RHYME STUFF
Finally I reach home.
I put my key in the front door and open it. MTB rushes out. I head upstairs, drop my football boots in my boots bucket in my room (it soaks the mud off), then head across to my mum's room. Mum is on her bed, face up, eyes closed, mouth open. There's a swampy smell in the air so she's been smoking cannabis. Mum has various positions on her bed depending on what state she's in. The foetal position, with her knees hugging her chin means she's in her 'I lost my baby ten years ago and I want her back' state. If she's lying on her back with her hands clasped to her forehead, she's in her 'pity me, the neglected housewife' mood. If she's in the middle of the bed with all four limbs spread out starfish style then she's in her 'I've taken too much medication' mode.
Today she is face-up starfish. I watch her chest. It rises and falls. Under the swamp smell there's a stench. Where did she throw up? I get a mop and clear up the sick from the side of her bed. The bedroom floor is marble. Perfect for cleaning up sick. I get a wet cloth from the bathroom. I sit Mum up, make her drink some water and wipe her face. All the while I'm thinking, why can't my mum be normal?
'Adele, darling, I'm not well,' Mum says, slipping back into her starfish pose as soon as she's gulped the water.
I imagine kidnapping her and leaving her on a desert island with no drugs or drink. That would cure her.
'You want me to phone a doctor?' I ask.
'No, I'll be OK. Your dinner's in the freezer. Microwave for twelve minutes.'
My dinner has been in the freezer for the last three months. I could be a taste tester for Iceland Foods.
Another flashback comes to my mind. Mia the housekeeper. Mia always used to smother me in her arms when I came home from school. Mum says I'm too old for that, but sometimes that's all I want, just a moment when I don't have to be strong. Mia was more of a mum to me than Mum. Cooking? Mia. Laundry? Mia. Putting the clothes away? Mia. Tidying up? Mia. Knowing where things are? Mia. Trying to keep the family calendar in the kitchen up to date? Mia. Saying 'hello, how was your day?' when I come home from school? Mia. Asking how was the match? Mia.
First Mum changed Mia's hours so I didn't see her, then she stopped her coming at all.
'We won, Mum,' I say. 'I scored a hat-trick.'
'Isn't that marvellous?' Mum says, sounding bored. 'Your brother's home.'
'He just left, actually.'
MTB can do what he likes. "Because he's a boy". I'm the one who has to stay in all the time. OK, I'm fourteen, but everyone knows girls are more mature than boys, so a girl of fourteen is equal to a boy of fifteen, if not better. Girls are more sensible. End of.
Mum groans. 'Men are vipers. You take them to your bosom and they sting your foolish heart.'
'Have you've been reading Shakespeare again, Mum?'
'Don't be cruel, Adele. More water.'
She sits upright for the water. I'm fascinated by her hair. Even with her bed-head on and bits of sick in it, my mum's hair is so shiny.
I stroke it. 'Have you always had beautiful hair, Mum?' I ask her.
Mum nods then rambles. 'It was the first thing your dad noticed about me. When I was pregnant with you, we had this tiny house and me and your dad would sit with our dinner on our knees, and you could touch all the walls from the sofa and he'd stroke my hair. I made your dad go out and get me a chicken biryani and when he got back I changed my mind and wanted pizza instead. We laughed and laughed – nothing was too much trouble for him then. We had nothing, but we had everything. Now we have everything and yet we have ...'
She doesn't finish her sentence.
'What about me, Mum? You've got me.'
'Of course. Tony and you.'
'Did Dad get you the pizza in the end then?'
'Yes, he had it delivered – said I'd have less time to change my mind. Quattro Frommagy it was. Bellisima. He was teaching me Italian then. My own private Italian lessons. This freckled face girl from Skelmersdale learning Italian. I didn't know he hardly knew any more Italian than me. But it was fun. Our own secret language. Per favore. Pono la mano qui. Bailare...'
'That sounds Spanish, Mum.'
Mum sails on with her story. 'And we drank Chianti ... I had a florists shop back then and I was thinking of getting another one.'
'Why didn't you?'
Mum chases a fly of a thought. I wait patiently thinking maybe it's the drugs. Finally she catches it.
'Your dad got the bank job and he said there was no need ... he was earning a huge salary. I guess he was right, it's just I ...'
Mum's voice is slowing down. I take the glass out of her hand.
'You what, Mum?'
She's fallen asleep. Her mouth hangs open with words on the edge of her tongue. I lie her back down on the pillow and go to my room.
I'm not sure what I'm crying about. I've learned when I cry it's not always the obvious thing. Like you might think I'm crying because of the state my mum's in. Or because nobody in my family gives a stuff that I'm actually a star football player. Or because we're rich and maybe we would be better off poor. Or because I'm a girl and I would have been better off a boy. Or maybe it's none of the above and actually I'm lonely. By the way, I never cry. Adele Vialli does not cry.
Excerpted from "Being Me"
Copyright © 2015 Pete Kalu.
Excerpted by permission of HopeRoad Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
by Adele Vialli