HAPPY NEW MONTH PEOPLE!
Here’s August’s story. I hope you enjoy reading this piece of fiction as much as I enjoyed writing it.
My name had always stood out. Even now, as I browsed the list of graduating students while waiting for my name to be called up to collect my award, it stood out.
To be honest, I don’t know why my parents named me August. Not Augusta, not Augustina, just August. Everyone else in my family had normal names: There was my brother Richard, my other brother Andrew, my sister Susanna and my parents, David and Bridget. Perhaps my interesting name was compensation for being the last child.
When I was little, I used to wish I had a little sister or brother to play with. My siblings were all much older. I came along just after Richard, my oldest sibling, turned fifteen and just before Susanna turned eleven. My brother, Andrew is the one before me and there are six years between us. The age difference ensured that I was never in the same school with any of my siblings at the same time. Ah, actually, Andrew and I were in the same primary school for a year when I was in Reception and he in Year six.
He was my hero back then. All my friends knew I had a big brother and we’d wander to ‘big school’ at break time to see if we could catch a glimpse of him. I always scanned the playground looking for his wild mop of fiery red hair; it was the perfect way of finding him in what looked to me like a sea of big kids. When I spotted him, my friends and I would wave to him and skip back to ‘little school’.
All my foes also knew I had a big brother. He had quite a reputation, gained from getting into fights in his early days in school when people still used to tease him about his hair. He said they no longer did though. When I asked why, he said there had been too many knocked-out teeth, bruised eyes, warnings, and suspensions. He was a bit of a joker, so I don’t know how true that was. Although I think I remember looking through my window when I was about four and seeing Alan Bates, with a black eye, being marched to our door by Mrs Bates; and hearing Mum yell for Andrew who was hiding under my bed.
After Andrew left for secondary school, I got teased a lot at school. First, it was about my name, but that got old pretty quickly after Miss Cook, my year three teacher, wrote a poem titled August and dedicated it to me. The poem won an award in a national competition and she made me read it out at assembly. The whole school stood up to applaud me and for the first time, I was glad, proud even, that my parents named me after a month of the year.
In year four, my arch-enemy, Benny, found another reason to tease me for ages; I was rather quiet and a bit slow when it came to understanding things in class. One day, after we read something in one of our comprehension passages about an “august visitor”, Benny asked the teacher if he could form a sentence with the word august as it was used in the book. He came up with, “She is an august dummy”, another petty jibe at me. ‘August Dummy’ became the whisper that I would hear for the next two years whenever we were far from the teachers’ listening ears.
Secondary school was better, I had smart friends and I had begun to understand myself and how my brain worked a bit more. I studied a lot and soon my grades had lost all resemblance to August Dummy’s. I actually enjoyed school and I started helping kids in my neighbourhood who were struggling with their schoolwork. My parents and siblings were so proud of me, Dad and Richard even modified the shed at the bottom of the garden so that I would have my own little classroom where I could teach the neighbours’ kids.
Even though my father was a university lecturer and my mum a secondary school head-teacher, none of my siblings cared much for higher education. They had chosen to make careers out of their natural talents, pretty much straight out of school, instead of going on to university: Richard is a football coach; Susanna, a fashion buyer and Andrew, a musician.
Brought back to the present by the sound of clapping around me as the Vice Chancellor finished his speech, I looked across the room at the guest stands to see where my family was. I spotted Andrew’s slightly tamer mop of red curls next to my dad’s greying head as they bent over Andrew’s phone, probably looking at my nephew’s pictures. My mum spotted me and waved enthusiastically. I waved back.
I looked back down at my programme and noticed my name again. I wondered why it seemed to stand out even more than usual. Someone had put it in bold typeface for some reason. It took me a few seconds to twig that there were other names in bold and that they were the names of those who were graduating with distinctions. Ah.
I knew my parents would be proud. They always were proud of their children, but I knew today their pride would go up a notch as they celebrated the fact that the first of their children to go to university was graduating with a First in Social Anthropology from Cambridge University, and would be receiving the award for best graduating student. This morning, I received an email from Harvard University; I got in on a full scholarship to study for a PhD. It would be the first time any of us had ever travelled to America. I couldn’t wait to tell my family.
Without malice, I thought of Benny again and wondered where he was now. Maybe we would meet again one day, maybe not. For now, I was content to imagine that he was somewhere in this crowd and was about to see one of the many ways that ‘August Dummy’ had become ‘August First’.