First Love

He followed her a little too closely as she squeezed into the back office. With her arched back facing him, her fingers fumbled through the unfamiliar paperwork. She elongated her spine and grew a couple of inches in a bid to hide her nerves. He sat there, in the swivel chair, watching her intently. Small talk was exchanged. As a half-hearted giggle escaped her lips, she turned around to find him sitting there, exposed. He stroked himself, looked at her, licked the whites of his mouth, and with his head tilted to one side said; ‘Well…?’

The silent command preceded a dry, wry smile. This was her first encounter with the adult world so she didn’t know how to handle herself, him or anything in-between. She half-sighed, half-laughed, torn between a pout and a tremble, as she made her way slowly towards him. She got onto her knees and, before her fragile limbs hit the ground, he laced his hands behind her neck, pulling her mouth towards and onto him. She disguised her clueless disgust with hungry, desperate strides as the dirty, old carpet burned her pale, spindly legs, all while the dirty, old man poured himself into the school girl’s kiss.

‘I can help you become a great actress’, he whispered into her ear one day. She was the open-mouthed bird and he was the vulture casting the nest in shadows, blocking the freedom of the sky, regurgitating putrid promises which she hungrily swallowed. Nobody had paid her any attention before. Until now, she had always been average; a sad shade of ordinary.

‘We need to loosen you up,’ he grunted as he withdrew, turned her around so she was facing the desk and bent her spine down.

[Silence. Grunting.]

As he reassembled himself and squeezed back inside, he sighed/spat; ‘You’re – too – tight – ’

‘I’m sorry…’

‘You’re strangling – the life out of – me,’ he hissed through gritted teeth.


‘Shut up for –  a second, don’t talk ov – er me.’

[Silence. Grunting.]

‘You need to w – work on that. It’s not – attractive.’

[Silence. Grunting.]

‘You’ve got –  a lot – to learn – about – men.’

Their secret year went by unnoticed. She honoured the promise he forced her to keep as she kept her head down and her friends at arm’s length. It’s the worst kind of lonely; when you can’t see through the crowds that can’t see you.


The millennium. She sat there, surrounded by a thirties crowd, and lifted her glass at the appropriate moment to toast the promises of the future to come, as she avoided the eyes that were not looking at her.

One day in the future that came, she found herself sitting, cross legged, staring at the mirror. She was naked and the hairdryer sat to her side. Her once-blonde hair was snaking its way around the curve of her breast. Darker, danker than before, the side ponytail had left a trail of tears on her chest. Her puppy fat spilled over, ever so slightly, and she marvelled at the imperfection.

She didn’t care about her weight and she ate a bacon sandwich every morning just because there was nothing else to do. The bacon would slap around her mouth leaving a line of liquid butter running down her chin. Every lunch time, she would pile her plate high and her diet was beginning to take its toll on her once slender body. The teen stared at her reflection, struck by her plainness.

It was Wednesday. Later that night, without words, she knew it would be time to spread her legs, smile and moan every so often, while he drilled into her, grunting. She would stare at ‘February’ while he sprawled and sweated on top of her and she would conjure the same old daydream to make the act more bearable. He didn’t notice that she looked to the left, specifically at the calendar on the wall. He didn’t hear that her heart screaming. He didn’t feel her wince.

Afterwards, she’d be found in the bathroom, brushing her lips with her toothbrush, silently looking forward to the 6am start and the escape towards the cold, dark embrace of the M25.


Havana, Cuba (Day 11)

Our last day in Havana… boo…

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We had breakfast at the casa, then wandered to the local shop to buy rum…


…Lots of rum.

We had a final stroll around the streets of this beautiful city…

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…Before bidding the island farewell and catching the plane home.

(Photos by Vicki Brand)