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At the end of Darwin Road — excerpt

‘Later, I had a friend who I used to meet in the weekends and she was a secret. Topsy Witihera was a girl with a wide concealing smile and a thick lustrous plait that hung  below her waist.  She was being brought up by her grandmother, and felt different, as I did, only more so. If my mother knew I met her she didn’t say anything. But by now I was old enough to understand difference and I seemed to cause my parents problems enough. The poignancy of Topsy’s name in a town like that was inescapable. She was called a lot of other names, too, that reflected her dark skin and lack of a father.

We sat on the doorstep at her grandmother’s house and talked while the thick blue gums rippled and whispered in the background. In Topsy’s presence it was possible to speak of unhappiness, to give sorrow a name. Our world was not make believe and bullshit, it was about real things. And at school she saved me more than once from the physical attacks of older children. She would emerge as if from nowhere, her fists flying with a precision that left the opponents doubled over in agony. I got more peace after she took on the bullies. At some stage she disappeared, passed on to another family when her grandmother died. It took me thirty-six years to rediscover her.’

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