We got dressed quickly and skipped breakfast. My normal breakfast of choice is Cheerio’s with loads of milk. Mum calls it ‘Cheerio soup’. Mum has two pieces of dry toast, slightly burnt, with a big mug of coffee. Mum’s mug is nearly as big as my cereal bowl, so I call her breakfast ‘coffee soup’.
But today, there was no Cheerio soup and no coffee soup. Mum said I was in charge, so I decided we would go out for breakfast, for the first time in our lives. My life, anyway. We threw on some clothes and headed straight out the door, with ten crisp £50 notes tucked in mum’s purse.
We headed straight for the bus stop which is right outside our door, since our house is above a shoe shop on the high street. Force of habit. I’d already decided we’d get taxis everywhere today, but neither of us were used to splashing out.
“Mum, how do we get a taxi? Do we need to go back inside and phone one?” Mum laughed. She’d forgotten about taxis too.
“Oh. Um, I think there’s a taxi rank around the corner. They normally queue up there. Let’s go and have a look.”
We walked around the corner but the taxi rank was empty. Across the road, Mr Patel who owns the sweet shop was just opening up for the morning. We crossed over and asked him if he knew where all the taxis were. He chuckled.
“Oof ladies, I’m sorry, the taxi rank’s normally quite quiet on a Sunday morning, I’m afraid! People only tend to use them when they want to head into town for the clubs. I can call one for you if you like, are you heading anywhere special?”
“No, no. Just late for a train and in a bit of a rush.” Mum jumped in to answer before I had chance. I shot her dagger stares: I hate lies. Even little white ones. Mr Patel went into the back room to call the taxi and, while he did, mum grabbed my arm and whispered: “Star, it’s not a good idea to let people know about the £500. People treat you differently when you have a lot of money, trust me. Let’s try and behave like our normal, sensible selves. Until we’re in town, at least.”
I thought it was dead stupid really. Mr Patel had been our friend for as long as I could remember. I decided to give mum the benefit of the doubt though: adults can be weird, and mum understands that more than me sometimes.
While we waited for the taxi, I decided to buy some sweets from the big jars behind the counter. Mr Patel had shelves and shelves of them, and he had to stand on a little ladder to reach the highest ones. Normally, when I came here, I had a budget of 50p, and Mr Patel would weigh out exactly 50p’s worth of blackcurrant millions. Today though, I decided not to stop until I’d got a little bit of every sweet I fancied. Mr Patel chuckled as I started reeling off my order. I got a quarter of sherbet lemons, a quarter of rhubarb and custard, a handful of fruit salads and a handful of black jacks (yucky, but they’re mum’s favourite). I got ten big flump marshmallows, a fistful of pixie straws, some cola bottles and a gummy snake as long as my arm. Then I spotted a whole extra row, right at the bottom, and got a bag of pink mushrooms, a bag of flying saucers and three sugar mice. By the time I reached the end of my list, Mr Patel was howling with laughter.
“Goodness me, Miss Star! You’re going to be bouncing off the walls! Have you won the lottery or something?”
Mum shot me a nervous side glance. She was probably worried I was going to rumble us: she knows how much I hate lying.
“No, it’s just a special treat from mum. I did really well in the gymnastics competition yesterday. First prize in my age group!”
It wasn’t lying really. Just rearranging the truth.
“First prize! Goodness me! Well then you’ve definitely earned a sugar splurge!”
All those sweets only cost £5.60. More than a week’s pocket money for me, but only a little more than 1% of our target for the day. Mum’s face reddened as she pulled the £50 from her purse.
“Sorry,” she mumbled, with a slight nervous giggle. “The bank gave it to me when I went to get my rent money.”
Another white lie. Mr Patel didn’t seem to notice, even though mum looked dead shifty to me. Most people aren’t expecting you to lie, I suppose. He packed the sweets up for me and they filled two bulging bags, which made him laugh again.
It took ten minutes for the taxi to arrive. In that time, two Number 65 buses went past the shop window. I was just starting to think we should jump on one of them instead when the taxi pulled up outside.
“You watch your teeth with all those sweets Miss Star, ok?” Mr Patel called after us, as we walked outside and climbed in. Two big bags of sweets and our own personal driver. I decided I was glad we’d waited.
“So where are you heading, ladies?”
The taxi driver was looking at us as though it was the most normal thing in the world, to hire a private car and a chauffeur on a Sunday morning. He would think that, I suppose. Mum grinned and gave my hand a little squeeze.
“I’m sorry I got tense in the shop just now. This is your day. Where do you want to go?”
Poor mum. If splashing out was weird for me, it was probably three times weirder for her. She’d spent thirty years more than me scrimping and saving.
I asked the taxi driver to take us to Mr Moo’s Milkshakes. It’s a café right in the middle of Birmingham, where they turn any sweet you like into a milkshake. The front of the shop is painted in black and white splodges, just like a cow, with ‘Mr Moo’s’ spelled out in bubble-gum pink lettering. It’s like something out of a cartoon, and I’d been dreaming of going there for years.
When we pulled up outside, the meter said £11.82. I gave the taxi driver a £20 note and told him to keep the change. He looked at mum, waiting for her to correct me, but she just laughed.
“Well thank you very much, ladies!” He handed mum a little card with his company number on it. “You just let me know if you need picking up!” Mum was right. People do treat you differently when you have money, but it’s a positive improvement if you ask me.
When we walked into Mr Moo’s, instead of a little bell chiming, the door made a big mooing sound. It took mum by surprise, and she collapsed into a fit of giggles which set me off laughing too. The walls were painted in the same black and white splodges as the outside had been, and were lined with wall to wall shelves stacked with jars and boxes of every sweet and chocolate bar I could think of, and some I didn’t even know existed. The servers were all wearing pink and white pinstripe aprons and caps, and the air smelled of vanilla. I felt like I’d stepped into a marshmallow.
“‘I’ll go and get us a table – can you order me a large coffee, Star?”
“No way, mum! Come on, you can’t just have coffee soup! This is a special day! You’ve got to have something special.” I decided to take control. “Let me order for you. I’ll pick something good, promise.”
I ordered my own first: a blend of double decker and crème eggs with a fat swirl of squirty cream and rainbow sprinkles on top. It took me a little longer to decide on mum’s: she’s fussier than me. In the end, I ordered her a Bourneville shake with two coffee walnut whips blended in, and some chocolate covered coffee beans sprinkled on top. Both of them arrived at the table in great big sundae glasses, with pink and white curly straws. Mum burst into another fit of giggles when it arrived.
“Oh my goodness Star, it’s bigger than my head!”
Normally, mum only picks at her toast at breakfast. But at Mr Moo’s Milkshakes, she drank every last drop, until her straw started to slurp and gurgle. Then, she let out a huge, rumbling burp, and burst out laughing again, so loudly that the waitresses all looked over to see what the fuss was about. I don’t think I’ve seen mum laugh so much in my whole life as I did today. It was only when we went to leave that we realised that Mr Moo’s sold food too. So I bought two mega brownies, studded with M&Ms, and mum ate every bite of that too.
It only got better from there.
Our next stop was Bears ‘R’ Us. I don’t even like cuddly toys anymore, but I’d always dreamed of having a Bears ‘R’ Us bear when I was little, so we went anyway. I decided we had to design one for each other, and we had to get all the accessories and special features. We had to keep our teddies secret from one another. Then, when we were back out on the street, we swapped.
Mum loves fantasy books, so I got her a big fluffy dragon with emerald green ridges on his back and iridescent wings. I held the dragon out to mum and waved his wings a little bit, so that they twinkled red, pink and gold in the sunlight. If they made iridescent paint, I would have wanted my bedroom to sparkle like that.
“Oh Star, he’s brilliant! I wish he was real!” Mum reached out to grab him but I snatched him back.
“Wait! I’ve not shown you everything yet.” I gave the dragon’s tummy a big squeeze. “Grrrrrrrrrrrrrreetings! I’m SCORCH! You’re ROAAARRRRsome!”
Mum was giggling again.
“Star! How did you do that without me hearing?! That’s amazing! Oh I’m worried you’re going to think mine’s rubbish now, I don’t think I did it right. I didn’t know we were supposed to pretend to be the toy.” Sheepishly, she brought my teddy out from behind her back.
As soon as I’d seen it in the shop, I knew it’d be the one she’d pick for me. It was a smiling bear with indigo fur, covered from his ears to the tips of his paws in shiny silver stars. What I hadn’t expected was the little lab coat she’d put him in, with a plastic stethoscope tucked around his neck.
“I’m not saying you have to be a doctor or anything, but they didn’t have a telescope or anything like that. The lab coat is just supposed to represent science in general, ok? And that my daughter is a genius and going to do something amazing, one day.”
I went a little bit red. I never know what to say when people are really nice to me, especially mum. I reached out and gave the teddy’s belly a squeeze. Mum’s voice came pouring out, a bit more formal than usual: “I’m so proud of you Star. I hope we both remember this day forever.”
Mum looked mortified.
“I didn’t know we were supposed to pretend to be the toy!” She repeated. “I feel a bit stupid now.”
I threw my arms around mum’s neck and hugged her so hard that both the toys started talking over each other, and we both started laughing again.
“Mum, he’s perfect. Now come on! We’ve got a lot of money to spend and not much more time to spend it in!”
After a few hours, shopping got boring so we stopped in a café. We’d been carrying so many bags that the handles were carving red grooves into my arms. While mum sipped at her black Americano, I sorted through everything we’d bought – fourteen shopping bags full of clothes and videos and books, but we still had £100 left. I tried to feel thankful for all of it, as excited about each purchase as I might have been if I’d saved up and bought it with a week or two’s pocket money, or if mum had given it to me for my birthday. I had more stuff here than I’d had for my last three birthdays and Christmases combined. But I just couldn’t feel it. Instead, I felt bloated. The same feeling I’d had the year that I convinced mum to let me eat raw cake mix instead of baking me a cake. I could see in mum’s eyes that she was feeling the same, but I didn’t tell her how I was feeling. I wanted her to stay pleased with her decision to spend the money.
“Mum, I think after this we should get a taxi to Think Tank. We can go to the planetarium and watch some of the IMAX shows, and then we can get a taxi home. Maybe get a takeaway and watch one of our videos.”
“Home? Are you sure? I don’t think all of that will cost £100.”
“I know. I was thinking we could just save the last bit. We can use it another day to buy the paint for my room. Then maybe start decorating it together next weekend?”
“Sure, that sounds brilliant. But on one condition. There can be some form of vegetable in my takeaway. I think I’ve eaten enough sugar to last me for a good few weeks.”’