By Patience Mackarness
It’s the first week of the World Cup in a football-mad city, and on the wall is a piece of topical humour: a large white flag with a red cross made of condoms in scarlet wrappers. Next to it is a poster that reads Better Safe Than Sorry.
In the outer waiting room, eight or nine adolescents act as people will in waiting rooms; they sit looking at the floor, flip magazine pages or study, casually, the posters on the wall. No-one is looking at the red condom cross.
One girl vibrates with impatience. She’s sixteen or seventeen years old, and bulges out of black hotpants and a little black vest top. She wears wedge heels and her long hair is caught up in a fluorescent pink scrunchie and pink headband.
‘How long have you been waiting?’ Since it’s not clear who she’s speaking to, no-one answers. ‘Oh my God, isn’t this place crap?’
She zeroes in on the youngest person in the room, a pink round-faced girl of about fourteen who looks rather like a piglet. ‘D’y’ know Hayley Tommo?’
‘Yeh,’ says the piglet. ‘She’s a pure ming. Which school d’y’ go to?’
‘I’ve been to four. I’ve been expelled from all of them for fighting. What are you here for? Are you up the duff?’
A door opens and a worker begins calling out numbers. Five of the teenagers get up and follow her into the next room. The girl in black and pink goes with them, announcing: ‘I’m not waiting.’ Passing the flag of St George, she swiftly picks off all the condoms and puts them in her bag. To two girls still sitting in the room she calls, before the door closes behind her: ‘Cheer up, you two.’
Going upstairs to the second waiting room, the piglet announces: ‘Hayley Tommo went for a pregnancy test.’
‘She’s an ugly cunt, her,’ Black-and-Pink remarks. She plonks herself down next to a girl wearing jeans and no make-up.
‘Are you preggo? Are you up the duff?’
‘No,’ says the girl.
‘Then why’re you here?’
‘I’m going on the pill.’
‘Why’re you going on the pill, girl? Why don’t you just use condoms?’
‘Because I’m choosing to use the pill.’
‘Are you having sex?’
‘Why’re you going on the pill if you’re not having sex?’
‘It’s my choice.’
‘Don’t want any sprogs, then?’
‘Go’ed, girl!’ After a pause, ‘Do you want him to blurt up you?’ No answer. ‘Eh, girl, have y’ever given head?’ The girl laughs, uncomfortably, and picks up a copy of Heat magazine.
‘Well, have yeh?’
‘Well, does it taste nice?’
The piglet’s number is called. Going out she says: ‘Ooh, I’m scared.’
‘Shouldn’t have had sex then, should yeh?’ says Black-and-Pink helpfully. She takes a handful of scarlet condom packets from her bag, rips them open swiftly and puts the condoms on all the door and window handles within reach. She is sitting down again, looking innocent, when one of the female staff members enters the room with a clipboard.
‘Who did that?’ asks the worker sternly. No-one answers. She repeats the question with less conviction and then goes round crossly taking the condoms off. When the door has closed behind her, Black-and-Pink says aggrievedly: ‘Oh my God, the cheeky cunt, it’s not my fault she’s a dyke.’ The worker, who must have been standing just beyond the door, pops back in and says: ‘Shut up, please. People don’t come her for all this disturbance.’
‘Oh. My. GOD…’
‘Do you want to be seen, then?’ asks the worker sharply. ‘It’s your turn.’ Black-and-Pink marches out, shoving past her.
A young man who came upstairs in the same group says to the girl in jeans: ‘ First time, she was fifteen. She only wanted one, but she ended up with twins. Have you got kids?’ he adds conversationally.
‘I’m only seventeen!’
Her number is called.
‘See y’after!’ the young man says cheerfully.
Patience Mackarness has taught English overseas and more recently has been a sustainable travel officer in Merseyside, where ‘Family Planning’ is set.