Little ten-year-old Pupa could hardly contain her excitement as she rushed up the stairs to the apartment, flung open the door and blurted out loudly for everyone to hear:
“They picked me, they picked me from everyone else. I was the fastest! I’m going to race on Empire Day!”
British Empire Day was a huge and much anticipated annual event on the school calendar in Malta. It was a whole day of athletic events, starting early in the morning and finishing late in the evening. Students from all over the island represented their particular school in a series of games and races with winners awarded ribbons, trophies and bragging rights. It resembled a massive athletics carnival except for the fact that there was very little sporting equipment available. The events included games such as the three-legged race, the sack race, the egg-and-spoon race, along with the usual sprinting and team relay races. This was all taken very seriously by staff and students alike with training and selection trials during the school term aimed at ensuring that only the best athletes competed. In this way, they stood the greatest chance of bringing glory to their schools. Strangely enough however, every child who wished to participate managed to be selected to compete for their school in at least one event. This much loved carnival would always attract an enormous crowd of spectators to the largest football stadium on the island, Empire Stadium, in the seaside town of Gzira, which could seat thousands of people.
As luck would have it, Pupa had a particular aptitude for the skipping rope race. She could tear down the track at breakneck speed, adroitly synchronizing her feet and hands as she agilely avoided the skipping rope twirling around her body and legs at dangerously fast rotations. After much training and competition, Pupa had been selected to represent Ħamrun Elementary School at this prestigious annual event.
After the excitement of her announcement in the small apartment had died down a little, the good news was complemented by the fact that two of Pupa’s brothers had also been selected to run in the boys sprint relay team for Ħamrun. Pupa noticed that her mother’s amusement suddenly seemed to wane when she learned about her brothers’ selection.
The reason Lucia’s mirth quickly evaporated was that after a few minutes the mother realised that in order for her children to compete on Empire Day, they would need white socks and sandshoes. She knew the family could not afford to buy such extravagances.
But Lucia decided to let Pupa and her brothers enjoy their moment of glory. She decided that she would gently break the news to them later. Lucia had the wishful thought that maybe in these tough times, the school authorities would
be less strict about the dress regulations or maybe they would relent as there would be other children present without white socks and sandshoes. She became a little resentful when she sarcastically thought out aloud:
“I bet the children of the sinjuri will all have nice, new, white socks and shoes.”
But she asked the Virgin Mary to forgive her uncharitable thoughts immediately afterwards- another indiscretion to remember for confession that Friday.