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  • I chased the last soggy cornflake around in the milk with my spoon, thinking about what presents I would get for my sixth birthday; whilst I watched mummy washing my father’s blue shirt on the bumpy glass, in the wooden framed scrubbing board.

    I drank the remaining milk holding the bowl up to my mouth like a cup, as mummy turned the handle of the mangle so that the two cylinders revolved. I saw the shirt transformed from a soggy wet lump into what looked like a dry flattened piece of cardboard and heard water steaming from it sploshing into the deep square porcelain sink below. The steam rose up from the hot water and covered the kitchen window so I could not see the trees outside.

    Mummy, sighed, pushed her brown hair back from her forehead with a wet hand and stood up straight rubbing her back. “Stop hanging around staring at me and go into the garden and pick some blackberries,” she told me irritably, as she hung the shirt on a wooden clothes frame and winched it up on a pulley where it hung to dry near the kitchen ceiling, above the coal fired boiler.

    I climbed down from my chair, took the bowl mummy held out to me; and went out of the side door that led into the narrow passage between my flat and Malcolm and Peter’s, flat.
    I descended the concrete steps into the garden and noticed a large rusty, three wheeled bike standing under Malcolm’s window.

    I walked around the bike. Although I preferred riding Peter’s two wheeled bike I was itching to try it out.
    Last week Peter, who was ten years old, had let me ride his bike down the steep road just beyond our block of flats. I had stood up on the pedals; because the frame was too big for me, whizzed down the hill screaming with pleasure, and then leapt off it at the bottom of the road as the bike’s breaks did not work. The bike crashed to the ground onto its side, its wheels still spinning and I had lain on the ground laughing with joy at my amazing feat.

    So compared with a dare devil skill of riding a two wheeler, riding a three wheeled bike would be very tame.
    I ran back into the flat. Mummy was pouring coal into the top of the boiler from the coal scuttle making smoke pour out of the small opening. “Mummy there’s a three wheeled bike outside Peter’s window. Whose is it?” I asked.

    Mummy gave a mysterious smile.
    “Oh that bike. It’s for Peter and Malcolm’s cousin.”
    I frowned; “But Peter and Malcolm’s cousin lives in Canada.”
    “Well there’s a cousin you haven’t heard of before” Mummy snapped back at me. “Where are those blackberries I asked for?”

    Still puzzled and not believing her I went out to the garden, across the grass to the blackberry bushes that growing on a brick wall. I reached out for each blackberry concentrating on holding the fruit gently so the over ripe berry did not get squeezed into a mush; and making sure that I did not get prickled by the thorns around the bushes.

    The next day as I went out to find someone to play with I saw Daddy, scraping the rust off the three wheeled bike.

    “What are you doing that for?” I asked.

    He looked up with smiling brown eyes. “I’m helping Mr Lederman clean this bike up.”

    How strange, I thought. I had never seen Daddy helping Mr Lederman before.

    Over the next few weeks the three wheeled bike was transformed. It had been repainted a matt blue and the metal work sparkled.

    I waited expectantly to meet this new cousin I had never heard of before.

    “What’s your cousin’s name?” I called across to Malcolm as we competed to see how high we could each go on the swings.

    “My cousin?” asked Malcolm.

    “The one who’s going to get the three wheeled bike under your kitchen window.”
    “Oh, that cousin,” grinned Malcolm as he pumped his legs faster; to swing higher than Claire.

    “Um, his name’s Robin.”

    The day of my 6th birthday arrived. There was a homemade chocolate sponge cake on the table with a paper frill around it and six candles. Mummy, Daddy and my big sister sang happy birthday whilst I shut my eyes and made a secret wish and then blew out the candles.

    “There’s a surprise outside for you” announced my curly haired sister.

    Out we all marched to the back garden and there was the matt blue three wheeled bike with a red bow on it and a girly saddle bag on the back.

    “Surprise!” everyone shouted. “This is your birthday” present Dad whispered to me.

    “But it’s Malcolm’s cousin’s bike!” I protested.

    “We only told you that so you wouldn’t know it was your surprise present,” Mummy told me.
    I looked at the bike feeling confused and disappointed. Why had my parents lied to me? Why had they let me get bored with the bike before they told me it was my present? Where was Malcolm’s cousin and when would I ever get a two wheeled bike.

    “Well try it out,” Mummy.

    I climbed onto the bike and rode it towards the front garden. I would never think of it as my bike. It would always be the phantom cousins three wheeler.
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