Chunni Kolinsky was the silent witness to a theatre of war that had been playing for over twelve years. Her parents, Sheldon and Olympia - ‘Brat needs a name.’ ‘Chunni.’ ‘Dummy?’ ‘It’s Hindi, means ‘a star’ - do you smell anchovy?’ ‘I’m going to the pub.’ - performed twice nightly, caterwauling well into the early hours of most mornings. Over time, Chunni discovered her mother was a frigid, devious control freak with a saggy arse, pigeon tits and a martyr complex while her father was a sadistic, emotional terrorist, who’d lost his balls years ago and made her mother sick to the stomach any time they shared the same room. Chunni hoped her father found his balls soon - and that pigeon tits wasn’t catching. After the neighbours dialled 999, things changed. On that night the entertainment spilled out onto the street. A tired and emotional Sheldon was taken away in a police car while a shaken but unstirred Olympia was treated at the scene for a sprained thumb and ham acting. Weeks slipped into months and Sheldon remained missing, presumed good-for-nothing. As for Olympia - ‘Mummy is dead.’ ‘Dead? But you’re…’ ‘I’m Womanhood Resurrected - Olympia to you - and you’re adopted.’ ‘You mean, like Scruffles?’ ‘And you’re five.’ ‘But I’m nine-and-a-half! Why -’ ‘Because five isn’t quite so revolting as nine-and-a-half.’ - the nose didn’t smell the rotting head.
This morning began much like any other: Chunni lost a tug-of-war with her hairbrush before she and Scruffles settled down to share a tin of Whiskas. It was also Chunni’s tenth birthday: she wondered if an exciting surprise was waiting for her. Then Splat: she found herself involved in a head-on collision with her mother’s psychosis. Frogmarched into their dingy dinette, she was now perched on a rickety wooden stool, trembling like a baby blackbird sensing Mama Blackbird’s out to lunch, while Olympia yanked and tugged and snip-snipped at her hair. Luxuriant ringlets that wiggled and jiggled joyfully about her shoulders now lay strewn across the child’s lap, dead still. It was the slaughter of the innocents. ‘Done!’ declared her mother, at last relinquishing her weapon. ‘Very Miley Cyrus.’ Chunni remembered when that boy in Year 6 got caught watching Hannah Montana twirking with a fake giant butt on YouTube: he’d landed a detention and a letter to his social worker; she felt a little sick. ‘I don’t feel very -’ ‘Well buck-up, cab’ll be here at nine.’ ‘A taxi? Where’re -’ ‘To premiere the little pink number.’ Described by the saleslady as ‘Hollywood cerise’ - hideously expensive, with multi-layered frothy net petticoats, fiddly little fake pearl buttons and a pea-green satin sash - ‘the little pink number’ was abducted during one of Olympia’s revenge-served-cold shopping sprees and worn just once: ‘Did I scare you, Daddy?’ ‘What the hell is that?’ ‘Mummy chose it, said it reminded her of Nana. ’ ‘Freshly-puked road kill, more like - or your mother’s cooking.’ - after which its tattered remains were laid to rest at the back of Chunni’s wardrobe. ‘Mummy -’ ‘Olympia.’ ‘What if I can’t find…’ ‘Nine-o-clock.’ Chunni’s bedroom, like its owner, was small and untidy. Tiptoeing softly across its careworn surface, she peered into the darkness of her wardrobe and could just make out the mangled corpse of Hollywood-cerise-and-pea-green that peered back, accusingly. Chunni winced. Perhaps she could glue the pieces back together? She leant in and gave the corpse a poke; limp fragments of frothy petticoat clung hopelessly to her fingertips. She felt a twinge of guilt but her situation was desperate: poor Scruffles would have to take the blame; after all, that cat had nine lives while Chunni only had the one. Feeling a little better, Chunni’s thoughts strayed to her last birthday when Frankie and Connie Kolinsky, her grandparents on her father’s side (though not very often) treated her to tea at the Ritz and a trip to Hamleys. Nana and Grandpa Kolinsky were truly devoted to their granddaughter. To mark Chunni’s baptism - ‘Got a moniker?’ ‘Sheldon.’ ‘Not you, jerk.’ ‘Dummy.’ ‘Now you’re asking for a smack.’ ‘Dummy. Olympia dug it up. Said it’s windy.’ ‘Windy? It’ll be a bleedin’ hurricane when your mum finds out; you’re a pillock, d’yer know that?’ - they’d entrusted to her feckless parents an antique, solid silver Repoussé brush, comb and mirror vanity set (Frankie Kolinsky’s talent for sourcing interesting gifts, aided and abetted by his equally-interesting business associates, was a local legend). The vanity set came with provenance - originally filched by a maid in service to the Romonov family (tragically, the maid was shot too) - and instructions to hold it in safekeeping until they judged their infant old enough and responsible enough to take possession. Some time later, during a routinely acrimonious telephone conversation between Olympia and her in-laws, it emerged Olympia had interpreted ‘safekeeping’ to mean ‘mine’. The set was gracelessly restored to its rightful owner, along with dark mutterings about defamation of character (mysteriously, the hand mirror now displayed a hairline crack) and from then on Chunni dutifully brushed and combed her coppery tresses, morning and night. Having ransacked her chest-of-drawers, Chunni was now struggling into something not-quite-so-creased-as-everything-else, while deciding how best to break the news of Scruffles’s senseless act of vandalism to her mother: ‘Raus! Raus!’ Springing forward to slam shut the wardrobe’s doors, she caught site of her reflection in its full-length mirror and her mother’s senseless act of vandalism was revealed: the gingery raggedy angry tufts made her look like a bad, sad pixie; even Miley would have reached for a swift spliff and a crackerjack attorney. Could her day get any worse?
Rage is not without reason and Chunni had more than her fair share of reasons. ‘Rabies?’ Chunni nodded. ‘Scruffles looked fine this morning.’ ‘She must’ve got better.’ ‘The important thing is you didn’t let me down: you look ridiculous.’ Chunni reddened. ‘And the headgear! Utterly inspired.’ Just then, somewhere inside that child’s mind, something popped. Clenching her fists so tight her fingernails cut into her palms, Chunni burrowed into her seat and stared fixedly out of the taxi’s passenger window, unmoved by the scenery whizzing past her nose: Buckingham Palace, Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square, The Strand - ‘Anywhere here, driver. How odd: there’s that smell of anchovy again…’
It is an unhappy fact that the first casualty of any war is Truth. For nearly a year, the - highly respected - law firms of Wright Hasselle and Bicker, Bicker, Bicker & Co. engaged in a battle of name-calling on behalf of their clients, at the lucrative rate of two-hundred-and-seventy-five-pounds an hour. Not until Frankie intervened - ‘Give over, son - you’re wearing your fair share: it’s the way it works, you tosser.’ - was the plug pulled and Sheldon and Olympia’s nuptial bliss finally put out of its misery. Just one, small technicality required attention: their daughter’s future. This topic unleashed within Sheldon and Olympia a strength of passion the like of which had never before been witnessed in the Family Division of the High Court. Its President commented on it, declaring herself ‘speechless’ (later ‘revolted’ and ‘physically drained’) while the two bankrupt souls before her snarled and spat and exhausted every legal recourse open to them to lay their daughter off on someone else. This morning, the matter was to be finally resolved by Mrs. Justice Verma. Chunni had been abandoned in the central lobby while her mother strode off in search of a Court usher to harangue. ‘Dummy? Is that you?’ The bad, sad pixie glanced up: in a knee-length floral nightie, red wellies, school blazer and swimming cap, her grandparents struggled to recognise her. It was a truly pitiful sight. ‘Where is she?’ ‘Steady, Frankie.’ ‘Mummy’s dead.’ ‘What?’ ‘How?’ ‘When?’ ‘She’s been disinfected and I’m five and adopted like Scruffles and she hasn’t got rabies and I’m not quite so disgusting and what if I catch pigeon tits and why can’t daddy find his balls and everyone at school’ll say I look like a fake giant butt!’ For a moment there was a stunned silence. ‘So, darling, your mum: is she - around?’ ‘She’s gone to find a crusher – Nana, look what she did to my hair!’ With that, Chunni peeled off her swimming cap. Her grandfather cleared his throat. ‘Pretty as a picture, isn’t that so, Nana?’ Her grandmother smiled weakly. ‘It’s good to go short now and then, makes your hair…stronger.’ For the first time, in a long time, Chunni smiled. ‘Things need sorting. Connie: don’t let the child out of your sight.’ ‘Yes, Frankie.’ To be loved is the best way of being useful and on this day, Chunni found herself being very useful indeed. She chatted happily to her grandmother, telling her all her news: Connie sat motionless, looking as though she were trying to force down paracetamol without the benefit of a glass of water. Chunni paused. ‘Where’s Daddy?’ Her grandmother smiled sweetly. ‘He’s not very well.’ ‘What’s wrong?’ ‘Got a bit careless, landed himself in hospital, but he’ll mend.’ Chunni thought for a moment. ‘Why’re you here?’ ‘Because Nana and Grandpa love you and want to make sure you’re looked after properly.’ It was because her grandparents loved her that Chunni’s father was in hospital. Unknown to Sheldon, Frankie had a contact working in the Royal Courts who had smuggled out a taped recording of his granddaughter’s - infamous - residency hearing. Frankie confronted his son with the damning evidence: ‘Look, Dad, it’s no big deal. We’ve all moved on, that’s all.’ - which was ironic, because that night Sheldon was met outside his new girlfriend’s flat by two big blokes with bulges beneath their breast pockets, wanting a word; when he woke up he was in hospital, in skeletal traction - and not moving anywhere. ‘Mrs. Kolinsky? It’s time: please follow me.’ Chunni and her grandmother rose to their feet and followed the Court Usher along corridor after corridor, arriving at the entrance to some private chambers. Frankie was waiting for them. ‘Ladies, after you.’ Slim and elegant with a kindly expression, Mrs. Justice Verma seemed startled as her gaze settled upon the pixie. ‘I’m very pleased to meet you: Chunni - what a pretty name.’ ‘Thank you. It means "a star".’ ‘Yes, I know. It’s my niece’s name, also.’ ‘Chunni? Where did Dummy come from? Lucky the arsehole’s in hospital already.’ ‘Frankie, shush.’ ‘Now, Chunni, could you tell me a little bit about your homelife: I’d like to hear how you spend your time, how you’re doing at school, your friends, that sort of thing.’ As Chunni’s poignant tale unfolded, Mrs. Justice Verma sat poker-faced, once or twice sniffing, shaking her head and requesting clarification - ‘Pigeon tits? Rabies? Fake giant butt? Oh my!’ - before asking Chunni if she would please wait next door with the very nice secretary, while Mrs. Justice Verma had a little chat with her grandparents. ‘Mr. and Mrs. Kolinsky, I met earlier today with Chunni’s mother. May I be candid? Is she always like that?’ ‘Insane?’ ‘Frankie, please.’ ‘Sorry, Judge, but that woman gives me the ache.’ ‘Confused. Apparently she’d been up since dawn, restyling her daughter’s hair – I had no idea then, I’m so sorry – and demanded I issue an arrest warrant to bring in her ex-husband; mention was made of ‘a little pink number’, if I recall; the situation rapidly deteriorated and when security escorted her from my chambers I overheard her expressing concerns about - well, it sounded like anchovy - does that make sense to you at all?’ Frankie shrugged resignedly. ‘Yep, that figures.’ ‘However, she made it clear whatever is decided during this meeting will not be challenged. I am satisfied you have Chunni’s best interests at heart. If Chunni is agreeable, she may reside with you and in due course – if all parties are happy – you may seek the necessary Orders to make things permanent. She’s lucky to have you.’
The Strand was enjoying cheerful, mid-afternoon sunlight. ‘You promise? I’m coming to live with you?’ ‘Yep, pretty girl. But before we go home, how’s about popping to Hamleys?’ ‘Grandpa! Really?’ Frankie flagged down a taxi. ‘Hamley’s please, mate: climb aboard, ladies.’ At that moment a police van – all blue lights and siren – screeched to a halt, just a few yards from where they stood, disgorged six officers in full riot gear who charged at something - Frankie couldn’t see what - wrestled it to the ground, bundled it into the back of the vehicle, then piled in on top of it, at which point the van sped off. ‘Just two jiffs, ladies: back in a mo’.’ Frankie strolled over to an - ashen-faced - police constable, still at the scene. ‘Quite a show, officer. Someone famous?’ ‘Major security alert, sir: can get pretty hairy.’ ‘All safe now?’ ‘Yes sir; seems our boys might’ve foiled a terrorist outrage - MI5’ll be well pissed-off.’ ‘Any lot in particular?’ ‘One o’ yer hard-line breakaway factions, I dare say; that was their ringleader, right ugly sod - screamed just like a girl - goes about by the name of Anchovy.’ Frankie nodded his head and grinned. ‘Yep, that figures.’