“These? Oh, at my school they make sure we do some folk dancing so that we understand the background. See, these two are Irish dancing shoes, and these are for Scottish.” The higher-fronted pair, it emerged, were for Scottish dancing. “The Scottish have hard shoes, too, but I only just started learning. I move onto those in a month or two.”
“Do you dance every day?”
“Laws, no! I wouldn’t survive that. Though I know people who do: those of us that want to dance professionally have been going for two-hour classes every day since they were twelve, and they will until the day they retire. Yes, you may look shocked.” Again, the dancer laughed. “You look like you’ve got a pretty good figure for dancing. Why don’t you come along some time?”
“No, I couldn’t,” said Sophie. “I’m far too old to start now! Besides, I’m way too busy. It’s not an option.”
“You should think about it, even so. And as for being too old – well, it’s true that most beginners are a lot younger than you, but it doesn’t mean you couldn’t get good. I’m Tasha, by the way.”
“Sophie.” They nodded and smiled, feeling almost as though they should shake hands but knowing that was far too formal for this situation. “Anyway, where do you go to dance?”
“Oh, it’s not too far at all. Get off at the next stop and it’s about five minutes walk.”
“That sounds like about where I live. There is a dance school pretty nearby, now I come to think of it. Is it the Leaf College of Performing Arts, by any chance?” The squat brick building occupied most of one of the little backstreets. “I used to go there for violin lessons when I was younger.”
“Yes, it is,” said Tasha with a smile. “I know you haven’t got any experience, and you’re only about a year younger than me so you’re really a little old, but it would be great if you could come along. I’m sure my teacher would make allowances: she wouldn’t put you in with the babies. Of course, you’d have to work very hard …” She paused. “Anyway, we start at six tonight, so if you want to come along…”
“You’re a bit early, aren’t you?” said Sophie, trying to change the subject. Once, a few years ago, she had wanted to take ballet. Of course, Ella had poo-pooed the idea, and her parents hadn’t been too keen on it either, but she had never really given up.
“I have a singing lesson beforehand,” Tasha told her. “Here, it’s our stop.” They hopped lightly off the bus and started to walk in the direction of Sophie’s house. “If you do decide to come, I’ll keep an eye on you. Teach you a bit, if Madame will let me. Don’t you worry about that side of it.”
Sophie lied. She said it was unlikely and, taking her leave from the friendly but slightly odd Tasha, took the turning into her little garden path and made it to her house at last. It had been a long day.
“I want to go to ballet class tonight,” she announced as soon as she had pinpointed her mother’s location in the house. “It starts at six and Tasha promised to look after me. Can I go, please?”
Mrs Flood came out of the study and walked down to where her oldest daughter stood in the middle of the hallway, her bag dumped randomly on the laminate flooring and her shoes kicked off any old way.