One day, when I was just under five, my sister, Hannah, and I went to a playground in Strawberry Hill. The sky was a beautiful shade of blue with little puffs of white clouds floating about. We played on the swings and the roundabout. It was fun letting the air gently breeze past us while we were whizzed about. Then we climbed up the green and orange ladder of the slide. Hannah sat on it and I pushed her, whooping as she quickly slid down.
There was a little house attached to the top. I climbed up and sat on the hut's floor. Gazing out of the window I could see a man sitting on the bench with a red nose from the October cold, glasses, a ridiculous bowler hat and moustache. Peering closer I noticed some words scribbled on the bench. Something like "blaks stink". I looked the other way: toddlers, screeching and cackling in the sandpit, parents swarming over them like bees to honey, children climbing the fence and kicking the red, yellow and orange autumn leaves, the muddy brown trees watching down, sadly, at the ground.
I looked at the wooden walls of the tiny house. There was a feast of graffiti all over, words like "Sandy loves Blink" scrawled in sickly-pink spray-can. The word which fascinated me most was one written very jerkily in black. As I was so little I was still learning to read and I hadn't seen this word before. I read it aloud to myself, "ni...ig...gggerr. Nigger". I traced the letters with my finger and then I heard Hannah yell from the trees near the private gardens.
"Rebecca! Come here!" I shuffled quickly down the steps and ran, half hopping and half running in that direction.
"Coming!" I replied and immediately forgot about the mysterious word. "Look! I've found a baby hedgehog!" she whispered, crouched down by a pile of leaves. The hedgehog was asleep. Hannah was wearing a blue winter coat all buckled up, gloves and red trousers. She continued, "Isn't it sweet? What shall we call her?" "Harriet!" I said. "But what if it doesn't have a mummy or daddy? I bet she's hungry."
Then we saw a mother hedgehog and more little babies waddling along.
"Oh, she's all right then," Hannah said.
After this we had a race to the seesaw. On the safety matting was another graffiti mark. "Buz waz ere" one bit said and "K...k...kill those bl...ack bas...tards!" I read.
"What does that mean?" my sister asked and looked up at me.
At home that evening I remembered the graffiti and asked my parents about them. They said those were very rude words for black people. That's when I discovered racism.
Four years later I was looking at the bookshelves at home when a title caught my eye. Black Boy by Richard Wright. I read the book and saw the horrors of racism in my mind like in a private cinema. Around the same time I found out more when I watched the news on television and heard about Stephen Lawrence, the black teenager who'd been murdered just because of the colour of his skin. I really felt sad for his family and I talked to mum about it. She told me about Nelson Mandela fighting for black people's rights in South Africa and how he had spent many years in prison.
It was only then that I began to understand how dangerous racism is. That's why I decided to give a talk in school about it. But I will never forget the first time I came across this terrible thing - through the graffiti on the playground.
* Rebecca wrote this piece on a Write On! course, for children who want to learn the technicalities of writing, run by her mother, Vesna Pistotnik, but she is already an experienced author and editor. Rebecca and her sister (the Hannah of the story) run a magazine called "Smart" for which they write stories, publish pieces by other children and interview their favourite authors. "I like Jacqueline Wilson and Philip Ridley very much," says Rebecca, "and Benjamin Zephaniah is the most wicked poet in the world. We have a cooking page and do book reviews - I reviewed 'Junk'. The incident actually happened four or five years ago and it stuck in my memory because I hate racism." Vesna adds: "She invented the hedgehogs, because she wanted to introduce innocence." Rebecca says: "I would like to be an artist or a writer." She goes to pottery classes and plays the piano. "I like painting, but we are making statues out of wire at the moment and I like that as well."