I wish I could begin with some amusingly derisive physical description of my first bully, the boy who tormented me in the school playground when I was eight years old. But the truth is that I don’t remember his face. As those who’ve read my previous posts might attest, most of the memories that I document are vividly recalled – every detail of the scene kept in some dusty drawer in the nether-regions of my brain down to the brand of each article of clothing worn by the persons involved (details which I’m trying to re-train my mind to stop caring about, so as to free-up increasingly hard-to-come-by drawer space for more useful information). But there are certain memories which my mind has chosen to record as entirely blacked-out pages. This is just one of the many ways in which the operation of my psyche seems apt for the medical descriptor ‘bipolar’, and my star sign of Gemini makes astrology seem not so ridiculous.
I’ve most likely seen my bully walking down the street at least once in the twenty years since he bullied me out of my first primary school. There have been several times when I’ve bumped into strangers, or rather those who I thought were strangers but who turned out to be former peers, as a result of continuing to live in a terrace house just up the street from that same school until I was nineteen. Sometimes these sweet smiling teenagers have professed to have once been friends of mine, even good friends. It has only been when they’ve given their name that I’ve been able to achieve some sort of recognition. I still have a fairly complete internal historical record of the time, including names and dates. It is the sights, sounds, and the sensations of the year of 1998, prior to the 29th of July, that have been erased.
This erasure includes my first-hand memories of one particularly pivotal event, about which I would know relatively little had I not unearthed a revealing piece of historical evidence earlier this year. This artefact was discovered in the week after my return to Sydney in January, following my unravelling in South-east Asia at the end of last year, a week in which I slept in my mother’s bedroom and she slept on the couch while I cleared out the boxes of (mostly) junk that had been transferred from the three storey terrace in which I had grown up into the small spare room of the Randwick flat my mother had purchased with the proceeds of the sale of said house in 2009, boxes which she had been too emotionally exhausted in the eight intervening years to peer into, boxes which it now fell to me to sort out to excavate nine square metres of floor space to call my own for the time it would take me to land on my feet and find my own place (which still hasn’t happened). Among piles of LOOK magazines from the 1990s, lecture notes from the university course she undertook after her divorce (achieving a first Bachelor’s degree at the age of 60), decades-old tax returns, and miscellaneous literal garbage, I found this:
My handwriting is probably not the best an eight-year-old has ever produced (or is it?) so here’s a transcription:
Hi! how are you?
Whats the tepreture there?
the temriture here today was
7 – 14° c today. Guess
are bashing me up
yesterday thay were
kicking me punching
me, teasing me and
they put me on the
ground and they were searching me for money when i said
I didn’t have any.
My Mum gives
I have several observations to make. The first is that the depiction of Sydney’s skyline on the front of the card (an image with which I will not besmirch a portfolio website that took me too long to make pretty) is beyond tacky, and I can’t say in whom I’m more disappointed – the Sydney Opera House Trust for releasing such an abhorrence or my younger self for purchasing it. I suppose on the one hand, it’s nearly impossible to make Sydney’s skyline look anything but tacky (1 Bligh Street is the only vaguely tasteful structure within a kilometre of Circular Quay), and on the other, I was eight, so I’ll just let that initial objection slide. The second thought is that though I seem to have generally got capital letters and punctuation down-pat, my spelling and paragraph structuring clearly needed some serious attention (much like the child doing the writing). But I am impressed with having had enough sense after writing “tepreture” to sense this was wrong, and not wanting to cross it out and make the postcard look ugly, making another attempt in the next sentence with “temriture”. And “tepreture” plus “temriture” almost gets you to “temperature”, which is quite a sophisticated word for an eight-year old. Unfortunately, I must have become so frustrated and self-conscious about my spelling of temperature (it feels good to be able to spell it correctly spell it now, without autocorrect even!) that I specified that the tepreture/temriture to which I was referring was that of “today” twice in the space of five words. But maybe I should just forgive any lapses of spelling or grammar as, judging from the content of the postcard and my enduring complete lack of first-hand memory of having written it, I was suffering from an exceptionally early instance of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
On a more positive note, I am also impressed with how I was able to exercise what little knowledge I had of letter writing decorum to increase my chances of receiving a favourable response. I obviously sensed it wouldn’t be in good taste to dive straight into exclamations of woe and misery, so I tried some small talk first, saying ‘Hi!’ and asking her Denise she was (suggesting there might be at least a possibility that I was writing out of interest in the wellbeing of my my interlocutor, rather than purely of my own) and then engaging in some casual banter about the most uncontroversial topic of conversation that exists – the weather (or more specifically, the temriture). This was a well chosen-topic. To this day, one of Denise’s favourite topics of conversation is the extreme difference in climate between Sydney and Toronto. I must have included both the minimum and maximum tepritures in my condensed report to make Denise feel not so bad about how much colder it generally was in Toronto (that day must have been the coldest day in Sydney of 1998 – since when does it drop below ten degrees, even in July?), and specified that the measurement of temriture I was using was Celsius, because I was unsure if Canada was as silly as the US in using non-metric units. Even after I finished with my ‘icebreaker’ I must have still felt Denise needed easing-in before being delivered the rather heavy-going crux of the communication. I still say to the students that I tutor in High School English, there’s nothing more important for a writer than having empathy for his reader. But my skills of circumlocution obviously weren’t then what they are now, so the subtlest segueway I could come up with was “guess what?”
I’m sure what Denise wouldn’t have guessed was that her best friend’s son was writing from Australia to report a playground assault and attempted robbery. I definitely wouldn’t be capable of delivering my ‘SOS’ with as much pith and urgency today as I did then. And as soon as I had said what I needed to, I must have realised that I was about to run out of space on what was a very small postcard, so I sent Denise both my mother’s love and my own, and signed off. Adjacent to this message, the address has been written in my mother’s hand (I assume subsequent to what I wrote) along with a somewhat confounding post-script:
HE WROTE THIS TO YOU – I’M NOT SENDING IT. ALL IS WELL NOW, AS YOU KNOW.
Given that I found this postcard in what is now my bedroom, and without a stamp, I’ll hazard a guess that it’s true that the card was never sent. I would then question why the address and this very specifically addressed comment, which itself reflects the impossibility of either the postscript or the main message ever being read by its intended recipient, was actually written. But the asking of such a question would presume that there is a rational reason behind the actions of my mother.
Even so, you might wonder why I didn’t try report this incident first to my mother, or my teachers. The truth is that both of these parties had been informed of the general situation for at least three months, and had failed to produce a satisfactory response. Three months prior, the schoolmaster had opined that the source of the rift between me and my peers was my ‘giftedness’. His solution was to bring in a special ‘giftedness testing lady’ (I’m sure there’s a more eloquent term, but let’s stick with that) to conduct tests for which I had to miss half a day’s class. No physical probes were involved, but it was still a painful experience, because I was bitterly teased when I returned back to class. It was the first of many occasions where I learned to equate ‘giftedness’ with exclusion, inferiority and shame. The tests came back with some ridiculous numbers which I’m far too humble to disclose, and the schoolmaster strongly recommended that I be accelerated not only by one, but by two school years. I was already the youngest kid in my year, so if my mother had followed this advice I would have finished High School just after my fifteenth birthday. Considering how difficult my fifteenth year had been when I was just a ‘normal’ kid in Year 10 and could do virtually no schoolwork and just concentrate on hating life, I’m exceptionally happy that my mother refused to let me become a university entrant with a still-breaking voice.
The detentions and talkings-to administered by the teacher did little to deter my bully. I made it too easy for him. Not only was I booksy and shy, I was also effeminate, and I wasn’t even aware of being so, or that this was even a problem. Gender identification is extremely confusing for a pre-pubescent child whose parents gave him a monosyllabic gender-neutral first name. On my birth certificate, my first name is just recorded as “Sam”, not “Samuel” (nor “Samwise”, nor “Samson”, which would have been my personal choice – I think things would have been so different had having the name Samson encouraged me as a boy to be more Samsonian). But kids always used to tease me by insisting that if my name wasn’t short for Samuel, it must have been short for Samantha. With neither being true, and Samuel not fitting very comfortably, I decided to try Samantha on for size for a while. This early attempt to evade society’s compulsion to force concrete gender constructs onto sexless free-spirited youths certainly didn’t make me any less tormentable.
Moreover, I was the only kid in 3G who was given money to buy lunch from the tuck-shop every day. My darling South African mother was never quite able to accept the fact that the unfeasibility of having a full-time live-in servant in the egalitarian barb-wireless paradise of Australia meant that she’d have to perform unrewarding, monotonous household duties herself, so where she could avoid facing this bleak reality through alternative measures such as giving her son lunch-money rather than making him sandwiches, she did. To be fair, unlike most two-parent households in the 1990s, there was a zero per cent chance of any parental duties being shared by her husband, who was incapable of even emptying his own ashtrays, and even if she had possessed the will to make me school lunches, my father’s reliable nocturnal eating habits ensured that if there was any amount of some vaguely sandwich-appropriate foodstuff in the refrigerator in the evening (Nutella, peanut butter, margarine, treacle…), it would not be there by the morning.
So as the youngest, smartest, most feminine, almost the smallest and definitely the strangest boy with the most sumptuous lunches (I used to get seven dollars – which felt like a million at an Australian public school canteen in 1998), I was a perfect (not-so-quickly) moving target for bullies. As evidenced by the content of the postcard, my tactic of lying about having money on my person wasn’t a very effective deterrent against regular muggings. And seeing as how the efforts of those whose designated societal role it was to protect me had failed, the postcard was my ingenious method of trying to achieve a better result for myself. I must have picked up from some TV show or movie that if something really important is written in a letter (or postcard) and sent to the right person, it will get read out in an earnest voiceover, and immediate action will ensue.
Denise was a benevolent, phantom-figure like figure present across a telephone line through the course of most of my childhood. She was my mother’s best friend when they were children in Johannesburg, but when it came time for the left-wing idealists to flee their apartheid homeland as young adults (out of a perception that nothing would ever change, my mother insisting that she would have stayed had the revolution lead by the then-recently gaoled Mandela seemed like more than just a fantasy), my mother immigrated to Australia, where her elder sister had already settled, and Denise immigrated to the colder, more northern version of Australia, where her own sister lived (if you’ve ever been both to St Ives and Thornhill, you’d know the only difference is gum trees in one, and a layer of cold, icy, white stuff in the other). Even after their geographical paths diverged so drastically, the two continued to speak every week without fail over the phone (and they still do, more than fifty years after they became friends – my alarm clock on Saturday mornings now being a very nasal, “hiiiii Di, howszit?”). When I was a small child, I’d usually be hanging around the kitchen phone during the conversations, during some of which my mother would start crying for no reason, then say “Denise wants to say hi”, and put me onto the phone.
Denise, who managed the IT systems at one of the top universities in Ontario, was a much more practical person than my mother, who was a painter and full-time child and husband looker-afterer, and spent a lot of time getting the mane of red hair that refused to be left in the 80s permed. Denise seemed like someone who people trusted with their problems – my mother certainly did. I met her in the flesh when she came to Sydney for my brother’s Bar Mitzvah in 1997, the year prior to the writing of the postcard. The hug she gave me on arrival nearly suffocated me. She’s very tall. I thought she was a giant. At the time, all my family’s attention was centred on my brother, but Denise spent hours listening to me talk about whatever crap interested me as a seven year-old. I think that was just when my almanac and atlas obsession was kicking off (which involved memorisation of capital city names, populations, GDPs, flags and even the shapes of urban sprawls (Bombay being a small lamb-chop, London a large fried egg), some of which data is still scattered in the recesses of my mind, now hopelessly out of date). When Denise returned to Toronto, my mother stood and cried in the terminal for half an hour, and for the duration of the drive back to Woollahra. I cried as well. I remember that clearly. It must have been one of the first times I cried empathetically.
Even though it was never sent, the postcard succeeded in producing the immediate action for which I was hoping. The Wednesday that I handed it to my mother was the last that I attended Woollahra Public School. By writing that postcard, I had emancipated myself from the not-so-great academic future that fate had in-store for me, that of following my brother’s footsteps through to the mediocre Woollahra Public Opportunity Class and the selective but under-funded Sydney Boys High School. Instead, that evening, my mother called up a South African Jewish educator with whom her sister used to teach, who was now the principal of a small private Orthodox Jewish Day School with mostly students of South African Jewish parents. She told him about the situation and pleaded with him to accept me into the Year 3 class as soon as possible. The feeble opposition presented by my father, a self-hating Jewish Marxist, was quashed with an iron fist and enough decibels to shatter the dome of the Reichstag. The next day I was at the uniform shop on Anzac Parade, excitedly trying on my first miniature school-tie (in navy blue), and a matching tunic and kippar (by way of contrast, the uniform at Woollahra Public had been a washed-out yellow polo shirt worn with whatever grey shorts or tracksuit trousers the student’s parents could afford).
Just like my Israelite ancestors, I had freed myself from bondage and was standing at the gates of heaven at Mount Sinai, Mount Sinai College, that is. Unlike most of the days that preceded this turning point in my life, I remember that first day vividly. I remember my extremely energetic and small teacher meeting me at the reception while the rest of the class had a double-period of Jewish Studies with the ‘Morah’. I spoke to her about my favourite countries (Brazil and the Russian Federation), books (Give Yourself Goosebumps and The Twits) and dinosaurs (Triceratops and Dipladocus) and she just listened. I remember being introduced to my classmates who were very well-mannered and weren’t scared of me and didn’t give me any reason to be scared of them. I was invited to play handball at recess. I wasn’t very good, but no one made fun of me for my lack of coordination. In any case, they were brown-haired Dover Heights Jews and not blonde-haired Woollahra WASPs, so they weren’t that much better than me. When my mother picked me up, I listed off all the names of the ‘friends’ I had made that day. And by the end of the next week, I had received my first invitation to one of their suburban palaces, a house at which I would spend many of my weekends over the next few years playing The Sims.
I recently attended an Engagement Party in Vaucluse at which I bumped into a peer those days with whom I was chummy enough that we invited each other to our laser-zone birthday parties in Royal Randwick Shopping Centre in Year 4. He had rich South African parents (unlike my poor ones), was good at sport and most definitely qualified as a popular kid. He was a bit trolleyed at the party, so he decided to recount a story I’d previous not heard, that of how one lunchtime, he and the other boys had been playing soccer when they noticed metres away the new boy prancing around a field with some sort of flower in his hair. This story greatly resonated – I still tend to channel a Rihanna-like nature goddess (circa “Only Girl in the World” video) by performing a celebratory floral dance in an open field (such as Queens Park, preferably at sunset) when I’m in a good mood, and I was most certainly in a good mood during my first few weeks in my cosy new environs. But once the laughter died down in the circle, the first burning question that came through to my lips was, “how on earth was it that you all didn’t bully the living daylights out of me?”. My old school pal, who still has a mischievous, racoon-like look about him as a 27 year-old engineer (or something construction-related), narrowed his brown eyes, shrugged his shoulders and responded, “I don’t know. We liked you. We thought you were cool.”
Over Years 4, 5 and 6, my social skills improved exponentially and my more extreme idiosyncrasies diminished substantially – ‘get-togethers’ at Fox Studios to see D-grade hits such as Britney Spear’s first (and last?) foray onto big-screen, Crossroads, replacing the digestion of publications by Gregory’s and The Times on my weekend agenda. But some of my more trenchant eccentricities remained uncorrected. In Year 5, I went trick-or-treating with the entire soccer team (who themselves were all dressed in boy-costumes), dressed as a female flamenco dancer. No one asked why and no one seemed to care. In Year 6, as my entry into the Talent Quest that was held every year on the last night of the school camp, I attempted to choreograph a drag performance to “Lady Marmalade” (a video for which I waited with bated breath to appear on Rage every Saturday Morning, the song having been lifted from Moulin Rouge!, a film which despite having seen at the cinema no less than seven times when it first came out, five of them at Fox Studios, took me until rewatching it this year to realise it was about prostitution – much like it took me until I was fourteen to realise that I was gay). Right up until I succumbed to the misgivings of the school principal and pulled us out of the lineup just two weeks before camp, I had three willing pre-pubescent male sidekicks to be the Mya, P!nk and Lil Kim to my X-tina. I had even bought us all feather bowers from the two-dollar shop. Yet despite my immutable individualism, I had somehow managed the impossible. I had become socially accepted. As much was confirmed by the comment by my Year 6 teacher in my final school report:
I’m not quite sure “muzzl[ing] his way into the group, the socially acceptable set” is something an eleven-year-old ought to be commended for by his school-teacher, nor am I certain it’s appropriate to label a child of this age an “intelligent, erudite bibliophile” and as such worthy of congratulating for merely “avoid[ing] the social isolation” that would seem destined for such a character (especially one with a “unique manner”). But aside from proving that I was not as averse to sports as I’d remembered being (I still cannot believe I was in a rugby, cricket and soccer team, even if just at B level – I don’t recall ever knowing how to play soccer), I felt I had to share this particular school report (of 21 December 2001) to provide a point of contrast with the postcard that predates it by only three years. The shift from the pain, fear and hopelessness smeared all over the first exhibit, to the confidence, esteem and optimism reflected in the second demonstrates how the single factor of transitioning from a school which turned the other cheek to bullying to one which actively promoted an inclusive environment, where teachers were able to give ‘outlier’ students the attention required to adequately assess and respond to their individual needs (largely because of having the luxury of classroom sizes about half the size) could enable the blossoming of a battered, reclusive eight-year-old kid who struggled to look adults in the eye into a star student who attended twenty birthday parties in Year 6 alone, kissed the prettiest girl in the year at the Dance, graduated as Dux of the School, received a full scholarship to study at a private High School up the road and became, in spite of some rather less happy psychological consequences of an Orthodox Jewish Indoctrination on certain parts of his psyche, an otherwise well-integrated and happy eleven-year-old child.
Thank God (or whoever) that even at eight, I possessed the survival instinct that still serves me well when I feel the energy of an emotional atomic bomb trapped inside the leaden shell of my being – that of picking up a pen and letting some of this energy escape through its nib. And thank God (or Buddha…Allah…Britney…) that my mother was able to ‘read’ my cry for help accurately. It’s a shame she had to start shelling out extortionate private school fees for someone to care about her eight-year-old son getting the crap beaten out of him. Especially because it meant we had to get rid of our non-live-in house-cleaner. I don’t think the kitchen floors ever got cleaned again.
Yet, although it is true that everything did change for the better once I moved schools, I don’t think I ever quite managed to erase the internalised perception of my own nothingness that having my selfhood consistently and systematically reduced as a child brought about. Sometimes I worry that I’ll always move through the world carrying the mark of the bullied child, a notion captured brilliantly in the absurdist film, Colossal (2017, starring Anne Hathaway). This concern is based on my behaviour during incidents such as the time I travelled alone through Colombia when I was 24 (part of a longer, round-the-world gallivant). I genuinely like travelling alone. What I mean by this is that I like booking hotel rooms meant for couples just for one person, and only taking up the very edge of the king-size bed, curling into a little ball held firmly in place by perfectly fitting sheets, and bathing in Jacuzzis alone while drinking a tiny bottle of gin or wine from the minibar and reading a good book (or just singing – nice hotel room ensuites usually have great acoustics), and drinking in bars and eating in restaurants alone (while reading, or just glaring at people), and going to the theatre alone and going to art museums alone, and going for walks along promenades alone and taking taxis alone to airports to take long-distance flights, alone. I don’t do ‘solo travelling’ so I can be accosted by a bunch of strangers who want to befriend me. Or so I thought before my Colombian sojourn.
The incident occurred after a classic four days of solitarily explorations in Cartagena. When a shuttle service arrived at my hotel to take me to the next city along the Caribbean coast, I slid the door open, hopped into the back row and hoped I would be left to read Travels with my Aunt in peace. But two beefy and tanned dudes, one an Air Canada pilot and the other a Californian windsurfer, who had been staying together at a hostel, jumped in and sat right next to me, and immediately started to chat. Tourists tend to be very chatty in Colombia, especially younger ones (something in the water?) By the time we arrived in Taganga, we had spent the best part of four hours talking about all sorts of stupid stuff. We disembarked together and began walking up and down the main street looking for lodgings for what was now an unspoken ‘us’. We found a cheap room in a concrete hovel (in which the dividing wall between the area for sleeping and the area for excretion was more of a parapet), dropped off our things and went in search of a dinner-venue on the beachfront. The manner in which these light-hearted jocks had incorporated me into their travelling posse had been so easy that I hardly noticed what was happening, but as soon as we sat still and the realisation that I was no longer a solo traveller began to make itself felt, a deep-seeded voice of doubt began to make itself heard. This voice wasn’t telling me that something was wrong with them – it was telling me that there was something wrong with me. Somehow my memories of ever having had successfully made friends were erased, and I was just a lonely, bullied child again. A seductive internal voice reminded me that there was a good reason why people had (supposedly) never befriended me before, and that it was only a matter of time before these ostensibly willing companions would find out what that good reason was. The voice became increasingly urgent. I felt guilty for not drawing to these ‘normal’ strangers’ attentions the reason why I belonged on the outer. I felt fearful for their reaction when they would find it out themselves, and thought it would be not only fairer but self-preserving if I was the one who instigated the inevitable rejection.
But the problem was that I couldn’t quite identify or articulate the specific reason for this sensed inferiority. And I couldn’t just say to them “I think I ought to tell you that I’m, well, just, not a very cool person, so maybe I should just go.” So I searched for some precise and compelling reason for why I was incontrovertibly a creep. It came to me on the walk back from dinner. when an appropriate gap in the conversation emerged, I cleared my throat, and with a degree of gravitas announced, “guys, before we go back to the hostel, there’s something I feel I ought to tell you about myself. I think it’s important that you know before deciding if you want to include me in your plans. I promise there won’t be any hard feelings if you decide you’d prefer I stayed somewhere else tonight after you hear what I have to say.”
They both gave me the same startled, slightly concerned look.
I looked around a bit awkwardly and blankly stated, “I’m gay”.
There was a short silence and then the Canadian began roughly tussling my scalp with his knuckle, expelling a protracted “der!”
“Of course you are”, added the American, putting his brawny arm around my shoulder and urging me quite forcefully back towards the hostel.
I realised pretty quickly how much less big and revealing my big reveal was in reality than it had been in my head. Neither of the pair had displayed the remotest signs of homophobic behaviour, and there wasn’t realistically any chance that they didn’t already know I was gay, unless they hadn’t before encountered a single gay person. I’m pretty sure there’s at least one fairy roaming around the streets of both Vancouver and the Orange County. And in retrospect, I don’t even think I was genuinely fearful that they would be put off by my gayness. But being gay just seemed like the most probable answer to the identity of the terrible secret I was certain that I was keeping from them. Because the explanation that these normal-seeming strangers only wanted to be my friends because of some deception or fraud on my part seemed far more plausible than the reality that they genuinely liked me for who I was. Fortunately, the pair were mature (and intoxicated) enough to nonchalantly sweep aside my paranoia, thwarting my inner bully’s plan to once again make my internalised perception of unworthiness a self-fulfilling prophecy. And in case you’re wondering whether my new friends’ unexpected friendliness was due to their own concealed homosexuality, I can assure you, after sharing a room with them for a week, that if anything they were a bit too into the female sex (or maybe that’s just how all straight men are? If so, I feel sorry for straight women. Ouch.) Regardless, the unlikely three amigos ended up having an exceptionally Colombian string of adventures, culminating in a 10pm hike through Tyrona National Park. It was I who instigated the 90 minute moonlit stroll, which traversed various creeks and boulders and was in aid of reaching a hammock campsite that offered a bit more action than the one at which we first landed, while wearing Thai pyjama trousers and flip-flops (one of which that broke half-way through), and carrying a bottle of red in one-hand and an iPhone serving as an ineffective torch in the other. We all survived, and the pilot and I kept in touch for a while.
I’d love to end by happily reflecting that my eight-year-old bully was the last person to enter my life that made me feel like I was les than a human. That would almost be true. Though I’ve found myself stuck in several relationships that involve an unhealthy degree of manipulation, powerplay or exploitation, I almost never had to subject myself to such total degradation again. Almost. Unfortunately, there was one other person whose presence in my life was so pervasive and pernicious that I reached the point of feeling like I no longer existed, or wanted to. I met this person sixteen years after escaping my first tormentor. She was my first boss at the law firm at which I used to work. I shared her office for six months and spent up to twenty-fours a day working literally under her nose. But I’m not going to talk about her here. I had to spend more than enough time with her in real life, and now I’m spending more than enough time in a fictional life with a character who speaks, smells and looks remarkably like her, right down to the falling flakes of reptilian skin scratched off her withered cheek by an un-manicured fingernail (as seen in the reflection on the glass in front of the desk of her ‘trainee’). If you want to read more about this character, feel free to pre-purchase your copy of my debut novel The City at Kickstarter, and in doing so, help me to get it finished as soon as possible. Debbie doesn’t like to be kept waiting.