Lisa Smith


Lisa Smith

Lisa Smith was born in London, and studied Combined Arts at The University of Liverpool. She became a filmmaker and has directed documentaries on subjects as varied as stand-up comedy in prisons and childbirth. After spending a few years writing up more ideas for short stories than TV programmes, Lisa applied to Goldsmiths. Her favourite writers include Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Andrea Levy and Philip Roth. She is currently working on her first novel.
Contact: lssmith [at] me [dot] com



“Happy Easter!” 

Donna’s mum was heavy-lidded, and still wearing her red satin kimono as she presented her twin daughters with a tube of strawberry lip-balm and phial of Panache perfume. Donna glanced across at her sister, Tanisha, who was doing a better job of masking her disappointment. 

“Thank you,” she mumbled.

“Wha? Yuh expect Easter eggs! Yuh nah baby nuh more, uno nearly tun’ eleven, so nuh need no chocolate to rot uno teeth and give yuh pimples.”

Their mum eased herself onto the settee and reached for the packet of cigarettes resting on the coffee table. 

“Mummy, you said you’d come to church with us today,” Donna said.

“Darling me cyan’t possibly g'long a' church when me hair tun’ so!” Her Mum pointed at the china bumps beneath her do-rag, straining to be released and combed out. “You want dem uptight, holy women there to look down 'pon me? Cha!  Mi gwan run the hot comb through mi hair after mi done wash it.”

“But you said you’d come. I’ll be standing up in front of the whole congregation to recite today’s Golden Text. You know I'm really nervous, won’t you come? Just this once!” 

“Nah bother worry yourself! Mi hear your oration enough time already this week mi know it backwards–and mi sure you do too. Now gwan go get ready, it’s getting late.” 

Their mum had been entertaining until gone midnight, which was why they had all overslept. Grandma Dora hated unpunctuality, stating that it was “vain and attention-seeking to walk in a’ church late.” Donna took a deep breath. There was no use crying. They had ten minutes to get dressed if they had a hope of making it to church on time. The last thing she needed was to annoy Grandma as well as everything else. 

She shed her pyjamas and pulled on the new Sunday outfit Grandma Dora had bought for them. When she was younger, Donna loved the pastel-coloured dresses with crinoline and lace trim that her grandma considered appropriate churchgoing attire. On their fifth birthday she and Tanisha were given a pair of white shoes with ankle straps and high-heels, as well as their first pair of white-lace gloves. She had felt like a princess as she clip-clopped through the estate on Sunday mornings, hoping to rouse the other residents from their beds. She’d imagined them looking out and admiring her and Tanisha as they walked along beside their mum, who would be dressed up in her navy blue suit and smelling like Lily of the Valley. Back then going to church was a family outing. Mum still hoping a good Christian man might be prepared to take on a youngish woman with two pretty little children. Nowadays Mum avoided church, and Donna loathed the fussy garments Grandma chose in order to make them look ‘respectable.’ At the age of ten it was no longer cute for her and her twin sister to be dressed in identical outfits. It was embarrassing. Donna looked at herself in the mirror, and a strange, frumpy girl dressed in a midi-length skirt with matching bolero, a frilly blouse, and white nylon tights stared back. She was pleased nowadays that most of the people in the estate were asleep as they hurried along the path. 

Mum pressed a fifty-pence piece into each of her daughter’s palms. Before shooing them out of the flat, she pursed her lips and sent a kiss through the air to Donna. 

"That’s for luck! Now g’long a' your grandmother house after the service and tell her me will pass by later to collect uno.” 

Donna groaned inwardly, realising that she and Tanisha would be clad in their matching church clothes for the rest of the day.


“Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. And if I go… And if I go… oh, why can’t I remember it now!” 

Donna had always wanted the opportunity to recite the Golden Text. It was a chance to stand up in church and deliver the all-important verses the sermon would be based on. In addition, the speaker received a £2 book token after the service. She had rehearsed the lines all week, only taking time out to play football on Saturday afternoon because she was confident John 14, verses 1-6, was firmly lodged in her brain. Yet as she walked to church, the words she'd been able to recite so fluently the day before had begun to dissolve like the Alka-Seltzer she had placed on her mum's bedside-table an hour ago. She would wind up looking like a fool in front of the entire congregation. Donna stopped to consult the crib card, but it was difficult to flip the clasp on her macramé purse in her anxious state, especially while wearing white lace gloves. The bag slipped from her hands and landed on the ground. She attempted to dust it clean, but the grime from the path clung to the handbag like iron filings on a magnet.

“Here, let me,” said Tanisha, who always waited until they were practically at the church steps before slipping her gloves on, ready for Grandma Dora's inspection. She snapped open the purse and Donna fished out the index card covered in Sister Nelson's looping script. The words all blurred into each other and, rather than calming her nerves, Donna felt her panic rising. She had planned to go over it again last night, to give it one last run-through just to make sure, but the ladies in their Mum’s Avon circle had begun descending on their home the minute the clock had struck seven. It had been her job to show them into the living room, where Mum had her free samples and special offers already laid out. After that, she and Tanisha had been tasked with moving among the tables to top up drinks, empty the ashtrays and keep the cut glass bowls brimming with snacks. 

As usual, the women had come dressed-down in jeans or velour tracksuits, claiming to only have time for “a quick peek,” though they had all wound up staying for the nibbles, the ready-mixed Martini and the gossip. Donna marvelled at how her mum worked the room, coaxing the women into more daring shades of lipstick, concealing their crow’s feet beneath audacious layers of eye shadow, erasing worry lines with the right blend of foundation and flattery. The council estate mums were transformed. While the funk of sweet musk and Embassy Mild settled, the big women’s talk turned to absent baby fathers, new boyfriends and who had been seen going out with whom behind so-and-so’s back. Crouched beside her sister in the corner next to the stereo, Donna’s ears were pricked. She had no idea the lives of the grown-ups she saw around her every day were so complicated. So fascinating. Eventually Mum ushered her girls upstairs to bed, but the silky-smooth rhythm of Lovers Rock accompanied by muffled laughter and the clinking of glasses seeped up from the living room for a long time afterwards. The comforting bassline had lulled Donna into a delicious sleep.


Being chosen to recite the Golden Text for the Easter Day service was a particular honour, usually only given to the older children in Sunday school. Donna would be the youngest ever to address the congregation, not that she had been top of the list. Sister Nelson had first asked Margery Lawrence, who was twelve going-on thirteen, and had started wearing brassieres with cup-sizes and tinted lip-gloss. Margery had turned the Sunday school teacher down flat, stating brazenly that she expected to have the curse on Easter Sunday, so would prefer to sit quietly in the congregation. Then Margery’s friends, Hyacinth Cook and Jennifer Johnson, claimed that they would also have the curse by Easter Day, so couldn’t volunteer either. Sister Nelson had begun to get flustered. She told them that that particular subject was “inappropriate to mention casually in the House of the Lord!” The girls had just rolled their eyes and sniggered into their gloved hands. Donna didn’t know much about those things, but thought it unlikely that they were telling the truth. Margery was just being what her mum would call “faisty.” Donna could tell that they looked down on the aging spinster. 

“Margery and that lot just want to sit near the boys in the back rows, passing notes and giggling,” she said to Tanisha, while they washed up the dinner plates later.

“So what. I suppose you just get more into boys and make-up and things when you’re their age,” Tanisha replied.  

Donna suspected that her sister thought Margery was cool, and was about to accuse her of such when Mum entered the kitchen.

“Margery Lawrence shouldn’t think that just because she a’ flirt with churchgoing boys it nah mean she nuh have fi be careful.” She kissed her teeth and flipped the switch on the kettle. “Mi know a thing or two about that,” she muttered.


After studying the card, Donna put it back in her bag. Tanisha was scraping her heels along the path, sulking about not having received an Easter egg from their mum. Donna felt much the same. If becoming a woman meant getting make-up rather than chocolate, then she wished she could remain a girl!

“I’ll tell you what,” said her sister.

“What?” said Donna, looking at her watch. They would have to hurry. 

“Well, what if rather than throwing our tithe, we keep the fifty-pence Mum gave us and buy ourselves a couple of Creme Eggs. They’ll still have some in the shops tomorrow and they might even be cheaper by then.”

“I don’t think that’s such a good idea.”

“Of course it is! When the collection plate comes round, just pass it on. If Grandma asks, I’ll tell her Mummy didn’t have any money. It’s easy!”

“You’d tell a lie! In church!”

Tanisha shrugged. “Its just a small one. Listen, it’s Easter Day right? Mum hasn’t bothered to get us anything, but she has given us money for the offering, yeah? So if we buy ourselves Easter eggs, we’ll still be doing something godly, innit?” 

Donna quickened her pace.

“We’re gonna be late,” she said. 


The quickest route to church was to walk underneath The Memorial Arch. This was the point where the local train lines met before branching off towards Victoria, Blackfriars and London Bridge, so the archway was more like a tunnel. Even during the hottest summers, moisture would trickle from its vaulted ceilings, down the moss-covered brickwork and onto the cobbles streaked with pigeon shit. Like most kids from down their way, the sisters had been cautioned against taking that short-cut without an adult, though no grown up had ever offered an actual explanation for the ban, so they and all the neighbourhood children were left to speculate. Some said an old man in a dirty overcoat was seen hanging around with a bag of sweets. Or was it an old man in a dirty overcoat who was seen hanging around with a box of kittens? Others said an old man was seen hanging around wearing nothing but a dirty overcoat. Donna and Tanisha paused at the mouth of the archway and gazed at the small semi-circle of light at the other end.  

“Perhaps we should go around?” 

Tanisha shook her head. 

“Listen, either we go this way or we’ll be late, really late. And if we’re late, then all the ear-ache I’ve had with you rehearsing that flippin’ Golden Text all week will have been for nothing!” 

Donna hesitated for a moment and then linked her arm through Tanisha’s.  She felt her twin sister shiver as they traded the light and warmth of the spring morning for the cool darkness of the tunnel. 

“And If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” 

Donna spoke haltingly, and the hollow-sounding quality of her voice echoing around them felt unfamiliar. Unsettling. She thought about her mum and wondered if she had gone on to wash her hair after all, or simply taken another tablet and gone back to bed. After the service, they would have to go to Grandma Dora’s house, where they would end up staying for lunch and more than likely remain for the rest of the day, listening to Jim Reeves on the record player because there would be no telly (given that it’s “the Lord’s Day”). Donna’s thoughts drifted to the coin in the hanky pocket of her bolero. Grandma would easily believe that their mum hadn’t any spare cash that week, or had even just forgotten to give them any offering. She forced the temptation from her mind. There was always an outside chance that Grandma might have some chocolate biscuits. 

Since it was a Sunday, they were halfway through the tunnel before a train thundered overhead. Its roar startled the roosting pigeons, and sent them into a synchronised exodus through the tunnel. Her sister leant into her, squeezing her arm. 

“Thomas saith unto him…” Donna made her voice more strident in order to steady her own nerves and be heard above the rumble. “… and Thomas saith unto him, Lord, we know not whither thou goest.” 

As the sound of the last train carriage faded into the distance, the birds grew calm and floated back up to the steel joists. Now Donna could hear footsteps mingling with the hum of pigeons nestling into the eaves. There was somebody behind them. They were close to the exit and the girls, still arm-in-arm, quickened their steps to an almost trot, the heels of their court shoes scraping up the dirt between the cobbled stones. Just as they stepped into the daylight, a rich baritone echoed down the passageway towards them, picking up where Donna had paused in the verse of scripture.

“Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” 

They turned and blinked into the archway. A man dressed in a sombre dark suit, white shirt and a red bow tie emerged from the semi-gloom of the tunnel. A silver cross pinned to his lapel glistened where it caught the sunlight, and both hands were clasping what looked like a bible sheathed in a navy leather pouch. The man smiled as he approached them. 

“Mi just love John 14! I heard you reciting the scripture and it did sound so nice that mi feel like me just had to join in. Mi hope mi never frightened you.”

“It’s okay,” Tanisha said.  Donna nodded, mute as a lamb. 

“Mi have to say, why are two nice young girls like you walking under this railway line? Your mother nuh warn you off this route?”

“She did. But we’re in a hurry, we’re late,” Tanisha replied. 

The man’s smile broadened to reveal a gap between his two front teeth. 

“Anyway, I’d like to wish you church-going girls a Happy Easter.”

“Happy Easter,” they both mumbled looking down at their shoes. 

“Now I wonder if you can direct me to the Church of God and Prophesy. I believe it’s supposed to be around here somewhere.”

“We’ve never heard of it, sorry,” said Tanisha.

“You sure you nuh know it, I assumed it was there you were going.” 

“No. We go to Calvary Tabernacle. Sorry.”  

“All right, then may I trouble you for one thing further?” The gentleman leaned in, leering. “Can you just lift up your skirt a little and show me your panties?”

Tanisha gasped. Donna tugged at her sister’s arm in an effort to move away, but her sister stood rigid.

“Such pretty, clean young ladies, see how your tights stay so nice and white! Me just want to see if your panties stay nice too.” 

“Give us a quid,” Donna heard herself say, her tone flat and solemn. 

“Donna! What the–? ”

“–each! We want a quid each.”

The man raised an eyebrow and chuckled. “Not such nice girls after all. Mi like that, mi like that very much.”

The man produced a roll of cash from his trouser pocket. He separated two crisp green notes and wafted them in front of Donna like a fan. She gazed at the picture of Sir Isaac Newton. They’d studied him last year in science. She swallowed, inched towards him, and then snatched the notes, crumpling them up in her white-gloved hand. The man chuckled again.

“Stand back a bit first,” she ordered.  

Still chuckling the man sauntered back two steps, all the while leaving his eyes pinned to the hem of Donna’s skirt. The sunlight caught on his smart silver pin. She took a deep breath.

“We can’t show you our pants because we aren’t wearing any,” she screamed. “Leg it Tanisha. Now!”


“…And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God, this is the spirit of the Antichrist…”

“…Ye are of God little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world…1 John 4, 4!” 

“Yes, amen my Sister, amen.”

Grandma Dora – or Sister Macintosh, as she was known on Sundays – was waiting on the steps of the Calvary Tabernacle, duelling in scripture with Brother Butler. She kissed her teeth when she spotted her two granddaughters tearing down the street as if Satan and his legions were pursuing them. 

“Must you have fi run so? It’s so unladylike! Your mother nah accompany uno to church this morning?”

“No grandma,” Donna said, gasping for breath. “She’s… not well.” 

“You nah get fi kill nuh fatted calf today, Sister Macintosh,” said Brother Butler with a grin, sauntering towards the church door. “But take heart. For I say unto you that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance. Luke 15, verse 7.”

Grandma Dora cut her eye and passed him. “Come nah, the service already start. Tanisha, put on your gloves!”

The congregation were singing ‘Blessed Redeemer’ while the offertory was going around. As it was a special occasion, the church was even fuller than usual, and there was no space left at the front. Sister Macintosh had to be content with sitting further back, and found a space for them in a pew halfway down the aisle. When the collection plate reached their row, Donna didn’t dare look up or around, she just quietly added her fifty-pence piece and returned her hand to her lap. Tanisha did the same, and their grandma nodded approvingly at her demure granddaughters before ostentatiously adding her own £5 note and handing the tithes back to the waiting usher. 

Detecting a flash of light in the corner of her eye, Donna looked up with a start. She turned her head but could see nothing, except that the church door was slightly swinging. Tanisha was sitting calmly, her eyes fixed straight ahead and her face set to neutral. Donna saw the gleam again, this time on her right side. Her eyes darted around and she held her breath, only to realise that it was sunlight reflecting off of the silver-plated salver, bouncing off the walls and ceiling as the usher carried it down to the pulpit. Her hand rested on the dust-caked clutch bag, which contained the lip-gloss, the perfume and a pair of crumpled £1 notes. The wooden pew felt cool against her back. She closed her eyes, breathed deeply and began mouthing the words of the Golden Text.

“Let not your heart be troubled… in my Father’s house there are many mansions…”