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Somehow, we get away with the baby. We can’t believe our luck when we land on the train, baby in her stroller cheeky as a monkey and the whole day ahead of us.

We work out how to use the brake on the pram. It’s a bit broken and a couple of times the pram rolls but we catch it in time. Once the train gets going, we talk about where we’ll go, what we might do. The plan is to go into town and walk around, maybe go down to the gardens and have lunch on the grass. We decide the baby eats mushy food so one of us will have to spoonfeed her, but she can probably eat chips because she’s good at holding things in her chubby little fist.

We both want to be the mother and argue about who will naturally look the part and be better at it. In the end, we agree to take turns pushing the pram. Whoever has the pram, if someone asks, that person can say they are the mother and the baby her baby. Even if no one asks, they will think one of us is the mother, the teenage mother with a baby, too young to have a baby, should be in school and where is the father? Some hopeless unreliable boy who’s run off or denied he’s the father anyway. So, no father in the picture, just a teenage mother with a baby in a pram and her friend, the other teenager.

We both want to be the mother and argue about who will naturally look the part and be better at it.

We’re heading for town but there are other places we could go with the pram. We think the housing commission flats might be a good place to start, so we get off at Macaulay Station. The high-rise flats rear up, four blocky buildings, fifty storeys high, arranged at angles to each other like Lego. We’ll blend in there, with the other teenage mothers and their pimply mates.

I push the pram to start with, and the baby falls asleep. We set off down Macaulay Road; it’s further than we thought to the flats. Several times older women pass us, checking the baby and then frowning at the sight of us. Boys who would usually hassle us or at least say something, look at us first then clock the pram and decide to keep going.

Things pick up once Leah takes over. The baby looks like she’s Leah’s baby, especially when she wakes and you can see they have the same blue eyes and curly hair. Leah is bossy about the pram once she gets hold of it, making all the decisions, striding ahead, inventing sudden dramas that require stopping, murmuring into the pram in a low serious voice.

When we finally get to the housing commission, we sit on one of the benches at the playground. It’s a shabby playground with two swings, one of them broken and hanging down, a monkey bar and a splintery seesaw. I open a juice box for the baby and put the straw in her mouth. She likes it but doesn’t know how to get the juice up the straw. Leah leans over me and gives the box a squeeze. When the baby swallows, the vacuum draws up more juice. We have taught the baby a new trick.

People come and go, old ladies pushing shopping trolleys, old guys with their dogs in rickety prams. Boys lair around on skateboards but we ignore them. Three little kids come to play on the monkey bars, and we hope the mother will join us. She might be a teenager too, popping out babies and scraping by on welfare and handouts. Doing her best.

Even the baby is bored, so we retrace our steps to the station, me with the pram this time. Two young mothers with strollers, mullets and piles of makeup come towards us, both smoking. One of them says something, probably about us, and the other one laughs. Bitches! We are all in the same boat.

Leah asks, ‘How old do you think they are?’

I reckon maybe eighteen, their kids are older than our one. They look tough. ‘How old do we look?’

Leah says fifteen or sixteen, which is good because we’re fourteen. We look like the kind of young where you think, God, that girl is too young to have a baby. She should be in school. Where’s the father, that irresponsible boy?

‘Should we get some ciggies?’

‘We could if you want but then we wouldn’t have money for food.’

A tough choice, the kind of tough choice a too-young single mother might find herself facing every day. Ciggies or food? Food or ciggies? A hard life but you wouldn’t trade the baby for anything in the world.

A tough choice, the kind of tough choice a too-young single mother might find herself facing every day.

Back at Macaulay Station the baby starts grizzling and we rock the pram. Next train is express, running straight through at high speed. The baby is bawling her head off. We could cross to the other platform and take her home but there’s still so much to do. It would be a waste to turn back now. Leah bounces the pram and I mop up baby snot with a shredded tissue. I talk to her in a squeaky cartoon voice and she likes that.

‘She’s just bored,’ I say.

Soon we are on the train again, racing towards the city.

‘Maybe she’s hungry?’ Leah lifts the baby onto her lap while I hunt around in the pram for food supplies. Under the mattress is a bag and in the bag a Tupperware container and three disposable nappies.

Leah sees the food box and snatches it. With one arm clamped around the baby’s middle, she opens the lid with her teeth. I take out a small jar of stewed apples, a spoon and four Salada biscuits. The baby lunges for the food.

I dig the spoon into the apple and hold it out to the baby who opens her mouth like a little bird. Adorable. I get the first spoonful in and she waves her little hand to say hurry up! As I’m holding out the second spoon, the train rocks and I miss. The baby swipes apple across her face. I get another spoon in quickly.

Leah suggests swapping but I keep going, next spoon in perfectly. The baby clings to the spoon and tries to feed herself, getting about half in. I take back the spoon and while I’m scraping the jar, she rubs apple mush into her eyes with both fists. It’s all over her face and hanging off her eyelashes. I get the last spoon in, and Leah holds her out to me.

I shake my head. ‘You’ve got her. You’re the mother!’

Leah doesn’t want to get dirty but too late. The baby grabs a handful of hair as Leah tucks her back in the pram. She’s a good baby and doesn’t mind being covered in sticky mush. I give her a biscuit and she holds out the other hand for more. With one in each hand, sucking and chewing, the baby relaxes and so do we.

The train pulls into the station and we look anywhere but at the messy baby. ‘You go,’ I say generously.

‘No, you. I was the mother on the train.’ Leah tucks the lump of hair behind her ear. ‘It’s your turn. Only fair.’

I take the pram and wrestle it off the train. The baby’s messy face and clothes aren’t the best advertisement for my mothering, but no one can shame me for having a baby too young. I’m the only one who knows how it was, finding myself pregnant, the boy irresponsible. The brave lonely birth and disapproving parents who cut me off rather than live with the scandal.

I wouldn’t give up my baby for the world.

I wouldn’t give up my baby for the world.

Humping the pram up the stairs and crossing the station takes ages. One woman looks at the baby, looks at us and flat-out scowls, as dour an old lady as you could ever hope to meet.

‘Tut, tut,’ says Leah and we run giggling with the pram into the scungy old toilets.

We need half a roll of toilet paper and handfuls of water to polish up the baby’s face and wash her darling hands. Leah rinses the hank of hair. I want to do something about the baby’s dress. The whole pram is stuck with half-chewed lumps of biscuit.

When the baby has clean hands, Leah wants to hold her while I do the grunt work. I undo the buttons on the back of the dress and peel it off the little body. She looks perfect in her white singlet and tights, her red slippers, flawless skin and bright eyes. Those curls!

‘She looks just like me,’ Leah says as she stands admiring the mother-daughter image in the

‘It’s not all about posing, you know.’ I pick pieces of food off the pram and shake out the sheet. I spot-clean the little dress without making it too wet to wear. I put the baby back in the pram, thread her little arms into the sleeves and do up the buttons at the back. She is all beautiful again.

This is an extract from Cautionary Tales for Excitable Girls by Anne Casey-Hardy (Simon & Schuster), available now at your local independent bookseller.