It is decision time for Ollie. Will his dad rescue him? Does he want to be rescued? Can he bear to turn his back on the new things in his life? Maybe, being a girl is what he wants after all.
When my dad arrived on Friday night I was upstairs in my room having a crisis. I couldn’t decide what to wear and the more I searched for something boy- like the more I realised how far all my things had become either ambiguous or just feminine. My trousers had a flare to the bottom or flowery patterns sewn in, my drawers were full of tights and girls’ underwear, all my tops were girl ones and I no longer had any pyjamas. I sat on my bed in my school uniform feeling dejected. I did not want to go downstairs looking so girly.
Mum came up. “What’s the matter?”
“I’ve got nothing to wear for the weekend,” I said.
“I’ve sorted all that out,” she said. “I’ve packed a bag.”
“But what about this evening?” I asked.
“Why not wear your dungarees,” she suggested as she left. I agreed. Boys as well as girls wore dungarees. No one would think that was silly. I chose my white t- shirt with the silhouette of a male ballet dancer on it because I thought, correctly, that the bib of my dungarees would hide it. I felt better when that was sorted out and was ready to go downstairs and meet dad when he arrived through my bedroom door. He looked around carefully, his face not giving anything away and then he hugged me tight. “Hello, Ollie.” It was great to hug him. He made me feel safe and I hoped he would bring a stop to all the things that had been happening to me since Alison arrived on the scene.
“This room looks different,” he said at last. I was immediately conscious of all the things that made this room look like a girl’s room.
“Who chose the posters?” he asked.
“I did,” I replied quietly. “I wanted to make Hannah feel better.”
“Oh yes, your special friend. I’ve heard about her.”
I really wanted to tell him how worried I was about the changes they were forcing on me but I didn’t want to do it at home where mum could hear me. I also didn’t want to stay in my bedroom. It didn’t feel like the best place to say what I wanted to say.
“Can we go?” I asked. Dad stood up and grabbed my weekend bag.
“We’ve got a great weekend planned,” he said. “All the things we used to like doing together, starting with swimming.”
I froze. “I haven’t got any swimming trunks,” I said.
“Don’t worry,” he replied. “I’ve got it all sorted.” That was a relief. I knew my dad would rescue me. Just the way he said those words made me feel like everything was going to be all right. We headed off, saying goodbye to mum on the way out.
“Go and wait by the car, Ollie,” he said. “I want to talk to mum.” Already he was putting things right, I could see. He was taking charge and I felt better than I had in months.
I waited and waited in the car and then decided to go and hurry him up. The leisure centre would be closed by the time we got there. I approached the door but heard raised voices so stopped. This felt right. Dad was fighting on my side.
“Why not ask him?” I heard mum say.
“But it isn’t right,” dad replied.
“Come on, you’ve said yourself that things weren’t normal. It needed sorting out.”
There was a silence. I didn’t know whether to interrupt or not. Then I heard mum’s voice again.
“Just ask him. Whatever answers he gives will tell you what you need to know and what you have to face up to.”
Then I heard dad approach the door so I rushed back to the car. When he appeared, he was all smiles as if there hadn’t been a row at all.
“Mum said you wanted your ears pierced. Is that right?” he asked.
I hesitated. I couldn’t tell a lie and get mum into trouble but the right answer wouldn’t tell the whole truth. Dad continued.
“Mum said you didn’t want it done and then changed your mind. Is that right?”
I still didn’t answer. He looked at me.
“Let’s try another one. Mum says that you asked for black tights when you went shopping.”
“I did but…” I couldn’t find the words to tell him just what I wanted to, so I stopped. He continued, “and that you wore a leotard, that you love ballet now, and that you spend a lot of time doing girls’ things with Hannah. Is this correct?” He looked at me, not in a stern way but his face was searching mine for an answer. I didn’t know what to say that would satisfy him.
“Mum has told me some of this on the ‘phone. It is one of the reasons I came down here this weekend, so that we could find out what is best for you.”
“Why were you and mum shouting?” I asked, trying to change the subject. He hesitated before answering, wondering how far he should go.
“I thought mum might have been forcing you to act and dress in a way…” he hesitated again, “...in a way that you might not like.” That was it!
“Yes dad, “ I said. A glimmer of hope at last was appearing. “I don’t want to be a girl. I want some of my boy things back and I don’t want to wear girls’ clothes.”
Dad smiled. He looked somewhat relieved but then his face clouded.
“This is important,” he said. “Are you telling me that you don’t like doing all the girl things mum has been telling me about?”
“That’s right dad.”
He looked confused. “Then why did you ask mum to buy you tights?”
“I don’t know. It was like a game to start with. I went along with bits of it but then it grew.” My voice trailed off. It sounded pathetic and I knew it, but at least I had got through to dad.
I decided I could tell him more. It was dark in the car now and with the streetlight I could only see dad’s face in shadow. This meant it was easier to say some things. I wouldn’t be able to see his face clearly.
“The boys at school don’t play with me anymore,” I said. “Only girls do.”
He turned his head in my direction.
“Do the boys bully you?” he asked.
“That’s what mum said. She said the school did a good job.” I stared at him.
“What does that mean?”
It was his turn to stare at me. “You don’t know?”
“That mum went into school to sort all this out for you,” he replied.
“Sort what out.” My voice was rising now.
“You wanting to be a girl.”
“I don’t want to be a girl!” I shouted.
Dad calmed me down. When he thought he could continue, he took a deep breath. “Mum went to see the headteacher and told her that you wanted to be a girl. They were very understanding, mum told me. They said they would make sure you fitted in and didn’t get bullied.”
That explained why no one mentioned any of the changes to my hair or my clothes. It explained why no boys played with me or had anything to do with me. It explained why only the girls hung around me.
“Are you sure you haven’t been bullied?” dad asked again. “If you have I’m going up that school…”
“Nobody has bullied me, dad,” I interrupted. “Nobody has said anything about it at all.” I was horrified to think that the whole class had listened to Mrs Vincent explain that I wanted to be a girl. It was so humiliating to think that I had been spoken about like that, especially as it wasn’t true.
“Look Oliver,” dad started. “Most boys would have put up a fight or would have treated it as a joke at least,” he said. “You didn’t do either of those things. Why not?”
“At first, I just sort of went along with it. I didn’t want to upset anyone but then…” I ran out of steam and started to cry. It was a mixture of humiliation and relief. Dad seemed to believe me… and he had called me ‘Oliver’. I hadn’t been called that for ages.
“Don’t worry, son. We can get this sorted out,” he said. “I’ll talk to your mum and we can get it all sorted.” When I heard this I just sobbed. He had called me ‘son’. At last my ordeal was coming to an end.
We were about to drive off when he saw Mr Thomas approach his front door carrying his shopping.
“Just a minute, Oliver,” he said and jumped out to call him over. Mr Thomas was pleased to see dad. They had always got on well together. They chatted by the side of the car with me inside in the passenger seat. From where I was sitting I could hear everything.
“Ted, I’m just a bit worried by what I’ve seen this evening,” he began.
“How do you mean, Joe?” Mr Thomas asked.
“Well, I arrived and…” He paused. He was finding it difficult to know how to go on.
“Ollie looked very different from the last time I saw him,” he said at last.
“Ah yes,” Mr Thomas replied. “I have to agree with you there. Judy has talked to me about it. She has been very concerned you know.”
“She told me that on the phone but…” Dad paused again. “The thing is Ted, Ollie has told me that his mum has forced him to wear girls’ things.”
I was so proud of my dad. He really was going to sort things out. “Do you think that is true?” dad asked, eventually.
Mr Thomas shifted the weight from one foot to the other. “Joe, I can only tell you what I have seen. You might not like to hear it, though.”
“I need to know the truth, Ted,” dad answered.
“The truth is that I have seen Ollie wearing a girl’s leotard outside in the garden. I was a bit surprised at first but his friend explained that they like to dance. Many boys do that, Joe. There’s nothing wrong with dancing but…” It was his turn to pause, not sure of how to carry on. “I’ve also seen him in girls’ underwear. I went round to return a pie dish and Ollie came into the kitchen in just his underwear, and it wasn’t boys’ stuff.”
“But Ollie says his mum forced him to wear that stuff.”
“Joe, I know this is hard for you,” he said. There was a pause. “I heard Ollie ask his mum if he could wear black tights to school.” There was another pause. I waited hoping my dad would tell Mr Thomas he hadn’t understood.
“Are you sure?” he asked.
“He said it as bold as brass. Judy wouldn’t let him of course, but he definitely wanted to. I’ve seen him in tights quite a few times, actually. He came round one time to deliver something wearing blue tights. I was quite surprised I can tell you. I can also tell you Judy wasn’t behind him forcing him.”
Listening in the car I could feel things slipping away from me again. I wanted to get out of the car and shout at Mr Thomas, except…except everything he said was true…more or less. I was relying on dad to see that I was being tricked. I waited for dad to answer but there was only a long silence. Eventually, Mr Thomas continued.
“Judy came around to talk to me about it. She was very worried, you know. She didn’t know whether to be firm with him or let him have his way and wear girls’ things. I’m glad it isn’t a decision I have to make.”
“What a fool I’ve been,” dad said, quietly.
“The earrings were the last straw as far as Judy was concerned. He and his friend Hannah used to look at the jewellery all the time in town according to Judy and they planned to get their ears pierced when they were ten. Judy came round while Ollie was at school. She used to get very upset about it all. He wouldn’t have his hair cut, he wore girls’ things and he took down his Star Wars posters and replaced them with…well, you’ve probably seen for yourself.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Mum had been very clever. I was trapped every way I went.
“What would you do if you were me?” dad asked Mr Thomas.
“I wouldn’t let him play you around. Either he wants to be a girl or he doesn’t.”
That was true. At least now I could explain and get back to normal. Mr Thomas continued, “Let him be a girl, but all the time. Then you can find out what he is really up to.”
What did that mean? What I was really up to? Mr Thomas obviously thought I was the devious one. He went on, “If he really wants to be a girl he will love it. If he doesn’t then this might cure him of the silly games.” Silly games? What was he talking about?
“You could be right,” dad said.
“I have to warn you, though, that I gave the same advice to Judy,” Mr Thomas said. “She said she couldn’t be that cruel. So, Joe, I have to tell you, I don’t think she was making him do anything he didn’t want to.”
Dad said goodbye to Mr Thomas and came back to the car. I wanted to explain that everything was all mixed up but dad looked cross, very cross. At first he didn’t say anything, he just gripped the steering wheel. I waited, not sure what to do.
“Right,” he said at last. “Let’s go swimming.” He started the car and we headed off to the leisure centre. I wondered if I should remind him I didn’t have any swimming trunks but I didn’t like to break the silence until he did.
At the leisure centre dad bought the tickets and headed for the changing rooms. I followed but we were stopped on our way in. “Is your daughter at primary school?” a young man asked. He was a little nervous of dad, who in his mood looked quite intimidating. “Children of the opposite sex are only allowed to accompany their parents in changing rooms until the age of eleven,” he mumbled. Dad turned to me and barked, “How old are you?”
“Ten,” I said back in a barely audible voice.
“Satisfied,” he snapped back at the young attendant and stormed into the male changing room. I followed.
Inside two boys were undressed changing. They saw me and grabbed towels to hide themselves, obviously thinking I was a girl. Their reaction was not lost on dad.
“We’ll use a cubicle,” he said.
Inside I whispered to him, “Dad, I haven’t got any trunks remember?” He ignored me and got undressed. I waited not sure what to do. He was worked up and I didn’t like being the cause of more trouble. When he had finished changing he put his hand in his bag and pulled out my swimming costume, the one I wore at Hannah’s house that time. “Put it on,” he barked at me.
“I don’t want to,” I said.
“You’re used to it aren’t you?”
“I’ve never worn it in public,” I said.
“Why, are you only a part- time girl?” He was really nasty. I hesitated and hoped he would calm down. He gave me a hard stare. It was obvious he wasn’t backing down. The swimming costume was still held out between us. Slowly, I undressed. As soon as I unhooked my dungarees he saw the T- shirt with the ballet dancer on it. He used his finger to stretch it out so that he could see the design. His face told me he was not impressed.
Before I pulled down my trousers I realised my pants were girl ones. I held on to my dungarees, not wanting them to fall to the ground. He noticed this, too.
“I know what you’re wearing,” he announced. “Don’t bother to hide.”
I stepped out of my trousers and pants and then put on the swimming costume.
“Is it a perfect fit?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said, quietly.
“Thought so.” He left the cubicle and I followed, aware that I was in a public place in a girl’s swimming costume. I didn’t dare look up in case I saw anyone looking at me. It felt as if every eye was on me. I kept my hands folded in front of my boyhood, worried that everyone would notice me. Dad saw how embarrassed I was.
“Don’t worry,” he said. “No one is looking at you.” His voice was less angry, more tired. “In any case, you look nothing like a boy. Nobody is going to suspect.”
I was quite pleased at this. Not because I wanted to look like a girl but because I really didn’t want anyone to know I was a boy dressed as a girl. Dad jumped in the pool and swam off. I stayed in the shallow end not sure what to do. Dad completed length after length, obviously to calm himself down. Eventually, he swam back to where I was treading water. I hadn’t swum at all. He looked at me. I looked down at the water.
“Ollie, there’s no need to worry. I’m not angry at you… well, I’m not angry because of the way you are…” He struggled to find the right words. “I don’t like being lied to, that’s all.”
“I haven’t lied to you,” I said.
“I can understand that it is hard for you to say how you feel inside…”
“I haven’t lied,” I tried again. He stared at me.
“You have to admit to yourself how you really feel. It is time to stop pretending.” He took my hands and pulled me into a hug. I started crying, I didn’t know what else to do. A life- guard appeared at the side of the pool.
“Everything all right, here?” he asked.
“Yes thanks,” dad replied. “My little girl is just upset that’s all.” I hated hearing that. My dad had called me his ‘little girl’. The person who I thought would rescue me had closed the door on the trap mum had set for me.
“If I can help at all sir,” the guard continued.
“No, it’s alright. We’re getting out now anyway,” dad answered.
Back in the changing rooms dad stopped for a shower but I headed straight back to the cubicle where I dried my eyes on the towel. I didn’t know what to do. Dad thought I was lying to him. He thought I really wanted to be a girl and was too afraid to admit it. ‘I wish Hannah was here,’ I thought to myself. ‘I wonder what they’ll be doing now!’ Usually on a Friday evening we played in my room, then we would watch a DVD or we would dance. It was weird. Wishing for Hannah to be around was like proving my dad was right but things didn’t seem to be about being a boy or girl when she was around, they were just about having fun.
Dad joined me in the cubicle. He got dressed quickly. I sat still, not knowing what to do. Eventually, he picked up my bag and pulled out some navy blue tights. He handed them to me.
“I’ll wear my dungarees,” I said and picked them off the peg.
“You’ll wear the tights,” he replied and his voice told me he meant business.
“Why?” I whined trying not to cry.
“Because we are going out to eat and you need to look respectable,” he answered.
“But I can’t go out in just tights,” I replied. Mostly when I wore tights I wore them with a T-shirt. And it was always at home when Hannah and I were playing. “Dad, please…” I started. I stopped because from out of the bag he had pulled a dress. It was burgundy and blue checked with a blue bow at the front. I stared at it and then at dad.
“I’ve never worn a dress, dad,” I said. My voice was tiny. I didn’t recognise as my own.
“Well tonight will be special then, won’t it?” he said.
“Even when playing dress up with Hannah, I’ve never worn a dress…”I said. It was a plea as much as a statement. “Daddy, please.” I don’t know where ‘daddy’ came from but I was desperate.
He placed his hand on my front which had the desired effect of making me sit down. He then took the tights and gathered them up like mum had done a few months ago. He put them on one foot then the other and made me stand up. Then he worked the tights all the way up my leg like an expert. I felt so humiliated. It had been bad enough having to wear tights in front of mum but even after getting used to that I never thought dad would make me wear them.
He took the dress and sorted it out so that he could put it over me. I wrapped my arms around myself as if this might stop him. If I didn’t co-operate there was no way he would be able to dress me.
Dad and I stood opposite each other in the small space. I tried to look determined but dad looked equally stubborn.
“I don’t like being lied to, Ollie,” he said.
“I didn’t lie,” I said again.
“Did you ask mum for black tights?”
I paused. He waited for an answer. “Yes,” I said at last.
“Did you dance around in a leotard?”
“It wasn’t my idea,” I tried as an answer.
“Did you dance around in a leotard?”
He waited again. “Yes,” I said.
“Did you promise Hannah you could both get your ears pierced together?”
“Is it true you swapped your Star Wars poster for that boy band poster?”
“Is it true you asked mum if you could wear the girls’ swimming costume?”
“Only because I didn’t want to swim naked,” I said.
“Is it true you asked mum if you could wear it,” he asked again his voice rising for emphasis.
“I don’t like being lied to, Ollie.” He stared at me. I stared at the ground. I thought I might cry again but in fact no tears fell.
“Step inside,” he demanded. He held the dress open in front of me. I stepped into it and he pulled it up sliding it up my arms. When I was in he did up the zip encasing me in the burgundy and blue checked dress that many ten year- old girls would have loved. He turned me around and as he did I was aware of the swish of the dress as it turned with me.
“Sit,” he commanded. I sat down, dejected. He took out a pair of blue mary- jane shoes, the type that little girls wear. He put them on me. He didn’t expect me to do anything. I didn’t protest. I seemed to have lost all power to make people understand what I wanted.
“Stand,” he commanded. I stood up, slowly. He brushed my hair and pulled it into a ponytail. When he had finished he looked at me. “Very pretty,” he said and he smiled. I looked down. He lifted my chin with his finger. “Everything is going to be all right,” he said. “There is nothing to be ashamed of. You are a very pretty little girl.” He gathered his things and put them in his bag. He stuffed my dungarees away and when he was finished, he looked at me again.
I walked out of the leisure centre self conscious in a way I had never been before. I felt every swish of the dress against my legs. I looked down to avoid looking anywhere else, certainly not at people. But looking down at my tights and dress and girly shoes just emphasised how badly trapped I was.
I followed behind dad but he grabbed my hand and held it all the way to the car, something he hadn’t done for years. “Where would you like to eat”, he said. “You used to like MacDonald’s,” he continued. I did not want to go there. Friends from school would be there. Actually, I should say ‘the boys from school would be there’- they were no longer my friends.
“Can we have chips?” I asked. “And eat them in the car?”
“Okay, as long as you don’t get grease on your dress. Mummy will not be pleased. It cost her a lot of money, she told me.”
I bet it did. Mum and Alison had trapped me. I thought dad was going to rescue me and now, here I was in a dress. Something Mum had been too clever to make me wear before.
We stayed at a hotel near home. We always did this since dad moved away. It was easier than driving all the way north, he said. It meant we got to see each other and had a bit of a holiday. I hoped the man at the desk didn’t recognise me. He remembered dad, though.
“Good to see you again,” he said. “Hello, miss,” he said to me. I smiled, shyly.
“What happened to that little boy of yours?” he asked dad. I thought he was referring to the way I was dressed and was about to say something but dad headed me off. “Staying his mum this time,” he said. “Just me and my little girl.” I was going to remind him that he didn’t like lying but actually I was grateful that he hadn’t made things worse for me.
“I thought you only had a young son,” the man said conversationally as he carried out his booking tasks.
“Ah well, you don’t know everything about me,” Dad replied.
“That’s true,” he said. “I hope your daughter knows that you talk about your son more than you talk about her,” he joked. He turned to me. “If I were you sweetie, I’d use that to get just what you want out of him.” Dad smiled and picked up the key.
In the room I relaxed a little. At least I didn’t have to worry about who might see me. Dad put on the telly and climbed on the bed. After a bit I joined him and he allowed me to cuddle up to him. I loved that. I felt so safe when he was in charge. Every so often I glanced down and was reminded of how I looked but when I concentrated on the television I could forget.
“When did it all start?” dad asked out of the blue. It was hard to know how to answer that.
“Hannah and I were dancing one day,” I said.
“But boys dance as well, Ollie,” he replied. “You don’t decide to be a girl because you like to dance.”
I was about to repeat that I didn’t want to be a girl but I didn’t want to argue again and snuggled up to dad felt very special. I didn’t want to spoil it. The feeling of being snuggled up to dad in a way I never did as a boy was wonderful. I didn’t want this moment to end but dad said, “Tomorrow there are big choices to make, Ollie.” I looked up at him. “You can’t keep this up, going between boy and girl. That’s why I’m here this weekend. To sort this out.” I held my breath. I had no idea whether this was going to make him angry again or not. I started to speak but he stopped me. “Don’t say anything now. I want you to think about it. In the morning you have a big decision to make.” He kissed the top of my head.
I went to bed clear in my mind that this was my chance to return to being a boy. I wasn’t relieved. I didn’t feel ‘rescued’. I just felt confused. There had been things about being a girl that I had enjoyed. Maybe I would miss them. And, strangest of all, in the middle of my anxiety about wearing a dress for the first time, through my head had gone the thought ‘I wish Hannah could see me!’ What did THAT say? I no longer felt sure about who I was. At school I found myself watching boys and thinking how silly they could be. ‘Boys!’ I had even said to myself on one occasion when someone had said or done something stupid. I was no longer part of that group! Yet, I knew I wasn’t a girl. I had never wanted to be a girl but I had really, and I mean ‘really’ loved being near Hannah and doing things with her. Is this what happened when you were friends with a girl?
The next morning Dad woke me to say he was heading off to breakfast and that I should join him when I was dressed. I found two sets of clothes on the chair. The boys’ clothes were combat trousers and a football top- stuff that I used to wear, when I was allowed to. The second pile had a denim skirt- not the sort of thing I would ever wear and a pink, long armed t- shirt with a cartoon of a girl with wild braids across the middle. Not even Mum or Alison had presented me with this type of outfit. At least it was clear what I wasn’t going to wear and what I was. I picked up the football top with a smile on my face. It felt better to know where I stood. But then I spotted the tights. They were in the wrong pile, under the soccer top. They were purple with a design of pink hearts up the leg. I picked them up. It was one of the few things I had discovered from the last few confusing months. I loved wearing tights. It was at this moment that I realised it clearly for the first time. I know I had felt awkward when first made to wear them, and being seen by Mr Thomas wearing them had been embarrassing, but I had gradually come to realise that they were so comfortable and I often put on a pair with a sweatshirt for hanging about the house. Sometimes, I had put them on under trousers when we went out at weekends. Having my own pairs, quite a few now in different colours, had helped. But I had never, never had a pair with a pattern on. And here were purple tights with hearts of differing shades of pink that would appear on the outside of my legs as I walked. I put them on- only to see what they looked like. I was an expert by now. They looked fantastic. I stood in front of the mirror admiring myself. Then I put on the t- shirt. I could tell that the football top would look ridiculous with tights, besides it was red and it would clash. The top and tights went well together. I kept turning sideways to the mirror and turning my head to get a better look. The trouble was the design on the tights stopped at my thigh. Why didn’t it go all the way up? It would look better if it ended where my t- shirt began. I pulled at my top to see if it could reach down but it didn’t. Then I realised that the whole point was that these tights were designed to be worn with a skirt- the design would show where the leg was exposed. This may seem obvious but it wasn’t to me back then. I picked up the skirt, not meaning to wear it but just so that I could hold it in position in front of me. It was difficult to keep it in position when I was standing sideways trying to see how my legs looked. I decided to put it on. Another perfect fit! And the tights looked wonderful! I couldn’t take my eyes off my legs. I had never before wanted to wear a skirt but I could see why it made sense with these tights. I was completely taken with them. ‘Enamoured’ is the word I would use now. I was enamoured with my legs in these tights.
When Dad came back to find out what was taking so long I was till admiring myself in the mirror. He looked at me, as if trying to find the right words, and then said, “You look lovely, sweetie.” He had never called me that before. I didn’t expect him back so soon. “I wondered what was taking you so long,” he explained. I thought I had time to change back to the boys’ clothes, although…and this was another moment of realisation…I didn’t want to take off the tights. They looked so good. Dad interrupted my thoughts, “Do you like it, the outfit I mean. I chose it myself.” I looked up at him. He looked nervous and unsure of himself.
“It’s perfect,” I replied. Meaning it. The tights were. He smiled, relieved.
“Not something I have had to do before…buy clothes for a girl. Good job mum told me your size.”
I felt confused. I had trapped myself, now but as I looked at myself in the mirror again I wished Hannah could see me. These tights seemed more grown up somehow and I knew Hannah would love them. So would Chloe. Did this mean I was turning into a girl? Was it my doing and not my mum’s? The best bit, though, came next. “How about some boots to go with that outfit?” dad said. They were the height of fashion and I happened to know that Chloe was desperate for a pair. I nodded. I wasn’t falling into a trap anymore- I was jumping!
End of Part Four
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