I sat uncomfortably in the back seat with a stony expression set hard on my face. Surrounded by my childhood possessions that travelled everywhere with me; my bear, my blanket and my christening bangle, I could escape reality for a while – with them I wasn’t on the way to a new school where I knew no-one – they were my protection from the harsh actuality of the real world.
As the school loomed ever nearer in the dark, ominous mist of the frosty December morning, I became overwrought with nerves, shivering with apprehension, filled with dread. I tugged my coat on silently as I prepared to leave the car; I opened the door lethargically and mustered all my might to drag myself up from the safe haven I had created around me.
Anxiety set in as I approached the school gates, which were rusty and falling off their hinges, and my stomach plummeted to the floor as though I had swallowed a ton.
“Oww!” I exclaimed as a herd of stampeding children bustled past me in an excited rush, sending me colliding into a menacing sixth-former with formidable-looking earrings dangling from her over-sized ears. I cursed loudly as the sweet, sickly liquid she had been clutching ricocheted off my freshly washed denim jacket and splashed onto the floor.
“Blasphemy will not be tolerated in a school of such high standards young lady!” bellowed a stern teacher as she seized me by the scruff of the neck and dragged me towards the main building, an unsympathetic grimace settled firmly across her face.
The whole of the playground had stopped in its tracks. Heads turned and eyes focused, all on me, I could feel their watchful eyes boring holes into my back. The blush rising in my cheeks as my mind’s eye formed a humiliating picture of me, red as a ripe tomato, being the laughing stock of the entire school.
As we arrived outside the head teacher’s office, my distress slowly diminished and my nerves calmed, partly due to the soothing classical music that brought a sense of tranquillity to the serene surroundings I had just entered. I waited patiently alone for the schoolmistress to come out, enraptured by the hypnotic swaying of the mighty grandfather clock that stood in the corner of the room, and, when she finally emerged from her chamber, I was pleasantly surprised to find that she simply smiled empathetically and ushered me off down the corridor with a slight skip in her step, before even asking me why I was there. Perhaps I had received special treatment because I was new? Well, I wasn’t complaining…
Alone. All alone. I hadn’t a clue where I had been, where I was, or where I was heading – and I couldn’t find a soul as I wandered aimlessly through the school grounds. All the classrooms were unoccupied, desolate, lifeless, and the click-clack of my shoes echoed loudly all the way down the deserted hallway.
A deafening shout startled me as I took a hasty left turn into an empty room. I didn’t dare to peer out of the doorway to face whoever had made the alarming sound, so I sat down on a rickety old chair and skimmed through my reading book. The shouting got louder, and now more voices had joined in. They were coming ever nearer, and my muscles were tensing with every decibel that the noise increased by, I was silently willing them to disappear…
Bang! The door slammed open and pupils came streaming in, barging others aside as they knocked over tables and chairs. I contemplated how entering a classroom could be made into a riot by just a few rowdy kids, when something sharp jabbed me in the back. “Who are you?” snarled a burly red-haired boy, salivating all over my face in the process. He stared at me like I was a piece of dirt on his shoe, something that shouldn’t even be allowed to enter the same room as him. I looked around to find sympathy, but my weak smiles were met with a bevy of cold, cruel, calculating faces, scrutinising my every move with their harsh expressions.
The crowd dispersed after more sneers and sniggers at my expense as an old, grey-haired teacher walked in through the open doorway. She had an air of authority, matched only by the superior tone in her voice as she called out the register. “Stand up, little girl,” said the teacher in the most condescending voice I had ever heard, as she realised that my name was an unfamiliar one.
As I rose to my feet, stifled giggles punctuated the silence of the classroom, though the woman ignored the disturbance and continued humiliating me in front of my new classmates, asking me personal questions which I was forced to answer for fear of further embarrassment upon refusal. She spoke with a sense of disdain, and although I could detect an underlying tone of compassion, she obviously wanted to maintain her patronizing attitude in front of her class – but mortifying me at the same time!
The end of the morning lessons finally arrived, and, as I walked through the main doors to the canteen my spirits were uplifted as I became more optimistic at the prospect of a proper meal. The thought did not remain for long…
The stench hit me as soon as I pulled the door open, stinging my nostrils and making my stomach turn. I scuttled up to the conventional serving-hatch, contemporized by the stainless steel adornments that surrounded it, praying that it wasn’t the food that gave off such an odour, only to find that it was indeed the ghastly contents of what appeared to be regurgitated leftovers. I turned my nose up and trotted off to find the tuck-shop, the putrid odour was making me nauseous and I could not stay there any longer. Yuk…
Lessons began again at one-thirty. Again, there was a mad rush to get to the classrooms, the pitiless, ruthless, merciless savages that charged down the corridors pushed aside countless vulnerable first years; some were even knocked to the ground. I looked on in distress as I saw a barely visible head get squashed between the wall and the mob, when something jolted into the small of my back, bringing with it immense pain.
I was in sheer agony as I ran to the nearest toilet facilities, howling in pain as tears cascaded down my face like waterfalls. After staying in the cubicle for a short while, unable to move, I managed to get up and find a mirror, clouded over with grease and grime, the kind that had probably never been cleaned in its existence. As I peered through the thick film stuck on the glass, my distorted image squinted back at me.
I wiped a section of the mirror with the sleeve of my clean, pristine jumper, and suddenly my reflection, among other things, became much clearer. As I took a retrospective glance on the day I had experienced, I realised that I had a clean slate – a fresh new start – and I could make whatever impression I wanted with it. This was no time to be apathetic, I mused, I would not let myself be neglected and overlooked – I was going to make my mark, and the school had no idea what was about to hit it!