I have no friends here.
I’m standing on my own, staring through a chain-link fence; the wires have turned the world into a jigsaw made up entirely of diamond-shaped pieces. Of course, I didn’t think of that then. Then, I was just a kid on her own staring through a fence.
The houses across the road stare back at me without kindness or concern. I don’t belong to any one of them. This is not my street. I don’t even know where my street is: we came here on a bus and, after only a few turns, I might as well have been in Timbuktu.
Donna was supposed to be looking out for me. My mum had arranged it with her mum but Donna didn’t know me, we hadn’t been playmates or anything, so when we got here she just wandered off with her own friends.
Everybody here has their own friends, but then they would do: they’d all been together since they started school. I’d been at a different school and none of my friends were here. I could only imagine them: Janucz, my best friend, a Polish boy with an accent you could cut with a knife. Tracy, always with that distinctive whine in her voice as though just about ready to burst into tears at any minute – which she often did. Nasim, who had come to us with no English at all but who learned quickly in the total-immersion language-school of the playground (“Nasim, go and say ‘poo-poo’ to Mrs McCarthy”). Aktar and Aslan, the albino brothers from Pakistan. ‘Naughty’ Greg and ‘good’ Carl and all the rest.
I’d really wanted to come to this school. My older brother and sister had been here. This was a ‘normal’ school, not a ‘special’ school for partially-sighted kids like the one I had come from. Here, the desks were in neat rows, all facing the front, just like I’d read about in countless children’s books, not scattered randomly around the carpeted (carpeted!) classroom. Here, there were uniforms and homework. This was what a proper school was meant to be like.
I turn away from the fence and the uncaring houses to take another walk around the playground. My satchel, so new it still has that leather smell, bumps against my hip as I walk. No-one is impressed by it, or by my pristine white knee-socks, new shoes and smart grey blazer: they all have much the same things themselves.
Music is the next lesson and, as the bell goes, everyone disperses in the magical way of ants down the cracks in the pavement. I don’t know where Music is going to be, though, and, suddenly, there’s nobody to ask. I look around: no-one.
The houses over the road are no help. A small bird of panic hatches somewhere in my stomach: I’m going to be late for the lesson. I’m going to get into trouble. I’m going to get into trouble!
I start walking towards one of the classrooms, maybe I could ask somebody there. As I approach, a ginger-haired girl comes trotting round the corner of the building.
“Do you know where Music is?” I blurt out, fear of trouble overcoming my fear of strangers.
“Yeah!” she says, “ I’m going there now, come on if you want!”
We trot over to the portakabin where the fabled Music is and, as we climb the three wooden steps up to the door, the girl turns to me.
“Hi, I’m Janet. What’s your name?”