Thursday, 6 May 2010

Big School

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?”


  1. Great story, love the small bird of panic hatching,the staring houses.One fear being greater than another sums skool up.

  2. Hooked from the first two paragraphs. Really engaging writing. Love the focus on all the small details, especially that satchel bumping on the hip.

  3. Beautiful writing Argent.

  4. awww... very nice :-)
    I think everyone has been that kid from time to time.. Even as a grown up I find myself there occasionally...

  5. All true. I have heard the story from Jane and family throughout our marriage. Jane puts the truth so eloquently.
    I wish I could remember my childhood so clearly. All I remember from my first day at school was being left at the gate for a strange lady to care for me. How much more frightening for somebody who only sees in Black and White, with limited distance etc?

  6. @TFE - Thanks and that's so true: school being one fear after another.

    @Titus - Thanks. That old satchel stayed with me for years after I left school, until an unwise storage decision esulted in it getting all mildewy. I can still conjure up that smell though.

    @Niamh - Thank you.

    @Watercats - I still am that kid. New jobs are liek that when I first start at them, I'm suddenly the kid at the chain-link fence again.

    @John - It's a shame they never properly explain what going to happen before they dump you at the school gates. This was secondary school, so I knew what was likely to happen anyway.

  7. Great story! Since I was oldest I was always the one in my family to go by myself to new schools - kindergarten through college. And then I went to Zambia alone. I well remember that feeling of panic & observation. I actually think it's good training for being an adult.

  8. You nailed the sensation of apartness. That was me in seventh grade. I had been uprooted and moved to a far-away place, and in November too. Very good writing, Argent.

  9. @Bug - You are so brave, going off to Zambia alone. I'm too chicken to do that kind of thing. I get anxious if I have to go away for a few days on a course or something. It might be good training, but I still hate new places/jobs etc. Does this mean I'm still a big kid? Probably.

    @Enchanted Oak - Thank you. At least I never had to be uprooted like that.

  10. great writing as usual. Very atmospheric of that first feeling of arriving somewhere new and not knowing even where to begin

  11. @Bug, Respect for going to Africa.
    Don't listen to Jane. She left school to marry me, instead of finishing her A-Levels. We then went to live in Shannon Town, Ireland.
    That's bravery for you!
    I appreciate everything she did and I love her more for it too!

  12. @DFTP - I did feel very lost starting at secondary school. I survived though.

    @Evallin - Thank you!

  13. I've felt this way as an adult! Nice little piece.


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