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Then Id grabbed
at denim, a denim jacket I thought was mums but wasnt. I remember
thinking then that it should have been hers. She should have been there,
she should be here now.
I feel like a pigeon, tottering tentatively into the dining room.
Nothing prepares you for this. The classroom is one thing, new faces,
seats, books, toys. At least in there a kind voice tells me which
seat to take, which face to look at, which thing to touch. Now there
is no voice, just a roar, like the time in that shop when I wandered
in a sea of mums and dads but none of them were mine.
Here there is no denim, only pink cloth wrapped around an army of dinner
ladies. They all look the same hair scraped back with clips and
sticky stuff, pursed lips like edges of folded paper, so that the only
movement in their faces is the rapid darting of dark cloudless eyes. My
pigeon feet shuffle further on in the queue of children who - dont
know what a straight line is!
I want to disagree. From my angle were doing a pretty good job,
but to challenge Mrs.Markham, Ive been told, is to take on God herself
and Im way too scared and hungry to argue with anything holy right
now. Im nearing the front with Jack (my brother, if Ive not
mentioned so already), whose hand is squeezing mine tightly.
Over there, quickly. We havent got all day!
This is it, I think to myself; the moment, the rite of passage that every
four year old must go through finding your own way to a place in
the dinner hall. Jack takes the lead. Jack will look after me. His hand
begins to pull me through the rows of tables carpeted in plates, mushy
carrots and soggy chips. Im glad Ive got a packed lunch. Mum
says packed lunches are healthier, Mrs. Markham says that theyre
for spoilt children who think theyre better than her staffs
cooking. I want to tell her that shes right. That both me and my
brother are better than the mush on the plates that stinks like the inside
of my hamsters cage. Poor Harry, I think. I really must change his saw
Where do you think you are going?
I stop in my tracks. We both do. As the din around us slowly fades, I
feel unable to move.
Turn around. Now!
Jack tugs at my arm so that Im forced to turn. I do so hesitantly,
with the reluctance of a four year old unwilling to acknowledge an adult
instruction, but with the terror of a private whose sergeant is about
to have him court marshalled. At first she doesnt speak, but I can
read her hatred in those eyes better than my a, b, cs or Letterland.
Why do we need an alphabet when eyes say it all? But the silence is filling
up with questions which she doesnt give us time to answer
Are we stupid? Does it look like theres seats there? Are we
going to cause this much trouble for her everyday?
Each word is louder and each blast brings more spit.
Where shall we go then miss?
I want to kick Jack, tell him that he should have kept quiet, that she
wasnt asking us real questions. But the heat of her glare solders
my mouth shut and my limbs stone still.
Walk back towards me this instant or you will be sorry. What are
you waiting for you naughty children!? I suddenly realise that the
others were wrong. Mrs. Markham is not God but the devil himself. I remember
now being told at church that he can look like a human and I cant
understand why no one else has made this amazing discovery. Im sure
if I told a priest he could have him, or her (Im slightly confused
as to which it is) exorcised. But Im no priest and at any moment
she/he could launch at me with those devil horns disguised as plaits and
that pitch fork concealed under nylon.
I wish instead of pigeon feet I had pigeon wings so I could fly away,
or better still fly above Mrs. Markham to drop on her from high range.
Id aim for the eyes. But instead, I sidle slowly back towards her
with Jack pinned to my leg. I tell myself that if I dont look right
at her, everything will be all right. In a way, Im right. Were
both sent to the back of the queue. We are threatened to be quiet, or
else. To help her with work by clearing pates, or else. To obey, or else.
When I get home that night mum asks me about my day. I begin to speak
but tears take over. I tell her everything and she rocks me calmly in
her arms and tells me its all over now. That shell have
words with that Markham. I sob that its no good. Im
not scared of going back. Its just I know that God will never forgive
me for clearing those plates; for helping the devil with his work.
© Emma Callan October 2007
Emma is studying on the MA in Creative Writing at the University of Portsmouth
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