She’s always awake before everyone else. Early when there is nothing to distract her from the adventures in her head. No witch in the classroom threatening again and again – till her limbs freeze with fear – to call the police, send them all to jail for the night. For talking. No merciless teasing because she speaks English and her parents don’t go to church. She gathers her school clothes, tiptoes down the passage to the lounge with its enormous picture window overlooking the sloping veld and the vast ocean. Carefully she arranges her regulation red panties, dress, socks, shoes, arms and legs in a circle around herself. She picks up each item, feels it slide over her skin as she dresses.
‘Bye Mom,’ she calls out to the slippered, dressing-gowned woman squeezing orange juice in the kitchen.
‘You’re up so early again my darling. Maybe we should try putting you to bed later. Got your lunch? Well, have a good day then …’
The sun is still struggling up from under the cloudy covers and the magical pink and orange light of dawn makes the houses down the road look softer, almost pretty. Her bag on her back, she wanders, stretching time, bending down to look at the succulent weed with its fresh green leaves and silvery hairs against the red clay earth, ants scurrying busily around it.
She hums a tune, talks to herself. The first sign of madness says the library lady who smells of cigarettes and hairspray. ‘That’s okay, because she can’t hear me now.’
The main gate of the school comes into view, but that’s not where she’s heading. Not yet. Just before the imposing row of gum trees which marks the school boundary lies an undeveloped plot of land, an empty patch of veld and she can just make out the tentative track which meanders diagonally across, beckoning. She takes a couple of steps, the earth responds and the spiny bushes scratch her skinny legs. She stops, waits. She wants desperately to witness once again the miracle of the moment before the harsh spotlight of day proves to her she’s been wrong all along to think there could be anything beautiful about these tenacious little bushes with their stunted branches and steely, grey-green leaves.
She takes a few more steps. The veld stretches all around her now. There’s a plovers’ nest nearby and soon the frantic parents will fly up and chase her away swooping down low over her head, filling the air with their siren-like wailing. ‘You’re-meant to-be at-school little-girl!’ And she’ll force herself to stay calm, comforting them. She means them no harm, please! Let her share with them for a brief moment a glimpse of the way the world was meant to be. Please. Because soon she has to enter those walls and learn. Learn to lock herself away.