Wounding and redemption
Everything about Empangeni felt different. The sun on a winter’s day was almost balmy, kindly, in complete contrast to how the slim, dark-haired, ten year old girl felt on the inside. On the inside there was a tight and gripping chill, born of fear and loneliness and the isolation that comes with being the only one who is new at a school where everyone else has found their place and fit.
Morning break. In the time-honoured tradition of school children everywhere, the bell was greeted with a cheer, a scraping back of chairs, and the stampeding of feet heading for the playground. This was the part of the day she dreaded the most. The time when her tormentors were unavoidable, and no teacher ever seemed to notice her plight.
‘Don’t dawdle in the corridor, child,’ said Mrs Williams. ‘Go outside and enjoy the sunshine, it’s a beautiful day.’
Clutching her lunchbox, she headed out into the bright light. In order to seem like she had something to do, somewhere to go, she cautiously approached a group of girls, shouting and calling out to each other, playing hopscotch. A heavy, leaden sensation filled the pit of her stomach. Could anyone looking in from the outside have any notion of how sinister this scene actually is?
‘Oh, look who’s heading our way,’ the tallest of the girls said in a voice thickly smeared with loathing. ‘Miss Prissy with her lunchbox! Don’t think you’re playing in our game, new girl – go find some poor fools to play with, we don’t want you here.’
Can you imagine what it feels like for the hermit crab when his shell has become too tight? Can you imagine what it’s like to need to escape and to know that there’s no way out?
The tall girl was blonde and prematurely buxom – everything the shy new child was not. She held sway over her little court of admirers who would never dare to contradict her, knowing as they did the whiplash effect of her acerbic tongue. They laughed in unison, and repeated their leader’s taunts: ‘yeah, go away skinny balink, we don’t want you around.’ The girl stood frozen in the sunlight, a rabbit in the headlight glare.
‘Hey, hello there, you’re new aren’t you?’
The voice behind her made her jump. She dropped her lunchbox, and bit down on her lip to stop the tears.
‘I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to frighten you. Here, let me help. I’m Joe. What’s your name?’
As she crouched to rescue her sandwich and apple, she looked shyly from under her fringe at the boy who knelt by her side. He was heart-stopping, older than she by a year or two, gorgeous in every way. A loud hush had descended upon the group of hopscotch girls. As they stood up together, and her knight lead her away to join his group of friends, she could feel the wind on her back as it deflated her tormentors’ sails.