When I first started school I felt very important as I got dressed in my new school uniform, although my feet hurt from those shiny black leather shoes. I was wearing a pale blue checked pinafore and I had a little school port to carry my lunch and a big smile on my face as I walked out to the car with my leather shoes creaking. Mum took a photo of all us children standing beside the car before we headed off to school, all lined up in height from Stephen down to me with the sun shining in my eyes.
As we got closer to the school, the smile started to slip from my face and I began to feel sick in my tummy and my head ached. Mum said it was just butterflies and they would soon go away, but I didn’t like this feeling very much. A teacher met us at the school gate and Mum introduced me. ‘This is Molly,’ she said smiling at the teacher. ‘Molly, say hello to Mrs Mills.’ But I didn’t want to say hello. The butterflies had flown away with my voice and I just wanted to hide behind Mum’s legs.
‘Molly’s a bit shy,’ said Mum.
‘That’s okay,’ Mrs Mills replied in a stern voice, ‘We know how to deal with shy children. Come on Molly,’ she tried to take my hand but I started to cry and pulled my hand away from her; I didn’t want to go with this strange lady with the grey hair and glasses. Mrs Mills was determined though and soon I was marching through the school gate to join all the other children starting kindergarten.
I was scared and kept my eyes on the ground, trying to stop the tears in front of all these strange children. ‘Look at the little cry baby,’ yelled a boy in long shorts scornfully.
‘Leave her alone Darren,’ a tall girl said. She came over and asked me my name.
‘M – Molly,’ I tried to say in between sniffles.
‘I’m Stephanie, Molly, and we’re going to be friends,’ she said bravely. ‘Don’t worry about Darren, he’s just a boy.’
I gave Stephanie a little smile as the teacher told us all to line up. We then had to march to a classroom holding the hand of the person next to us. I was glad I had Stephanie’s hand to hold; it felt warm and soft while mine was all cold. Stephanie had a nice face with straight brown hair that hung past her shoulders. She seemed to be much more confident than I was.
Once I got inside the classroom, the morning was spent colouring in a piece of paper that had our names on it. I already knew how to recognize mine — M – O – L – L – Y — and I coloured it in like a pretty rainbow. We had some time before lunch so I started drawing a few butterflies on the page, when Mrs Mills came past and looked over my shoulder. ‘That is a lovely drawing Molly, but try to keep it neat,’ she said. ‘You left-handed children are always so messy!’ I was still not sure if I liked Mrs Mills so I didn’t answer and kept my head down. I didn’t think my drawing was messy at all.
As I looked around the classroom, everyone else was busy working on their pictures. The sun looked nice shining through the windows and it threw shadows across the room. One wall was lined with a bookcase, full of colourful books that I longed to explore and as I stared at their different shapes I wondered what exciting things were inside. The wall had some posters on it; one showed a fox jumping over a dog that was on the ground sleeping. Other posters had pictures of animals with words written above them. Alongside the doorway was a picture of a tall giraffe. It reached nearly to the top of the door and had little lines and numbers on it.
I lifted my head and stared at the ceiling which was painted white and had long bars of fluorescent lights shining down. I looked at them until my eyes felt dazzled and when I blinked I could still see those strips of bright white light against the back of my eyelids. I kept my eyes closed for a few seconds until the white strips began to go blurry and then slowly turned black.
There was a clock above the door and I could hear it ticking loudly in the quiet classroom. Tick, tick, tick, it went as I watched the little hand sweeping around so fast and I wondered why the other hands didn’t seem to be moving at all. I thought about Mum and what she would be doing right now. Probably vacuuming and dancing around the house to the radio. If I was home right now I could be playing with my dolls in my bedroom. Tick, tick, tick… I watched the clock and started to feel myself yawn. The door was open beneath the clock and I could see the playground outside. I was starting to get bored and I wriggled around in my seat to get comfortable. I wished I was out in the playground and running around in the fresh air.
I looked around the classroom again and saw heads bobbing up and down all over the place and other children wriggling in their seats. The desks were arranged in squares, with four children to a table, and these were spaced around the room like the petals of a flower. My desk was brown and had a little hole in one corner. Underneath the hole there was a small shelf and I started to amuse myself by poking my coloured pencils into the hole.
Sitting at the desk with me were Stephanie and two other girls, but I couldn’t remember their names. Stephanie was concentrating hard on her drawing and I watched the way her eyes moved up and down with the pencil. She had a little frown on her forehead that made her look grown up and wise. The other girls were also busy with their drawings. One of them had blonde hair tied up in a pony tail that swished around as she coloured in her name. The other one had straight brown hair that was cut short to just below her ears. She had her head down on her arm and was staring intently at the pencil dancing across her page. Every now and then she yawned and I could see the redness at the back of her mouth.
At the front of the room was a blackboard and Mrs Mills’ desk. She was sitting at her desk and reading a book. ‘MRS MILLS’ was written in huge white chalk letters across the blackboard. I wondered if she would smile more if she had used coloured chalk to write her name. I looked down at her desk which had some books and other important looking things on it in black containers, all neatly stacked in rows. They looked like little soldiers ready to march as soon as Mrs Mills gave the command. She was wearing a brown skirt that covered her knees and she had thick black shoes that clomped on the wooden floor when she walked. Her hair was pulled back very tight from her face, making it look like her eyes had been stretched so that she could watch the whole classroom at once. She looked very scary when she was sitting at her desk and when I saw her eyes watching me I quickly looked back down at my drawing.
At lunchtime we were allowed to sit on seats on the verandah outside the classroom to eat lunch. I had some sandwiches with vegemite and Stephanie had fish paste. We swapped half our sandwiches and I was sharing my little packet of sultanas with her when Mrs Mills came out of the classroom and told us that we could play on the grass for a little while until the bell rang.
There was lots of noise coming from the boys running around and chasing each other, playing one of those rough games Stephen had told me about. Stephanie and I walked down to the playground and lay on our backs on the grass, looking up at the ribbons of cloud floating by and talking about fairies. She told me there were fairies everywhere in her garden at home and that she liked to talk to them, but only when no-one else was around. I told Stephanie that I would like to be a princess one day and she said that her fairies could turn me into a princess if I liked. I was smiling to myself at that thought, when suddenly the clouds disappeared and some boys were standing above us.
‘There’s the cry baby with funny hair,’ they taunted.
‘Leave us alone,’ said Stephanie.
‘Make us,’ one of the boys replied.
‘I’ll make you all right,’ said Stephanie as she stood up and pushed one of the boys. ‘I said leave us alone!’
‘Look, the cry baby is crying again,’ said the boy named Darren. It was true, I wasn’t as brave as Stephanie and I was ashamed to find my eyes were full of tears again because these rough looking boys scared me so much.
‘Go away Darren or I’ll tell Mrs Mills,’ Stephanie warned. The boys ran off laughing and she put her arm around my shoulder. ‘Don’t worry about them, Molly. Darren lives near my house and he’s really just a big chicken.’ Just then the bell rang and we had to go back to class. I rubbed my eyes so they didn’t look so red but they still felt wet.
After lunch we were allowed to sit on the floor on little mats while the teacher read us a story about Harry the Hairy-nosed Wombat and his fight against men who wanted to build a new road over the top of his house. Mrs Mills let us lay down as she read about Harry’s burrow in the desert. My eyes felt heavy so I closed them for a minute while her voice droned on.
It was nice at the end of my burrow, all curled up in a ball sound asleep. From far above, I could hear the distant sounds of daytime, birds singing and the wind in the trees. A human voice could be heard from far away, but I was so snug that I ignored it. Then I thought I heard my name being called — ‘Molly,’— but that couldn’t be right when I was away out here in the desert. It got louder: ‘Molly! Molly, wake up.’ Suddenly there was a hand on my shoulder and I sat up on my reading mat, blinking my eyes against the bright sunlight. Some of the boys were giggling behind me and I could feel my cheeks getting hot. I wished I was back in my burrow.
After reading time, Mrs Mills took the class outside for a photo. The boys were pushing each other and being stupid until Mrs Mills yelled at them to stop it. She lined us all up in rows, with some of the boys standing on a bench at the back and a row of children standing in front. I stood with Stephanie but I could feel Darren’s knees digging into my back. I tried to ignore him and stood really still because I didn’t want Mrs Mills to yell at me, but I didn’t feel at all like smiling for the camera.
Eventually school finished for the day and I ran to the front gate to find Mum waiting under a big pine tree talking to some other mothers. ‘’Bye Stephanie,’ I called, waving my hand.
‘See you tomorrow, Molly,’ she yelled back.
‘Looks like you found a friend,’ said Mum. ‘How was your first day of school?’
‘It was horrible,’ I pouted. ‘Some boys were mean to me’.
‘Oh Molly, that’s not very nice. I’ll talk to Mrs Mills; I’m sure tomorrow will be better. The second day always is.’
‘Do I have to come back?’ I whined. I couldn’t see how it would ever be better.
‘Of course you do, Molly. You’re a big girl now’. I didn’t feel like a big girl anymore. I could feel hot tears welling up in my eyes again and I just wanted to get as far away from the school as I could.
As the school year progressed I began to learn how to write. With my little fingers clutched around a wooden pencil, I had to take down the words Mrs Mills had written on the board and put them in my exercise book. By the end of the day my fingers were so sore from gripping the pencil that my tired hand would drag over the page and smudge all the letters.
Every now and then the end of my pencil broke and I had to put my hand up and ask Mrs Mills if I could sharpen it. There was a mechanical pencil sharpener bolted to a cupboard and as I turned the handle it ground the pencil until it looked like a little sausage being eaten by a machine. Sometimes my pencil ended up so short that I could barely hold it in my fingers. Then the words danced all over the page and I couldn’t follow the correct slope at all, no matter how hard I tried, until the words eventually got washed down the slope by a flood of tears and Mrs Mills told me again how messy my writing was.
She pointed to the page with her ruler and told me there was something missing and that it was far too untidy. She said it looked like a spider had spun loopy webs of letters across the page and I had to fix it up before I could go home. I stared hard at the page for ages, but I couldn’t work out what she wanted me to do that would make it look any different so I just traced over the letters again with my pencil.
Once a week we went to the school library and we were allowed to borrow two books at a time. The first time I went into the library I just stood there amazed at how many books there were, all lined up in shelves that looked like they would have reached all the way up to the stars if the library roof didn’t stop them. There were so many books to read that I didn’t know where to start. I just wanted to sit there forever and read every single one of them.
One day we had a man come into the classroom with a guitar on his back. Mrs Mills said his name was Neil and he started playing songs as the class sat on the floor and listened. Neil had wild fuzzy hair and holes in his jeans and his guitar sparkled like diamonds. He was tall and spoke softly, but when he started playing the songs were so beautiful that I couldn’t stop my feet from moving. I enjoyed it when we were allowed to sing along and I loved the way singing made me feel so good, as if something alive was coming out of my body.
When I got home I told Mum that I wanted to play the guitar. ‘Perhaps when you get bigger, Molly,’ she said. ‘You know, girls don’t usually play guitar though, maybe you should just be a singer.’ But I was already bursting with music and I couldn’t stop thinking about Neil’s sparkly guitar and how the beautiful notes fell from it like starlight as I walked around the house singing ‘Morning Has Broken’ again and again.
‘Oh Molly, stop singing,’ Samantha yelled from her bedroom, ‘You are so hopeless. I’m trying to do my homework.’ I heard the radio that was playing in her bedroom get louder and she slammed the door shut, so I went into my bedroom and sang to Mr and Mrs Bear as they sat on my bed.
Every night I sang while I was having my bath, trying to get my voice as low as it would go as I sank down towards the bubbles. Then I tried to sing really high like an opera singer and I lifted my face up to the bathroom ceiling. ‘Molly!’ Mum called from the kitchen, ‘Stop being so noisy in there and hurry up and finish your bath.’
‘Okay Mum,’ I called back. I felt like I had finally found what I wanted to be when I grew up. ‘I listen to the wind, to the wind of my soul…’