A few weeks later the school year started and I found myself having yet another first day of school as I sat beside Mum outside the headmaster’s office. My hands were in my lap and I was looking at my black school shoes peeping out from under my skirt. At least this time I was in the same uniform as the other children, but I still felt funny in my tummy as my fingers touched the unfamiliar fabric of my blue skirt. I needed to go to the bathroom, but Mum said I should just hang on because we would be going to see the headmaster soon.
There was another little girl sitting in the waiting room and she was swinging her legs back and forth in the air. Every time I looked up she was staring back at me so I quickly looked down again and wished the headmaster would hurry up. The girl started humming to herself and I sneaked another look and found she was still looking at me. Before I had time to look away again she suddenly grinned and poked her tongue out.
Just then the door to the office opened and Mum took my hand and led me inside. As I walked past the little girl her lips mouthed the word ‘bye’ at me. I just grabbed Mum’s hand tighter until the door closed behind us, and then I found myself sitting stiffly on an uncomfortable chair.
“Mrs White,” the headmaster said as he read from a piece of paper in his hand. “I see from these report cards that young Molly has struggled a bit in some subjects.” He looked at Mum over the top of his glasses and I felt like she was getting into trouble.
“Well, she is good at reading and spelling,” said Mum. I looked down at my bony knees which were now poking out from under my skirt. I slowly started pushing my skirt down to cover them and was hoping that nobody would notice.
“Hmmm,” the headmaster replied, “but a ‘D’ in mathematics! We need to try a bit harder, don’t we young lady?” Suddenly he was looking at me and I found myself nodding slowly. He put the paper down as though he had come to a decision. “Mrs White, she is very small for her age as well, and perhaps you should consider holding her back a year. I do have my concerns over her abilities, so for now I will put her in Mr Rogan’s class to see how she goes. He is very good with slow children.”
“She’s not slow, Mr Brown,” said Mum. I could tell she was getting a bit annoyed. “She is shy, and sometimes that has meant the teachers have ignored her when she actually needed help. She is a very bright child.”
“Indeed, Mrs White, parents always know what’s best.”
He looked over his glasses at Mum for a moment before standing up from behind the desk. Mr Brown opened the office door and offered to shake Mum’s hand as we walked out.
“You can leave little Molly with my secretary. She will take her down to the classroom.”
Mum shook his hand and before I knew it the interview was over. When we got outside, Mum gave me a hug.
“Be brave, Molly,” she said and kissed me.
I kissed her back and said goodbye, then followed the lady across the playground. I hadn’t realised before that people thought I was a dumb kid. I kept thinking about that all morning as I tried really hard to do what Mr Rogan asked. I wanted to show him that I wasn’t dumb, but the harder I tried the more the numbers in my book kept getting mixed up. Sometimes I thought I had the right answer but when I checked the sums, I confused myself and would change all my answers and then just try to guess the correct number. By the time the bell went for lunchtime, my head was spinning so much it was hurting and I knew the headmaster must have been right.
I followed the other children out of the classroom and they ran off toward the playground. I found a bench under a tree and sat down to eat my lunch. I pulled my book of ‘Storm Boy’ out of my bag and started reading the last few chapters again. Mr Percival, the pelican, had been injured by some hunters and Storm Boy was looking after him until he got better. As I ate my lunch, I found myself back on the sand dune playing soldiers with Shawn. I didn’t realise at first, but a little tear dripped down my cheek and landed on my book with a plop. I kept reading until Mr Percival had been killed by the hunters and then Storm Boy was sent away to town to go to school. I knew exactly how he felt as he sat in that classroom and all he could think about was the lost freedom of the sand dunes.