Chapter five

Soon after Christmas it is time for me to start school. I feel very important as I get dressed in my new school uniform for the first time, although my feet hurt from those shiny black leather shoes. I am wearing a pale blue checked pinafore and I have a little school port to carry my lunch and a big smile on my face as I walk out to the car with my leather shoes creaking. Mum takes a photo of all us children standing beside the car before we head off to school, all lined up in height from Stephen down to me with the sun shining in my eyes.
As we get closer to the school, the smile starts to slip from my face and I begin to feel sick in my tummy and my head is aching. Mum said that it is just butterflies and they will soon go away, but I don’t like this feeling very much. A teacher meets us at the school gate and Mum introduces me. “This is Molly” she says smiling at the teacher. “Molly, say hello to Mrs. Mills”. But I don’t want to say hello. The butterflies have flown away with my voice and I just want to hide behind Mum’s legs.
“Molly’s a bit shy” said Mum.
“That’s okay” Mrs. Mills replies in a stern voice, “We know how to deal with shy children. Come on Molly” she tries to take my hand but I start to cry and pull my hand away from her; I don’t want to go with this strange lady with the grey hair and glasses. Mrs. Mills is determined though and soon I am marching through the school gate to join all the other children starting kindergarten.
I am scared and keep my eyes on the ground, trying to stop the tears in front of all these strange children. “Look at the little cry baby” yells a boy in long shorts scornfully.
“Leave her alone Darren” one girl says. She comes over and asks me my name.
“M – Molly” I try to say in between sniffles.
“I’m Stephanie, Molly, and we’re going to be friends” she says bravely. “Don’t worry about Darren, he’s just a boy”.
I give Stephanie a little smile as the teacher tells us all to line up. We then have to march to a classroom holding the hand of the person next to us. I am glad I have Stephanie’s hand to hold; it feels warm and soft while mine is all cold. Stephanie has a nice face with straight brown hair that hangs past her shoulders. She is taller than me and seems to be much more confident than I am.
Once I get inside the classroom, the morning is spent colouring in a piece of paper that has our names on it. I already knew how to recognize mine — M – O – L – L – Y — and I colour it in like a pretty rainbow. We have some time before lunch so I start drawing a few butterflies on the page, when Mrs. Mills comes past and looks over my shoulder. “That is a lovely drawing Molly, but try to stay inside the lines” she said. “You left-handed children are always so messy!” I am still not sure if I like Mrs. Mills so I don’t answer and kept my head down. I don’t think my drawing is messy at all.
As I look around the classroom, everyone else is busy working on their pictures. The sun looks nice shining through the windows and it throws shadows across the room. One wall is lined with a bookcase, full of colourful books that I long to explore and as I stare at their different shapes I wonder what exciting things are inside. The wall has some posters on it; one shows a fox jumping over a dog that is on the ground sleeping. Others posters have pictures of animals with words written above them. Alongside the door way is a picture of a tall giraffe. It reaches nearly to the top of the door and his little lines and numbers on it.
I lift my head and stare at the ceiling which is painted white and has long bars of fluorescent lights shining down. I look at them until my eyes feel dazzled and when I blink I can still see those strips of bright white light against the back of my eyelids. I keep my eyes closed for a few seconds until the white strips begin to go blurry and then slowly turn black.
There is a clock above the door and I can hear it ticking loudly in the quiet classroom. Tick, tick, tick, it goes as I watch the little hand sweeping around so fast and I wonder why the other hands don’t seem to be moving at all. I think 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 watch the clock and start to feel myself yawn. The door is open beneath the clock and I can see the playground outside. I’m starting to get bored and I wriggle around in my seat to get comfortable. I wish I was out in the playground now running around in the fresh air.
I look around the classroom again and see heads bobbing up and down all over the place and other children wriggling in their seats. The desks are arranged in squares, with four children to a table, and these are spaced around the room like the petals of a flower. My desk is brown and has a little hole in one corner. Underneath the hole there is a little shelf and I start to amuse myself by poking my coloured pencils into the hole.
Sitting at the desk with me are Stephanie and two other girls, but I can’t remember their names. Stephanie is concentrating hard on her drawing and I watch the way her eyes move up and down with the pencil. She has a little frown on her forehead that makes her look grown up and wise. The other girls are also busy with their drawings. One of them has blonde hair tied up in a pony tail that swishes around as she colours in her name. The other one has straight brown hair that is cut short to just below her ears. She has her head down on her arm and is staring intently at the pencil dancing across her page. Every now and then she yawns and I can see the redness at the back of her mouth.
At the front of the room is a blackboard and Mrs. Mills’ desk. She is reading a book at her desk. ‘MRS MILLS’ is written in huge white chalk letters across the blackboard. I wonder if she would smile more if she had used coloured chalk to write her name. I look down at her desk which has some books and other important looking things on it in black containers, all neatly stacked in rows. They look like little soldiers ready to march as soon as Mrs. Mills gives the command. She is wearing a brown skirt that covers her knees and she has thick black shoes that clomp on the wooden floor when she walks. Her hair is pulled back very tight from her face, making it look like her eyes have been stretched so that she can watch the whole classroom at once. She looks very scary when she is sitting at her desk and when I see her eyes watching me I quickly look back down at my drawing.
At lunchtime we are allowed to sit on seats on the verandah outside the classroom to eat lunch. I have some sandwiches with vegemite and Stephanie has fish paste. We swap half our sandwiches and I share my little packet of sultanas with her when Mrs. Mills comes out of the classroom and tells us that we can play on the grass for a little while until the bell rings.
There is lots of noise coming from the boys running around and chasing each other, playing one of those rough games Stephen told me about. Stephanie and I walk down to the playground and lie on our backs on the grass, looking up at the ribbons of cloud floating by and talk about fairies. She tells me there are fairies everywhere in her garden at home and that she likes to talk to them, but only when no-one else is around. I tell Stephanie that I would like to be a princess one day and she says that her fairies could turn me into a princess if I liked. I am smiling to myself at this thought when suddenly the clouds disappear and some boys are standing above us.
“There’s the cry baby with funny hair” they taunt.
“Leave us alone” said Stephanie.
“Make us” one of the boys replied.
“I’ll make you all right” said Stephanie as she got 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 have to go back to class. I rub my eyes so they don’t look so red but my eyes still feel wet.
After lunch we are allowed to sit on the floor on little mats while the teacher reads us a story about Harry the Hairy-nosed Wombat and his fight against men who want to build a new road over the top of his house. Mrs. Mills lets us lay down as she tells us about Harry’s burrow in the desert. My eyes feel heavy so I close them for a minute while her voice drones on.
It is nice at the end of my burrow, all curled up in a ball sound asleep. From far above, I can hear the distant sounds of daytime, birds singing and the wind in the trees. A human voice can be heard from far away but I am so snug that I ignore it. Then I thought I heard my name being called — “Molly”— but that can’t be right when I am away out here in the desert. It gets louder: “Molly! Molly, wake up”. Suddenly there is a hand on my shoulder and I sit up on my reading mat, blinking my eyes against the bright sunlight. Some of the boys are giggling behind me and I can feel my cheeks getting hot. I wish I was back in my burrow.
After reading time, Mrs. Mills takes the class outside for a photo. The boys are pushing each other and being stupid until Mrs. Mills yells at them to stop it. She lines us all up in rows, some of the boys standing on a bench at the back and a row of children standing in front. I stand with Stephanie but I can feel Darren’s knees digging into my back. I try to ignore him and stand really still because I don’t want Mrs. Mills to yell at me, but I don’t feel at all like smiling for the camera.
Eventually school finishes for the day and I run to the front gate to find Mum waiting under a big pine tree talking to some other mothers. “’Bye Stephanie” I call, waving my hand.
“See you Molly” she yells back.
‘Looks like you found a friend” said Mum. “How was your first day of school?”
“It was horrible” I said. “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 whine. I can’t see how it would ever be better.
“Of course you do, Molly. You’re a big girl now”. I don’t feel like a big girl anymore. I can feel hot tears welling up in my eyes again and I just want to get as far away from the school as I can.

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