The first moment I saw her standing in front of the class waiting for Mr. Johnson, I did not pay any attention. Just another white girl I thought to myself, but as the minutes ticked by and I continued looking at her because she made the time pass, I suddenly realized I am uncontrollably interested in her.
The way she stared out of the window nervously, the way she seemed to be swinging from one leg to the other, her sun-kissed hair, neatly pinned up, with a few wayward strands breaking free from their imprisonment. Her full flushed lips, the intelligence in her crystal blue eyes, and her relief when Mr. Johnson walked into the class, made me smile inexplicably.
I sit in the great assembly hall, a sea of navy surrounding me, and I smile politely at the girl sitting next to me. She smiles back, but it seems obligatory. She looks down at me pretentiously, and I sink back into my chair, thinking how tough all of this is going to be.
Today is my first day at The Christian Academy, and it is daunting. My nerves are nibbling away at my insides and I can feel their little nudges and pinches in the pit of my stomach. I was, eventually, after a lot of interviews, red tape, and paperwork, accepted on a full scholarship here after my dad decided to come to The Christian Academy and inquire about their scholarship program. Despite sounding conceited, I am academically gifted, so without studying hard I have the ability to do exceptionally well by only paying attention in class. I am incredibly grateful to be here because in my seventeen years, here on earth, to date, this is my only claim to fame—securing this scholarship.
My dad was over the moon happy and proud of himself for producing such a gifted offspring and secretly, in the privacy of our own home, he would exclaim how I would not have to go to school with so many black kids any more.
I am excited and looking forward to today because it presents new challenges, which in turn, would mean I can become anybody and anything I want to be. I can pursue a dream career, not something I have thought of often before now because I have not seen many opportunities ahead of me.
I was never short of acquaintances at my old school, Mt. Pleasant Public School, known for high-test scores state-wide. Everyone spoke to me, they were friendly to me, but no one ever told me the latest gossip, never inviting me to parties and I certainly was never best friends with anyone. I did once have a boyfriend for a very short space in time, nothing spectacular or amazing and that just petered out eventually, as we moved on and grew older.
When I appraise myself critically in the mirror, I see a regular face, nice enough hair, and long, dark eyelashes framing my deep blue eyes perfectly. I will never fit into a size zero, and sometimes, this depresses me, but what can you do about genetics. I am ‘blessed’ with a curvy body.
The dean in the front of the hall drone on and on and I have stopped listening long ago, so when everybody suddenly stands up, as one, I leap up as well. Mine is seemingly the last head popping up in the mass of blue.
The girl next to me gives me a look that would freeze the polar cap back into its original shape, as everybody starts singing loudly, belting out the national anthem.
I stand, watching the faces around me, in awe because never have I seen anything like this, the discipline, the pride, the pleasure of being a part of something greater than you are. I have always imagined people of higher standing, those at the top of the food chain, as being conceited, arrogant and full of their own self-importance.
Looking at them now–not including the snobbish girl standing next to me—it seems I might have judged them too soon. Most of the kids surrounding me, look as if they are just like me, trying to make our mark in life. Although, I am sure for most of them, it is easier than for most of us. I am sure their greatest concerns were the same as mine – getting into a great college, being accepted, to love and to be loved, have friends, go to parties, acne, appearance, and weight, to mention but a few of my most pressing concerns.
When the last note of the anthem fades away, everybody starts to turn silently to his or her nearest exit and we file out of the hall in neat lines. I catch myself still staring at everyone and everything flabbergasted, remembering to keep my lips tightly pressed together so I do not start looking like a fish on dry land.
Everything here is so organized, and everybody seems so disciplined, so different from the real world, the world I am from—my world.
On the day my parents and I came here for our tour, I received a timetable and a layout of the school grounds, which I had memorized, so now I follow the girl, who was not so long ago sitting next to me, out of the hall, walking behind her neatly.
Once I am out of the hall, I walk straight to my first class, which is just off the corridor, to the right of the assembly hall – luckily quite easy to find.
When I get there, I follow the other navy blazers into the class, and everyone sits down at his or her respective desk.
I am left standing in front of the class, waiting for the teacher to come and allocate a desk to me. I stare out the window, to avoid the twenty pairs of eyes I can feel watching me. I hear giggles and whispering, which I know is at my expense. As the seconds tick by, I feel myself inching deeper and deeper into the ground, swallowed slowly, but surely, into the pits of humiliation.
After what felt like infinity, I smile relieved, and am slightly overwhelmed when all the students stand up in a sign of respect when the teacher walks through the door.
He is young and, to be honest, not the type of teacher I would have expected to be teaching at this school. I imagined them all to be ancient, pre-historic and wise looking, but he surely is only, at the most, ten years older than I am. He smiles friendly while he motions with his hand to the other students to sit down. He looks at a piece of paper in his other hand, and then introduces me to the class, “This is Chrissie Taylor and she will be joining us from today.” The teacher looks up, grinning, and says, “Dare I say, Johnathan, severe competition for you.”
I follow his gaze toward a blonde-haired, suntanned boy in the fourth row from the front, and Johnathan smiles amused, while looking at me. “At last, someone to compete against.”
The other students look from Johnathan to me, and I can already see it in their eyes, they think I am a nerd, a geek, a drip, a bore – here we go again.
“Nothing like a little bit of competition to get you all to work harder,” the teacher continues.
I had heard before coming to The Christian Academy that all the students here excel academically and it would be demanding for me to keep up with them, so I thought it would be easier for me to fit in. Now I wonder, as I see the teacher turn back to me again, why he would point Johnathan out, specifically. They should all be competition for me.
He interrupts my thoughts. “I am Mr. Johnson and you can take the seat next to Anne. She is on the Senior Student Council and has been allocated the task of showing you around and making you feel welcome.”
I look away from Mr. Johnson and see a red-haired girl lift her hand up to her shoulder and wave her fingers back and forth. I walk toward her nervously and pray anxiously that she please not be a snob, but she smiles friendly, a smile which makes her green eyes glitter, and I feel the relief rush through me, from my shoulders straight to my toes.
I sit down next to her, and she moves her books, which were scattered over the entire desk aside, to give me space. Mr. Johnson starts to read his attendance list aloud, and one by one, as he goes down the list, the owner of the name calls out, “Present.”
I look around as he calls out each name to see who answers, trying to memorize names, with no success. When he calls out Johnathan’s name, I look at him. Johnathan smiles brilliantly as he glances back at me.
Mr. Johnson has an easy teaching style and I find myself totally immersed in what he is saying. Some of the things he is talking about, I have heard before, but he makes it seem so much more interesting and fascinating. When the bell goes, a soft chiming noise, I am sorry his class is over. I gather my books while Anne waits for me, smiling friendly, and together we walk to our next class.
Anne is very soft spoken, and I have to strain to hear when she speaks and, to be honest, if not for her, I would have gotten lost, in the myriad of passages and stairways, even after memorizing the floor plan of the entire college grounds.
Walking between classes take us a while though, because every now and again we stop to talk to someone. She introduces me each time, but after a while, many faces and names get all mingled up, and mostly I just stand next to her, waiting and trying not to listen to her conversations.
Secretively I find myself looking for Johnathan.
At lunch break, I join Anne’s group of friends, where they are all sitting on the grass in a circle under a great big oak tree. She does not introduce me, but they all introduce themselves to me, smiling friendly.
I notice Johnathan sitting next to an extremely skinny, blonde-haired girl.
Sitting down, cross-legged, in a vacant spot, I notice from the corner of my eye Johnathan getting up, stretching and then he walks toward me.
He unceremoniously squeezes himself in between Adam and me. “Come on, Adam, move up – you are not leaving me with a lot of space here,” he says.
Adam sighs but moves up without saying a word.
I see some of the kids look at each other in that knowing way, and I wonder amused if Johnathan is the ‘player’ of The Christian Academy. I ignore Johnathan and look at the others, interested, listening to their happy laughter and chatter, while pulling at bits of grass in front of me.
Johnathan suddenly leans over me and pulls a long piece of grass out of the ground in front of me, and then he puts it halfway into his mouth, chewing the end.
I look up at him sideways and smiling, I say, “That’s just gross, you know.”
“No, it’s not. The grass here is specially cultivated and is cleaner than any public toilet.”
I laugh softly. “Fine, whatever. I still think it’s gross, though.”
Stephen calls from the other side of the group, “Yeah, Johnathan, do you kiss with that mouth?”
Johnathan laughs boisterously. “I certainly do.”
Everyone bursts out laughing.
They do not really include me in their conversations, but I listen interested and think to myself that they are a nice group. I was expecting snobs, kids who thought the sun would set when they sat down, but I am pleasantly surprised.
It is only my first day here, but they have taken me into their fold, mostly thanks to providence pairing me with Anne.
The day continues eagerly and after the last bell for the day chimes through the halls, I walk out of the impressive gates, past the security guards and then start to walk the mile to the bus stop. The day I was accepted, my dad measured the distance between the school and the bus stop, so I know it is one point two miles exactly. My dad drops me off in the mornings, but because he and my mom both have full-time jobs, I must either wait until dusk when either one of them can collect me or catch the bus home.
I realize self-conscious that I am the only one walking along the pathway. All the other students, it seems, are being collected, and some students were driving their own cars.
Thankfully, nobody offers me a lift, although I can feel them all staring at me as they pass me in their big flashy cars, and I feel mortified. I convince myself I am bigger than this, for all they know I could have had a lift or my own car but preferred to keep it real.
While riding home on the bus, I thought how fortunate I am that all the kids at this school wore uniforms and they could not distinguish the fact I am not as rich as they are.
All of them, I am sure, only owning designer labels, while, although fashionable, my entire wardrobe did not have a single exclusive item. I have always had a proud façade, and I have a good posture, so if you had to put a rich girl next to me, both of us wearing our uniforms, you would be hard pressed to decide whom the poor one is.
I get off the bus at the entrance to my street and walk up the hill toward my home. We live in Mt. Pleasant, and I have always thought we have one of the nicer homes in our neighbourhood. My father keeps the garden in excellent shape, spending entire weekends in it—pruning, cutting, planting, and watering.
Our home has comfortable, worn furniture, and walking through the front door always makes me feel safe and protected, like letting everything go and just sigh a breath of relief at leaving the world out there.
It seemed from the traffic chaos which ensued once the last bell chimed musically through the halls at school, that most of the kids at my new school had stay-at-home moms. In my previous school, you would have had to look high and low to find a kid fortunate enough to have his or her mom at home when they got there.
I go up to my room and pack my books out onto my desk, and then go back downstairs to get something to drink. I spend the rest of the afternoon doing my homework and as the sky starts to darken, I go to the kitchen to start dinner. Cooking dinner is my chore during the week, so when my mom and dad get home from work, we can just sit down to eat.
My mom always gets home first and whirls into the house, usually calling, “Hi, Chrissie,” on her way up the stairs. The first thing she does, each day, as she gets home, is have a shower, to wash the day off her, as she always says.
My dad gets home a little while later and he always, always comes to the kitchen first. His stomach rules him and he will follow wherever it leads.
“Smells nice, Chrissie. What are you cooking for us today?”
I smile and say, “Chicken. Your favourite.”
He lifts the lids of the pots and sniffs the air appreciatively, while he asks, “So how was your first day in the land of the Jones’?”
“It was actually genuinely nice. A bit nerve wrecking in the morning, but I fit in right away. I suppose there are those who think they are more important than what they really are, but I did not meet any of them – and hopefully I wouldn’t have to.” I smile.
“Ah, they can’t help it. As long as you remember who you are, and you are indeed the most important person in the entire world.”
I smile, and then my mom walks in, in a haze of apricots. She is the most beautiful person I have ever seen, and my dad often says we could have been twins, but I do not see the resemblance. Her long blonde hair cascades over her shoulders in a mass of curls, her eyes are a radiant, sapphire blue, her cheeks always have a rosy glow and she has curves in all the right places.
We sit down to eat, and my mom and dad cannot stop asking me questions, but I am excited to share my day with them. I am the only child and my parents had me when they were still young, so although I know my boundaries, they are also my closest friends. It may seem distressing that someone my age would consider my parents to be my friends, but there you have it. I have never had anybody other than them to share my life with, because as I have said before, I have never had any close friends, and a girl needs to share her hopes and her dreams with someone. As a result, out of necessity, they have been the ones I have told everything to, they have played a pivotal role in my life thus far.
They give me space, at times, I feel too much, but I have never given them a reason to worry or fret and I aspire to make them proud of me. They love me without measure, and I would never do anything to disappoint them.
The day passed quickly, and I really enjoyed myself, more than I ever thought I would.
Copyright © Lynette Ferreira (published by Fiction for the Soul). All rights reserved.