Friday, November 17th, 1961
Coincidences and the month of November can be grim.
I stood in the Headteacher’s room. I was only there because my brother, Tony, had sent me to school, and told me exactly what to say. At that time I obeyed him unquestioningly. After my mother’s death we had sat up all night talking, but he decided that everything should be as normal. Tony never made concessions to tiredness: he was like our father. With numb politeness I informed Mrs. Evans of what had happened. She was a comfortable-looking woman, approaching sixty, her grandmotherly air hiding a sharp intellect. When occasion demanded she could be frightening.
Today her concern was warm, genuine and unwanted. She touched my arm gently, and I flinched. In the house where I grew up, no one had touched me since infancy, except in anger. We didn’t hug or kiss, and I was embarrassed by those who did.
‘Go home, dear,’ urged the kindly Head. ‘I’m sure there’s a great deal to do and arrange.’ I’m sure there was, but it was all in hands more competent than mine. Tony had told me to go to school, and I was grateful for the illusion of normality.
I turned away from the Head’s room and made my way down the corridor. Over a thousand girls were on the move, and yet no one spoke. The school rules were uncompromising, and silence in the corridor was one of them. Feet marched in straight lines round a one-way system, rubber and leather slapping the floor in unison. As a prefect I could walk against the traffic: it was easy as the line of navy tunics kept to one side.
Suddenly I spotted a young girl coming towards me among a line of fourth years. She had brown, wavy hair like mine, but bouncier, thicker, prettier. She had dark, sensitive eyes, a face with a ready smile. She was taller than me, but three years younger, and I thought that she looked at ease with herself and the world.
Prefects sat with classes when teachers were absent, but I had never overseen her class. As I gave out the set work, making the usual comments about doing it in silence, I would scan the room, just in case.
Now I looked straight at her, and she looked back without even registering my presence. I was just another prefect. The first emotion to pierce my numbness crept over me as silent panic set in. The thought was unbidden, unwelcome: that girl’s mother died last night, and she doesn’t know.
(to be continued)