A sweaty day. Malevolent clouds glowering over the humid playground. Back in the classroom after lunch: a smell of socks. Eve’s damp thighs sucked against the plastic seats; her school shirt stuck to the wet skin under her waist band. Drowsy, she propped her heavy head on her palms.
As usual, Eve’s stomach had lurched, the moment Ms Barnett said it was lunchtime. She let them go, table by table. Those out first bunched noisily around the classroom door, waiting for friends on other tables. But no-one was ever waiting for Eve, so when it came to her turn, she had to push through them, pretending she was rushing to meet some friend who was already outside.
Back at the beginning, when she was littler, she had tried screaming when she felt left out. But the other girls had just moved away. They glanced back, first fearful, as if she were a dangerous kind of animal; then sniggering, as if she were not real at all. Then they decided it was inconsiderate, that she was lying on the floor and kicking and screaming. She heard one of them say, disdainfully,
“Eve shouldn’t do that. She’s spoiling playtime for everyone else.”
And somebody else – she didn’t know her name; she found it hard to remember people’s names - said, in a horrified whisper.
“Did you know she lived in an orphanage in some foreign country until she was three?”
“Her mum is not really her mum at all.” They told each other, deliciously.
And sometimes they even told Eve herself. If she mentioned her mum, they said,
“Yeah but she’s not really your mum, at all.”
After that began - that about her mum - she stopped screaming and started pretending.
At lunchtime, nowadays, she headed for the library. Anything was better than standing by herself in the playground, where everyone could see.
Today, when she walked into the library, the lady there had gushed,
“Back again, Eve! How you do love reading!”
And when she said that, Eve couldn’t look at her. Because it wasn’t true: she did not love reading. She disliked reading. She only came here because she had nowhere else. And sometimes it seemed to her that the library lady must know this, and that she was actually - when she said that - kind of taunting.
It made Eve feel that she was doomed; that she would never be able to trust anyone. It made her want to curl up in her mother’s arms and cry.
Now lunchtime was over, came the endless afternoon. There would be sewing, like yesterday afternoon. She was partnered with Sadie, who was nice as a box of pins. Sadie would make faces to other people because Eve got their sewing in a muddle. Oh, she was so sleepy! If she could only just go home and climb into her mum’s bed and go to sleep!
They had just got their sewing from yesterday out of the draw, when the classroom door opened and in came Ms Gr… (what was her name, again?) They all watched as she went over and whispered something to Ms Barnett. And then she turned to face them all, commanding,
“Eve come here!”
Eve was so surprised that she couldn’t quite take it in.
But there was Ms Gr…, snapping her fingers across the classroom at her,
“In this school, Eve, when a teacher asks you to do something, you do it!””
Eve looked at her own teacher, Ms Barnett, hoping for an explanation. But Ms Barnett had a new face on: blank and disapproving.
Eve stumbled to her feet and made her way across the classroom. Everyone’s eyes on her felt like heat, making her hotter and hotter.
“Thank you!” exclaimed Mrs Gr… in that same angry voice. She opened the door and looked at Eve.
Eve looked back at her, trying to work out what she wanted.
“Well go on then! Out you go!” Cried Mrs Gr…, rolling her eyes and sighing, as if Eve were stupid beyond belief.
Well, perhaps she was stupid. She already knew she was stupid, actually. But as a matter of fact, being shouted at made her much, much more stupid.
“Right!” said Mrs Gr… as soon as the classroom door was closed behind them, “Why do you think I’ve got you here?”
She had her hands on her hips, was fixing Eve with an expectant glare.
What was it she expected?
Mrs Gr…’s mouth twitched angrily.
“In this school, Eve, we treat each other with respect!” Ms Gr….burst out, furiously
Eve didn’t know what to say. “Okay,” she said.
“Don’t you ‘okay’ me! I’d like you to explain to me why you called Eva Johnson the c word this playtime?”
“I know for a fact that you called her an ‘effing c-word’ and then you ran off to lunch.”
What was the ‘effing c-word?’
“No… I…” Eve began.
Ms. Lewis saw the whole thing, so don’t you try any funny business.”
Horses were galloping inside Eve’s head.
“I didn’t!” She protested, but even she could hear her voice was whiney and unconvincing.
Or did she? She suddenly wondered if she was remembering wrong. Suddenly, she couldn’t remember anything very well at all. It was so sweaty and hot!
“Right then!” Ms. Gr… looked as if she were about to burst with aggravation, ‘You’re coming with me!” And grabbing Eve’s arm, she marched her across the hall and out through the doors.
Gripping Eve’s wrist tight, she yanked her across the lower playground, down the alley way past the dinner hall.
They passed the music room, where all the year 6’s stared out of the window to see her being paraded passed, like a criminal.
Then they turned right and Ms Gr… marched her all the way across the upper playground, until they saw Ms. Lewis, by the equipment shed, sorting buckets of bats and balls for P.E.
Now Ms. Gr… finally let go of her arm, but in a way that kind of pushed her forward.
“I’ve got Eve. She’s refusing to admit anything!” She said to Ms. Lewis, who was bending over the buckets.
Ms. Lewis straightened up, turned around, a looked from Eve to Ms Gr… and back again.
“She’s denying the whole thing!” Ms Gr… reported, in satisfied, outraged tones. She folded her arms.
Ms Lewis stared a bit longer, and then, she threw out her hands and laughed.
“Not this Eve!” She exclaimed.
“Not this Eve! It was Eve Parker, in year three!”
Eve felt relief wash over her. But looking over, she saw that Ms Gr… did not look any happier. A kind of battle had broken out over her face. And then she sighed, and said, in an exasperated voice, addressing the air just above Eve’s head,
“Right Eve, you can go back to your class now.”
Eve began to back away, baffled. Was she still in trouble? Or not? But since no one seemed to be stopping her as she backed away, she took her chance and turned and ran. It was only when she had pounded all the way back past the music school and the dinner hall and across the two playgrounds, and slowed, breathless, to a walk, that she began to feel a tentative sort of relief.
Later, sitting on the sofa, when she told her mother what had happened, her mother was amazed.
“What? They accused you of something you didn’t do? And they never even apologised?”
Eve wasn’t actually sure that this was what had happened. What her mum said sounded so different, from how it had all felt. But her mother’s indignance made her feel safe, so she sort of nodded anyway. Ms Griffiths! That was the Gr… teacher’s name! Eve suddenly remembered.
But her mother saw that it was only a sort-of nod, and she said,
“Eve, are you completely sure? It sounds so unbelievable!”
And then she really wasn’t at all sure whether what she thought had happened really was what had happened. So often, she seemed to get things wrong; and it had all been so…confusing. She didn’t want to get it wrong again, so she shook her head now.
Her mother sighed.
“Because the thing is, Eve, I cannot call the school and complain unless I know what really happened.”
Suddenly she could see it all: she had got it wrong, and her mother went in and complained. And then Ms Gr… (what was her name again?) would be angry with her mother! Oh no! And then her mother would feel sad and silly. And then – who knew – her mother might even feel she couldn’t cope with a daughter who lied like Eve, and decide she had to send her away…
So, she snuggled up close to her mother and tried to think of some way to distract her.
“What’s your favourite colour?” she said.
(c) Hilary Davies