Billie scuffed her flip flops through the dry needles scattered over the Christmas tree lot. Pine scent filled the air. But it felt too hot for Christmas.
“How about this one?” Her mom... [+]
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This is it! The great day has arrived!
Luke puts on his coat, picks up his schoolbag, kisses his mother and walks sadly out of the warm family nest that is his home. The weather outside is horrible, just right for the Monday when school starts again...
“Good luck, darling!” he hears from the window.
Luke does not turn round. He is afraid that the sight of his mother might drain all his energy and cause him to turn back... He doesn’t want to go, but his mother has explained that it’s not like when he was a little boy. She can’t make excuses for him forever, can she?
The number 20 bus takes him in too short a time to Notre-Dame School. He pushes his way through the mass of pupils crowding around the gate. The overexcitement in the air is almost tangible. The pupils are jostling, whistling, shouting loudly across at each other. Well, I’m surely not the only one here who is nervous, Luke thinks, trying in vain to muster his courage. Everybody has put their best clothes on for the start of the new school year. So has Luke, and his mother helped him choose them. One girl, in the second or third grade, looks at him and whispers something to her friend. The two girls burst out laughing. Luke concentrates on his shoelaces, examining every detail of them, and pretends not to hear the girls, not to see them, like he always does... He has learned to cope with humiliation in silence. He can hear his mother’s voice saying, “Your best form of defense is to ignore them…”
He is sure they are not going to like him here. He is so different from everyone else! Making people laugh or simply gaining their friendship has never been his thing. Besides, as his teachers have always said, right from nursery school, “Luke is such a subdued boy.” And that was not likely to change any time soon.
A strident noise like a fire alarm tears him brutally from his thoughts. He has never understood why school bells are always so aggressive. Some classical music could indicate the start of lesson time just as well...
He suddenly feels completely alone among all these strange faces, really alone and tiny on this huge playground. As always happens, he starts to feel dizzy looking at the high gray walls and impressive buildings. His stomachache comes back. He wants to go home. Pushed and shoved on all sides by pupils and teachers, Luke stands there as if paralyzed, gripping the handle of his schoolbag as if his life depends on it. The minutes and the schoolchildren speed by, quite indifferent to the suffering of a small figure lost in the middle of the crowd.
That’s it, he is alone now. Everybody has gone to their classroom. He has made up his mind: he is going to turn around and go right back home to his mother who is waiting for him. He will explain it all to her, she will understand, he is sure. He will have to sneak away; they will certainly not let him out of the gate that easily... Just as he is about to turn around, feeling better already, a hand lands heavily on his shoulder. Too late, he has been spotted...
“Hello and welcome, my young friend! I am the head teacher of the school! You look a bit lost. Follow me! I’ll take you to your classroom, where they must be waiting for you!”
Blushing and muttering a few vague excuses, Luke reluctantly follows the large woman in the direction of Building B. His stomachache returns, the handle of his schoolbag slips slightly as his hands become clammy. Since he was very young he has always hated this new smell in the hallways. He has always hated school and wonders why he is still here...But he knows very well why, to please his mother, as he has always done...
“Here we are, this is it!”
The door where they have stopped has been left ajar. They were indeed waiting for him... Late on the first day, when he could not bear to stand out in any way... Yet another new school year of which he would unfortunately be a part! Taking a deep breath, Luke follows the head teacher into the room. All eyes are on him and he is finding it hard to breathe. The silence is broken by a snigger from the back of the room.
“Good morning, children! Let me introduce Mr. Chatel, your new English teacher!”
Translated by Wendy Cross