Patricia's eyes were starting to clear; the fog that had filled them on the station platform oozing away. She blinked, slowly. It had to be slowly because her eyelids felt stiff and inflexible. Her eyes also felt dry and sore and itchy, as if they had been open for a long time. Now she could see, but something was still wrong. Her sight had returned, but not her colour vision. Everything was black and white. Well, no, not exactly... there was some colour: a yellowing of everything.
Her hearing had returned earlier but was still a little muffled. She had been aware of the fat, jolly man, whose name was Charlie. She thought that was his name anyway. Her thinking, like her blinking, was also a little stiff. There had been a big yellow box, Big on the outside and small on the inside. That was a bit weird. Then she had been deposited on this bed, in a... what? A tent?
All she could hear now was the faint sound of a piano playing. It was a bit like the music her gran had used to listen to sometimes. What did gran call it? Plinky-plonk? Binky-bonk? No, Honky-tonk, that was it. She expected herself to giggle at the silly names, especially the wrong ones, but no giggle came, nervous or otherwise.
She tried to sit up. She had been gradually freeing and loosening the movement in her hands by wiggling her fingers, waggling her wrists, and flexing her elbows, but the rest of her body was still hard. She managed to turn onto her side by pushing on the bed with one hand, then started working on her legs, starting with her toes, then her ankles, then her knees. After a few minutes, with a great deal of effort and an extra large push, she found herself in a sitting position on the edge of the bed. When she focused her eyes, she was looking at a waist, enclosed by a dark belt with an ornate metallic buckle in the centre. Slowly and laboriously, she tipped her head back to look up, above the waist was a heavy bosom, a thick neck,and finally, a stern-looking grey face surrounded by grey curls, topped off with a frilly white cap.
She tipped her neck downwards to see the rest of this apparition. Below the waist was a long, thigh-length skirt, dark, woollen stockings, and sensible lace up shoes.
A hand passed in front of her face, and tipped her chin gently up to look into the severe face again. The woman walked to the flap in the side of the tent, and beckoned her with one finger. Patricia stood, ever so slowly and carefully, and walked with straight, stiff steps, to the tent-flap. The woman lifted the flap, and pushed Patricia outside.
Immediately, her eyes were flooded with colour and light. She forced her eyes closed against the discomfort, and then squinted at her surroundings.
She seemed to be in a school playground. There was a large concreted area in the centre, a few benches dotted around, and the whole thing surrounded by an elliptical grassy bank. There were a few trees around the bank, each bearing apples, or pears, or, rather oddly, bananas. The colours here were bright, almost painfully so. Apart from the grey concrete, she could see only primary colours. Maybe it's a primary school, she thought, bracing herself for that giggle again. It didn't come. My giggle's broken, she thought, humourlessly.
Faintly, she heard the sounds of children approaching. There were about seven or eight of them. The first one to notice her was a smiley little girl with long, straight, dark hair. She ran over to Patricia and took her hand.
''Hello'' she said, cheerily. ''Have you come to play in Matron's garden, too?''
Patricia nodded, and tried to smile. Her smile didn't seem to be working yet, either. She didn't feel like trying out her voice yet. That might be broken too.
''Come and sit on the bench with me.'' the nice girl said, leading her over to the nearest one, which was scarlet. Patricia sat, obediently.
Two more children, a boy with ginger hair, which was strangely cone-shaped at the crown, with a sneering expression on his face, and a blonde girl at his side, whose face would have been quite pretty, but for the permanent sulky look. They were holding hands.
''He's my best friend.'' said the blonde girl, sulkily, in a bored, faux-posh voice, throwing a challenging look at Patricia.
''And she's my best friend.'' said the boy. ''We haven't got any other friends. You probably haven't, either.'' He pointed at Patricia, rudely. His voice was arrogant, but devoid of any expression. Patricia imagined that it was the sort of voice which would send her to sleep if she had to listen to it for any length of time.
He pointed to the nice girl with dark hair, and said, ''And she hasn't got any friends either. Except her.'' Patricia looked to where he was pointing, and saw a short girl with short black hair and bright yellow glasses in the middle of the playground, who was spinning round, and skipping up and down, grinning and singing tunelessly. ''And she,'' pointing to the nice girl, ''is only friends with her because she thinks she's popular.''
The sulky girl interrupted him. ''Stop talking to them. You're always talking to people when you're supposed to be talking to me. You're pathetic! And she stormed off, with the ginger haired boy in hot pursuit. He was shouting at her. Saying something about her only being in Matron's garden because he was. Patricia was interested to note that his voice remained monotonous even when raised.
What strange children, thought Patricia. I wonder what they're all doing here.
She looked round at the nice girl, who was still holding her hand and smiling at her.
Another boy came over and sat next to her. He was holding an enormous bag of sweets. Patricia looked hungrily at them. She hadn't eaten anything for ages. But when the boy saw her looking, he turned away from her and held the sweets closer to his chest, and started stuffing them in his mouth, a few at a time.
''Don't worry.'' said the girl. ''Matron has provided us with a special tea this afternoon. Would you like to stay to tea?''
Patricia nodded again. That sounded lovely. Even though the other children were a bit odd. As long as she could sit with the nice girl, she thought everything would be all right. It was nice that she realised Patricia was hungry.
The ginger haired boy came over and started shouting at the sweet-eating boy, in his flat voice. ''Where did you get those sweets? You ate all yours, earlier. They must be my sweets, and my friend's. Where did you get them''
The sweet-eating boy just looked up at the the ginger haired boy, and stared at him, then carried on eating. This made the other boy shout even louder, just asking the same questions over and over.
The nice girl smiled at Patricia, and shrugged, implying that this was normal behaviour for the ginger haired boy.
A tall, athletic-looking girl, who looked a bit older than the others, came over to see what all the fuss and shouting was about. Her facial expression was as flat as the boy's voice.
''I gave him those sweets. I found them in the cupboard. Were they yours, then?''
The ginger haired boy started shouting at her too, then, with a few more directed at the sweet-eating boy, for good measure. The tall girl walked off, completely ignoring him.
Patricia thought maybe she should reconsider her decision to stay for tea. She thought she might go mad if she stayed in Matron's garden.
She looked up at the trees. Maybe she could grab some fruit, and go back inside the tent again, wait for Jemima.
''Would you like an apple, Patricia?'' said the nice girl, ''Or a banana?''
How did she know what I wanted? And how does she know my name? Patricia felt nervous. She nodded. Maybe she should go while the nice girl was picking the fruit for her; just sneak away.
The girl stood up and ran toward the trees. Patricia stood up, and looked round. The tent wasn't there anymore.