I was dropped off at the end of the road the school was on and wished luck by my mother, who squealed off to open her art gallery on time. It was ten to nine and the paved area in front of the school was deserted, except for various coloured paper flyers that had been discarded which skittered around in the wind. I really wanted to turn around and just not go in, but I couldn’t keep putting it off. As I crossed the courtyard space, a black cat darted from behind a bin and around the corner of the school. It must have been a stray. I walked slowly up the short steps to the double doors. They were shut but not locked, which I discovered when I pulled the door open after trying to push it. I was almost glad that I was late so nobody was there to witness it. I wandered down the silent corridors, painted the same sickly green as the linoleum floor, until I saw a sign pointing to Reception. I figured that was the best place to start.
It was an enclosed office with a sliding glass partition above a counter. Beyond it there were three desks, but only one was occupied, by a large woman with cropped mousy hair that didn’t suit her at all. She was transfixed by her computer screen, so I glanced around at the various posters, advertisements and artwork submitted by students which adorned the whitewashed walls. The woman was tapping away at her clattering keyboard, oblivious to my presence.
There was an old-fashioned service bell on my side of the counter, and I pushed it hesitantly to get her attention. There was a trilling chime and she got up, removing a pair of large framed glasses.
I don’t know if I expected her to say, “I’ve never seen you before, you must be the new girl”; but evidently she didn’t know enough of the students for that, as she just stared at me enquiringly.
“Um…this is my first day. I just, uh, transferred from Greenheath High in London…”
. The woman was yet again oblivious, this time to my nervousness. My foot fidgeted as she kept staring for a few more seconds then turned back to her computer. She brought up a document and checked something on the screen, then turned back to me.
“Yeah, that’s me,” I tried a weak smile. So far, my welcome had been slightly less than warm at this new school.
“I’m Mrs Bream,” she said, indicating a badge pinned to the front of her pink sweater. The writing was too tiny to be read unless you were face to face with her, but I just nodded, desperate to escape.
“Here is everything you need. Go visit your tutor then follow that timetable. Have a nice day.”
With that Mrs Bream handed me a sheaf of photocopied papers and slid the partition closed before returning to her desk. For a minute I stared, dumbfounded, at the standoffish receptionist. Then I turned and walked slowly away, pondering how someone could be so bluntly anti-social and also checking the papers until I found a timetable.
At the moment I should have been in tutor. I dragged my feet to the door, heart thumping nervously, and was about to knock when the door crashed open in harmony with a bell ringing right overhead. I jumped at the loud noise and dropped the papers in time for the storm of teenagers to trample them into the linoleum. I hovered anxiously until they had dispersed. I was about to pick them up again when somebody else appeared from nowhere and scooped them up in a second. It was a girl around the same height as me. Her shoulder-length brown hair hung over her face as she skim-read the top page. I didn’t know if I should protest or not, but I was too shy in any case.
She looked up and revealed a pair of bright blue eyes, startling in their intensity. It must have been a trick of the light, because a second later they were a normal translucent shade of blue.