The day was as uneventful as the previous two; with Meena back at my side, the rest of the school seemed to have returned to the state of being oblivious to either of our presences. I much preferred it that way; with nobody to bother me, the lessons dragged on peacefully rather than being torturous. Meena seemed les talkative, more withdrawn; definitely more edgy. If I had not squashed my suspicions already then I would have been on alert. But, honestly, I felt that I was being ridiculous.
So it was that when Willow was absent from the lunch table, I had to struggle to wipe my mind of crazy accusative suggestions.
Perhaps it was in my nature to be exceedingly inquisitive - I preferred that word to ‘nosy’ - but I couldn’t ignore them. I left the canteen without making a purchase and walked speedily down the sparsely populated corridors. I glanced into every classroom that I passed but most were empty, and in those that weren’t neither Meena nor Willow was to be found.
Eventually after half an hour I had searched pretty much the whole school with no sign of the two girls. Frustrated and confused, I kicked a green plastic bin that stood halfway down an empty hall and it fell over with a resounding crash. Crumpled coloured leaflets spilled onto the floor in a mixture of fruit peelings, crisp packets and Coke cans.
As I hurried away, mortified, before somebody came to investigate, I remembered seeing some of those leaflets in the courtyard on my first morning. I wondered if the girls would be outside… with a shock I realised that I hadn’t checked in the sports building.
As I crossed the empty tarmac expanse, a black bird squawked and flapped is wings, taking off right in front of me. I uttered a quiet shriek of surprise and leapt backwards, as the beady-eyed raven circled once then flew off over the trees beyond the school fence. I thought I glimpsed a dog, running parallel to it though the bracken, but at a second glance there was no animal there. It was lost from sight behind the roof of the sports hall. I breathed slowly to calm myself down and resumed walking - but a second later he end of lunch bell rang out and I stopped in my tracks.
I knew that my last lessons of the day were PE, so I carried on heading for the sports building.
Meena was waiting inside the automatic doors. I knew from the look on her face that somehow she knew what I had spent my lunch hour doing. Was my expression guilty?
I smiled quickly to cover it up, and the one she returned was wary. She didn’t mention my all-over-school trek and neither did I.
“I’m not in your PE class, I’m afraid,” she said before I could start walking. “I thought I would tell you where to go. Turn right then right again and you’ll find the girl’s changing room, okay?”
I nodded rapidly and she left. I watched her retreat across the tarmac and looked inside the building - there was a set of blue-painted double doors beyond an enclosed office. I glanced back, but Meena had already vanished from view.
I followed Meena’s directions and walked through another blue door, praying that it was the right one. Thankfully it was; I was in a tiled changing room with rows of wooden benches with pegs, where a few girls were already pulling navy blue shirts and green shorts from their bags; that was the PE kit for this school. I realised that I didn’t have it. My panic attack subsided when I found a brand new shirt and shorts folded into the front pocket of my bag; my mum must have checked the timetable in my bag and packed the kit for me while I was out last night.
I hurried into a corner and pulled the kit on as quickly as was possible; I was just finished hanging up my uniform when somebody tapped me on the shoulder. I jumped and turned to see Willow dressed in the same kit, carrying an armful of uniform and her bag. She dumped them next to me and grinned.
“Looks like we’re in the same group.”
I nodded thankfully; at least I wouldn’t have to go through physical education alone. It was going to be humiliating when the other girls saw that I couldn’t keep hold of a ball.
It was a great relief that the double period consisted of one long netball competition, during which I hovered awkwardly on the sidelines, unnoticed, while Willow sped up and down the indoor court with the others, although our team mates didn’t pay her much attention.
I didn't think much of this, my thoughts occupied with staying out of the way of everyone else and the ball, but it hadn't occurred to me that nobody else seemed to notice Meena either.