“As all of you should know, one of the girls in the ninth grade was taken to hospital from here on Monday morning, and I am very sorry to have to announce that last night, she passed away.”

It was not unexpected to me, but it was a shock for the words to be projected across the gym. A thousand students were witness to the conviction of spoken tragedy; there was no lie.

I had been taking a message to the secretary’s office on Monday when the ambulance had arrived, and was promptly shooed back to class by a bevy of blank-eyed secretaries.

A whispering coterie of Seniors in the canteen told me they’d seen Alisha Carson carried off on a stretcher from her Geography lesson, in which she’d apparently collapsed.

There was a letter the following day, casually informing parents that there had been a problem, or, I suppose, reassuring the minds of those other fourteen-year-olds who had been in her lesson and had seen her ‘keel over’.

I said the announcement in the gym was not unexpected; when my tutor, Mr Morse, told us at register that the swimming sports house meetings had been cancelled in place of an unforeseen whole-school assembly, I knew instantly what was coming.

But it’s always a shock when a misfortune is confirmed definitely, fore-shadowed though it might have been.

I heard little more of what the headteacher had to say to us. She mentioned something about the girl’s family, and then something more about trusting her students to keep it quiet.

I was aware all this time of a mild sobbing a few rows behind me, and it was the only sound. Not a cough or a wriggle, as in the normal school assembly, when the young ones are restless and the elder ones scornful. I could not bring myself to turn to see the origin of the sobbing; all I and everyone else wanted was to be still.

“In a few minutes you will go back to your tutor rooms for the duration of this lesson,” the soft voice of Miss Seymour spoke through the stillness. “At ten o’clock, you will go to your second lesson. There are counsellors in all day in Room Forty, the art room with no windows, and if you need anyone to talk to please tell your tutor. That is all. Today is to be a quiet day.”

She bade Mr O’Ryan to dismiss us from the back door, and I heard the sobbing fade down the corridor. I knew it was Shani, but I couldn’t go after her till Mr O’Ryan dismissed the line in which I sat.

“Is Shani okay?” I asked several people. “Did she know the girl well?”

They all shook their heads. “No; she didn’t have a clue who she was; I asked her,” replied one girl in a low voice. “She’s vanished now. I expect she’ll be okay in a minute.”

I hoped so. Kind-hearted Shani to cry for a girl she didn’t know. Permit me to say that I myself wasn’t all that upset as I made my way back to my registration room.

I didn’t recognise the name ‘Alisha Carson’ and no face came to mind. But she was a ninth grade girl; maybe she was one of the girls Colby accidentally shunted that day he returned from the physio. God, I hoped not. The thought made me feel ill. But I was so grateful I hadn’t actually known her. It doesn’t bear thinking about what her friends might be feeling.

I was solemn, but I wasn’t really all that upset. It was horrible, but it didn’t directly affect me. Of course Shani was crying. Shani has such a soft heart, silly girl. I only hoped the sun would shine again in her pretty face before the day was over – how I was to regret that wish.

The End

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