I didn't know what to do. Michelle was young and she was afraid. She looked to me to sort something out, so that she could live her life again, but the truth was there was absolutely nothing within my power to do.
"I'll sort it out," I lied, promises I could never keep. And yet she believed me, nodding gravely and getting up to leave. "Go back to your room for now. I think there are some big activities planned for this afternoon. Team games or something?" I looked at Katrina as I spoke, hoping she could arrange that. Discreetly she nodded.
"How long will it take?" said Michelle, just as she reached the door. I froze in the act of examining a file.
"I don't know," I said, practically the only truthful sentence I had spoke so far during that appointment. "Not too long, I hope."
She left the room. After glancing to me, Katrina followed her, and they closed the door. I could just imagine what they would be doing. Michelle would return to her room. She would stay there alone for a few hours, until they managed to engineer the games I had suggested, and during that time nobody would be there to distract her.
That was when the voices would be at their loudest.
For this, I felt awfully responsible. I had no doubt that it was partly neglect which had led them to take over her brain in such a way, even though that couldn't be the only reason. Still, I couldn't do anything about it.
I returned to my duties, examining the files on the table in front of me. Michelle's I moved over, because I'd just seen her. As I pushed it onto the rack a word or two caught my eye. It was scrawled in red ink on the corner of the brown cardboard file. Startled, I yanked the folder back onto the desk, peering at the single phrase.
What could it mean? I thought no more of it, believing it just to be a mistake. As I tidied the papers I got up to leave, and my mind turned to Michelle. The poor girl -- my heart went out to her in a way that it never had to any of the other children. She wasn't mad, she was just a victim.
As I left the room I had the uncanny sense that somebody was watching me.