Sarah knew she was delaying the inevitable as she dragged her feet along the pavement. The school gates loomed in the distance and she felt the familiar knot forming in the pit of her stomach. Brian ran on ahead and was swallowed up in the crowd as he joined his friends waiting in the schoolyard. Sarah didn’t have anyone to wait for her. In the three years since she’d entered secondary school she’d never managed to find one true friend. The reason was plain. She was the target for the bullies and anyone foolish enough to befriend her would find themselves in the same position. Image is all important when your fifteen and fitting in the most essential of requirements. The standard school uniform proved a great equaliser, but the simple trapping allowed as adornments singled out who the in girls were. Sarah didn’t have any jewellery and would never have the money for the gold initial chains they wore. Fashion decreed you wore your name around your neck and though Sarah wore her shirt buttoned up to her chin, they knew she was the odd one out. While she hadn’t put on any weight since her mother bought the uniform, she’d sprouted a good two inches. Twice she’d been forced to let down the hem on the skirt and despite careful pressing the faded white line of each seam was visible on the material. Unlike the other girls privileged enough to have new uniforms at the beginning of each year, Sarah’s would have to do her until it fell to pieces.
Today she felt worse than normal. She wasn’t sure if it was her meeting with Mrs Ryan that plunged her deeper into depression or the prospect of entering the classroom. Life was so unfair. Mrs Ryan didn’t deserve the beating she got at the hands of the man who was supposed to love her. Neither did she deserve the way her mother treated her. Not once had her mother been kind to her. Her very presence annoyed the woman and she always looked at her as though she hated her. She wasn’t like this with Brian and would hug and kiss him despite his protests. If she said something kind or smiled as though she meant it, it would’ve lightened her daughter’s load. There was little chance of this happening and Sarah was resigned to the fact she was an outcast.
The shrilling ringing of the school bell as she walked down the corridor to her classroom jarred at her frayed nerves. A cloud of expensive perfume met her when she entered the room and she tried to avoid the glares from the eyes watching her progress. Slipping into her seat, she took the necessary book from her satchel and made a great show of putting it in place, but there was no escaping what was coming. It was the same everyday and the bullies never tired of their tormenting.
“Is it me?” June Richmond asked. “Or can anyone smell cat piss?”
Sarah felt her cheeks flame at the giggles from the other girls and tears pricked the corner of her eyes. Usually she managed to control such feeling, but today was different and she dug her nails into the palms of her hands. For three years she’d endured this bullying and now felt she could no longer take it. It was pointless to retaliate as she’d no ammunition with which to fight. What they said was true. She did smell from the cats. It was impossible to escape their stench despite her best efforts and her clothes were old and scruffy. What defence did she have to offer?
June was the ringleader and the worst of the bullies. Her parents were both doctors and their joint income meant she’d all the latest in fashion and jewellery. Sarah envied the layers of makeup she wore each day and would love to own a lipstick or anything to brighten the pallor of her skin. She knew June needed the cosmetic help more than she did, but this did nothing to ease her envy.
“Quieten down, ladies,” Mr Stewart, their maths teacher swept into the room and gave the girls something else to concentrate on.
They had a crush on him and the giggles and whispers were transferred from Sarah.
“The results of the pres are in,” he announced.
These were set out as tests before the more important end of term exams. While the outcome wasn’t important, it gave some idea how the pupil would perform. Sarah was a straight A student as her only normality was in the classroom and were it not for the bullying she would’ve enjoyed school. As she watched the teacher open the folder to reveal the results her stomach went into spasm and she thought she’d be sick. The last thing she needed was any more attention drawn to her and she knew what lay within the pages on the desk. He read out the usual list of slackers and D minuses. June was among those singled out for a telling off and this didn’t improve her mood. Especially when he praised Sarah for her hard work and remarked the others would do well to imitate her example and study before the real exams. Each word meant to praise her was another nail in her coffin as it enraged those seated around her.
The class seemed endless and Sarah’s hand shook as she copied from the blackboard. There were no smart comments or flirty suggestions from the other girls and this was a rare. Mr Stewart was the target for their teasing and at times left the class looking red-faced. She knew the silence meant she was in for it.