Click to read Chapter One: Part One
Lara breath hitched and she felt as if she’d been hit with a sledgehammer. She bit back a retort and shook her head. She hadn’t been locking herself away. She’d been in mourning.
Then again she shouldn’t be surprised about Lola. Her sister was pretty and had been popular at their last school. It looked like she would fit right in at Hillcrest.
As for herself, her goals for the year were simple; pass her exams and gain a university place. She didn’t need the attention and if no one accepted her, she would just have to cope with it as best she could.
“It’s this way.” She pointed to a sign on the wall and they headed in that direction.
Half an hour later, they’d filled out forms and were directed to their classes. Lola’s were in a different building from hers.
“Do you want to meet for lunch?” Lara asked.
Lola shrugged and started walking off.
“If you need anything, just call or text me,” Lara said.
“Yeah. Stop fussing, will you?” Glancing back, Lola rolled her eyes and walked off.
Lara couldn’t help fussing. Lola was the only member of her family she had left. Okay, she had Judy, but it wasn’t the same thing. She’d taken care of her sister since she was a baby and always felt responsible for her, even more so now that their parents were gone.
Sighing, she turned and hurried across the walkway to the class building. Students gazed at her but no one spoke to her. She kept her chin up and her shoulders stiff, determined to project confidence and determination. The truth was, she wasn’t very good with change. Unlike Lola who complained about it and seemed to adapt a whole lot quicker.
By the time she arrived at the door to the correct class, it was already shut and the class seemed to be in session. She paused, brushed her palm over her braided hair packed in a ponytail style, and took a deep breath. Then she turned the metal handle, pushed the door open, and walked in.
The class was silent as they listened to the teacher but a murmur passed when she closed the door behind her.
A middle-aged man in brown jacket and trouser suit, white and green striped shirt, and a plain green tie stood at the front. Focusing on him, she walked over.
“Mr. Ejiofor?” When he nodded, she handed over the sheet of paper she’d been given at the office. “I was asked to give you this.”
He took the paper and read it.
“We have a new student joining the class today.” He glanced at the paper again. “This is Lara Johnson.”
Clutching her hands to the back to hide their shaking, she turned to face the class. Big windows sat on the side. The back wall was plain white with a white board over it. On the side wall next to the door was a geopolitical map of the world.
The students sat in columns of two per desk in six columns and four rows. All of them stared at her with different degrees of curiosity.
Lara swallowed, her shoulders tightening. She hated being the centre of attention and even more so to a group of strangers. Her darting gaze caught onto another girl in the front row who smiled at her. There was an empty seat next to her. The only empty seat.
Mr. Ejiofor picked a book from the pile in front of him and handed it over to her. “Take a seat, Lara.”
“Thank you,” she mouthed and walked over to the empty chair quickly. The sooner she sat down the sooner everyone else would stop staring at her. She dumped her bag on the aisle beside her and placed the book on the desk top.
The girl next to her turned and smiled. She was the picture of wholesome perfection. Her straight hair was packed neatly into a ponytail, not one out of place. Her school uniform was creaseless and fitted, unlike Lara’s which needed adjusting around the waist. Her oval face was smooth and lovely, no acne in sight. Even the cheer in her curled lips and the twinkle in her brown eyes showed she was a happy and content girl.
Lara hadn’t been happy or content in months.
“I’m Ada Obi. Welcome to Hillcrest School,” the girl said in a low voice. “If you need someone to show you around, I can help you.”
Lara gave a small smile as some of the tension left her body. Someone was being nice to her. Perhaps she’d make a new friend after all. “Ada, thank you.”
Mr. Ejiofor resumed the lesson in English Literature. Luckily, she’d bought a copy and already started reading the assigned book so she didn’t feel too lost in the class discussion although she didn’t attempt to raise her hand to answer any questions and the teacher didn’t bother directing any queries at her. She managed to sit up straight instead of slumping under the melancholic weight that rested on her shoulders.
Time flew quickly and Mr. Ejiofor left. During the break before the next teacher arrived, the class erupted in chaos.
Shifting in the seat, Lara picked out her timetable and checked the next lesson. Geography—a subject she wasn’t so good at.
Flicking the page of the textbook, she glanced at the door. A boy stood there as if on sentry duty, watching for the arrival of the next teacher. The flutter of the sheet did little to calm her nerves as it should. In her old school, she’d acquired the nickname ‘Bookworm’ because she loved immersing into the knowledge hidden between the covers of the printed work.
Shaking her head, she turned her attention back to the words on the page. Aside from noting the topic of the chapter as ‘Population Change,’ none of the text registered.
First day back at school for a new term usually didn’t leave her this agitated. She loved school. But while it was the first day back for her, the school had been back for a few weeks already. She’d missed weeks of lessons and studying.
She sucked in a deep breath and gave another glance at the door. The student standing at the entrance hadn’t moved, although his attention was focused on the chaos in class rather than checking if the Geography teacher was on the way.
The churning in her stomach returned, her breathing accelerated. Crossing her arms over on the desk, she lowered her head and started blowing out short breaths.
I can do this. I’m just sitting in a room with other students. Nothing bad will happen.
Breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth, she repeated the calming actions.
Where was the teacher? Perhaps if he turned up, her anxiety would ease just as it had done in the literature lesson.
She’d been having panic attacks since the traffic accident. The doctor had offered to sign her off school for another week or month if she didn’t feel ready to be here. Her physical wounds had healed. Mentally, she didn’t know if she’d be ever fully recovered.
Tired of hiding from the world, she had to face her life. Face her future, such as it was.
Copyright Kiru Taye 2016
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