Saturday, December 26, 2009

The head nun, who was a cross between the head mistress from my schooldays in the late sixties, Sister M, and the principle of my daughters’ school now, handed me a slip of paper. It included a description of the role I was to perform in the school play.

I looked at it briefly and felt disappointed. I was standing in the middle of the schoolyard down near the quadrangle when the head mistress, whom I shall from now on call Sister M, came over to ask whether I was happy with my part.

‘I’m not really,’ I dared to say. I dared only tell her because somewhere earlier in my dream I had read through the school manual and in it I had seen written that there was a place to complain about parts allocated in the school play if you were not satisfied.

Even as I told Sr M that I was unhappy with my part I thought I should keep it to myself. I should have swallowed my pride, but it was too late, it was out.

‘It’s a small part, I know Sister M said but we need to give the main parts to those who are best able to take on particular roles, even so this one gives you a chance to demonstrate your skills.’

One of my sisters stood nearby. She came over to see what all the fuss was about. Sister M left and my sister read through the description of my role.

‘It’s not so bad,’ she said. ‘You’re part of the roaring forties, a small part maybe, but you’ll be on stage most of the time.’

I knew then that I should not have complained but the idea of being on stage as part of the chorus in the background, nodding and smiling, gesticulating or whatever else was required, did not pleased me. Against my wishes, I began to cry. By the time Sister M arrived back with two other possible roles in the play that I might prefer I was sobbing.

I did not want these parts. It was okay. I felt apologetic and embarrassed, but as I write down my memory of the dream now, my sorrow was tinged with anger. I knew it would not do to cry, but I could not stop. Then whether I decided it was strategic for me to suggest that I was worried about other things, like how I might do in my final year at school, I do not know. But I took this line.

It was around March during my matriculation, the title of my final year at school. It seemed a more legitimate thing to be upset about than the role I would have in the play. Besides as I sobbed, I realised it was true. I was worried about my schoolwork.

I had slipped behind. I had been sick, in the same way as my oldest daughter, who in the dream became my daughter who had been sick with glandular fever the year before and virtually lost the best part of her year ten year. I was now worried that I would slip further behind, too.

I had always imagined that when you work hard then you will be rewarded with good results, but this was not happening for me now. The role I had been allocated in the school play, a small bit part on the sidelines was proof of this.

The head mistress held me in her arms to comfort me but I felt on display, the entire school of girls were watching. I did not trust the head mistresses concern. In between turns of talking to me, and holding me between the folds of her billowing black habit, she was dealing with the usual school business. She was introducing herself to would be parents of other schoolgirls and dealing with other teachers’ concerns.

Every time she turned away, I looked around me through blurry eyes at the schoolyard and wondered what I was dong there. The whole place seemed to have changed. I could no longer feel connected and I was convinced I would now fail my final school year because things no longer made sense to me as they once did.

There was an entire subject, a foreign language, something like Polish that I was meant to have studied that year but I knew not one single word of it. I wanted to tell Sister M about this but she was busy talking to yet another set of parents and by the time she came back to me the rest of the school were seated at tables for lunch. I was now back in boarding school.

Sister M looked around for a space at a table for me. The girls were all familiar to me but I could not feel a connection with any of them. I sat down at the far end near a group of girls mid conversation. They looked at me but did not engage. They did not ask questions nor did they seem interested in why I was upset. They were not judgemental about it. They were simply indifferent. I could have been invisible for all they cared.

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