After Mary’s departure with a quick, “Be careful today,” Grace lingered in bed for a few minutes. A weak sun tried to poke through the bedroom curtains while outside, the southeaster moaned in low complaint. It had been blowing for days, enough to make anyone mad. Grace pulled herself out of bed, swallowed the last bit of tea, cold now, went to the bathroom and brushed her teeth. The sleep creases in her school uniform would straighten out in time and the blazer would cover the stain on her chest, she told herself as she pulled on fresh socks and her scuffed Bata shoes.
In the mirror, she attempted to tame the bush of tight, frizzy curls around her head but gave up after two sweeps of the brush. A hair-band would have to do. It smoothed down the front of her hair just fine, but everything else stuck out like thatch behind it. She turned away from the mirror, unable to stand her reflection, and headed out the door.
The sun made a feeble attempt to warm the day. Grace felt hollow. She eyed the house next door. Johnny would have left for school by now. Normally he waited for her on the corner, but she had lain in too long this morning. Just as well he’d gone. She wouldn’t have been able to look him in the eye after last night’s commotion on their front stoep. He must have heard Patrick’s outburst – all of the neighbours probably had. They were used to his drunken rages, but the children of the neighbourhood never tired of mocking Grace the next day. Thank God Johnny wasn’t like that. But she still couldn’t bear the thought that he had heard.
As she turned the corner of Saturn Street to join Main Road, the wind unleashed its full fury. White grains of sand peppered her legs, her eyelids, the soft inside of her mouth. Pulling her blazer tight around her, Grace hunched forward, pitting herself against it. The devil was dancing in this wind; she felt it in the violent tugs. The southeaster was a male wind, it was said, always trying to lift women’s skirts.
She approached the school from a side street – for weeks she had been avoiding all main roads to keep out of the way of the police. As she climbed through a hole in the fence behind the main school building, a row of armoured vehicles rolled slowly down a deserted Main Road past the school’s front gate. She thought about turning and running back home, but the emptiness of the house and the thought of being alone for hours propelled her across the soccer field towards the first class of the day.
The school bell whined a shrill warning as Grace ran across the field towards the quad where students lined up before classes began. Something wasn’t right. The kids were huddled in little groups. Instead of the usual line-up, they were milling around, congealing in small circles. She saw the science teacher, Mr January, come running out of his classroom, his tie fluttering in the wind. Like a good herd dog, he tried to round up the younger children and shoo them inside. As she neared the quad, Grace saw him tugging at one of the older boys’ sleeves. They tussled for a bit before Mr January gave up, turned, and went back inside.
Mounting chaos, a frenetic energy, grabbed hold of the school. Students poured out of classrooms, like confused ants in the usually neat quad. Grace tried to make her way to her maths class, wanting nothing to do with this politics, but she was jostled and pushed up against an inchoate flow of bodies. Skilled at the art of making herself invisible, she stood with her back to a wall and waited for a gap. As she passed Mr January’s classroom, she heard his low voice, gravelly from too many cigarettes and years of shouting at students, his muted plea directed at no one in particular. “God help us.”
Tell us: Why do you think the police are at Grace’s school?