THERE ARE lots of things I love about boarding school, but a few that I hate about it too. And some of those things are different sides of the same coin.
One of the things I love is having company all the time. It means I’m never lonely or bored, or moping around, like I sometimes do at home. But the flip side of that is that I never get to be alone when I really need to be. And this is one of those times.
I manage to avoid being interrogated by Lael when I come back from the dinner because she’s already fast asleep. But the next morning she takes one look at my face and immediately knows something’s wrong. It’s hard work evading her questions and telling her again and again that everything’s okay. Eventually I manage to convince her that I really, really don’t want to talk about it, but that doesn’t stop the anxious looks she keeps giving me.
It feels like I’m living under a microscope.
It’s sweet of her to be so concerned, but this isn’t something I want to share. Just the thought of telling anybody how I behaved at the dinner makes me go cold all over.
I only I could get away by myself for a short while. But where? There are always people in the dormitories, the common room, the dining-hall, and outside in the grounds. If I don’t find some peace and quiet soon, I’m going to scream.
I wander restlessly all over Sisulu House, looking for a quiet spot. The matrics have really got it made with those studies of theirs. They are such cosy, comfortable rooms, with kettles and toasters and everything. And no one is using them at the moment. But I just know that if I actually went into one, I’d get caught and be given a detention.
Then I remember the old library up on the fourth floor. Hardly anyone goes in there anymore because we all do our research online these days. So as long as it’s not full of cobwebs and spiders, it’ll be the perfect place for me to hang out on my own for a bit.
I run up the stairs two at a time in my eagerness to check it out.
Okay, this is not bad at all. It’s a smallish room with floor-to-ceiling bookcases filled with encyclopaedias. A quick look confirms that the school stopped buying new editions in 2005, right about when learners stopped using anything except the internet for references. It’s clean and bright, with a lot of light coming in from the long windows.
This would be the perfect place for me to hang out when I want to be on my own, except that it’s obviously not as unused as I thought. Looking around, I can see that girls come in here all the time. There’s a laptop cover on one of the desks, a Kit Kat wrapper, a school jersey, and a pencil bag that I’m pretty sure belongs to Yasmin.
But the important thing is that it’s empty now. I sink into a chair and rest my forehead on my arms, trying to think calmly about what happened with Zach. I haven’t seen him since the night of the dinner. He’s been friendly, but slightly cold, over the phone and on BBM. I can tell that he’s forgiven me, but that he’s still disappointed
in me. I’d do anything – anything at all – to wipe that disappointment out of his voice.
I tear up again and am just settling in for a good cry when something makes me look up.
“Oh, no, not you again!” I blurt out. “What do I have to do to get some peace and quiet around here?”
James just smiles as he strolls into the library with his thumbs hooked into the front pockets of his jeans. “It’s lovely to see you too, Trinity.”
“Go away. I want to be alone.”
“Sorry, Greta Garbo. That’s not going to happen.”
“I … what did you just call me?”
“Never mind. I take it now is not a great time to talk?”
“You take it right.” I narrow my eyes at him. “How did you get up here anyway? Boys aren’t supposed to come upstairs. At all. Ever.”
“I told you before,” he says, aiming a slow-motion karate kick at my desk. “I’m a ninja. I am the living shadow. I go where I like, when I like.”
“Ja, ja, ja. Well, see that you don’t get caught, Shadow Boy, or you’ll be spending the rest of your life in detention.”
He laughs and perches on one of the desks. “So what’s up with you, Trinity? Apart from boyfriend trouble, that is?”
“What do you mean, ‘boyfriend trouble’? Who says I’m having boyfriend trouble?”
“Let’s see.” He counts the items off on his fingers. “Your eyes are all pink and swollen. You’ve come up here to be alone. And even my considerable charm isn’t making you smile. In my book, that all adds up to boyfriend trouble.”
“Oh, please. What rubbish. I could be crying about anything. I could have had a fight with my mother, or my best friend. Trust you to assume I must be upset over a boy.”
There’s a beat of silence.
“I’m right, aren’t I?” he says.
I heave a sigh. “Yes, okay, you’re right.”
“Why don’t you tell me about it?”
So I do. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about James, it’s that he’s a good listener. He doesn’t interrupt, he doesn’t take his eyes off your face while you’re talking, and he doesn’t judge. He just listens until you’ve finished telling him the whole sorry story. And then he says nothing.
“Well?” I say after a long silence.
“What do you think? You must have some opinion.”
“I think…” he says slowly. “I think you shouldn’t take him back until he apologises with flowers and chocolates. Not one or the other. Both.”
This makes me sigh again. “I should have known you wouldn’t understand. Don’t you get it? Zach hasn’t got anything to apologise for. He didn’t do anything wrong. I did. And I have to make it up to him so he can be proud of me again.”
“I repeat. Flowers and chocolates. And make sure they’re the expensive kind.”
I swat his suggestion away like it’s an annoying fly. “Oh, you’ll never get it! Can we please talk about something else?”
“Fine,” he says. “Let’s talk about why you girls still haven’t done anything about the Gumede Shield. I told you everything you needed to know over two weeks
ago. This morning I walk past Dr Hussein’s office and what do I see? The shield. On its shelf. Behind glass. So what’s up with that?”
“Oh, that was because of the diet!”
His face creases into a look of severe puzzlement. “The … diet?”
“Yes, Lael and I went on this stupid Brand New You diet where we had to drink milkshakes and eat soup all day long. And we were so hungry and exhausted we couldn’t think about anything else. But we’re better now, so we’ll be getting back to the shield any day now.”
“No more diets for you then?”
“No, I didn’t say that. We still have loads of weight to lose. We’ll be starting a new one soon, but that’s okay. It’s one of those ‘eat as much as you like and still lose weight’ diets. We’ll be fine.”
“I don’t know why you want to lose weight anyway. Your Jewish friend could stand to lose a few pounds, although I must say she makes overweight look good. But you people are meant to have big bums, aren’t you?”
“You people?” I echo, dangerously. “And what people might those be?”
“You know – the Bantu people. You’re meant to have big backsides, aren’t you?”
I gape at him. “The ‘Bantu’ people? Do you know, that’s one of those words I’ve never heard in real life before? I’ve read it, but you’re the first person I’ve ever actually heard say it.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Of course you don’t,” I sigh.
“You mustn’t be so sensitive, Trinity. Is it your time of the month, or something?”
“That does it!” I stand up and point at the library door. “You. Out. Now.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, get out! I mean, I don’t want to talk to you anymore. Go away before I scream for Matron.”
He holds up his hands. “Okay, okay! I’m going. I’m gone.”
And he saunters out the door.
Still fuming, I sit down again. Now, where was I? Oh, yes. I was about to have a good cry. Except now, for some reason, I don’t feel like it. Because in some weird way – and I really don’t understand how – talking to James has made me feel better.
If only he weren’t such an incredibly racist pig.