It finally hits me; I have just started my period. I think me being frozen on this spot has less to do with waiting for Zethu, as she takes out my school track top to wrap around me, and everything to do with the fact that my mind has just gone blank. Never mind that I am 14 years old and in Grade 9, everything I have ever learned about periods since Grade 7 just disappeared from my brain and I am left with nothing but panic. I want to bawl and run out but somehow my feet just won’t move. And the pain has intensified now that I have realised what it is; period pains.

“Don’t worry,” Zethu whispers, as she quickly wraps the jersey around my waist. “They will let you go home and you won’t have to deal with these stupid bimbos.”

A smile escapes me despite myself. Although crooked and half-hearted, the smile is enough for my friend as she returns it with her full bright gummy one. Miss Gumbi is giving out exercise instructions as I shuffle out of the classroom with my best friend.

“I forgot to check if I soiled the desk!” I exclaim a few feet away from the door, remembering an incident a classmate had last year. I had watched in horror as the blood dripped from her desk to the floor. I had feared getting my period while in school because of that incident. Actually, I wished so badly to stop being a girl if it meant bleeding through my vagina like that. The fact that it was just a matter of time before it happened to me gave me a lot of sleepless nights. But eventually it moved to the back of my mind and I forgot about it — until now. Now I am the girl the boys are laughing at and the other girls are secretly feeling sorry for. I want to die.

Matching my whisper, Zethu ushers me forward and says, “Don’t worry about that.”

After a momentary silence with my feet echoing in the hallway, I whisper, “I can’t believe I’m the bleeding freak…”

With so much fire in her eyes, Zethu stops me and holds my tattered jersey as she says through clenched teeth, “You are not a freak! This is natural and a beautiful rite of passage for all girls. You should be happy…”

I interrupt, “Happy?”

“You’re becoming a woman now!”

The way she says it makes it seem so nice. Becoming a woman. What does that even mean?

“I don’t feel really beautiful right now.”

“But you are! You’ve always been ahead of me,” she says, playfully nudging me with her shoulder. “You got your curves first and the boobs… look at you, girl, you are a sight for sore eyes!”

Trust my friend to talk me up about the very things that make me feel insecure. Getting curves earlier than other girls my age did not give me the confidence boost my friend thinks it did. Being taller and bigger than everyone, my age being questioned because I ‘look older’, and old men looking at me creepily are the worst things ever. But I understand my friend’s feelings. When I got my first bra last year, she almost died of jealousy. Her chest is still flat, her long legs straight and lanky, and her face still acne free. I envy her! She is just tall, while I am tall, pimple-faced, big, and now bleeding.

Tell us: What do you think of the narrator’s view of puberty?