My heart beats with a mixture of excitement and fear. I clutch the bunch of dahlias in my hand and enter the building. There are lots of big kids in the corridor hanging up their coats and bags, laughing and jostling each other, talking about their summer and catching up with friends they hadn't seen since before Christmas. I follow my big brother. He is 6 and he is wearing new shorts with sharp creases in the front. His yellow hair is neatly slicked with a part down the side. My part is in the middle and my plaits hurt. They are very tight and make the skin near my eyes feel pulled back. I look at my feet and smile. I like my plastic sandles and I have on a new grey pinafore. I am a big girl now and this is my first day of school. The dahlias are for the teacher. Dahlias are my favourite, there are lots of colours and I like the smell. Peter and I go in to the little room. The big room is where all the big kids go when the bell is rung by the head master but we go into the little room. I sit in the prep desks where Peter points and he sits in the grade one desks.
Mrs Le Brun beckons me over to her desk.
“Welcome to school Cecilia. What lovely flowers, are they for me?” Shyness overcomes me and I duck my head holding out the dahlias for her to take. She puts them to one side and picks up a book in her right hand. She reaches out a warm plump left arm and pulls me close to her side. “Now can you read some of this for me Cecilia?” I look at the book. It has a brown cover with a picture of a girl running behind a little dog. It only has a few words on the page and I look at the teacher for a moment, hesitating. “It is all right if you don't know yet, that is why you are at school dear, to learn.” She hands the book to me and I read it. It only takes a few seconds and I hand it back to her. Her eyebrows raise and she picks up another book. This one is about two children and two pets and there are more words but not many more. I read that one quickly too, trying to make it sound interesting as I read. “How old are you Cecilia?”
“What things do you like to read at home dear?”
“The big books with the red covers, there are twenty two of them,” I say proudly because I can remember how many there are, “ and I read the stories about children who die and go to heaven but they are very sad. Sometimes I read other things too but mostly I like the big red books.” Mrs. Le Brun wrote something in her big blue book.
“Well go back to your desk now dear and don't read out loud in case you upset the other children” Off you go.”
How might I upset other children? I sat down puzzling over what she said. Other children were called over to her desk and I listened. They stumbled over every word. Some of them could not work out what the word meant and some fumbled and hesitated. The words should flow and be beautiful and make music in their mouths. Was there something wrong with me? Had I done something wrong? Was I supposed to read like that? Would I get in trouble? I didn't understand. The words had always been in my head. Maybe if I just stay quiet no one else will notice and it will be alright.