This is my world, encompassed in four walls that held me and two hundred other kids inside a sprawling fifty-acre plot. Here, bloody fights and bloodier gang brawls were as common as the rising sun. I could navigate with ease the cobbled pathways worn to rubble by pounding feet even blindfolded. I knew every stone of the walkway leading to the cliff just past the wall; the memories of hatred and love and fighting and passion etched into each one like a permanent tattoo. The tall and torturous climbing wall, the fake war zones, the bright classrooms, the arena with its adrenaline rushes….everything was as by-heart to me as the back of my own hand.
Lots of random facts about the School was loaded into me, too- like the fact that the Trainers are hard-assed jerks; or that you could always predict the weather for the day if you knew the sea well enough to look from the cliff and make out the subtle changes in it; or that below the solitary cedar at the far end of the campus was the best hook-up/break-up point; or that if Trainer Mee dragged you out of bed and stuck you on a race track it means he wants you to run a marathon.
So, all things considered, I should be an expert on the School. A scholarly genius who could, at a wink of her eye, dispel all your worrisome doubts about the School.
So I was stumped when I couldn’t intercept the meaning behind the words eight-thirty, Ani, appointment at the Principal’s office.
‘Eight-thirty, Ani, appointment at the Principal’s office’
Trainer Mee’s moustache had quivered when he said that to me, and something about his frigid blue eyes seemed out of sorts.
I had felt strangely displaced, tossed rather nastily out of the ordinary course of my life at the School. A cold little feeling crept into my spine and numbed me from head to toe, and I had to pinch myself hard so I could come out of my sudden trance.
I had squawked out a ‘Yes, sir, all right, sir’ but it had mashed into ‘What the HELL?’ which was what I really wanted to ask, and come out as a tight, cringe-inducingly shrill ‘Yes, what the, sir?’
Trainer Mee had squared his shoulders and huffed a little, his bushy eyebrows drooping into his winter-fire eyes. He chewed his lip for a moment before saying ‘Oh, how do I know, Ani?! Just be there on time!’
He’d snarled the last word at me before striding off into the misty Trainer’s Corridor which no Trainee was supposed to ever take.
(A rule every Trainee disregarded, of course, because only the Trainers’ bathroom ever had sweet soap- we got fat yellow lumps that gave us all rashes)
I had stood there, hugging myself, concerned at how my routine had suddenly become warped and at how all I could think of was that conspicuously fluorescent orange door that said in serious letters, P INCIPAL, the R having been torn of long back by the more rebellious Trainees. It was as though all of my immediate future had grabbed their bags and left me to spin in circles around a single event which would happen behind that orange door.
I was still thinking of it during lunch time.
‘Eight-thirty, Ani. Principal’s office’
Another squeak escaped my lips and I paused gorging on my sandwich long enough to collect my suddenly scattered bearings. Trainer Mee gave me the evil eye as he passed by my table, empty except for me.
I had come back from the Trainer’s Corridor, slightly nervous, and had no idea how I had even got out of all the activities before lunch so I could sit in the library and muse on that sentence, ‘Appointment at the Principal’s office’, trying to decode it as though it may be a cryptic message, pondering on every syllable. I would still have been in the cold and eternally damp library had not the grumpy librarian shoved me out by shouting in my face very loudly.
I watched sauce drip onto my plate. Somewhere at the back of my head, an orange door rotated slowly, like a very scary, very rectangular clock ticking away all my time.