It is less than a kilometre from The Meadow to St Joseph‘s School in Edward Street but the bus stopped and re-started several times as other kids climbed on board. It was my first ever trip on a bus and I was excited. I thought the journey would never end.
Indeed I wished it would never end, for I didn’t like the sound of this school-thing at all at all.
Finally the driver ordered us all out as it was ‘the end of the line’. I stumbled on to the pavement outside an enormous three-storey granite building that would later become familiar as Dr Rafferty’s surgery but for now just looked dark and foreboding.
The bus drove off to reveal an even more broody and foreboding building on the other side of the road. It seemed to be made only of sand-bags – millions of those – barbed wire and bare breeze-blocks and had a black-clad character wearing a peaked-cap with a sinister insignia on it, and a gun, standing to attention outside it. He was the scariest person I had ever laid eyes on.
‘What’s that?’ I asked, panic-stricken, of a young girl right behind me.
One or other of these buildings just had to be my school. Why else would the bus dump me here?
‘Shut up, you! You’re DISGRACING me!’ she hissed.
I looked again. She was one of my older sisters. (I had a hundred older sisters). A dozen or so of them had been lurking at the back of the bus out of my sight. They didn’t want to acknowledge any relationship with me.
‘Is that the headmaster?’ I enquired, querulously.
‘Don’t be silly, you! He’s just a policeman’, she retorted –
and so my image of the average policeman was indelibly stamped in my brain for life.
‘Then THAT’S the school?’ I muttered disbelievingly, pointing to the granite massif.
‘Just shut yer mouth!’ she hissed.
‘Follow me …
– but do NOT walk beside me and do NOT make it look like you are with me. Whatever you do, do NOT talk to me!’
She set off briskly across the Catherine Street junction and down Lower Edward Street, along with a score of other girls with whom she anxiously conversed, deliberately, to demonstrate her disconnectedness from the ‘baby infant’.
I was close to tears but I wouldn’t please her to cry. I tottered helplessly forward trying hard to keep her in sight.
Only when we entered the school grounds did she come over to me. Taking me by the scruff of the neck she pushed me through the door of Sister Hairpull’s classroom.
‘He’s for YOU!’
she roared triumphantly and maliciously, as I struggled hard not to fall over.
I turned to face the infamous hair-puller!
… more later …