Pleated Skirts and Amens

When she asked me whether I would go to art school, I said “No” too fast. There is something about a girl sitting in class, drawing, that is different from a girl sitting in class, reading, or a girl sitting in class, talking. When you are a girl, it is okay to draw in Math class, and to go to art school. So I said, “No”. I handed over the book to her, and told her that there was a drawing of a crucifix on one of its pages.

We are walking into the quadrangle after basketball practice. Classes are over; the quiet makes me feel like we’re in an altogether different place. I know this place by its sounds; here, I learn to become loud. We walk along the line of bricks that separates the veranda from the gutter and the plant pots. It is the first week, and they’re curious about the boys I’ve “dated”. Some of them tell me that x and y have been with their boyfriends forever, and that they’re sure they’ll end up married.

There is an assembly every day, with its Our Fathers and Hail Marys and loud or soft thuds depending on how far from the fainting girl you are standing. In the balcony – in a fashion that seems unconsciously and obviously papal in retrospect – our nun principal bats an eyelash, and continues. We sing the national anthem. There will always be the one girl with the stained skirt who happens to be standing at the front of a line.

We threw our seniors a pre-farewell party. They smeared paint on each other and on us and on the teachers they weren’t afraid of. We made a large banner out of sheets of chart paper, but I don’t think they saw it. One of the girls got onto a chair and rolled her skirt up. Another performed a scene from a Konkani play she was in. One girl ran to a balcony and pulled out the colourful, twisted streamers. Later, she put them in her hair.

I read while I went to school there. I read, and I wrote, and I drew, and all for myself. Only F knew that I wrote, because she wrote, too. One day, she said that we should both bring a poem to class. During the lunch break the next day, we sat on the stair at the classroom door, and they sat around us, listening. It was nice. At some point, someone said, “That’s so true”.

They used to be the enemy team; I knew them as ‘the one with the blue headband’ or ‘number five’ or ‘the short one who runs really fast’. My first day there, they came to see me in the morning break. I sat in the second-last row with an old friend from my previous school. One by one, they fell into the class, said, “So you’re playing for the team, right?”, and left. I wouldn’t learn their names till the next day.

They told me all the stories I needed to know. I think they were excited to tell these stories, and excited to have someone new to tell them to. You had to be loud, or louder than everyone else, to be heard. N was usually the loudest voice, but she became quiet when this story was told. I’m smiling now as I remember it. One day, we were standing at the entrance to a junior classroom when they pointed to a cracked pot in the garden. S saw a spider and jumped into D’s lap, screaming. Terrified, N ran out of the class; tripping on the stair at the doorway, she fell headfirst into the garden, and cracked the pot with her head. “She was fine, though”, they said.

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