The bell rang loudly in the classroom, and we all looked up expectantly at Mrs. Moriarty, waiting to hear the magic words, ”You can go now, girls.” Gathering up all our copies, books and pencils, we pushed and shoved our way down to our coats hanging on hooks set along one of the classroom walls. Grabbing my coat, I made my way as quickly as I could to the main door of the school, almost running but not quite, since running was forbidden. As soon as the huge doors were pulled open, the cold northerly wind burst through the entrance, its icy sharpness cutting into our warm faces, still flushed from the heat of the radiators. I pulled my duffle coat tighter, and wrapped my long scarf twice around my neck, then dragged my woolly hat down as far as I could over my face while still allowing a space for my eyes to peer out. No sooner had I walked out through the heavy metal school gates than the rain began to fall, lashing down on top of us all, as if we were ants being washed away with a garden hose. The rain fell steadily and unrelentingly, falling like sheets of corrugated steel. The long walk home had just grown longer.
A group of girls walked ahead of me, girls whose faces I recognised but didn’t know. I was careful to maintain the distance between myself and them, not wanting to catch up and then having to walk past them. I was anxious to avoid any contact at all. After a while, they turned off in a different direction and I continued on my path alone. I preferred to take the quiet route home, through roads and estates that were lined with houses and curtained windows like half closed eyes that never slept.
Almost every house I passed had a garden, some already dug up in preparation for the planting of spring bulbs, while others hid the terrors of aggressive dogs who barked and leaped at the gates when I passed their houses, leaving my heart pounding and my legs shaking. But today all the dogs were allowed back inside to the warmth and comfort of their owner’s house or garage, away from the elements. With no other school children in sight, and no adults setting out for a stroll on such an inclement afternoon, it seemed to me as if I inhabited a universe of one. I felt as if I was the only person walking on the earth. I imagined that the whole world was mine, that it was entirely friendly towards me, that there was nothing but happiness and bliss around me.
It seemed even more magical when the heavens opened, and the rain fell down upon me like a waterfall cascading from the thick, black clouds hovering in the sky above. I was in a world of my own, a place where I yearned to spend more and more time. I loved to be left alone, not to be bothered by the hassles and messiness of having ”best” friends. Walking along with head bent low, I thought about how much I hated that phrase. Why did everyone want to have a ”best” friend? Ordinary friends, acquaintances were fine. I was open and friendly, and always smiled at the girls, even talking when expected to. But I shied away from becoming a ”best” friend. Sometimes the girls in my class fought over which of them was my ”best” friend. How I detested the unfolding scenario which led to the inevitable 6-million dollar question –”Is it her or is it me?” My reply always upset everyone, but most of all me as suddenly I was the bad girl, the trouble maker, even though it was never through my instigation that these rows occurred. ”I have no best friend.” The girls skulked away, united now against me. At least I was left alone again, for a while anyway.
Squelching my way home in my water logged sensible, brown lace-up shoes with my head pressed down against the wind and the rain, and my satchel clutched tight against my side, I felt as if I was in heaven. Sudden gusts of wind came racing down the road, and caught tendrils of my wet hair, whipping it up and lashing it against the side of my face. I threw my head back and laughed out loud, all sounds sucked up into the whirling wind.
Added to the perfection of the moment was the anticipated delight of walking through the front door of my home and straight into the warm embrace of my mother. Knowing that mom always touched our faces and hands feeling them to check how chilled we were, I pulled off my mittens wanting my hands to be frozen, almost blue with the cold. For then she would, for sure, take my hands in hers and rub and massage the warmth and life back into them.
When I finally reached home, she peeled off all my wet clothes and wrapped me in a blanket left warming by the kitchen fire. Then she sat me down by the edge of the grate and handed me a bowl of steaming hot soup to ”warm my tummy and bring me back if I wasn’t too far gone.” I sat there for a long time, watching my mother as she bustled about the kitchen preparing dinner for me, my five siblings and my father, Outside the wind still howled, and the rain beat against the kitchen window and though I loved being out in it, preferring days like this to the sun filled days, still it could never match the sheer contentment of being brought back to life by my mother’s love, a gift surely worth freezing for.