The year was 1945, five years since my Mama died from childbirth after giving birth to my little brother, Gene.
The Second World War had begun six years ago in the year 1939 and it was still going on all over the world today. But it was the Germans who had started it off by invading Poland. America had dropped huge nuclear bombs onto Japan destroying all of its beauty, landscape and nature with its disease.
Gene was five years old now and starting to grow into a fine young boy. He was starting to look more like Papa each day as the years went on. With his short brown hair tinted with a bit of golden. Gene had big green sparkling eyes just like Papa had. And even at five, he was already ever so handsome, just like Papa. He was starting play group while I was starting boarding school for girls in West London called the St Clara's Academy School for Girls.
I hadn't wanted to go but Grandmother Maxine had insisted that Mama would of been proud. She told me after Papa had returned from fighting in the war she would let him look after Gene as she was getting too old to look after kids.
The day finally came for me to start at my new school.
Grandmother Maxine drove me up to St Clara's Academy Boarding School for Girls in her 1940's black automobile. I gasped loudly as we drove through the huge black iron gates to the school. We drove over the dusty, pebbly driveway. The academy was a big, two storey grey building with tall narrow French Windows.
Young girls of fourteen same age as me stepped out of their parents' cars and walked into the building.
Grandmother stopped the car and switched off the engine.
I let out a sigh of dread as I slowly stumbled out of the backseat of the car yanking my heavy brown suitcase with me. I was wearing a hideous brown uniform with buttons up the front with brown shoes. I closed the door shut as I walked round to the other side to say good bye to my Grandmother who didn't step out of the car. She gripped the black steering wheel in her leather gloved hands.
"You have a wonderful time, Zoe, and make lots of friends. Don't worry too much about Gene and I, wewill be fine until your father returns and you return for the holidays," she said, holding back the tears. "Go on now, honey, run along."
"See you soon, little guy," I said, turning my attention to Gene in the backseat with his shoulders hunched up and his head lowered.
Grandmother Maxine leaned out the car window and we hugged tightly. I never felt so alone and sad.
I was the first to pull away and watched as Grandmother started up the engine and then reversed backwards to turn around to go back the way we came. Then watched as they slowly drove off and I saw Gene's little face up against the back window waving. I waved back until they were out of sight.
I turned to the grey building that was to be my home and a place to study for the next few years. I stared at the luscious green lawn that sprawled out in front with pretty colourful flowers growing in the centre of it.
I was so lost in my own troubled thoughts that I hadn't noticed a tall, lean, pale looking woman in blackappearing at the front of the school.
"YOU!" she bellowed, pointing a long, bony finger at me. "Get inside now, assembly is about to start and registration."
I turned and looked at her she was tall, lean, mean looking woman in her late forties with her black hair pinned tightly back in a bun. She had high cheekbones and grey- brown eyes. I followed her into the school.
All the new girls sat in straight lines on wooden chairs looking straight ahead like zombies. A few of the girls were whispering and giggling to one another as I walked past and went to the back and sat next to a row of girls.
The far hall door opened and a quite tall and quite big woman in her early fifties wearing a brown suit and shoulder length curly red hair entered the hall and walked over to the centre. She faced us with a smile and threw her hands up "welcome each and every one of you to St Clara's Academy Boarding School for Girls. My name is Mrs Peacock, I am the headmisress. I hope you all enjoy being with us. This school has been one of the most rated and best schools in the country," she informed us proudly.
The tall, lean, and mean looking woman in black who shouted at me came forward and placed a skinny hand on Mrs Peacock's shoulder.
"This is Miss Hardman, everyone, she'll be the person who will be responsible for each and every one of you and what you do. I expect all high standards in this school in every subject and Miss Hardman will inform me if one you has slipped."Mrs Peacock told us looking around the hall at us.
There was some murmurs amongst the girls but the hard stony glare from both Mrs Peacock and Miss Hardman hushed everyone. This wasn't a school, I thought. More like a prison.
"Now, Your subjects will be English, Maths, Science, Religious Education, and Physical Education. Miss Hardman will now take over."
"Thank you, Mrs Peacock," said Miss Hardman stepping forward. "Hello, my name is Miss Hardman," she began in a stony hard voice. "The bedroom arrangements will be there'll be five girls to per room. There'll be no whispering, no chewing gum, no singing nor dancing."
All of the girls including myself sat completely stunned, What was we suppose to do? Stay quiet and not say a word forever?
An hour had passed and Miss Hardman had given out more rules for us to not break. I was roomed with the girls in the back row that had all surnames beginning with S. I was now walking up a long and steep staircase with my roommates called Laura Slater, Liz Sykes, Bethany Short, and Crystal Simpson. We came to the fourth floor and walked along the dark andlong corridor searching for our room number. The only light there was was coming from the lit candlebras along the white walls.
I looked from one room to the next until we found it. I turned the silver oval shaped doorknob and opened the door. The door creaked as we walked into the room.
One of the girls was a very pretty blonde girl with long hair, turquoise eyes, shethrew herself on one of the beds declaring it her own.
"Hi, all, I'm Laura Slater, I'm from Sourthern Texas. I moved to England with my parents a couple ofyears ago," her southern accent drooled.
"HI, I'm Bethany Sykes," said a pretty girl with shoulder length black hair and brown eyes.
"Hi, I'm Crystal Simpson," said a pretty black girl with big, dazzling brown eyes and long straight black hair.
"And I'm Liz Short," said a shy girl with very long brown hair down to her waist.
"It's a pleasure meeting all of you," I said with a smile. "I'm Zoe Smith."
We all chatted quietly as we unpacked our suitcases.
At half past six in the evening we were called down to the dining hall where the dinner ladies were dishing out gruesome cabbage soup that looked like water with a few bits of cabbage thrown in. We got our soup and found an empty table then sat down to eat when Miss Hardman walked into the hall swinging a set of keys connected to a piece of rope in her right hand making a loud clinging sound as she walked.
The dining hall had been filled with light hearted chatter but now utter silence.
Miss Hardman walked slowly around the hall looking at all of us watching and waiting for one of us to slip up and do something wrong. But no one had to her disappointment. She glanced at us then turned on her heel and walked out.
Every girl watched and waited anxiously for her exit and once she'd gone, everyone began talking again.
Laura, Liz, Crystal, Bethany and I looked at each other and then burst out laughing.
That night, when all the lights had gone out everyone was sleeping, Laura, Bethany, Crystal, Liz and I were chatting and giggling away. We were talking about boys.
"A boy at my school in Texas had got caught having sex with another student," Laura told us.
Talking about sex made my cheeks red.
"So when did you all start your periods?" Crystal asked.
"I started when I was ten," boasted Laura, flipping a long strand of blonde hair behind her shoulder.
"Anyone else?" Crystal's brown eyes met mine "Zoe?"
"I started when I was twelve," I said, blushing.
Laura rested her chin on her right hand "there's no need to be embarrassed, doll face, we all go through it."
I gazed down at my chest that was beginning to form breasts. I couldn't believe I was starting to become a young woman now. It was kind of scary but exciting at the same time.
"I've had sex before." Laura said.
We stared at her in shock.
"It was with my boyfriend Brad at the time," she quickly added and then turned her back on us on her bed. "Goodnight."
The rest of us lay back on our own beds as well but I couldn't help but to wonder why Laura hadn't want to talk about it.
My eyes finally grew heavy and closed and I drifted off into a deep sleep.