As planned, Becky had left the churchyard before the people came out of the service. She didn’t want to be seen lurking around the old graves, and headed home without lingering in the village.
Mum was on the phone. She was arguing about a contract or something, and using her free hand to drag her hair up, as it it had been electrified. Never a good sign. Avoiding the possibility of being accused of doing something wrong, she hurried up into her room, and started to look through her notes.
It was fairly obvious that her best chance of connecting Charity to one of the deceased Oliphants was through Thomas. He was the only one without a grave, well at least a headstone. She felt sure that if he had been buried there, then the marker would have stayed put. After all, the earlier and later ones were still there. It was only a guess of course, but it seemed to her that the children of Christian might all have died. So she had to go with her instinct, that Charity was a child of Thomas, who had owned the mill during the English Civil War. The next time Charity showed up, she would try to get her to tell her more about herself.
By the time Becky started to feel really hungry, Mum had calmed down. Two large glasses of white wine had helped her mood, and she was humming a song as she cooked spaghetti bolognese for the evening meal. Becky joined in the chorus, and they both fell about laughing when they couldn’t hit the high note. Over dinner, Mum chatted about the new school the next day. How she thought her daughter should do really well, she was so bright, and so on. Becky nodded at the right moments, happy that no more had been said about her ‘dream’. One good thing about Mum always being so preoccupied with work, she had a short memory when it came to such things.
Forced to go to bed early, and with no i-pad, Becky had trouble getting off to sleep. In her mind, she tried to picture the Oliphant family over the years, recalling the appearance of seventeenth century people she had seen in school books, and on TV dramas or films. When Mum was in her room early the next morning, she felt as if she had only just dropped off moments earlier. The journey to the new school was going to be too much for Mum, they already knew that. Forty minutes each way in the morning, then again in the afternoon to pick her up. That was not only going to mean a lot of petrol, but also take a big chunk out of Mum’s day. Then once winter arrived, she presumed the country roads would be bad too. There was a bus that picked up the local kids, but only from the village. Mum had already mentioned that she intended Becky should get that bus, once she was settled in at the school. She would have to walk to the village along the riverbank.
Being the new intake at a big school was never much fun. It was even worse when you didn’t know anyone else. Becky saw the other girls and boys walking in in groups, some chatting and laughing, others messing around. Most of them had gone to the same junior school, and already knew each other. It soon dawned on her that she was the only stranger. The older girls laughed at her in the pristine uniform. Their skirts were too short, their ties undone, and they were wearing make-up, and carrying mobile phones openly. She kept her head down, and followed a sign that read ‘First Years go to the Assembly Hall’. The big arrow underneath showed her the way.
A group of teachers stood on the stage, and a fat woman shouted for everyone to be quiet. A scruffy young man stood up, and read out a list of names, including Becky’s. He had told everyone whose name was read out to stand up, and when around twenty five boys and girls were on their feet, he called out “I am Mr Duncan, and you are all in my class. You are now in 1D. Follow the corridor to room seventeen, and wait for me outside. And quietly please”. He arrived a few minutes later, and unlocked the door. Groups of children who knew each other rushed inside to choose the best seats. The ones next to the windows, or right at the back. But before they could get comfortable, Mr Duncan came in, holding a sheet of paper. “Right, listen for your names, then sit where I tell you. They will be your seats every morning for registration, and you are also to sit in those same seats in every subject class. is that clear?” Nobody answered. “This is so that all the teachers will know your names, from where you are sitting. So I don’t want to hear any moans or complaints. Is that clear?” Again, nobody answered.
When Becky’s name was called, she was shown to a seat one row back from the front, in the middle. The next name called out was Drew Tyler, and he was told to sit next to her. There was some sniggering from the back, and a low whistle. Mr Duncan banged the desk with the flat of his hand, and shouted. “Enough!” We have a lot to get through today, so no fooling around. I tell you now, I won’t stand for it”. The boy Drew was taller than most his age, and had his hair cut so short, he looked bald. He had a long neck, and it was red around where his shirt collar was rubbing. He slumped down next to Becky without turning to look at her. Her heart sank at the thought of having to sit next to this boy in every class for the next school year.
The rest of the day was a blur. Timetables, being shown around the school buildings, an endless list of rules and regulations. A mock fire drill, health and safety around the school premises, and a presentation on school trips, both in England, and abroad. Mum had given her money to buy lunch, so she got a wrap and a drink, then sat outside on her own, away from the others. By the time the bell rang for the end of the day, she was really pleased to see her Mum’s car close to the gate. Becky ran up to the car smiling, and opened the passenger door as the car started up. Turning to fling her school bag into the back, she froze.
Charity was sitting on the back seat, smiling.