"Believe, Obey, Fight"
I mush the grey porridge around in my plate and eventually it turns into a viscous and squishy state. Sighing, I drop the spoon near the plate from my fingers and rub the bridge of my nose. My eyes are tired from lack of sleep and to make it worse I am not even hungry. I wish I was, just so I can keep myself distracted.
I can't stop thinking about those mysterious azure eyes. It's not so much the colour. I think my thoughts are leading me to think about the intensity of the gaze and the clouded and astral quality to them. They were so full of deep secrets and lies. I could tell. The eyes are the mirror of the soul, but not everyone wants to look inside.
It's because we stopped searching for monsters under out beds when we realised that they were inside of us, hiding behind the innocent eyes and smiling malevolently. They fear seeing the demons when they look in. They fear getting pulled in.
I don't. Because through the demons, through the monsters and horrors of our charred souls, there comes a small innocent little mouse, just like Poppy, which is hard to coax out, but if we try and forget how to judge, it will be tamed. And then, we see the beautiful mind and soul of the person.
Outside the rain is pouring. I got inside after the run quickly and I was lucky, because those were my only clothes for the weekend. On the bright side maybe they'll cancel dodge ball. The windows are dappled in raindrops that glisten like tears from Heaven. I sometimes wonder if there really is a God up there, since this must be Hell.
Poppy leans over my shoulder and makes a face when she sees what I did with my food, "Ew," she shows her tongue. A smile tugs at the corners of my mouth and I ruffle her warm brown hair. She nudges my hand away, slightly annoyed. She hates it when I do that.
"What are your chores today?" I ask her softly, hoping she would make conversation. I chew on my lip and when she does say something, I exhale heavily.
"Washing the floors and mail," she says a bit sourly. I would swap laundry any day for washing a few floorboards.
"What? That's better than mine. Lighten up, little mouse! It's the weekend," I squeeze her shoulders and she cracks a smile, "We can got to the Glasshouse today and no one will find us,"
"Promise?" she furrows her eyebrows. I nod, but that isn't good enough, "And you'll sing to me? Pinkie swear!" she thrusts her small finger in front of my nose. I have no choice but to succumb to this beautiful creature. I'm not that good a singer, but I'm not bad either. She likes it when I sing her songs and we lie together around the lilies and roses. In spring, I love the pink blossoms of the cherry trees outside and the poppy flowers, but her favourite are the daisies.
A bell sounds and I jump up. She gives a small giggle and nearly falls over her little feet when she climbs out of the huge bench. I don't feel like returning a full plate back to Breeda, because she'll skin me alive. I hesitate, but then I decide to just get it over with and pile my plate over Poppy's, balancing them in one hand and cupping our glasses in the other.
Poppy sees me struggling and offers to help. She blushes a bright crimson. She must be punishing herself mentally for not cleaning up her own plate. This is the worst part of this school. You always feel the guilt for something little.
"Hmph," Breeda grunts at me and gives me the stink-eye look, "Is my cooking not good enough for ya?" she grows through her teeth. Her greasy grey hair is pulled tightly back in her cap and it makes her face look even more fish-like.
"No, Madame," I answer in the most innocent voice I can pull off, "I feel sick, that is all. I am very sorry. It won't happen again," I lower my head as if in shame. She gives another grunt and narrows her already small eyes. She is mentally trying to decide whether to fry me alive or let me go.
"Get outta here, before this spoon licks yar face!" she snarls and we brisk walk to the exit. I give a sigh of relief and wipe the sweat from my forehead, "Baywell!" I turn around.
"Yes?" I ask. She gives me a meaningful look and I realise what she wants, "Madame, " I drag the word out.
"Ya better eat everything up at dinner and lunch or I'll have ya without food for the week!" she shakes her spoon and she disappears into the kitchen doors, her apron swirling behind her.
What she needs is a bit of love and a smile. We all do. It's why I try to be kind and cheerful ear her, so she can see that I want her to feel like there is a kind face in this whole crowd of misery. I think she might have realised, because we have an understanding. It's thin and I need to hold on to it.
More or less, the students are now leaving and there are only a few left around in the corridors. Poppy and I change quickly into our work clothes which are plain grey. That's the dress code; grey, black, white or brown. We can't be seen with bright clothing, since we're not important enough or we don't deserve it.
I leave Poppy at the Foyer with the cleaning team and wave goodbye. She raises her little hand half-heartedly and her glassy round eyes follow me intently until I am gone. Her overlarge apron glides across the floor and I can only imagine her clutching to the mop that is ten times her height.
I feel so heartbroken to see her miserable like that. This is no place for a childhood to pass. I wish I could give her another life. I would do anything so she could smile every morning and so she could run around the field laughing and doing what she wants.
I have heard her laugh about maybe five times in total and it's the most beautiful thing in the whole world. It rises and falls, then it drops all together slowly like honey and echoes off your heart. It promises light and no bad dreams, memories and only happiness.
It has gotten visibly colder. The rain has passed and the green grass is wet, the pavements are splotched and the mud form the sidewalk licks my shoes, making them soggy. I try to avoid the puddles as much as I can, but they are everywhere. My skirts do little to help and they brush the ground and I step on them a few times. I honesty don't know why they make us wear these long dresses. I guess it must be something to do with adding extra misery or whatever.
The laundry rooms are located just behind the school, so that the inspections won't have to see the background jobs performed. It's a rotunda with narrow windows and I can already see steam coming from the chimney like crazy. The red bricks stick out in a distorted way and the door is made from old wood. It is wet from the passing rain and I can see the bottom of it beginning to chip away.
The moment I walk into the laundry house, my cheeks go flaming red from the heat. Most of the girls are already there and they all stand in a horizontal line, as in the sports field. Their backs are straight, hair tightly behind their mob caps, eyes gazing at the opposite walls and their mouths silent. I quietly join the end of the line, hoping no one saw that I am one of the last ones to come.
The silence is eerie. Madame Roche is supervising and no one moves. This is bad. Someone must be late. I am relieved that it isn't me, but also I feel bad for whoever it is. My assumption is correct when the double doors swing open and a girl almost falls in, her cheeks flushed and her hair is dishevelled. She gulps air and her apron is completely drenched in mud.
I feel the feeling of pity coming into me. It's slow and it makes my heart freeze for a moment in fear of what will happen.
"And you are?" Madame Roche's voice quietly hisses against the rain that has begun again. Everyone holds their breaths and I can see the girl's eyes swell up in tears.
She stammers as she speaks, "Late. I am so sorry, Madame-" she tries in vain, but Madame Roche is already on her feet and slithering across the floor. She passes like lightning by each girl here and the next moment, her beating rod is out and she violently slashes the girl's back. The girl drops to the floor whimpering and sobbing with stifled cries of pain. Madame Roche whirls around to face us, her visage livid and red.
"Get to work!" she screeches and we scatter to the laundry heaps. The rotunda is separated into two; the first half for clothes and the second for bed sheets and covers. On each side there are five stations; washing, rinsing, drying, ironing, folding. When the sun is out, we usually hang the clothes out to dry, but since it's lashing rain we have to dry them inside and iron after lunch. I just hope that it won't take up my whole afternoon.
I can hear the girl distantly scrambling up and she sniffs away her tears. I sneak a look at her. She hunches over, hobbling to the laundry heap near me. Her face is contorted in pain and she shudders spastically.
The hot water in the tubs is probably boiling and the washing boards are propped up against the barrels. I don't know why the boys aren't supposed to do laundry, but my guess is that they want to keep us to the traditional roles. Girls wait dutifully beside their own heap, a buzz rings and everyone begins to work.
I roll up my sleeves and plunge my hands into the huge pile before me. This is the simple part. I sort out bed sheets into one thatched basket and into another I throw the girls' clothes and the last is for the boys'. We all have out names on a tag on the inside so we know who's clothes belong to who. They smell awful. The sweat and salt mercilessly attack my nose. Others have dried blood on them from the beatings, which makes me shudder. I am not as brave as I hope to be when I see things like this.
I have to work my way fast or else I stay behind and miss my lunch. I am suddenly feeling glad that Poppy isn't in here. She would never get the stuff sorted in time. She'd probably be covered in the heap, trying to find her way out. She can't do laundry unless she's over twelve years of age.
Finally another bell buzzes just as I throw in my last shirt. I carry one basket on my back, the other two I have between my arms. I feel so stupid and I probably look like a platypus struggling to get out of water, but I don't think anyone cares. They are all busy trying not to drop the clothes. The girl that was beaten is behind me, gasping from carrying the heavy baskets.
I reach my barrel and drop them. Now the hard part. My hands will be destroyed after this. The water is never cold and the soap always digs under my fingernails from holding it too tight. I exhale deeply and pull out my first shirt, dropping it into the big barrel. I hear someone yelp and turn to see the girl beside me nurse her hand, tears of pain spill down her cheeks. She seems so lost and I don't think she's been here long.
"It'll pass. Just get it to it. The quicker you start, the less you'll feel the heat," I advise her from sheer pity. She looks up at me, her grey eyes incredulous that someone here has said a kind word. She nods in appreciation and I turn back to my own work.
After what seemed like an hour or so of continuous scrubbing the clothes, lathering them with soap, rinsing the water off and piling them back into the basket, the buzzer goes off again. I wipe my forehead that's thick with sweat. My uniform is wet with the splashes and my hair sticks uncomfortably to the small of my neck.
I was right about my hands. They are too red, the cuticles are peeling off, the nails are half-broken, they are stiff and also hurt from the burns. I suck in a breath and try to look away so I won't notice it. The girl seems close to tears after she sees her palms.
I carry my baskets to the huge rows of clotheslines and begin to hang them out carefully, using wooden pegs. The other girls are also wrecked and their eyes droop down from fatigue and their feet wobble.
When I am done hanging all of the clothes up, I stack the two baskets at the wall, along with the rest of the girls. The cycle repeats itself, except we use the other half of the building to wash the bed linen. The barrels are now titanic; one for four girls and we pair up to wash each end. Together we rinse and hang them up.
I can't believe my ears when the buzzer gives long drone and I sigh in relief. Lunch time. The girls' faces lighten up and they take off their aprons, leaving them on the hooks as they walk out. The rains is still falling and we have to run to the school. Our feet sliding against the mud.
Poppy sits at out usual table by the window and she blows over her vegetable soup. I stand in the line to order mine, waving to her when she sees me. Thankfully she doesn't seem so miserable anymore.
I see Breeda give me a meaningful look and I smile at her. My back feels like I have been carrying bricks for the whole day and my legs are about to give in. Every bone is replaced by jelly and I wobble slightly. The line takes a while and I finally order my meal. I carry my plate on a tray, along with brown bread and a glass of water.
The girl from the laundries stands amongst the students, clueless who to sit with. She looks so troubled and the fear in her eyes is like a light flashing at me. I sigh and crack a smile, walking over to her. Her eyes widen and she stares at me.
I don't know what made me do it. I don't usually help newcomers much and I avoid everyone, except Poppy. Maybe she looks just like me when I was here in my first few weeks. Or maybe I want to stand out and prove that I am not like the rest of the school; cold and full of hate.
"Do you need somewhere to sit?" I ask softly. She nods her head vigorously, "You can come with me," I beckon her with my head and we sit at the table with Poppy.
Poppy slightly lowers in her seat and her eyes are fixed on her empty plate. She doesn't like strangers and she must be disappointed that I brought one to our table. Her lips are tightly pulled together and I can see the worry in her eyes.
"My name is Kathy and this is Poppy," I say, hoping to make the girl feel less intimidated. Her light brown hair is like the colour of cinnamon. Strands of it fall out of her mob cap and he grey eyes are full of sadness. She wants to cry; I can see it. I was hoping she'd say her name, but I think she might be afraid of opening her mouth again after what happened. I wonder if it's her first time being beaten.
Poppy's minuscule fingers clutch to the glass and she makes a slurping sound as she sips the water. She smacks her lips when she's done and I begin to eat my soup. The warm liquid rushes down my throat and I close my eyes in satisfaction. Only now do I realise how hungry I am like there was something missing inside of me.
From the corner of my eye, I can see Breeda eyeing me. I show her my plate when I finish and she huffs and turns away.
My hands still feel raw, like I have grazed them across the cement. I think I won't be able to get out of the bench, because my feet feel so weak. I look at the girl's hands and shudder. They are in a worse state, just like mine when it was my first time; the knuckles are bloody from the washboard and the skin in rough.
She catches me looking at her and pulls her sleeves over her hands. I turn away in embarrassment.
"How was cleaning Poppy?" I ask. She lifts her head a bit and lowers it again.
"Fine," she mumbles. I know what's wrong. She doesn't trust her. No wonder, after everyone here wants to beat you. The girl must sense what's wrong and looks at Poppy softly. She is young, about a year younger than me or two. He full cheeks show dimples when she smiles and her round face is full of compassion and kindness. I can see how hard she is trying to seem happy and show that smile.
"My name is Megan," her voice is silky. Poppy looks up, "Or you can just call me Meg,"
"Like nutmeg?" Poppy asks childishly and I laugh warmly.
"Yeah, something like that," her voice is shaky and gets carried away. Her gaze follows the window. She looks at it intently and I see silent tears escape her misty eyes. Poppy's little fingers close around her hand and she squeezes it tightly.
But each tear drags down slowly like a dagger cutting her face, screaming that she is forever broken. Forever filth. Forever trash. Forever in misery.