Previous Challenge Entry (Level 2 – Intermediate)
Topic: Embarrassed (07/19/07)
TITLE: Embarrassed Beyond Words
By Judith Hope
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Considering that there were so many nationalities and histories, within this small new strata of suburbia, all went well enough.
In one household a girl awoke on school mornings to the noisy spring of the bedroom blind. At breakfast she and her sister were discouraged from conversation, so they ate in virtual silence. Their father preferred to read the newspaper. Mother cooked breakfast. The girl mentally recited the label on the sauce bottle. She perfected it. The same sauce as they had always had on the table in England. Only as her father prepared to leave for his work did her speak “Don’t miss the bus.” His hard prod of a kiss on her cheek jarred. It was worse than being ignored. She felt like she had waited in vain all her twelve years for something more from him.
The sisters used the bathroom, as Mother heated the hair curling irons over the gas rings in the kitchen. Seeing to each girl in turn, Mother silently administered curls. When her mother busied both arms to place the curls evenly, the girl’s face was brought close to the big soft breasts and warm smells of dressing gown. She blushed and felt a deep, forgotten stirring which she couldn’t understand. Briskly mother checked her daughter’s uniform for lint, then dismissed the girl, quite pleased with her own results.
A scurry was necessary to catch the green bus, as it could arrive at almost any time towards the hour. Her tunic was longer than most wore to first year at high school, as it had to last for the planned full three years. She felt very self conscious in it. And people stared at her, she felt sure. Her cheeks burned in confused embarrassment. On the bus, she would sit anxiously with her knees pressed hard together and her feet, too, her black shoes shining. She sat in a quiet longing for the bus to start and for something, anything, to happen which would turn attention to anything which would be less disconcerting.
During the journey she memorized the white flaky script on the bus panel in front of her. It read “Licensed to carry 27 passengers.” On the homeward journey, in the evening, it usually carried more the sixty!
As always, on her homeward trip, the girl allowed most passengers to board before her. The step hangers all had to constantly dismount as people reached their destinations and then quickly negotiate a place back on the step before the bus took off again. A consolation to the girl was the privilege of having her bag under the driver’s seat. This enabled her to hold onto a side rail with two hands and to grasp the bottom step with her toes as the bus careered along its bumpy way with all speed.
The bus approached a midway stop. It was outside the Woollen Mills. A wave of real tension passed through the crowd in the bus. Its origins lay in the forthcoming arrival of the Mill women. As the bus slowed to a near-stop, the women surged forward. Two women particularly were ones which the girl noticed. One was big and she simply cushion-shoved her opponents out of the way. The other was small and the girl sometimes felt this woman’s lack of hesitation in using a well-placed hard pinch to deal with her perceived opponent. The closeness of bodies and shared breathing spaces was difficult. The girl really wanted an escape from this acutely overwhelming situation. She bore it in inner suffering and a deep embarrassment and uncertainty about her own newly changing body.
Sometimes this whole performance came to an abrupt end for the girl, if she had failed to regain her foothold on the step. At this point, the driver apparently feeling his limitations, would opt to a sudden observation of his obligations to a timetable.
Now, the diesel smoke cleared and the grimy back of the bus grew smaller and distant. A hot tear escaped down her red cheeks.
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