It is so difficult to be very young, when all of life is centred in self.
Verity was a skinny, skimpy girl with a skinny, skimpy security. Her arms were too thin, a fact often remarked on by her family, so she wore a thick, long-sleeved jacket year round, hot weather or cold, wet or dry. Her nose was too big, and that was awkward because you can’t cover a nose as you can clothe your arms. Her hair hung over her face in floppy curtains through which she peered like a short-sighted sheepdog. From time to time her mother urged her impatiently, “For goodness sake, Verity, brush your hair back and PIN IT!” Of course she didn’t understand the sheer indignity of having a nose that stuck out like a banana attached to a coconut! (At least, in Verity’s mind it did.)
In addition to these distressing physical attributes Verity was possessed of an overwhelming shyness. Her school classmates had quite given up attempting to draw her into their discussions and games. Wherever she went she carried a book in her hand or under her arm. This became her disguise – or excuse.
During the school sports periods she had a headache, a stomach ache, or a limp. The sports mistress, unsuccessful in her attempts to involve Verity, ignored her, leaving her to find a quiet corner and return to her book.
Conversely, and yet perhaps because she had no other distractions, Verity was academically adept. In her withdrawal she found it too difficult to ask questions in the classroom. It was therefore necessary for her to seek for answers in the books she chose to read. She became an avid student, not for the sake of learning, but because books were her only companions. She ate and drank the words. The words bespoke her freedom, gave flight to her imagination and understanding, and became all her life.
Through her several years of high school Verity’s report cards portrayed her sufficient understanding of her school subjects and the painstaking excellence of her work. They also decried her sporting inability, her anti-social withdrawal and lack of community spirit. Year by year she faced her parent’s displeasure. She had no explanation and no excuse.
After schooldays passed, university followed. Verity slid almost unconsciously into a field of medical research. Her arms, still skinny, were encased in laboratory coats. Now her hair was pulled back from her face and secured. She wore glasses and her nose was frequently covered by a surgical mask.
Research work had another effect. It claimed all of her attention, clothing her, feeding her and focussing her. The laboratory became her world. She forgot that she had ever been ‘skinny, skimpy Verity.’ She no longer had need of excuses or reason to hide. There were no report cards; her parents accepted her vocation and her devotion to research. There was work to be done, answers to be provided to the medical fraternity. This was a work where Verity excelled. She blossomed, although there was no one to notice or remark the change.
“And now, Dr. Auchterlonie, I want you to meet our most conscientious and successful research assistant.” As always, Dr. Noakes voice boomed. “Verity, will you explain to Dr. Auchterlonie ...”
Verity looked up, removing the protective eyewear. She had become accustomed to these brief interruptions as Dr. Noakes ushered visiting dignitaries through the laboratories. Her involvement was seldom more than a brief explanation of the task at hand.
The lady with Dr. Noakes gave a gasp. “Verity! Verity Lansdale! I’d know that ...” She broke off in some confusion.
Smiling faintly, Verity concluded the sentence, “... nose anywhere! Yes, Meg Auchterlonie, it is Verity Lansdale.” To Dr. Noakes she added, “Meg and I were at school together.”
Red-faced, Meg stammered, “Verity, I am so sorry. I really didn’t mean to be so rude.”
Verity laughed outright. “It’s quite all right, Meg. In fact,” her eyes twinkled, “if it weren’t for my nose I doubt anyone would recognise me! To think that for so long it was the bane of my life. But now I know that there are many things more important than the size of my nose, and life is much more comfortable. Now tell me what you are doing visiting my research station?”
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