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OUT OF SCHOOL
written by: Karen Clark
After having telephoned her mother from G Wing for the very last time, Nyka sped to the canteen, making her suppertime brief in order to bid Father Paisley farewell. She plumped for a hotdog - which was quicker to eat than a meal that required the use of a knife and fork - accompanied by a helping of sorry-looking fries and two slices of bread, which she hardly touched, as she gulped down her fruit juice and hurried to the chapel before the service commenced.
When she arrived, the chaplain greeted her with a smile, pleased she had kept her promise to pay her respects before leaving Perivale behind to occupy the fringes of the world beyond bars. Before saying goodbye, Father Paisley presented her with a gift to remember him by - a Saint Jude rosary bead necklace of green, bicon glass with a silver crucifix attached to its tip - which he placed around her neck, before watching her figure submerge from the prison’s house of God.
Nyka managed to arrive back at her cell by a quarter to six, before removing her gift which she left on her desk; she would place it amongst all the belongings she was due to transfer from G Wing before the eve of her release.
Within moments the warder arrived, ordering her to wear the rosary of red jasper beads she had worn from the night her sentence began. Ten minutes later, she was in the windowless salon; the dreadlocked stylist who had weaved coloured threads through her hair now manoeuvring them out.
“So, you’re being released?” the hairdresser said, removing the final green thread which she placed on the shelf.
“Yes,” the delinquent replied as the stylist unfastened her plaits. “I’m to clear out my cell tonight, and shall leave here on the 1st of March.”
“And tomorrow?” the hairdresser asked, eliminating the knots in the juvenile’s hair with the teeth of her comb.
“I haven’t been told what will be happening tomorrow; all I know is that I’ll be spending tonight in another block on the grounds - in a room near the intake hall,” Nyka said, wondering why the stylist had asked.
The stylist looked down as she rested her comb, throwing Nyka an uneasy glance before speaking again.
“What crime did you commit?” she finally asked, trimming the inmate’s split ends.
“Chronic truancy; the Government have tightened up the rules,” the inmate replied.
“Yes, I know; I heard about it on the news,” the stylist replied, eyeing Nyka uncomfortably again before parting another section of her hair. “They should release you tomorrow if you’re vacating your cell tonight---- but you haven’t committed a dangerous crime - so maybe you’ll slip through the net,” she vaguely went on, running the comb through the juvenile’s hair, before removing the cape that protected her scrubs from loose hairs.
“Slip through the net? What you mean?” Nyka asked, alarmed by what the woman had just said.
The stylist went quiet, wary of saying any more as the warder returned.
“Could you give back the red jasper necklace to me, please?” she asked, before Nyka got up from her chair, returning the rosary at once.
“Are you ready?” said the warder to Nyka before bidding the hairdresser goodbye.
“Good luck,” said the woman, as the warder hurried Nyka away, sensing that the stylist had been indiscreet.
By a quarter to seven, Nyka had cleared her belongings from G Wing, and was standing in the room a few doors away from the intake hall; all her letters, treasured issues of “Teen Magazine,” and Father Paisley’s parting gift now housed in a polythene bag which she took a few minutes to sort through before she would unpack.
There was something out of place about the room to which she had been transferred. Despite lacking a window and mirror like the ordinary cell, for a room within a juvenile prison it was excessively plush, with an en suite bathroom and shower and a linoleumed, black and white floor in chequered design. As she rummaged through her polythene bag, the warder reappeared, striding into the room without as much as a knock.
“Nyka Haversham! The Governor wants to see you right away. Bring your juvenile handbook with you and come this way now,” the warder barked; his eyes focussing on her bag of belongings as he spoke.
Nyka pulled the manual from the polythene bag in haste, before she and the warder exited the room; the harsh strip lighting from the ceiling of the intake hall assaulting their eyes, until a maze of corridors led them back to G Wing where the Governor sat, ensconced, in the comfort of her office, waiting for the truant to arrive.
Nyka rapped on the door as the warder disappeared, still puzzled as to why she had been summoned by the Governor again.
“Come in,” the woman called, as she entered the room; the juvenile handbook in her grasp.
“You wanted to see me,” Nyka said, as the Governor nodded in the direction of the seat by her desk.
“I see you have remembered to return your copy of the juvenile handbook, which I hope you won’t need to refer to again,” the Governor remarked; her frosty glare making Nyka feel cold.
The juvenile placed the book on the desk before sitting down, sensing that the Governor had something unpleasant in mind.
“Don’t get too comfortable in that chair,” the woman cynically said. “I need you to come with me into another room to see a short film,” she added, as Nyka’s instincts told her to be ready for something untoward.
“Follow me, please, Nyka, while we take a little walk,” the woman said, as they rose from their seats; Nyka following her into the video conferencing room in dread and suspense.
“Sit down, will you, please; make yourself as comfortable as you can; the chair with the cushion should give you the best view of the screen,” the Governor went on, as the inmate reluctantly obeyed, sidling over to the armchair in the middle of the room, which differed from the other, smaller, seats.
The Governor took a seat by the screen near the front of the room; her chair facing Nyka’s own, as she switched on the projector by her side. As the screen came to life, a nurse with a medical bag slid into the room and sat down a few chairs away from the juvenile’s own.
The title of the film first appeared, accompanied by an instrumental piece of music - a background noise that continued throughout. Nyka felt uneasy and perplexed, wondering how and why the film had been made, as the caption: “Nyka Haversham’s Life” encountered her eyes. Apart from the music - Jan Hammer’s “Crockett’s Theme,” from an ancient detective series filmed a few centuries ago - the film had no sound; the Governor acting as narrator until the very end.
The title disappeared, and a girl the splitting image of Nyka appeared on the screen, treading a white, sandy beach with the boy of her dreams; the sun beating down as they held hands and whispered sweet nothings in each other’s smitten ear.
“Now, Nyka - observe,” the Governor began in a tone loud enough to be heard above the theme tune being played. “This is the life you would have enjoyed had you only conformed.”
Nyka watched as the beach disappeared, replaced by a slightly older version of herself on university grounds; a camera flashing as she posed, proudly, in the splendour of her academic gown and matching, tassled hat, destined for her chosen career.
“Look, Nyka; there you would have been on your graduation day, with your English degree - which would have led you down the journalistic path,” the Governor said with inscrutable eyes, as Nyka’s anger built up; the urge to protest against the woman’s cruel jibes growing harder and harder to suppress.
She hated the Governor - even more than she had loathed Jacob Salt, and cringed when the scene changed again to one where she had aged a few more years; now a journalist appearing on the news.
“And Nyka; there you would have been, reporting an event on our screens,” the Governor went on.
Sour tears welled up in Nyka’s eyes which slid towards the door; her body disengaging from the chair as she prepared herself to flee.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you - unless you’d like your sentence prolonged,” the Governor advised, instantly flicking a switch at the side of the screen.
The juvenile gasped in despair, as two leather straps emerged from each arm of her chair, sliding over and binding her wrists so she could not escape.
“What the hell are you doing? Let me out of this chair!” Nyka cried; her body wriggling in the seat as she tried to break free.
“All in good time,” the Governor said, as the film altered scenes once again; Nyka’s double now clothed in a dress of white lace, walking down the aisle with the male first seen on the beach at the start of the film.
“Look, Nyka; there you are again - at your wedding. What a beautiful dress you have on,” the Governor went on, as the film neared its end.
“Turn it off! I can’t bear to see any more! It’s getting on my nerves!” Nyka yelled, as the judge, the probation officer, the case manager, Mr Kildare and Jacob and Abigail Salt gathered round the happy bride and groom, showering them with confetti as the music petered out and the film drew abruptly to an end.
“Have you anything to say about the film you’ve just seen?” the Governor asked, storing the projector away after switching it off.
“How could I conform? How could I have kept going to school, when I was being severely bullied every time that I tried to go in?” Nyka heard herself cry, as she remembered what the Governor had said at the start of the film.
As Nyka’s anger increased, the nurse came to life, throwing the Governor a glance of concern, as the truant, still struggling to escape from the chair, continued to protest.
“Do you honestly think I liked being targeted by the boys in my class as soon as I got through the door because I suffered from anxiety and needed treatment for my nerves? How do you think I must have felt, realising the other girls were treated better - or were at least left alone - because the boys found me different to them? Do you think it didn’t hurt? Don’t you think the experience hasn’t made me so bitter that it’s put me off boys and wanting to get married? Did you really believe I could have shrugged it all off?”
“Nyka - it is best that you try and calm down,” the Governor advised, while the nurse zipped open her bag. “Remember that your exit from this juvenile prison doesn’t mean that the remainder of your sentence has been served. Getting angry with me won’t benefit you, your family, or anyone else, in the least.”
The nurse slid her hand into the bag, pulling out a hypodermic syringe that the truant did not see.
“And why have I been serving that sentence - for having been a victim?” Nyka heedlessly resumed; remembering the miserable times she had experienced at school. “I wanted to learn; I wanted to do well - but the one time that I did, this boy of 1.90 metres tall threatened to do me in after school - which was why I was too scared to go in, and my attendance was so low. This is the reason why most truants end up in here - because bullies have made their lives hell, and have driven them out of school. Shouldn’t it be the bullies who are punished and end up in here instead? The likes of you and the teachers at school - who exercise their authority over someone like me - a 1.63-metres girl to which they’re threatening and stern - do nothing to discipline the bullies, particularly if they happen to be boys who are twice their size; because it’s easier to confront those who are smaller and weaker; isn’t that where the difficulty lies?”
The nurse sat poised in her chair, holding the syringe; but the Governor held up her hand, signalling her to wait.
“Couldn’t you have sidestepped the bullying in some way?” the head of the detention centre asked in a tone indicating that Nyka was not very bright.
“How could I have done that - when the bully was in the same classes that I had to attend? The only way I could avoid him was by not going to school,” Nyka furiously cried, wondering why the question had been posed.
“Isn’t there a teacher you could have approached if you felt threatened by the boy’s size?” the Governor then asked. “There’s more than one way of defending oneself; it’s just a matter of using one’s wits. But instead you chose to play truant like a stupid little girl, as soon as any problems arose.”
“No one would listen,” Nyka tried to explain. “Those who I thought would stop the bullying never did a thing--- and now it seems that you’re not listening to me either,” the juvenile went on, feeling targeted and wronged as she sat, bound to the chair.
“And what are you going to do when someone bullies you at work - not find a way around the problem, and walk out on the job?” the Governor probed, unwilling to let the subject rest. “So that you lose the roof over your head, and end up in and out of more halfway houses for the rest of your days? Your mother can’t keep you all your life - and what if she died tomorrow? As your caseworker has already pointed out, there is no such thing as truancy in the adult world. How you are going to get through life is a cause for concern, because you have repeatedly shown signs of having trouble sticking to routine.”
The nurse rose to her feet. She left the medical bag on her seat as she grasped the syringe; stealing up behind the chair in which Nyka was trapped as she waited to receive the Governor’s signal to pounce.
“Nyka, it’s vital that you change, and learn to play the game,” the Governor resumed, as the nurse hovered closer, ready for the inmate to recoil. “Well, the staff in this juvenile prison are going to help you to change - so that you face up to life and don’t run away from it again,” the Governor went on, nodding to the nurse to home in.
Before Nyka could object, the needle slid into her arm, as with the flick of a switch, the straps on her chair were released.
“If you attempt to flee from the chair, you’ll only fall to the floor,” the Governor warned, as already, the drug from the syringe had begun to take effect.
The room was nothing but a blur; the Governor and nurse two ill-defined blobs disappearing from the scene as Nyka blacked out. In the vagueness that followed, she thought she heard incoherent voices and the screeching of wheels, rolling down tunnel after indistinct tunnel before blacking out again.
What might have been half an hour later, she thought she woke up; her scrubs replaced by what looked like a hospital gown. A mask slid over her face, transporting her back to the feelingless, unconscious world - and she slept through dream after dream without knowing real from false. Most of the dreams were pleasant, portraying her as the person she had always wished to be: Ran Silmac’s much admired wife; a reporter narrating a documentary on nuclear war; a bright schoolgirl popular with the boys in her class----.
But one of her dreams was disturbing, and differed from the rest, confirming her to be the unfortunate girl that she was; back in the arcade; in the fortune-telling room of the Zodiac shop, sitting opposite the expressionless, young man as he scried the crystal ball. Then all of a sudden, the schoolgirl in the reading stepped out from the lustrous ball of glass; her once obscured face now growing increasingly clear. As Nyka recognised that face, she laughed, but felt frightened and dismayed, as the schoolgirl turned out to be no one else but herself.
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR:
An excerpt, chapter twenty six, of my dystopian novel, "OUT OF SCHOOL."