Now that her nightly ritual had been forcibly brought to a halt, Fatima just had to make the most of the allotted games periods. She had never allowed herself to participate wholeheartedly and now she stood on the outskirts of the action, watching her classmates through brooding eye, wondering which game she should join. And more important and infinitely more difficult, was how she would join it.
“Watch out, stupid!” A scream broke into her thoughts. Suddenly she was conscious of people screaming at her. A flash of silver whistled past her face and she watched in shocked amazement as the wooden pole slithered to a halt just beyond her. Almost in a trance, she bent down and picked up the pole and gingerly fingered the sharply pointed end.
“Are you all right? You’re not hurt, are you?” Mrs. Whitbread, the games teacher grabbed the girl by the shoulders and turned her around.
“No, no…” Fatima stuttered, still holding onto the pole.
“What an idiot you are Fats,” hissed a girl into her ear, “what were you thinking of, witches?”
“Hush, quiet, it wasn’t her fault,” Mrs. Whitbread quietened the other as she led Fatima away, arm still around her shoulders.
“You oughtn’t stand here. If you want to watch, stand across there, at that corner. Here now, let me have the javelin…” but the teacher was surprised as the silent girl held on to it, in a grip so tight that her knuckled had turned white. And she didn’t let it go. They stood like that a full, silent minute, both holding the spiked instrument. Then the girl abruptly released it as though it had become red hot.
“Sorry,” she said as she walked rapidly away. Something in the girl’s silence, something in her lingering hold over the javelin, kept Mrs. Whitbread rooted to the spot, looking at the girl’s retreating back.
During the next day’s class, Mrs. Whitbread had the absurd feeling that someone was staring at her. Hard. From the corner of her eye, she caught sight of the slight frame which stood stock still. Staring. It was Fatima. Margaret Whitbread called out and waved her over, but the girl was gone, speeding away like a frightened rabbit. It happened again, the next two classes. Just when the games teacher had expected to see her standing at her usual corner, the teacher was surprised when on the third day, Fatima was nowhere in sight. Mrs. Whitbread shrugged off the terrible feeling of disappointment that was stealing over her and got back into training the children around her. Being a former British international javelin thrower herself, the teacher gave a lot of personal attention to that sport although she was the general sports in-charge.
Just as she became absorbed in a promising young boy, a voice from behind startled her.
“Alright, I’ll join for javelin!” short, abrupt, to the point. She wasn’t seeking permission. Just stating her acquiescence. It was, of course, Fatima. In spite of the abruptness of the pronouncement, the teacher could not suppress a smile.
And so it was that Fatima began to learn to throw the javelin.
An hour later, it was the talk of the staff room.
“Oh poor you!” was the general consensus of all the teachers when Margaret Whitbread announced this new development. “Poor you, now you’ve had it.”
“I don’t know,” she answered, “maybe. But then again, maybe not…”
“Oh that girl is nothing but trouble.”
“She’s the most disruptive child anyone’s ever had the misfortune to deal with.”
“True,” agreed Margaret, “But there’s no getting away from the fact that this is the first positive move the child has made in all her stay here. The first time she’s shown an interest in doing something.”
“Oh, don’t waste your optimism on her; there are better candidates for that.”
“I’m going to give it a shot.” Margaret insisted.
“Well, best of luck is all I’d care to say to you, love.” Said a teacher laughing.
“Right,” agreed another, “I wouldn’t care to be in your shoes. Not for all the money in the world…”
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They called her ‘Fats’ , although her name was Fatima. And she wasn’t even fat. At least, not in that nice, pudgy way that makes little girls look adorable to adults. She wasn’t adorable or sweet, or anything like the sugar and spice and everything nice that little girls are supposedly made of. In fact, she was BAD. Bad in big, bold, capital letters. She was a fighter and had been so ever since she came to the Home as a four year old orphan. She’d been in another home before that. She’d been left there, at the doorstep – abandoned by the mother no one would ever know. That orphanage looked after infants. Now, at four, she was considered old enough to move to a new environment. She’d never been adopted as some of the other babies had. She hated the new Home from her first day there. She perceived a grayness that filled her with dismay. The forced cheerfulness of the care-mothers and nurses turned to bile inside her and they soon became wary of her sullen, brooding eyes. Never kno