It was the beginning of the new school year, and Eleanor Peterson was already feeling self conscious.
She looked around the sports hall at her fellow students sitting cross legged on the floor as she was, waiting for the first assembly.
These were the people living in council homes, with parents struggling to make ends meet even with two jobs. Some were probably relying on Food Banks and Universal Credit.
And then there was her, the daughter of a leading Guardian journalist and a technician for the country’s top technology company, living in the most expensive and desirable house in one of England’s most affluent villages.
It was not Eleanor’s personal choice to attend Zanzibar school, she wanted to go to St Mildred’s, the independent girl’s school down the road, but her parents simply thought that £5,569 plus £295 for her to learn to play the lute plus an additional £255 to get LAMDA trained and £4.19 per hour for after school care was just a bit excessive when she could get a decent education for free.
So here she was, in a comprehensive school intended for children who had nowhere else to go.
She knew that she did not fit in here, she knew that she would stick out like a sore thumb, but she did not for one moment believe that she was better than the other students. She was simply luckier.
Everyone looked the same as her and her friends from her primary school who were now in St Mildred’s. They’d all probably get on just fine, so long as they don’t know where Eleanor lives.
Just then, Gerald Braidwidth, the head master of Zanzibar, walked in front of the students.
Gerald was a man in his late sixties and wore a sharp midnight blue suit. He looked very stern.
“Good morning, children,” he said in a very-normal-and-not-at-all-creepy way.
“Good morning, Mr. Braidwidth,” the students responded in a collective monotone.
“Well, another year has arrived already,” Gerald said. “I guess time flies when you’re having fun.“
The students murmured in response.
“I would especially like to give a very warm welcome to our new students joining us today.” Gerald said.
Eleanor stared passively at Gerald.
“And now, without further adue, let’s sing All Things Bright and Beautiful.” Gerald announced.
And so the children sung the classic school hymn All Things Bright and Beautiful, a song Eleanor hadn’t heard in years.
After the dreary assembly had finished, Eleanor was in her new school classroom, 7B.
Eleanor observed her classmates. She felt she could make friends with some of these people, but she also knew they’d probably be sharpening Madame Le Guillotine in Lower Strangling village centre ready for her neck when the revolution finally arrived. Some may even burn her house down.
She decided not to dwell on it, and instead think about something else.
“Welcome, everyone.” Said Janice Bertram, the class teacher, in an oddly monosyllabic voice. “Today I thought we’d get to know each by writing a page about ourselves and then reading it to the class.”
Oh great, Eleanor thought, just my luck. She wouldn’t be able to live it down if she told everyone the exact truth.
For the first time in her life, Eleanor stared at a blank piece of paper, not knowing what to write.
She considered lying about her life, making it more familiar to her classmates. But then she remembered that her mother made sure she detested liars, especially liars who lie for their own convenience.
So she decided to bite the bullet and tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Who knows, she may have got them all wrong. They’re probably not as judgemental as she thinks.
Then Eleanor gasped. What if she was the judgemental one. No, she thought, she isn’t a snob. And with that, she began to write.
After a while, everyone was ready to read out their pages.
Eleanor’s heart was pounding so hard she felt unwell as everyone else read out their short biographies.
Eventually, it was her turn.
“Eleanor, would you like to read yours out?” Janice asked.
Eleanor took a deep breath, stood up, and began to read.
“My name is Eleanor Jezabelle Peterson, and I live in Lower Strangling with my mum, dad, and brother,” she began.
“Ooh! Get you!” Dan Robertson, a student in the class, said sarcastically.
The whole class laughed, making Eleanor uncomfortable.
“Quiet please,” Janice said, but not making an impact.
Eleanor continued to read. She talked about how her dad was a technician, her mother was a journalist, her uncle used to be in the greatest band of all time, and her grandfather was an infamous barrister.
Every line she read, she felt like Boromir at the end of Fellowship of the Ring when he was shot several times with arrows. But at least she wasn’t a liar.
The rest of the school day was awful. Her worst nightmares had been realised, and it was all her doing. But at least the worst nightmare of all, that she’d let her mum down, was not realised, and for that she was grateful.
She’d just have to find a way to survive until she was old enough to go to university.
“Well, Eleanor,” Eleanor’s mother Sarah said on the car journey back home. “How was your first day of school?”
“It was ok, I guess.” Eleanor said, trying to sound happy.
“Did you make some new friends?” Sarah asked.
“Not yet.” Eleanor said.
“Oh well, I’m sure you’ll make some eventually.” Sarah said.
Eleanor was quiet for the rest of journey.
Ok, Eleanor, she thought to herself, one day down, 2000 to go.