I continue with the story, but I have omitted my experience at the police station and hospital. Instead I have carried on with my return to school after the beating. From Chapter 10 of 'The Wailings'.
The next morning Ani was up and preparing for school, unable to remain hiding in the Carlton’s home. She stood looking in the mirror, staring at the bruised eyes and swollen cheekbone. She found it hard to bring her gaze to her mangled neck, the sight making her feel nauseous. With relief she finished applying her deodorant and pulled on her turtleneck sweater. It was unfortunate the color made her facial bruises more vivid, but at least her neck was well-covered. Madge was waiting for her at the back door, and together they walked towards the mall like a pair of old friends. Ani left Madge having a final cigarette outside the Woolco store as she carried on towards the school. She walked with her head down, trying to avoid the looks of passersby.
When she reached the school a quiet murmur followed her down the hall to her locker. With a steely resolve she opened the locker door and gathered her books for her morning classes. Ani couldn’t help but notice the reaction of the other students when they caught a glimpse of her face. Their startled expressions and embarrassing cover-ups emphasized her dejection and pain. No one spoke to her during the entire morning and she spent her lunch hour in the most remote washroom she could find.
She ate her lunch slowly and spent the rest of the period staring at the little ring on her left hand. As she emerged from the washroom Ani noticed a distinct change in the atmosphere around her. People stared openly at her as she walked the halls heading for her first afternoon class. Heads turned as she entered the science room and most of the students did not look away as she made her way to her seat. Not wanting to be the center of attention she kept her head lowered, concentrating on the textbook in front of her.
With leaded feet Ani left her science class and headed down the hallway to her math class. Keeping her head down, she found her seat and opened her books to the necessary chapter. Unable to focus on her textbook she finally raised her head and looked towards the blackboards behind the teacher’s desk. Across the entire front of the classroom was written in chalk ‘Ani Black is a slut!’ Ani’s mouth fell open as she read the words and her face flamed each time another student entered the room and read the board. An uneasy silence settled over the classroom as they waited for the teacher to appear. With each second that ticked by on the clock above the blackboard, the words burned deeper into Ani’s mind. She couldn’t even begin to think who would have written such a thing about her.
Desperately she tried to recall the students coming out of the room before she had entered but she had been too busy trying to hide her face. Finally, Mr. Rose entered the room and put his books down on the desk. Turning to the blackboard he took an involuntary step backwards as he read the words scrawled before him. Seizing the brush, he furiously swiped at the letters, trying to scrub them vigorously away. With a reddened face he settled at his desk and glanced briefly at Ani as she tried desperately to melt into her desk.
He began the class as if nothing had happened, only to be interrupted by the buzzing of the classroom telephone. Reaching behind him he plucked the receiver from its holder and listened intently. With a strange intuitiveness Ani stared at Mr. Rose, knowing the one-sided conversation was about her. She had already closed her textbook when Mr. Rose hung up the phone and called her name. “Ani. Gather your books and report to the vice-principal please.” Afraid she might break down in front of everyone, Ani held her head high as she left the room, the fluorescent lights reflecting off her bruised eyes.
She stood in front of Miss Fillmore’s door feeling her stomach clench. The vice-principal was a heavyset but robust woman. She would not stand for any foolishness in her school and eked out punishment to those who crossed the line with a heavy hand. Ani didn’t know where she stood at the moment. Although she had been the victim it might not look like that to others. Timidly she knocked on the pebbled glass that made up half the door. Miss Fillmore’s immediate response caused Ani to tremble slightly as she reached for the doorknob.
“Come in and sit down Ani Black,” Miss Fillmore said as Ani entered the room.
The vice-principal sat behind a huge desk covered in stacks of paper that did nothing to take away from her imposing figure. Her hair was short and gray, clinging to her head like a helmet. In her right hand she twirled a black pen while she eyed Ani up and down.
“Turn down the collar of your sweater please Ani,” she said. Ani’s eyes widened at the abrupt command, but she took a deep breath and rolled the sweater down and tucked the turtleneck under. Miss Fillmore’s face crumpled slightly as she looked at the marks on Ani’s face and neck.
In a quiet low voice she asked, “What happened to you Ani?” Ani sat staring at the woman, biting her lips with her inner turmoil. “It’s all right to tell me Ani. I only have to report to the principal.”
“My parents beat me up,” Ani finally replied.
Being able to tell someone what had happened to her, instead of just suffering the stares, caused an enormous relief to spread over her for the first time that day.
With a slight movement of her hand, Miss Fillmore got the whole story out of the young girl sitting in front of her. She kindly offered a box of Kleenex as Ani broke down and cried out her anguish. She sat patiently through the tears, not wanting to envisage what Ani had described to her, yet the scene played out violently in her head anyway. She had seen previous beatings on other children in the school, but the marks around Ani’s neck were obviously the results of a vicious attack. When Ani fell silent, she sat and studied her desk, praying that she would say the right thing to this vulnerable girl.
“You say you’ve left your home, and now are staying with your boyfriend’s family.” She had not failed to notice the engagement ring on Ani’s left hand. “You’ve been to the hospital and to the police and you are not going to press charges against your parents. You are sure about this Ani?” Ani’s emphatic nod was all she needed in response.
“All right. I may be able to help you in some way. First of all, you won’t be able to stay at your boyfriend’s indefinitely. That will put too much of a strain on all relations in that house. However, what I suggest is that you get in touch with Child Welfare. They can help in situations like yours. I will give you their phone number before you leave here.” Her voice was low but kindly and Ani felt a connection to this woman she had never dreamed imaginable.
“The other major problem is what to tell the rest of the school should they ask. The faculty that you are in contact with will be informed by the principal. As for the students who ask you, I suggest you just tell them you were in an accident. That way you won’t have to have your story known by everyone. That goes with your not wanting to have your parents charged so people won’t know about the problem. What do you think about that Ani?”
Ani nodded her head, afraid to talk in case she broke into tears again with her gratitude. She took the piece of paper from Miss Fillmore that had the number for Child Welfare written on it and carefully put it inside her penholder.
She looked the vice-principal in the eye for a long moment and then said, “Thank you very much for everything.” She gathered her books before remembering to roll up her turtleneck before heading back to class.
“I suggest you wait in the lunchroom for a bit and then go to your next class Ani.” Miss Fillmore said as she adjusted the files on her desk.
As Ani stretched her hand out for the doorknob she turned back towards Miss Fillmore and thanked her again. A bond had been forged out of this brutal situation, and both of them smiled at each other in their acknowledgment of it. Ani’s heart was a little lighter as she sat in the lunchroom and stared out the windows.