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She slowed as she approached the school gates. A glimpse of powder blue shimmered through the grey sheets of rain. The old woman stood in front of the houses across the street, the same spot she stood every night, wearing the same pale blue headscarf and dressed in bedraggled brown clothes that resembled a heap of threadbare carpets. Her clothes were heavy, waterlogged and probably freezing. But there she waited, soaking up the rainwater. She must have picked Sammy out as a loner because no one ever came to pick her up. So, then, why hadn’t she made her move yet? This had been going on for weeks and the old woman always stood outside, in plain view.

The dark eyes fixed on Sammy’s. The woman smiled. Then her head snapped to the side and she tensed. Sammy smiled this time. She couldn’t see past the school wall, but she knew what was coming.

The old woman raised her palms as two men in black trench coats came into view. The school gates framed a picture-perfect movie scene of two cops picking up a criminal. One carried an umbrella above both their heads, the other held out a badge. End of the line, old bag.

Voices clamoured behind Sammy. The lower school cloakrooms were emptying. A river of slate-grey bodies accented by flapping red ties came sweeping towards her. She sidestepped, but not quickly enough, and an errant satchel caught her in the face, knocking her down. She landed on all fours and pain spiked in her knees. She sucked in air through her teeth and closed her eyes while the other kids trampled past, kicking her satchel as they jostled to get to their parents’ cars.

Sammy remained where she was, facing the floor, the water streaming from her blonde hair. No one stopped to help. Typical. No one had noticed her since she’d started at this new school, and no one noticed her now, even though they had to run round her to get out of the gate. She was invisible. Only the satchel that tugged at her arm as it got booted around served as a reminder that she still existed in their world.

She waited until the traffic became lighter and flicked her sopping hair back from her face. The two policemen and the old woman had gone.

She had sore knees, sleeves saturated with puddle water, and she’d missed the action. That was probably the most – maybe even the only – exciting thing that was going to happen this term, possibly all year. And it was over.

Miss Armatage stood at the corner of the science block monitoring the stragglers. She peered at Sammy with an expression of exaggerated indifference and motioned for her to get up. She should get up. Her tights were soaking up rainwater and the longer she stayed down, the heavier and colder they’d get. But then, if she got up, she’d have to start walking and she’d have damp, heavy fabric chafing back and forth across her skin and sucking in cold air at the edges.

As she considered her options a hand grabbed her under the arm and jerked her to her feet. She came face to face with a boy sporting a black eye and his tie knotted round his forehead like a Rambo headband. Wayne Grubby. They had maths and science together. He was less unpleasant than most of the other boys in her year, but that wasn’t saying much.

 

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