PATH TO FRIENDSHIP by Mike Maynard

Duchess purred softly from her touch.

To Nolan she was her only friend in the world.

“Duchess”, she whispered, “I love you more than all the sand in Montego Bay”. The cat purred

her response. A satisfying rumbling that made the little girl feel all the more secure. She was

certain she saw a smile on the cat’s face.

Nolan smiled back just in case.

There was a light knock at the door, simultaneous to the door opening. “One day I’d like to have

the chance to say “come in,” she thought.

“Nighty, night, night, sweetheart”, offered her mother Stephanie, as her head peered around the door.

“Lights out now darling”. But on seeing the cat snugly settling in on top of her daughter her

mood changed. “How many times do I have to tell you Nolly? The cat sleeps in her basket downstairs.”

“But she’s my only fr….”. The end of the sentence remained hanging in the air as Duchess was half carried, half scooped off the bed with a speed that surprised her. She still landed on her feet and scarpered from the room letting Stephanie know vocally what she thought about it on the way out.

The mother kissed Nolan’s furrowed brow and turned out the side lamp.

“We never should have come here”, was Nolan’s final thought and she slipped into slumber.

Stephanie went by the name of Miss Powell at Hawdene Grammer school where she taught

Modern History. The unfortunate thing for Nolan was that she was mum at home and Miss at

school. Nolan had been enrolled there for 8 months and hated every minute of it.

Stephanie was a strict single mother who uprooted her from her native Jamaica to teach “them

whitefolks discipline and proper schooling” as Nolan’s grand-mother Nora put it. There were at

least three problems as Nolan saw it. One, Miss Powell was an even stricter teacher than she was a parent.

Two, she was the only black kid in the school and three, she didn’t know anyone else there.

Hawdene was a mixed school. A few years ago, as Haworth Boys school, it was in danger of closing.

Grammer schools were being phased out and despite its excellent academic and sporting achievements. Haworth was to go too. A concession was made that didn’t have universal approval. They merged with the neighbouring Denefield School for Girls and kept their Grammar status.

Miss Stephanie Powell had made a name for herself as a school trouble-shooter ensuring discipline and standards were upheld through her parish. She was head-hunted by Hawdene after installing Modern History into their curriculum. Nolan came as part of the package.

Miss Powell was not liked by the pupils at the school. Nolan preferred to think it was because she was a tough cookie, hopefully racism was not rearing its ugly head.

“Can you pass the salt please”, Nolan ventured at school dinners. The school had long tables where the pupils were seated. Ever since she started at the school dinner time meant lonely time. She had tried sitting next to girls and opening conversations. She had tried being aloof toshow that she didn’t mind being alone. She had tried the same with the boys but after 8 monthswith no success she resigned herself to the fact that she would have to wait till her mother’s two year contract was up and they returned to Jamaica. Nolan prayed most nights that the contract wouldn’t be renewed. In Jamaica every day seemed a party. She was always laughing and getting dirty playing football in the local boy’s football team.

The salt remained un-passed. Nolan knew from past experience not to make waves. She knew it was a deliberate ploy to rile her. An argument would ensue and she would come off worse.

“Get it yourself, Nolan the Colon”, hissed a girl’s voice from down the table. It was one of the more mild insults. Nolan had fetched it before but was now shy after being badly bitten before.

She was being baited and she knew it. Added to which her roast dinner was bland and needed

some sort of seasoning. Nolan had enough of being meek and mild and exploded.

“What have I ever done to you, Jenny?” Nolan was standing now.

“You know you don’t talk to me, black girl”

“I talk to anyone I want”, “I only want some salt”.

“Go back to where you came from”, “you’ll find some there”, “we don’t want you here, Colon”.

“I’ll beat some respect into you”.

“You can try, golly”. “What you waiting for?” It was Jenny’s turn to stand and they edged closer.

The room fell silent as everyone stopped eating to watch.

“I’ve had enough of you lot”, “ignoring me, talking about me behind my back”. She was shouting at the whole room now containing Year 7. Everyone stopped eating to look. “Saying horrible things to me, insulting me, laughing at me, making monkey noises”.

“You lot are a disgrace”. “You think because you live in your fancy houses and have lots of money that it makes you better than me”. “Well let me tell you something…it doesn’t”. “I am better than every one of you. And you can keep your freaking salt”.

The school Head Teacher Mr Herbert Robinson and Miss Powell were alerted to the commotion and came rushing to the dinner hall. Mr Robinson opened the glass doors just as Nolan came rushing out, tears flowing. She ended up on the school steps and continued to cry.

“She was bang out of order!”

Nolan stopped crying briefly enough to notice two pairs of black, shiny shoes position themselves either side of her. She looked up to and to her right was Roger and to her left Christian.

“She was really out of order.” Christian this time but in a softer tone.

They both sat down and introduced themselves. They were twins and played in the school rugby and football teams.

“I’m the captain”, said Roger, “my brother is the goalkeeper”, as he talked about his favoured football.

Christian took out his hanky in acknowledgement and handed it to Nolan.

“My name’s Nolan”.

“Yes, we know..Nolan the Colon”. Christian couldn’t take the words back quick enough.

Nolan got up, but sat back down due to the soft downward pressure exerted by Roger.

“I apologise on my brother’s behalf”, he sometimes speaks before his brain gets in gear”.

Christian looked at the ground sheepishly.

“I think you are going to get into a bit of trouble, Nolan”, he continued, “Herbie doesn’t like raised

voices here, he likes us in ‘control of our emotions’ as he puts it”.

“I don’t care, I’m fed up of this place”, she retorted. “Nobody likes me”.

“We like you”, replied Christian, trying to get back into her good books, “and we’ll look after you”.

“Yes, we should have spoken to you a long time before now”, “We’re really sorry”, Roger chimed in. “

What can we do to make amends?”

Nolan’s crying was now down to the odd sniffle. Her eyes now brightened.

“Let me play in your football team”.

The boys stiffened.

“We thought a box of chocolates would do it”. They looked at each other nervously. “We don’t

allow any girls in the team”.

“That’s an insult, girl’s play football now you know”, “and chocolates…puleeze”.

They allowed themselves a little chuckle together..broken by the Head Teacher.

“Nolan Powell, in my office NOW!” the voice was level but very assertive.

“If I get out of this alive, I will see you guys at football practice after school”, she whispered as she hurried to Mr Robinson’s office for her dressing down.

Nolan survived her lecture and was pleased Jenny was also chastised for her behaviour. She had her tracksuit at school from Netball and persuaded her mother to allow her to stay.

The end of the school day couldn’t come fast enough.

Nolan was escorted by the twins to football practice as arranged and the look of surprise on the faces of the Coach and football pupils alike was a picture. Roger was adamant Nolan should join in.

“If Nolan can’t join football practice I am going home and never coming back”

Christian wasn’t sure if his brother was bluffing or serious but..

“and that goes for me too”, he supported.

As well as captain, Roger was the best player on the team and often carried them seemingly on his own.

Similarly they didn’t have as good a goalkeeper as Christian.

Coach Thomas went bright red with suppressed anger but caved in to his star player’s demands and decided to play a game as usual to start proceedings.

 

Christian and Roger were opposing captains. Roger had first pick.

“Nolan”, he bellowed. Nolan beamed from ear to ear.

Half an hour later Roger’s team were winning three – nil and Nolan had scored two of them and was an amazing revelation.

After practice Coach Thomas shook Nolan by the hand.

“Young lady you are welcome here anytime”.

“Yes, I aim to be captain”, giving a wink to Roger.

The twins linked arms with Nolan on their way to taking her home. They laughed and joked and

talked for all the ten minutes it took to get her there. All of them wished the journey was longer.

“See you tomorrow, superstar”, they said in unison, with a wave.

She waved back, the grin returned. “I can’t wait”, see said contentedly to herself.

Her tea was ready as she got in.

The conversation was football. Stephanie’s smile was as big as Nolan’s. The afternoon’s altercation was all but forgotten.

Nolan was soon ready for bed but was too excited to sleep. Duchess was curled up on top of her.

“You are not my only friend now Duchess”.”But I still love you just the same.”

Nolan prayed that Miss Powell’s contract would extended just as she poked her head round the door to

wish her daughter nighty, night, night.

End.