"I was born in very sorry circumstances. My mother was sorry and my father was sorry as well." (Norman Wisdom)
I enter the English classroom just in the nick of time and take my seat by the window. No one so much as glances at me. I'm invisible to them… most of the time.
"Miss Waterman?" says my perverted English teacher Mr Adenbrooks as he closes the door and faces us.
"Yes?" I reply politely, my stomach knotting. Have they found out already? I skipped second, third and fourth lesson, and I feel guilty, but I couldn't handle another lesson. I tell myself I don't care but when he tells me to go to the Principals' office in that horrible voice of his, I can't stop the awful foreboding creeping up my spine. I know I'm busted. Big time.
Mr Shingham, the so-called Principal starts with a gentle cough, before giving me a very long lecture on school attendance. Then, he reveals my computerised attendance record, and I'm genuinely surprised to see so many red marks on the screen.
In my mind, I start preparing a very heartfelt apology and reassurance that it won't happen again, but then Mr Shingham reveals his trump card, "I'm afraid I am going to have to suspend you Nyla Waterman, and phone your parents. You have left me no other option."
At this, I slouch back in my seat in defiance and mutter, "Good luck with that."
Mr Shingham pauses, his hand hovering over the telephone. "I beg your pardon?" He asks politely.
I shrug and say bitterly, no idea what has gotten into me, "I'm just saying…my parents won't even be interested, so why bother…Sir," I add.
He seems startled at the sudden change in my manner, but I don't care, vowing to blink hard and stop those threatening tears from falling.
After a moment, looking deeply disturbed and unsure, he says,
"Well, I'm afraid there is nothing I can do Nyla. You are suspended for a week and someone must come and collect you. Meanwhile, I hope you use your time wisely to reflect on your current situation and make some positive decisions regarding your attitude, priorities and punctuality in life. Return to class. I will phone your parents and send someone to collect you when they arrive."
I get up, my fists in my pockets and slouch out of the room into the empty hallway, depressed. Return to class? Why bother? Just to explain and humiliate myself further in front of the whole class?
On my left, the stairs leading up to the next landing where the classrooms are situated, stretch gloomily into the distance, whereas on my right, the open door to the playgrounds and main exit beckons.
I make a decision and don't once consider what the consequences could be because of it. Confidently, I stride over the grounds and out through the gates onto the main road, the school building standing eerily behind me. The streets are mainly empty, apart from a few elderly people and the occasional car. I walk all the way home, the sun beaming down on me and the stillness of the world seeming so surreal, yet perfect.
Mrs Gardiner, our neighbour, stares at me as I pass but I don't even spare her a glance as I put the key into the lock and turn it, the door swinging open in front of me. I listen, my ears straining to catch some sound, but none comes. I grin to myself, my steps light-hearted and cheerful. I even begin to hum.
But as I crash into the living room, my first thought is, 'Where's Dad?' before I spy the open kitchen door, leading into the back garden. I wonder what on Earth he's doing out there and suddenly feel a smile light my face at the possibility that he has restarted his old hobby of gardening. Maybe things will improve. Maybe he'll give up alcohol, and go back to London to look for a job. Maybe Mum and he won't fight anymore, and Mum will be home more often.
But the garden is empty and just as dead as it has always been, with weeds sprouting to waist level on both sides of the gravel path leading to the shed at the end of the garden. Maybe Dad was in the shed, trying to get the lawn mower to work or something. I scrunch over and open the door cautiously.
But as it swings outwards, something thuds against my head and I look up to see the dead eyes of my Dad staring unseeingly at me. His bloated face is blue and drained of colour and his neck is twisted impossibly where a thick rope connects him to the ceiling. An A4 paper and a manila envelope flutter to the floor, over a toppled chair. The red ink on the paper is the last thing I see before I pass out:
'I love you Sheryl.'
I regain consciousness approximately an hour or so after I had passed out, and just stand there, staring at my Dad's body with fear, as it twists gently in the wind. His face is like something out of a horror movie, its' features twisted and distorted with obvious pain. His arms hang limp down his sides and his neck is bent crookedly where the rope is attached. Apart from the kicked chair underneath him, there is nothing different about the shed. It's just an open area filled with cobwebs and gardening tools and just as damp and dirty as it has always been.
I know I should do something and the rising bile in my throat indicates what. I rush out of the shed, gasping and crying uncontrollably with horror, and retch in the weeds, terrified. My knees buckle and I collapse onto the gravel path, my whole body shaking and making me feel as if I will pass out again any second.
A few moments later, common sense takes over and I scramble inside and dial 999. The operator connects me to the Ambulance Department and I rush to speak, my words falling over each other and not making any sense. The man at the other end of the line calmly tells me to sit down and breathe, which I do.
"Okay now, what's your name?" he asks, in a business-like manner.
"N-Nyla Waterman," I stammer.
"Okay Nyla. My name's Adam. Where are you right now?"
"A-At home," I reply shakily, my eyes constantly drawn to the shed visible through the kitchen door.
"What's the address?" Adam asks.
"29 A-Alberts Drive, Evington, Leicester."
"Okay, what's happened Nyla?"
At this, I begin to cry again, unable to stop myself.
"Don't worry Nyla; we'll be there any second now. You just tell us what happened."
The reassurance works and I gabble how I had come home and found my Dad in the shed, having committed suicide. Adam asks me questions and I stammer replies, the bile rising in my throat.
Eventually, I can't prevent it any longer. I gabble into the phone, "I have to throw up," and rush back outside and vomit in the weeds. Feeling a bit better, I sit down, my knees drawn up and my forehead resting on them. I squeeze my eyes, seeing a vague pattern of colours behind my eyelids. Blue…Green…White…Red…
My eyes fly open at remembering the envelope and paper under my Dad. The police mustn't find those. I rush towards the shed, already hearing the sirens as they approach our house. Hesitating at the door, I glance back at the kitchen and then rush into the shed, my eyes half-closed and only looking towards the ground. I grab the envelope and run back inside, in time to see the ambulance and police car park in front of our driveway.
Wildly, I glance around, before stuffing the envelope under the sofa…But where is the paper with the red ink? I look back with horror, cursing, as I'd forgotten to grab the paper in my haste.
I swallow and head towards the door as two overalled men come in with a stretcher. After that, it's all a blur. I'm asked a few questions and then given a sedative and put into bed. I awake to find my Mum being questioned in the living room and some people in the shed, apparently confirming that it was a suicide.
My Mum looks stricken but vehemently says she wants nothing to do with her dead husband and that she won't be providing a funeral for him. One of the men notices me and seeing my bewildered and dazed expression, he comes towards me.
"Hey," he says gently. I don't reply. My mouth refuses to move and I clear my choked throat several times, my eyes dry.
"I'm Adam," he takes my hand in both of his and asks, "Do you want something to eat?"
My stomach rumbles but I shake my head, feeling dizzily alone. At that moment, I realise that my Dad has gone and my Mum doesn't even give a damn. In the entire bustle, my suspension from school is the last thing on my mind.