“Chin up! Shoulders parallel! Back straight!”
The petite white woman in a green English dress kept rolling out instructions to the girls who seemed less and less interested in each new lesson. All morning, they had had to practice how to introduce themselves, start a conversation, give a proper handshake and now they were practicing good posture.
Her back ached but she dared not make any complains or Mrs. Steelwall would have her repeat the procedure from the beginning in front of the entire group. Physically she was in the “Steel Etiquette Class for Girls” but her mind was a long way across town where she would probably be playing board games with her dad. Last month, he had started to teach her how to play chess.
But something else bugged her mind. The scene from a couple of nights ago kept replaying in her head.
She had wandered into her parent’s room to ask for a new pen when she saw her mum with her head down towards the marble top close on the sink.
Her mum spun around. At first, she didn’t seem to recognize her. Then she followed Chidera’s gaze to the white lines on the marble by the sink.
“What are you doing here?” She sounded angry.
Her mum then wiped her nose and poured the rest of the white stuff into the sink, running water over it. She proceeded to clean the already clean sink all in a bid to avoid Chidera’s questioning gaze. When it was obvious the child wasn’t going to leave without answers, she turned. Her arms were across her chest as she avoided eye contact.
“That was nothing. It’s just…” Her nose was very red. So also were her eyes.
She had been ushered out of the bathroom and sat down by her mum on the king-sized bed.
“That thing you saw was erm…it was sugar.”
Chidera didn’t believe her. Even her mum knew that didn’t sell.
“It’s icing sugar, okay? Mummy was just tasting it for our next church bake.” She had given a nervous laugh. “But don’t tell anyone about it.”
Chidera had simply stared on.
“That would be our little secret, okay? Don’t mention this to anyone. Not even your dad.”
Her mum had dismissed her, not wanting to talk about it any further. But she hadn’t been able to get that scene out of her head. Especially the fact that the area above her lips had been white right before she wiped them off.
She had reminded her of her little cousin whose hand got trapped in the cookie jar after denying being responsible for missing cookies. He had looked washed when caught and her mum had had that same guilty look.
Why had she been tasting icing sugar with her nose? And if it wasn’t icing sugar, what was she hiding? Was she doing something she wasn’t meant to be doing?
Mrs. Steelwall’s steel voice brought her back to reality.
“Your shoulders are stopped, child. Are you trying to become the next hunch back of Notre Dame?”
Chidera stifled a laugh as Mrs. Steelwall scowled. She had a funny nose that reminded her of Nanny Mcphee.
“I’m sorry ma’am.” She wasn’t sorry.
“You better be. Your parents paid a fortune for these classes. Best be grateful.”
Mrs. Steelwall grunted and walked to the other end of the room, tucking her wooden ruler under her armpit. She almost slipped after stepping on a rubber toy, making the girls burst into mischievous giggles.
“Who dropped this?” She asked, brandishing the ruler like the Sword of Shannara. Her other hand was balled into a fist and Chidera imagined fire pouring out of her eyes and consuming them all.
The room was now silent as the girls looked anywhere but Mrs. Steelwall’s direction.
“No one?” She looked from face to face, watching to see if the culprit would give herself away. None did.
“All right then. Since you all don’t want to act like Queens and would rather act like a bunch of Elizabeth Swans…everyone, from the top.”
The room erupted in groans and protests. Chidera sighed and wished she was home