Sapphire was pissed off. Since Tahati agreed to go too, Simi agreed, and Zangi didn’t want to be left out, and Ravi didn’t want to be left on her own. They were all going. Sapphire was going to be all on her own.
Of course she had other squads to hang out with – her form squad, English squad, sociology squad to name but a few – but these girls were in most of them. And they were the only ones who always had food. Sapphire was going to starve.
“You can always come too man, they said it was ok,” Zangi reminded her.
“But I need to be in London for the gig! It was expensive!” Sapphire argued, “I don’t want to be left alone!”
“Sorry bro, my mum and dad already gave my room to my cousin while I’m gone. If I stay, I have to share with him, and he’s a perv,” Ravi shrugged.
“Talking of pervs,” Zangi muttered.
She nodded towards the van creeping through the gates of the school. They had been waiting at the student entrance, watching the electronic gate crawl open and shut for each car coming through, for an hour. Sapphire was supposed to be in lesson now, but she was waiting to wave them off.
“Has everyone got everything? Phones? Chargers? Headphones? Passports?” Tiana asked, anxiously.
“Passports?” Ravi repeated in alarm.
Tiana stared at her. “Film crew said we’ll need ID, you do have ID right?!”
“I’m just messing dude, chill. Damn, you’re the one who wanted us here, you’d think you’d appreciate it and relax a bit,” Ravi said.
Tiana furrowed her brow. Her fingers flipped the on-off button on her camera nervously.
“We’re going to be stuck with this guy for like a month. In a van. He’d better be good,” she said.
“Fam, if he’s not, we’ll throw him out of the van and carry on alone!” Zangi said.
The others smirked at the idea. Butterflies were beginning to form at the idea of actually leaving.
“I hope I have enough clothes, I don’t think we’ll get a chance to wash them,” Zangi said.
“Zangi no one will notice, all of your clothes are dirty all the time,” Ravi said.
“In more ways than one,” Simi smirked.
“I need new friends,” Zangi sighed.
“I didn’t know you had any,” Mr Edwards said.
“Oh slam!” Sapphire cackled.
The others spun around to see who had spoken. They knew they were supposed to have a teacher waiting with them, but they hadn’t for the last hour, and had assumed no one was coming.
“Dude got shade from Captain Hook!” Ravi howled.
Even Zangi couldn't help grinning.
“Girls, I’d like to remind you that while you’re outside of those gates-” Mr Edwards was cut off by Mr Conduit striding over.
“Thank you James, I can take it from here,” Mr Conduit pushed Mr Edwards out of the way.
“Oh, err, alright,” Mr Edwards stammered, a little off put by his boss’s entrance.
The girls immediately began rolling their eyes and looking downhearted by is arrival as well. Mr Conduit was renowned for muscling his way in, taking over, and ruining things, before throwing up his hands and saying it was nothing to do with him. Anything to make himself look good.
He held himself like an action man, or a constable. Legs wide apart like a tripod, and back straight. He even held his hands behind his back to try and look more powerful.
Zangi nudged Sapphire and gestured to his unzipped fly. Sapphire covered her mouth with her hand to stop herself from giggling.
“Now, ladies. You’re the top of the school aren’t you? You need to set a good example for the lower years. Once you leave that gate, you are ambassadors of the school. Which means everything you do impacts the reputation of the school. Do you understand what that means?” Mr Conduit asked, sternly.
“It means do what you like, our reputation is so far down the pan we couldn’t tarnish it anymore if we wanted to,” Zangi said to Tiana.
“You know it,” Tiana smirked.
“I heard that,” Mr Conduit spat.
“I wasn’t whispering,” Zangi stated.
Mr Edwards smirked smugly. He did like to see Mr Conduit being put back in his place. Especially by the students he felt he could "control".
“The eyes of the country are on you. All of you. When the eyes of the nation are on you, the eyes of the nation are on us. Do not let the school down. Best behaviors. From all of you. Do you understand?” Mr Conduit continued.
He put his hands on his hips and tried to look intimidating. The girls glanced between one another with the same look that every girl who has had to listen to a man who has more power than he deserved had.This felt like an exaggeration to the girls. As far as they were concerned they were going on an adventure to celebrate the end of their GCSEs. "The eyes of the country" could be anywhere for all they cared.
“Sir, you do realise that no one outside this borough has even heard of Coulsdon High Academy of Vocational Studies right? None of them will know our reputation, let alone care about it,” Tiana asked.
Mr Conduit asked rhetorically, “and we don’t want to give them the wrong impression in case they try to look us up, do we?”
“If they look us up they’ll see that we’re second from the bottom in the charts, and that our head teacher fudges our grades to always be better than last years. That will pretty much secure our reputation,” Tiana said.
“That is a serious and unprovable accusation,” Mr Conduit said darkly.
He used his warning teacher voice that he thought caused the students to fear him.
“It is a serious and illegal fact and everyone knows it. Just like we all know the only reason you have this job is because your brother works for the education department of government and our school was broke until you were hired,” Tiana said, calmly.
She and Mr Conduit had never gotten along, and now she was technically not a student anymore, she decided she didn't care about him or his fake authority.
Mr Edwards bit his lip and tried not to laugh. The girls ganged up behind Tiana, except for Sapphire who was trying to remain unnoticed. She had already failed, but now that they were distracted, she was hoping she could become invisible again. Mr Conduit scowled.
“Be careful Tiana, or I’ll be forced to remove you from this trip,” he warned.
Tiana laughed, “Well done. I’m literally the only one you can’t remove from this trip.”
“Excuse me, am I interrupting?”
A scrawny white man with white-blonde hair like a ken-doll, apathy-filled blue eyes, and a beak for a nose came wandering over. He was a beanpole. Long, and scrawny. And ugly. He was white as a sheet, with bright red cheeks that made him look like a child wearing his mother’s blushed for the first time, unaided.
Mr Conduit straightened his back, and half-glared at the cause of this interruption.
“Can I help you?” he asked, sharply.
“I’m looking for the girls who are going on the photography trip,” the man explained.
“Right here bro,” Tiana pointed a finger into the air instead of raising her hand, because it annoyed Mr Conduit further.
“That’s us,” Simi nodded.
The man glanced between them, silently counting all of them. As the number grew, his frown mirrored it.
“Right. More of you than I expected,” he said.
Sapphire cleared her throat. “I’m not part of it. Just here to say goodbye.”
It was easy to be confused. The girls had been forced to wear their school uniform for as long as they were on school property. Only, since they were in year eleven, they were allowed to wear long navy cardigans instead of the usual V-neck blazer. The cardigan – or matching jumper – covered a lot more. Unbeknownst to the deputy head and head of year, all five years were wearing their own clothes underneath their jumpers, and had plans to tear off their uniforms once they were out of that gate. (I say unbeknownst, but Tiana and Ravi were wearing navy blue jeans that were very obvious)
“Then can you get back to class please?” Mr Edwards asked, rhetorically.
Only Sapphire wasn’t good with rhetorical. The last time her sociology teacher asked her if she would rather leave the class and sit on her own somewhere else, Sapphire said she would. And then did.
Now though, Sapphire fixed her best scowl and folded her arms furiously.
“My best friends are going to be gone for a whole month, and you won’t even let me say goodbye? This is the last year all of us are going to be together – it could be the last chance I get to see them, and you won’t let me say goodbye? That’s downright cruel,” She said, firmly.
“Seriously mean,” Zangi agreed.
“Yeah sir, I mean, c’mon,” Simi agreed.
“Let her say goodbye man, how heartless can you be?” Ravi asked, rhetorically.
Mr Conduit didn’t like to be showed up in front of his staff, but he abhorred being showed up in front of guests. He scowled at them.
“Well, I’m the deputy head, so I can’t let you take them until I’m certain that you are who you say you are, so none of them are going anywhere,” he folded his arms at the man beside him.
“I’m Tristan. Tristan Bowman. I’m the safety guard and caregiver for these girls for the next month. They will be well looked after, I promise,” he promised.
Tahati and Ravi shared a look. That didn’t sound very promising for them.
“I think that means he’s going to bump you off,” Sapphire whispered to Simi.
“If that means I don’t have to spend a month in some white man’s charge, I don’t mind,” Simi whispered back.
“Racist,” Sapphire whispered back.
“Doesn’t count when it’s towards you whitey,” Simi responded.
Sapphire was going to retaliate when she noticed Simi’s pin slipping out from the folds of her hijab. Once she pointed it out, she had forgotten the insult she had come up with. Anyway, it was too late to argue because Tristan was on a roll.
“The head teacher and her PA have given me the once over, and checked my record. They approve. Is that good enough for you?” he asked Mr Conduit.
Tiana and Zangi shared a smirk. They liked to see someone one up Mr Conduit. Didn’t matter who.
“Fine. You’d better take good care of them though,” Mr Conduit threatened.
Simi and Ravi scoffed at the same time. It wasn’t like him to care. Unless it was about himself. He was obviously putting it on.
“Scouts honour. Which of you is Tiana?”
The other girls pointed, and Tiana raised her hand. Tristian took his bag off of his shoulder, and held the handle out to Tiana.
“This is for you. It’s nothing fancy,” he said.
Tiana grinned brightly. As she unbuckled it and looked inside her smile wavered.
“Oh it’s… lovely. Thank you!” she kept smiling.
Their drama teacher would have been so proud of the way she handled it. Ravi pulled the bag out of Tiana’s bag and looked inside herself. It was a camera. A brand new, fancy Canon camera with changeable lens, filters, and cleaning products. Tiana was a Nikon girl. Her own Nikon hung around her neck, proudly projecting this fact.
“Damn,” She muttered.
Zangi looked over her shoulder. “Damn!” she grinned up at Tristian, “what do the rest of us get?”
The others flicked their gaze from the bag to Tristian, expectantly. He looked surprised.
“Err, nothing. I’ve only been given that to give to her. Sorry,” he shrugged.
The others tutted, kissed their teeth, and muttered about favouritism. Tiana smiled smugly at them. She was shoved in return.
Mr Conduit sneered. He clapped Tristian on the shoulder.
“As soon as they’re out of that gate, they’re your problem,” he sneered.
Tristian frowned at the glee in his voice.
“Are we leaving or what?” Tahati asked, impatiently.
“The van’s parked over there,” Tristian nodded into the carpark, unhelpfully.
Tiana gave the bag to Simi to look at, but she pushed it straight into Tahati’s arms. Tahati – being the runt of the group – had been dubbed luggage carrier. She had to wheel Simi’s suitcase along behind her, while carrying her own backpack, and Ravi’s duffle bag. She threw the camera bag’s sash handle across her chest, leaving the bag to rest against her hip. Tiana picked up her own duffle bag and wheeled Zangi’s suitcase behind her.
They each hugged Sapphire goodbye and promised to snapchat her whenever they could. Then they went in search of the van. Ravi found it first, and heaved the sliding side door open. It was like a silver brick on wheels, with large windows and three rows of seats. There was a sliding door on the left, two doors into the boot, and a door on each side for the cab. That made Ravi feel uneasy, but she wasn’t sure why.
While Simi, Ravi and Zangi heaved themselves into the middle row of seats, Tiana heaved open the doors into the boot. It was smaller than they had expected. A corner of it was already taken up by a tripod that looked as though it was made of the most fragile metal in the world. Tiana’s lip curled in disgust.
“That’s going to break before the camera’s secured onto it,” she said.
“So what? It’s free!” Simi shrugged.
“So it will break the camera when it collapses. There’s no way I’m using that,” Tiana said.
“Leave it behind then. It’s taking up valuable space anyway,” Tahati said.
“I need a tripod though,” Tiana argued.
“You’re not stupid Tiana, you’ll think of something, I’m sure you will. Now let’s see how far I can throw this,” Tahati grinned.
She dumped the bags in the boot and snatched up the tripod. The others knelt up on the seats to look over the top and try to see Tahati throw. She held the tripod like a javelin, and threw it like a dart. It shot forward for a moment, and then fell out of the air like a brick. Right by the wheel of the van.
“Damn that was a crap throw,” Simi laughed.
“And it broke.” Tahati picked it up by the leg, and showed the others where the metal had twisted into a useless hunk.
Tiana tutted. “Useless hunk of shi-”
“What did you do to the tripod?!” Tristian yelped.
The girls looked up at him in surprise.
“That was a higher note than I knew men could make,” Simi muttered.
“Maybe he’s not a man,” Ravi said.
“What is he then? An ugly great green alien in a human suit, come to take us all away to breed with his male comrades to save his species by finding human incubators that will then become baby’s first meal?” Zangi asked, her voice tinged with hope.
There was a long pause while the others looked at her in horror. Simi and Tahati shared a mildly terrified look.
“Or a woman in men’s clothing,” Ravi offered.
Zangi looked disappointed. “Oh.”
“Stay close to me though. Just in case,” Ravi muttered.
Tristan's baby blue eyes filled with horror as he looked between the girls in his care. In high spirits they were childish and boisterous. In low spirits they could be worse. The girls watched the horror in his face grow as it dawned on him that he was in charge of them for a month. If anything went wrong, regardless of what or why, it was his head on the chopping block.
He thought girls would be easy to deal with. He was beginning to doubt himself.
“Just get in the van,” he ordered, weakly.
“SHOT GUN!” Tahati cried.
“NOT IF I GET THERE FIRST!” Tiana yelled.
Tiana shoved Tahati backwards, into the boot, and raced around the side of the van. Tahati dove head first over the top of the chairs, regardless of her friends screaming and ducking out of the way, and tried to swim over their heads to the chair. Tiana ripped open the passenger chair just as Zangi’s flat arse hit the seat. Tiana lept in anyway, and sat on her lap.
Tristan's shoulders fell as he watched the skirmish from outside of the van. He could hear them screaming their heads off, half laughing, half swearing at each other. Since no one had shut the boot, he saw – clear as day – the moment that Zangi undoubtedly won the front seat. It was the moment that she pushed Tiana backwards so roughly that she rolled over the back of the front seats, and landed on top of Tahati, sending both of the slamming into the others laps. Causing more yelling.
Tristan covered his face with his hands desperately. He only opened his eyes when he felt a clap on the shoulder. A very smug Mr Conduit sneered at him.
“Have fun,” he smirked.
Then, laughing, he strode back into his school. Tristian glared back at him. He did not like Mr Conduit. He was beginning to regret what he had agreed to, but that was the moment that he decided he was going to go through it anyway. He had to. Just to prove Mr Conduit wrong.
Tristian clapped his hands loudly. “ALRIGHT GIRLS! BUTTS IN SEATS, SEATBELTS ON, AND LET’S GET GONE!”
Eager to get going, Tiana and Tahati climbed into the very back seats, and strapped themselves in. Tristian packed the bags in properly, and slammed the boot shut. Then he climbed into the driver’s seat, and slammed the door shut behind him.
The girls pushed their way to the window to wave goodbye to Sapphire , who was still standing with Mr Edwards, waiting to wave them off.
The atmosphere inside the van was pure joy. The excitement only grew when Tristan cranked up the radio, and filled the van with the sound of the Proclaimers singing On My Way.
Being as loud as the possibly could (given that they only knew the song from Shrek), Tiana and Zangi yelled at the top of their lungs:
“WE’RE ON OUR WAY! FROM MIS-ERY TO HAP-PI-NESS TO-DA-AY!”
And Tristan put in his headphones so that Don’t Feel like Dancing by the Scissor Sisters drowned them out completely. He was definitely regretting this now.
But it was too late. They were on their way.