The napping room was an unused classroom. Its air hung stale and heavy with the stench of floor polish, sweaty feet and the faint smell of soot streaming in through the cracks in the window frames. Chairs and benches had been replaced with wooden planks, covered in washed-out linen.
She hated naptime. She simply could not sleep in the middle of the day. But it was one of the rules. If you slept nicely, you got a little red star next to your name on the chart. Five stars was the goal. Whoever earned five stars was allowed to spend naptime outside in the courtyard doing whatever you could think of doing in a fenced-off concrete courtyard. The others could never wait to put their pyjamas on and hit the pillows. And they would soon fall asleep; the silence broken only by rhythmic breathing and the occasional sob. She envied them. Her reluctance to sleep at naptime had got her in trouble before.
Like he did every day, the educator sat on a chair in a corner of the room, and, for the whole naptime hour, did nothing but look around the room and occasionally hiss a sharp “Sshhhh!” should someone utter a sound that was not breathing or snoring. The sunlight peeked through the gaps between the dusty blinds and the windowsill. The shadows of the iron bars covering the window made a pattern on the blinds. She was so bored; it made her legs twitch. And she needed to go. Badly. Already, there was a nagging pain in her abdomen. There was no way she could hold it until the next scheduled toilet break. She sat up in bed.
“Will you lie down! Now!” came the expected hiss from the corner.
She folded her legs under her and straightened her back.
“I need to use the toilet,” she said, just loud enough for the educator to hear.
“You will never get your five red stars!”
She had not meant to say it out loud. A hot flush tore through her body the moment she said it, her bladder now ready to burst from the rush of adrenalin. Panic spread from the roots of her hair through her whole body.
“Please can I go?”
The educator gave her a sour smile. She would wet the bed. And the others would bully her for weeks. Suddenly, the educator jumped up from the chair and left the room, returning seconds later with one of the large white enamel buckets, normally meant for used menstrual pads. He put it down on the floor with a loud “clank”. A few faint gasps of surprise, heads lifted from pillows. The educator pointed at the bucket, mouth curled in a grimace.
She felt all eyes on her. They expected her to start crying.
So she lay back down, closed her eyes and felt the wet warmth spread underneath her.
published 10 June 2013