The children tumble over each other in the rush to the food station.
‘Line up, please.’ The Year Level Coordinator, Ben, calls directives to the group.
Sarah is amazed, as always, when they do exactly as Ben has asked.
Sarah had been nervous about her first school camp as a Year 3 teacher; she’d felt a heaviness in her belly, like a lump of cement. An insidious reminder of her old childhood friend. The blackness, the hopelessness. The constant feeling of loneliness. She pushes the memories back down.
Instead, Sarah watches the school children line up, bowls in hands, ready to get their toast and Rice Bubbles for breakfast. Wonders which of those in the year level feel like she did at the same age.
‘How’re you finding your first camp, Sarah?’
It’s Ben. Standing beside her. They’re at the back of the line, both watching the students enter the dining hall.
The lump in her belly undulates like a wave. She swallows before flashing a smile. ‘Yeah, so far, it’s great.’
‘How did you sleep?’
‘Not well. The girls in the cabin near me were giggling and talking all night. I went inside about six times. They didn’t care. Didn’t shut up.’ She chuckles, to take the sting out of the words. ‘How about you?’
‘Same really. The boys were up to no good. Finally drifted off about 5am I reckon.’
By now the students are seated, eating breakfast.
‘After you,’ says Ben. ‘Hot brekkie for the teachers.’
Once they loaded their plates, Sarah and Ben sit at the same table to enjoy their eggs, sausages, bacon and spinach. Sarah takes a bite and immediately notices Arabella, alone at a table, crying. This is all too familiar for Sarah. She leaves Ben without a word and walks to the young girl.
‘Arabella,’ she says quietly. ‘What’s wrong?’
Arabella points to the floor, where her bowl of cereal lies broken, with its contents spilled on the linoleum floor.
‘Oh never mind. We can clean that up.’
‘I’m still hungry.’
‘Come on, then. Let’s get you another bowl.’
‘Ethan said we weren’t allowed.’
Sarah smiles. ‘I’m saying you are. Come with me.’
Arabella’s eyes dart to the door. Sarah follows her line of sight, and sees Ethan in the doorway. What a shit of a kid he is. Sarah’s taught him for three terms and he is always the troublemaker in the classroom. No surprise that he’s causing a ruckus on camp as well.
‘Ethan,’ she calls. ‘Please get a dustpan and broom, paper towel and a mop and clean up that mess where Arabella was seated.’
Ethan scowls but, after glancing at Ben, he does so. Ben follows Ethan and gives him a hand. Sarah and Arabella sit at the teacher’s table, while Arabella eats her breakfast. She finishes eating, right on time for the first activity for the day.
‘Here,’ says Sarah. ‘I’ll clean up for you. You get ready for your group activity.’
‘What are you doing first up?’
‘Kayaking,’ Arabella says. A big wide smile lights up her face.
Sarah is content that Arabella isn’t plagued by anxiety. ‘Enjoy it. See you later in the day!’ She ignores her own darkness again, and gets on with cleaning up the tables.