The following is the first chapter of a book I’m in the process of writing. Comments are welcome. 3 minute read.
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The little girl with the enormous headache – chapter 1
A little girl with a very bad headache was sent home from school, by herself, on a sunny day in early June. She was seven years old and her headache felt like a hammer pounding on the side of her head.
The year was 1976. The little girl lived in a small city in Switzerland, not far from Zürich. Times were very different, back then. Children were sent to school on their own, and no one picked them up after the bell rang at the end of the day. There were no binders to sign, no teachers to communicate with, no buzzers to press to enter a school. Kids as young as five were sent to Kindergarten, and grade school, from the first day onward. By themselves.
That morning of the headache, the little girl’s mom had some mysterious plans out of the house, and suggested that some breakfast and fresh air would get rid of the pain.
You’ll feel better when you’re outside, she said.
The little girl believed her, because all little girls believe their moms. Why wouldn’t they? Moms are usually right and children in those days accepted final decisions by adults without debate or negotiation.
You did what you were told. Mom knew best.
But the mom didn’t understand the severity of the headache the little girl was suffering from. She was a busy mom with two other, younger children. Whatever the plan out of the house was that day, it was obviously important to send the two older girls to school.
It never occurred to the little girl to point out to her mom that maybe staying in bed and missing a day of school would be a better option. Just until the headache went away.
But not that day. That day, the little girl went to school with a headache. She sat in her little desk, holding her head, moaning quietly until her teacher noticed.
What is wrong, she asked the little girl. Are you not feeling well?
The little girl said she had a bad headache.
You better go home to your mom, the teacher said.
The little girl was sent home from school all alone. She walked down the long, dark corridor in the basement of the school where the younger children had classrooms, up the steps and across the school yard, carefully avoiding the grass. She knew that the very strict custodian did not appreciate children walking on the grass where he placed a red flag in the middle of the lawn. The red flag signified the grass was off limits.
No one understood why, but children didn’t debate with adults.
As the little girl walked somewhat wobbly toward her apartment building up on top of the hill, she had to concentrate and focus on the way her feet moved. They didn’t seem to obey her, moving independently from where she wanted to place them, sometimes too close to the edge of the sidewalk. But she couldn’t help it, she was trying to manage that pounding headache that was going on inside her head.
She worried whether she was going to make it up the hill beside the field of cows. Would someone see her if she fell down and hurt her knees?
Would someone notice if she didn’t get up again?
The cows on the pasture beside the hill didn’t notice her. The little girl put one foot in front of the other and placed her small hands on to her temples to subdue the throbbing pain. All she had to do was make it up the hill.
The pain made her see stars, and lightning flashes.
The hill seemed steeper than usual. She didn’t look at the farmhouse to her left to see if the farmer left a bucket of milk in the barn for the kids to try, like he sometimes did. She didn’t look right either, where the pasture was with the cows.
She didn’t even cut across the playground behind her apartment building. It was better to stay on the path, she thought, just in case she fell down.
She made it to her apartment building somehow, and climbed the steps up to her apartment on the fourth floor. She banged on the locked door. Hard at first, and loud, then weaker.
She really needed to lie down right now.
No one came to open the door. The door stayed closed and locked. The girl didn’t have a key; her mom didn’t expect her children to leave school before lunch. There was no need for a key.
The little girl didn’t know what to do except lie down in front of the closed door and weep.
After a while, she discovered that if she banged her head against the cool wall, the headache would subside a little. The pain from banging her head would somehow diminish the pain that came from somewhere within the head. The little girl learned to self-sooth by applying a rhythmic rocking, head against wall. Back and forth. With her eyes closed.
The light from the sun shining into the hallway of the apartment building was hurting her head more. She kept her eyes closed and buried her head inside the crook of her arm.
Later, after some infinite amount of time, a neighbour from downstairs came up to the fourth floor and wondered what that noise was.
Why are you not in school? Why are you crying? she wanted to know.
The little girl didn’t answer. All she remembered was that the nice lady from downstairs picked her up and carried her into a room and laid her on an enormous bed. A cool cloth somehow found its way onto her head, but it warmed up almost immediately, and the girl removed it from her throbbing forehead.
Soon, she was carried again, all the way up the stairs. Her mom was finally home.
You’re getting too big to be carried, the mom said to the little girl, and that was the last thing she remembered hearing.
The next time she woke up she was in a hospital room.