Useful And Fantastic: The Story Of The Little Green Girl
Val Yule tells a most remarkable and memorable sxtory concerning a silent little girl.
Once upon a time, a dumb little girl arrived at the classroom door of the Beginners’ Grade at St. Thomas Pond’s school in Innery. When the other children went in with their Mums or Dads, she went in too, but she was attached to no Mum or Dad.
When the fifteen little beginners on the roll had been prised from their parents and set to playing with blocks and bananamen, there were sixteen little children wandering around the room. When the teachers, Miss Cazerlty and Mrs Carper, tried to sort them out and put labels on them, they ended up with ten labelled children who could say who they were, five labels without children, and six children without labels, who would not say a word.
At the end of the day, fifteen parents claimed fifteen children, and Miss Cazerlty and Mrs Carper had got their labels sorted out - but the sixteenth little child was already nowhere to be seen. Which one had she been?
The next morning, when the classroom Door opened, fifteen parents brought their children, and sixteen children were left behind. But this time the teachers were quick to put the labels on the fifteen infants that they could match with their adults. There was a Turk and Cypriot, and Maronite and Shii’ite and Greek and Macedonian, and Serb and Croat, and a Leprechaun and a Southend, and the rest, with names like Jackson and Douane, were black.
The sixteenth child was another little black five-year-old, with very long eyelashes lidding her black eyes like Cleopatra, and with very thin legs. She sat herself in a little chair, looked around, said nothing, and did nothing. All through the morning, Miss Cazerlty and Mrs Carper made relationships with the children, as they show them the routines and the things to play with and asked the questions. The only time that the sixteenth child moved was to follow the shy Southend girl Shelmer when she went to the toilet. Shelmer offered a hand of friendship, but the other one did not take it.
When the parents came to take the children home, the teachers looked around for the little dumb girl - but she had disappeared. But the next morning - there she was again.
So Mrs Carper took her to the Head Teacher. “This child was brought by nobody. She says nothing. She does nothing. We don’t know her name. What is she doing in our classroom?”
So the Head Teacher said, “There is no lunch-time meeting. Go home with her before she can disappear, and find out where she lives.”
But again, after sitting all morning doing nothing and saying nothing, the little black girl disappeared before the teachers could do anything about going home with her.
So after the child arrived next day, they called a Social Worker to take her home in the afternoon. But she gave the Social Worker the slip, quite easily, and there she was next day, sitting in the classroom again. So they put her outside the door and sat her on the front step, with the Social Worker out of sight, watching her. As soon as the Social Worker bent her head to look at her watch for a moment, the little girl was inside again in the corridor, with her hands and face against the glass of the door of the classroom, looking in.
So they let her into the classroom, and she sat in a little chair, doing nothing and saying nothing. The other children sat on the mat while a teacher held a book above their heads, or they played with toys until another child took them or scattered them, or they took a long time getting ready for their little rests - whatever the adults expected of them was eventually, inevitably done. But not by the little dumb girl.
And every day the adults would try to see to it that one of them went home with her, but every day she managed to disappear. When the Beginners started to stay all day, Little Dumb Girl stayed too. She never brought any money for school lunches, but she would bring a piece of food - fruit, or a bun, or even a carrot.
Then someone had an idea, and they put a little ribbon harness on the little dumb girl, and the Social Worker kept the end of the reins looped around her wrist. And so she was ready to follow at a run when the little girl slipped like a raindrop out of the school and round the corner. But when she got round the corner, the ribbon had no harness on the other end, and the little girl was gone.
So the next day a harness was made of strong cord, and the door of the classroom was never opened, not even for parents, until the Social Worker had wrapped her hand around the reins so that the length of the rope was only a metre long. The child would not be able to get out of sight.
At the end of the school day, the little girl just sat down. So they carried her outside the school. She did not cry or make any sound or facial expression. She sat down outside the school. The Social Worker sat down with her and tried to coax her, because she did not know what else to do. After two hours, it was more than time for the Social Worker to go to her own home, yet for all her comforting murmurs, the child gave no sign that she either understood or intended to move away. The Social Worker slipped the harness, to see if that would help. In an instant, the girl was round the corner and had disappeared again.
Next day, another Social Worker came to try to trace where the girl came from, and the Psychologist, who came to test each Beginner in turn, was asked to start with the unknown child. Was there anything she could do except sit still for the whole day, and, apparently, run like the wind?
Neither had any luck. The Psychologist could prove that she was not deaf or blind, but that was about all. They interviewed all the parents. None of them knew anything about her. At playtime, she just sat by the fence under the peppercorn tree, and if Shelmer or any of the others asked her to play, she looked at them in a rather kindly fashion, but made no other response at all.
The children, surprisingly to the teachers, gave the strange girl no name. The teachers named her Cinder Ella. It seemed to fit her.
Mrs Carper took to pinning messages on her to take home to her mother every day - particularly strong messages about small sums of money necessary for this or that participation in the various school activities. Nothing ever returned, no money ever came in. At first they let Cinder Ella have the benefit of the doubt and let her join in with the others for nothing, but later on, they just had to drop her from anything that needed money - excursions for instance. She did not seem to mind - just sat in the room, or if it was locked, in the corridor, until the normal time to go home, when she flitted off like a bat as usual.
Then one day, at playtime, Miss Sherrah was glancing out of the window of the staff-room to the distant Beginners’ Yard, and what should she see but that tiresome West Indian Begorra with two of his mates kicking their football over into the small one’s yard - their excuse to make trouble, as she knew. Where was Mr Stingly, supposed to be on duty? Having a pooff somewhere else, it seemed. Miss Sherrah sighed, and supposed she would have to do something about it.
When she ran out through the latticed door into the yard there was nothing untoward to see. Carexander and Tuto and Shelmer and the other small children were playing some sort of ring game, Cinder Ella was sitting by the peppercorn tree, and Begorra and his mates were back in their rightful yard.
“Have Begorra and Termate and Misseri been in your yard?” asked Miss Sherrah, puzzled. There was an embarrassed silence. Then freckled Shito piped up, “Yes, they were, but Cinder Ella soon sent them back again!” There were angry looks from the other children at Shito, and he subsided. Cinder Ella was just sitting vacantly under the tree.
“How did she do that?” persisted the teacher. The children just shuffled, and Shito obediently shuffled too. She could get no sense out of them. “She just looked at him,” said Shito under his breath, unable to withstand Miss Sherrah’s stare. Another boy kicked him, and in the ensuing fracas, Miss Sherrah was distracted from her question.
And so the term went on. The children started learning the alphabet and sight words and writing their name. Cinder Ella did nothing. She seemed to be watching them at first, but still she sat, and took no part.
Then one day, Cinder Ella did not go into the Beginners’ Grade. She went up into the First Grade instead, where she sat on a vacant seat and did nothing. She was led back to Beginners’ Grade, but the first time its door was opened again, she was out again as slick as a drop of rain, and back she went into First Grade. After a while the teachers gave up, and Cinder Ella remained in First Grade, day after day.
The reaction in the Beginners’ Grade was something the teachers could not understand or even define, but it was there the air - a sense of intensity and confused loss. It seemed to focus on or emanate from Shelmer, that quiet, enigmatic little girl.
After that, things went on, in a slightly strange way for both the Beginners’ Grade and the Grade 1, until the day of the swimming outing. Both Grades were going, and the teacher of Grade 1, a kindly soul, fossicked in the Lost Property and found a frilly pink bathers and an unlabelled swimming towel, which would do for Cinder Ella. She said kindly and firmly to Cinders, “We are coming, now”, and her fat strong paw took Cinder Ella's little black and pink one, and she took Cinder Ella off, like a Cabbage-Patch doll, into the bus, and after the short trip, out of the bus, into the sports centre,into the pink bathers and into the shallow pool. Cinder Ella was passive, and just sat there.
The other children, shouting and laughing, rushed out of the changing room to the water. Some of them did what the teacher ordered, and some of them did not,-at first. Sooner or later, however, the teachers had them all organized and doing what they were told. All except Cinder Ella. And Shelmer. She had run back into the Girls, and run out again with a towel, and jumped on Cinder Ella from behind, knocking her into the shallow water of the pool, and she was rubbing her as hard as she could with the towel and hollerin words of rage that nobody could understand.
And where she was rubbing Cinder Ella in the water, the black was washing off her skin, and the colour of her skin was green underneath. Everyone started screaming.
You couldn’t hear if Cinder Ella was screaming too, but Shelmer was shouting out while her tears streamed.
Cinder Ella climbed out from under - she was marbled and streaked, streaked and marbled, both green and black. She fled past the grasping hands that dared not actually touch her, into the Girls. And as they all knew even before the crowd of children and teachers gathered itself from the water and the wet tiled poolside to race calling and shouting after her - as they had all really known would happen - Cinder Ella, the Green Girl, had really disappeared.
Cinder Ella was never seen again in the school by the teachers or the other children. Shelmer was hysterical. She was ill the nest day and the next. Delirious, they said. “You weren’t supposed to go! You shouldn’t have left! You were meant to stay with me for ever and ever!”
The next day she was quieter. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” was all that she would say, picking at the blanket.
Gradually Shelmer got better. She went back to school. She insisted on having an empty chair next to her. Because her health still appeared rather fragile, this was allowed her, to prevent an unnecessary and stressful battle.
Most children, who, like Shelmer, create Doppelgangers who can do what their makers are not allowed to do, and live with a freedom that their makers cannot have, do not have the great comfort of their visibility. The results, however, proved more than Shelmer could handle, because that visibility of the Doppelganger risks giving these unbaptised souls a chance of a life of their own.