It was Monday morning and Anthony was studying his appearance very carefully. The new uniform looked good on him, he decided. Almost made to measure.
Now came the hard bit. Getting out of the house before his parents saw him. Well, his mother at any rate. Antony's father would still be in bed. He was rarely ever out of it. Since he had lost his job at the steel mill five years ago and had to rely on his wife to support him, he had fallen into a stupor. It was almost if he was too ashamed to leave the house and have to admit that his wife was the breadwinner.
Mum had not only kept her job at the local council, but had gained a couple of promotions and, of course, increases in salary. Thanks to her, the family enjoyed a relatively high standard of living. She gave Antony a generous amount of pocket money in exchange for chores, which Antony was pleased to do.
Antony was the only child. But that had not always been the case. He had had an older sister, Marcia, but she had died in a traffic accident seven years ago. Antony's mother had been grief-stricken and there was still an aura of sadness about her. Antony had only dim memories of his sister, for he had been young when she had died, but a photograph of her still hung beside one of Antony in the front room. Though long dead, Marcia was still part of the family.
Antony wondered what his sister would think of him of she could see him now. Perhaps she could see him from heaven.
Antony heard the bathroom door slam. Good, Antony thought. That would be his mother. This was his chance. Picking up his bag, he crept out of his bedroom and gently closed the door behind him. He slowly moved past his parent's bedroom from which he could hear his father snoring loudly and silently moved down the stairs. He got to the front door and opened it.
He called up to the bathroom "Bye Mum!". He thought he heard a reply, but if there had been one, it was muffled by the bathroom door. Antony quickly stepped out of the house, closed the door behind him and walked quickly towards the bus stop at the end of the road. The 29 would be along in a few minutes and he would be at school in less than quarter of an hour.Some other pupils and some members of the public were at the bus stop and their eyes widened at the sight of Antony. The girls began giggling. The boys looked at him with disdain. Antony had expected these reactions but ignored them. The bus came along and the driver gave Antony a strange look as he flashed his bus pass in his direction and mounted the stairs to the top deck.
Antony had to endure more giggles and looks before the bus pulled in at the stop right outside the school. Antony got off the bus and hurried to his first lesson. Double Physics. Ignoring the looks from other pupils along the way to the classroom, he entered and took his place at the nearest desk.
The teacher, Mr Maxwell, did a double take when he saw Antony. He could hardly believe what he was seeing.When he was finally able to speak, Mr Maxwell said "Mr Starling, what is the meaning of this?"
Antony looked non-plussed "The meaning of what, sir?"
Mr Maxwell snarled "Don't play the innocent with me, boy! You know very well what I'm talking about! Why are you in my class, wearing a girl's school uniform?"
Antony was indeed wearing the uniform as prescribed for girl pupils at this school. He wore a plain white blouse with the school tie. Underneath the thin blouse, bra straps were clearly visible. He wore the school blazer, but that was unisex, and a grey pleated skirt that fell to just above his bare knees which definitely wasn't unisex. He wore the white woollen socks and the clumpy black shoes.Wearing the uniform would have been bad enough in Mr Maxwell's book, but Antony had gone further. He carried a handbag. His fingernails were varnished and he wore bangles on his wrists. His face had a light layer of make up and his longish hair was brushed to frame his face, just like a girl's would have been. He also wore a necklace.
To Mr Maxwell's fury, Antony gave him a gentle shrug "Because I wanted to, sir. It suits me, don't you think?"Mr Maxwell's face became redder "I most certainly do not! It's an outrage! School policy clearly states that boys should not wear girls' uniforms and vice versa!"
"Oh? And precisely where does it say that sir?"Mr Maxwell was taken aback. Now that he thought about it, there was no written rule about pupil's dress that he could recall. It was really custom that laid down what the sexes should, and should not, wear.
Flustered and angry at being caught out, Mr Maxwell said "Well....I don't know! But it must be written down somewhere. In the School Charter perhaps".But infuriatingly, Starling was shaking his head "I checked, sir. On the internet. Where all the legal documents for the school are available for anyone to see. I've also checked all the minutes of the school council since the year dot right up to last week's meeting. Nowhere does it say anything about what pupils should wear".
Mr Maxwell was exasperated. This matter was now beyond him. He would have no choice but to take Starling off to that arch feminist, Dr Craig."Right Starling, you're to come with me to see the Headmistress. The rest of you, open your books at page 43 and start reading. I'll be doing a quiz at the end of the lesson, so no slacking!"
In spite of Mr Maxwell's instructions, the class began chattering excitedly as soon as Mr Maxwell and Antony departed.Five minutes later, Antony was standing in front of the Headmistress's desk. He clutched his handbag firmly. He had no idea what Dr Craig was going to do with him.
Mr Maxwell was speaking to Dr Craig "Headmistress, never have I had a boy openly flouting convention and the authority of the school as much as this one has! He should be sent home. Suspended!"Dr Craig looked at the flustered man coolly "I will decide what to do with Mr Starling. You may return to your class". Mr Maxwell looked at Dr Craig, as if he was going to challenge her, but thought better of it and stomped out of the room.
Antony was now alone with the formidable Headmistress.Dr Craig got him to explain his reasons for coming to school dressed as he was. Antony reitrated pretty much the conversation he had had with Mr Maxwell earlier.
Dr Craig smiled "You are quite right, young man. There is nothing to say that a boy cannot come to school in a skirt if he wishes. However, much as I applaud your desire to dress as you choose, I have to think of the image of the school. At the moment, it is not appropriate for you to come to school dressed as you are currently. You are suspended from class for the rest of the day and if you come in to school tomorrow dressed as you are, I will have no choice but to suspend you for a longer period"."But...Dr Craig...this is wrong! I haven't broken any rules! I thought you of all people would support me!"
Dr Craig sighed "It is wrong. But I am the Headmistress of this school. I have to do what is right for the school and that is to forbid you from wearing a girl's uniform and all the other paraphenalia. It's simply too controversial and disruptive to the running of the school to allow you to have your way. And that is my final decision on the subject".Antony felt like crying. He so wanted to attend school dressed as he was and to be accepted. But he knew that taking on Dr Craig and disobeying her would be a bad move. He miserably asked to be excused.
Dr Craig dismissed him with a wave of her hand. Antony walked to the door and grasped the handle when he was arrested by Dr Craig's voice."Oh, and by the way, Mr Starling, you do look very elegant and feminine in that uniform, if that's any consolation, and speaking as a feminist and not the Headmistress, I admire your courage and desire to change the conventions of gender. It's such a shame that you weren't born a girl".
Antony's heart lifted at these words, so much so that he almost bounced home.But, as he recounted Dr Craig's words, he became intrigued by them. Dr Craig had kind of hinted that although now was not the right time to defy convention, there would be a right time at some point in the future.
Antony hoped that that day would come soon.