After an exhausting climb up four sets of stairs, Suzy emerged into a dimly lit corridor with five nearly identical doors studded along each side. Suzy marched along to Flat 415, produced her key from her purse, and opened the door into the one part of the world that belonged to her family.
Well, actually, it belonged to the council, and Mum rented it from them, but as long as the rent was paid no-one bothered them. The tower block was so notorious as festering hole for roaming gangs of young males drugs and violent crime that not even the most hardy door to door caller dared to show their face.
Suzy could hear the news blaring from the telly the instant that she opened the door. This was accompanied by the sound of a baby wailing and the fainter sound of raggae music emanating from the closed door of her older brother's room.
Suzy entered the living room to find her mother gently handling Suzy's baby brother, Aaron, in an attempt to calm him down. It didn't seem to be working, judging from the volume coming from Aaron's vocal chords.
Mum spotted Suzy and immediately brightened "Hello, love. Did you have a good day at school?"
Suzy nodded. It HAD been a good day at school. A very good day. But Suzy did not want to discuss it with her mother. It would just add to her problems.
Mum passed Aaron over to Suzy "Be a love and take baby for me whilst I fix you some tea!". Mum disappeared into the kitchen and the sound of the fridge door and other doors being opened and closed could be heard. Then there was the sound of the microwave.
Suzy sat down and bounced her little brother on her knee. It seemed to help his mood a little and he became calm and quiet, gurgling happily.
Mum came back into the living room and sat down heavily. She looked wan and exhausted :"What a day I've had! First of all, I had to sort out the phone bill. How the hell they can try and charge me so much when I hardly even use my mobile gets me! I had words with "Robert, your friendly customer services representative". I told where he could stick his economy friendly tariff!"
Mum went on in a similar vein about almost every detail of her entire day. The trouble she had had at the laundrette. At the supermarket. The Post Office. Suzy listened to her with a mixture of boredom and sadness.
She loved her mum. More than anyone else in the world. It was not mum's fault that she was reduced to doing three cleaning jobs and claiming benefits to make ends meet. But having to listen to her describing her daily struggles against a world that was (according to her) against her was depressing.
Suzy's sadness was replaced by a surge of anger at her father. Her father, who she loved more than anyone else in the world and for whom Suzy had been his "special little princess", had shown his true colours by running off with another woman whilst Mum was still pregnant with Aaron. Mum had been fighting to keep the family afloat ever since he had suddenly and inexplicably disappeared almost a year ago.
Suzy had tried to keep in contact with her father. She had written to him and phoned him, seeking answers, an explanation as to why he had abandoned those he had once professed to love. Dad had changed his phone number and moved away. Suzy's letter were returned, unopened.
The mystery woman with whom Dad had walked out on his family for was just that. A mystery. The rumour was that he had hooked up with some minor celebrity or rich businesswoman. The wildest rumours linked him with a world famous actress. Suzy didn't know, or care, who the other woman was, only that she had stolen her Dad from her.
Suzy put the folder into her satchel (It was actually Mum's old satchel from her own schooldays). Then she took out a small square of white paper. It was this piece of paper that could cause Suzy much joy - and her mum much worry. It seemed amazing to Suzy that a single sheet of paper could be so potentially life changing. But it was true.
Suzy looked at her door, envisaging her mum either bustling about doing chores or otherwise sitting down watching TV with little Aaron perched on her knee. Aaron was growing all the time and mum was moaning only the other day about how expensive baby and toddler clothes were.
Suzy put the square of paper back in her satchel. Let mum enjoy another evening without the worry that Suzy was, unwittingly, about to visit upon her.
The following morning, only ten minutes before Double French, found Suzy studying herself in the girls' toilets. Suzy stood at five feet and two inches exactly. She was not small, she reminded herself, she was petite, the more polite word for small. Suzy had mousy brown hair and plain face out of which two light green eyes beheld the world.
Suzy also had larger hands than were usual for a female of her age and size and dumpy little legs. Still, this was all she had to work with. She hitched her skirt up as high as it would go, brushed her hair and tied a white ribbon in it. Suzy thought that she already looked younger and more vulnerable. Perfect!
It was time to put her plan, Operation Kevin, into motion.
Suzy sidled into the classroom. Kevin, a tall, handsome, dark haired boy, was sitting with his mates, laughing and joking about something or other. To Suzy's intense disappointment, Kevin didn't even seem to notice her.
Suzy wished that she had a compact and lipstick so that she could make an exhibition of herself for Kevin's benefit, but girls her age weren't allowed to carry make up in school, let alone wear any. Sighing, Suzy concentrated on the lesson.
Mademoiselle Penchat, the French Mistress, who had long ago ceased to be young enough to merit the title of "Mademoiselle", but still insisted on using it, first handed back the last essay that every student had been required to submit.
Mademoiselle Penchat hovered by Suzy's desk and handed her her marked essay with an indulgent smile "Tre bion, mademoiselle!". Suzy glowed with pride when she saw she had received the maximum number of points possible.
Then Mademoiselle Penchat frowned and spoke softly so that only Suzy could hear"Mademoiselle Stanton, I'm still waiting for your parent's permission slip and cheque for the deposit for our class trip to Paris....."
Suzy almost cursed aloud. This damned trip! A fortnight ago, Mademoiselle Penchat had informed the class that she had arranged a weekend trip to Paris, to soak up the ambience and the culture of the French capital. They would visit the Arc de Triumphe, the Louvre, Notre Dame Cathedral, and, of course, the Eiffel Tower, along with a load of lesser museums and visitor attractions.
Suzy wanted to go with all her heart........but the deposit alone was one hundred pounds! It would take a further two hundred pounds to pay for the whole trip and accommodation, plus Suzy would need some spending money. There wouldn't be much change out of five hundred pounds.
Suzy doubted if mum had a fiver on her at the moment. She would probably have a heart attack if Suzy rolled up to her and asked for five hundred pounds!
Suzy forced herself to look up at Mademoiselle calmly "I'll have the form in by next week" she said "I gave it to my mum, but she must have forgotten about it. I'll remind her when I get home".
Mademoiselle Penchat beamed again and patted Suzy lightly on the arm "Excellent! What a wonderful time we will have in gay Paris!". The large French Mistress whistled "La Marseille" as she wobbled back to her place at the front of the class.
Suzy usually enjoyed French but was deflated that "Operation Kevin" had failed and miserable because she knew she would somehow have to break the news to mum about the Paris trip, and soon, if she was to keep her promise to Mademoiselle Penchat.
That Suzy's performance in class was a little below par than usual was barely noticed. This was due to Mademoiselle's attention largely being taken up by the boys in the class. The boys, including Kevin, tended to congregate at the back of the class, were always talking and laughing about something, and, because most of them were rubbish at French, threw ink pellets and other improvised missiles when they thought Mademoiselle Penchat wasn't looking, as a way to amuse themselves.
By the end of the two hour lesson, more than one boy had been given detention, and one other boy was ordered to report to the headmaster's office at the end of class.
Suzy stared at the boys in a mixture of awe and disbelief. Awe that they had the cheek to flout authority and disbelief that they were wasting their talents indulging in silly pranks. It seemed to be the same in every class. The girls got their heads down and studied while most of the boys just messed around and disrupted the class.
No wonder that girls were doing so much better in school than boys nowadays. Suzy was aware of the current trend of the underachievement of boys and the spectacular success of girls in stark contrast. Every new set of examination results seemed to confirm that the girls were pulling further and further ahead at every level of education, leaving the boys way behind.
Suzy was suddenly very glad that she was a girl.
A weary Mademoiselle Penchat dismissed the class and collapsed heavily into her chair as her pupils filed out.
Suzy hovered in the corridor, re-arranging her bags and checking she had her work book for her next class, Chemistry. She did. Relaxing, Suzy closed her satchel. She heard a cough, looked up, and saw Kevin of all people standing in front of her.
"Hi" he said, in a deep masculine tone "Suzy Stanton, isn't it?"
Startled by Kevin's very sudden interest in her, Suzy nodded.
"I'm Kevin. Kevin Connor".
"I know" Suzy replied, wondering where this was leading.
"Good. I heard you were a smart girl. I could use some help with my French essay. Mademoiselle Penchat said it was so bad that I'd have to write it again. And you are the star of French Class, are you not".
"Well" said Suzy "I wouldn't go that far, but I seem to be good at French, yes"
"So....will you help me?"
The chance to be around Kevin was too good to miss, so Suzy said "Sure thing!"
They agreed to meet up in the school library the following day, after class. Kevin turned on his heel and marched off happily. Suzy almost fainted with happiness.
It was almost dark by the time Suzy got off the bus outside Royale Mansions. It had been a good day at school. Especially with the prospect of spending time with Kevin tomorrow! But Suzy still had to tell mum about the expensive French trip.
Suzy walked past a row of trashbins and gasped in shock as she saw a small tabby kitten pathetically trying to claw open a sack of rubbish and mewling. Suzy's heart went out to the poor little mite. Whoever had abandoned the kitten must have been heartless. It was just like abandoning a baby.
The kitten looked up hopefully at Suzy with its big saucer-like eyes. It seem to be saying, without sound, "please help me". Without hesitation, Suzy scooped the little ball of fur up into her arms. Mum probably wouldn't be happy at having another mouth to feed, even one as small as the kitten's, but, like Suzy, she had a heart of gold.