Her mother said nothing about the missing chicken. She said nothing about Mrs Malcolm. No-one did. There were a few mutterings about an arrest the next day at school but only among some of the brasher older boys, who praised the police. What is there to praise about attacking a harmless old lady? thought Katarina, but she said nothing and kept her mouth shut at all times unless they were singing ‘The Song of National Renewal’ in assembly, or she had been asked a question in class. But everyone seemed a little extra jumpy, a little more prone to arguments over petty things.
Katarina herself was extra jumpy about how she was going to feed Ditto. After last night’s near miss she realised how dangerous it could be. What would they have done if the men had found her? Arrested her too? She had heard stories of children being taken in to detention centres and parents being sent for ‘rehabilitation’ to teach them how to bring up their children properly. She shivered.
But she wasn’t going to let the cat down. He had saved her last night and she knew how precious he was to Mrs Malcolm.
As the day dragged on she considered her options. She could save up her pocket money to buy food but she doubted she could afford much. She could steal from the larder but her parents would notice. She could leave him to fend for himself, but would he manage?
She was still pondering this as she mouthed the words of the Song of Gratitude and Dismissal – ‘with thanks for another day of learning, another chance to improve our lives’. As the last bars died away, she was no nearer a solution.
“Come on, everyone’s leaving!”
The voice startled her.
“You were somewhere else.” A boy stood looking down at her with a half-grin. She vaguely recognised him from a year or so above her. Seamus, she thought his name was, one of the ‘untidy set’ that her head of year, Mrs Lessing, would tut about and warn them not to copy. Certainly his hair stood up as if he’d forgotten to brush it and his tie was askew, but he had a friendly face.
“Yes, of course. I must go.” She blushed. “Got to catch the bus.”
“I’ve seen you on it. You live near Corner Shop Five don’t you?”
Katarina stuffed her books in her bag. “Yes. The bus goes soon. I mustn’t miss it. Bye.” Her bag bumped his thigh as she jumped up.
“Oh, sorry,” she mumbled and fled.