Samantha looked at her friend Corrie and smiled. They had been waiting for this lesson for the whole year, just like the other twenty-eight.
"She's finally showing us the pictures." Corrie whispered to her friend.
"Shh!" Samantha hushed her. She wanted to learn and know more about it. Ever since she had seen the chapter on the human reproductive system in her sixth standard biology book she had wanted to know more about it, and finally when it was happening she did not want to miss even one bit.
"Pay attention!" Mrs. Brooks, the biology teacher roared.
All the muffled noises and the suppressed giggles stopped.
"Is that really what these boys have?" Corrie whispered to Samantha once again. Clearly she was not being able to contain her excitement. 'Vagina' and 'penis' were muted words, and today the teacher was talking about it loud and clear.
Samantha didn't answer because she saw Mrs. Brooks staring at them.
"Yes, Corrie. Why don't you tell the entire class what is so amusing?" Mrs. Brooks said a little gruffly.
Corrie didn't share and she decided to hold on to any further conversations with her best friend till the class was over which took another half an hour.
When the bell rang, all the kids walked out of the room quietly, but Mrs. Brooks knew what they would be talking about the moment they went out. It was the same every year - a bunch of boys and girls who were more excited about seeing pictures of the genitals and giggling rather than knowing about the biology behind human reproduction. She shook her head - how childish these kids were.
Suddenly she noticed Samantha and some of the children behind her who were sniggering.
She stopped and turned around.
"Please come here once." Mrs. Brooks called her.
She went over. But the teacher didn't speak a word till the entire class had left, and almost everyone turned around and looked at Samantha once, for sure, before they walked out of the door.
"Mam..." Samantha wondered why she had been called. She hoped she hadn't got herself into any trouble.
"Samantha, please come with me to the washroom."
"Washroom? Why?" Samantha couldn't fathom what was happening.
It was only when they had reached the washroom that Mrs. Brook spoke.
"Samantha, do you know about periods? Menstrual cycle?"
She shook her head.
"Well, in that case we need to sit and talk. But before that I'm getting you a skirt and a sanitary pad from the medicine cupboard. Wait here till I return."
Samantha continued to look at her teacher. Completely confused.
"It's alright girl." Mrs. Brooks gently patted her cheeks. "Don't worry."
She was back after a couple of minutes.
"Now listen to what I say and see what I show." Said the plump old teacher. She was nearing fifty, and she had seen this happening many times with many of her students. She often wondered why the mothers didn’t tell their kids about the periods from before. It would make them less panicky.
She showed Samantha the stain on her skirt. Then she showed her the sanitary pad and instructed her how to wear it.
Samantha nodded in silence. She suddenly felt faint and very scared.
Mrs. Brooks left the washroom and went back to the biology classroom.
Samantha changed her skirt and folded the stained one and put it into a plastic packet that her teacher had brought. Then she looked at the sanitary pad and tried to remember the instructions. Her mind had blanked out.
After a few tries she managed to wear it.
She felt horrid and heavy. Every walk suddenly seemed laborious. All she wanted to do was to go home to her mother. But she still had a few more classes to attend for the day and Mrs. Brooks was waiting for her.
"Mam, may I come in?" Samantha said standing at the door.
"Yes, child." Mrs. Brooks smiled. "Come and have a seat."
What followed was a talk. The teacher spoke and the student listened.
"Samantha, don't worry about this. Every girl has it. It is a sign that you are growing up. This is called the menstrual cycle. Every month your uterus prepares a lining to receive the fertilized egg.”
“Fertilized egg? But that’s only if…” Samantha looked for words.
“Yes Samantha. An egg fertilizes only if it finds a sperm, and that is possible only if you have had sex.”
She blushed. She had just kissed Damian – the tall, handsome fellow who was the basketball captain of her section. She hadn’t had sex with him though.
“But when the uterus sees that no fertilized egg is coming to it, it sheds the lining. This is when menstruation happens.”
Samantha heaved a sigh of relief. “That means I am not pregnant. Naturally I am not. A kiss can’t lead to pregnancy!” She told herself.
"It is your first time. But you will get used to it, dear." The teacher said reassuringly. "Now off you go and attend your other classes."
Samantha was almost in tears. She felt horrid. But she got up from her seat. Then she did something that she had never done before with any teacher. She hugged Mrs. Brooks. "Thank you Ma'm."
The old teacher smiled.
The remaining three hours at school didn't go too well for Samantha. When she entered class all the boys laughed at her and the girls giggled. She knew why they were doing so. Even her best friend refused to sit beside her at class. And she was not the one to plead.
To add to her sorrow, when the class went out for their basketball class, she found that she wasn’t being able to dribble and run around with the ball usually as fast as she could.
“Samantha can you please buck up?” Damian screamed from near the court.
“Yes! Yes!” Samantha answered, dribbling the ball towards the boy who, the entire class knew, she had a crush on. So it was vital that she maintained the perfect impression in front of him. She just had to be the best when Damian was around.
But it was too late. The opponent team had already snatched the ball from her and had even basketed the ball for a point.
“Damn!” He murmured under his breath angrily. But it was loud enough for Samantha to hear. She felt disgusted with herself. This so-called sanitary pad and the sheer thought of it being filled with blood by now couldn’t even make her run properly.
The game ended in a loss for the team by a single point. The same point for which she had not passed the ball on time.
“I’m sorry.” Samantha said apologetically to Damian once they were back in class. It had just been a regular inter-section match that they had each week during their basketball class. But, to them, each match was an important one, and letting Damian down had been an even more important thing for her.
“What else can be expected from you Samantha? The bleeding woman of our class!” The young boy was in a foul mood. Added to it he had seen Samantha’s skirt and had also heard what it was from some of the girls in class. He found it filthy.
Samantha had tears in her eyes. But she didn’t want to make a greater spectacle of herself than she already had. She wiped them away before the boy saw it and walked away.
When the bell for end-of-school finally rang she heaved a sigh of relief. It would be good to get out school today for sure.
She maintained a calm facade on her way back home in the bus. In any case the younger ones were dosing, the older ones were giving her glances and none of her classmates were interested in speaking to her. She squeezed her eyes shut.
Samantha reached home after almost an hour. She ran inside and found her mother sitting on the sofa reading a magazine.
She came and sat beside her quietly. Then hugged her and cried.
Samantha’s mother was startled, to say the least. “What happened Sammy? Why are you crying?”
Samantha shook her head wordlessly, continued to hug her, and continued to cry.
“Tell me Sammy. What happened?”
It took the young girl a while before she could compose herself enough to tell about her periods to her mother.
“I was so scared today. The sight of the blood made me think that I was attacked by some infection that would make me die. Had Mrs. Brooks not told me…”
"Oh Sammy!" Mum said as she held her tightly. Had she told her daughter about it from before then she wouldn't have been so scared. Or embarrassed. But what was done was done. She just had to comfort her little one now.
Samantha stayed quiet for a few moments. Then said, “Mum, what if no one speaks to me?"
"They will dear. Having periods is normal. You might be the first one in class to have it but you won't be the last. We have all had it dear."
“But they were all so mean to me today. Even Corrie.”
“That’s probably because they don’t know about it either.”
“But Mum, just because you don’t know about something, do you make fun of it? Even if you are a friend?”
Samantha’s mother shook her head.
“I wouldn’t have said anything nasty to Corrie had she been in my place.”
“I know that dear. That’s what makes you so different.”
Samantha looked at her mother through tear stained eyes. “Everything will be alright Mum?”
“Yes it will, kiddo.”
“Oh Mum, those cramps are coming again.” Samantha said holding her stomach tightly. “Will this happen every month?”
"I feel so ill." Sam said, her sobs beginning again.
"Why don't I make you your favourite spaghetti Sammy?" Mum smiled and said, trying to change the topic.
"I don't feel hungry...I feel tired...I'm getting tummy cramps...my legs are hurting...can I go lie down Mum?"
She nodded. "You will need to change your pad Sammy. You have been wearing it for a pretty long time. Wearing the same one for long is unhygienic." Thankfully she had a packet at home for her to use.
"Will you manage? Should I come with you baby?"
"Umm...No Mum...I will do it...I will call you if I need anything."
Samantha got up to leave. Her mother noticed that the young girl was walking slower than normal, and with a slight waddle. "She will take a day or two to get used to it," she thought to herself.
The rest of the evening and the night passed by without much incident. Samantha stayed in her room most of the time, and all that she agreed to have for dinner was the thick chicken and corn soup that her mother had prepared for her.
She didn't feel like going to school the following day. Mostly because she didn't want to be teased any further, and also because she was feeling yucky down there.
However, after some persuasion from her mother, she agreed to.
Next day at school, a surprise awaited her.
It was Corrie.
"Hi." Samantha replied. She was unsure why Corrie had come. When she needed her friend yesterday she had not been around.
"I'm sorry Samantha. I behaved like a jerk yesterday."
Samantha did not speak a word.
"Samantha, I had no clue what had happened to you. A few girls told me that you were bleeding. That repelled me." Her face fell. "And the boys..."
"It's alright Corrie." Samantha said plastering a smile on her face. Mrs. Brooks and her mother had stood by her, had explained to her, had taken care of her. Today was a new day and she was full of confidence.
“I asked Mum about it.” Corrie continued apologetically. “She told me all about it. It happens because…”
Samantha cut her short. "I know, and Corrie, this will happen to all of you too. That too every month. It will last for only five days, and for these five days, the choice is ours whether we want to give in to it and feel unwell or let it do its job while we do ours."
Corrie kept quiet.
"And when we can carry on with our daily routine despite all the flow, despite all the aches, despite all the discomfort, and despite all the teasing from friends like you we shall know that we have grown up.” Samantha smiled. “I have."