Grey lumpy stodge. She stared at in despair. How could she force herself to even allow the spoon to touch this evil mess? It looked like something that might have already visited several stomachs in succession, but without the standard peas and carrots. She picked at one of the crevices in the wooden table, wondering what she had done to deserve this.
There she sat in full school uniform; black v-neck pinafore dress with red piping, white long-sleeved shirt, red and black striped tie, red and black striped blazer with silver buttons, lace up shoes and black knee high socks with red stripes on the fold over. Brown suitcase next to the table holding the usual ghastly brown bread peanut butter sandwiches, another culinary treat to look forward to at break. She waved the spoon feebly towards the bowl, hoping it would voluntarily dip itself into the porridge, thus allowing her to abdicate the responsibility of contaminating its silvery pureness. But no, the spoon wafted past the bowl without making contact.
The voice startled her from her reverie. YOU ARE NOT GOING TO SCHOOL UNTIL YOU’VE EATEN YOUR JUNGLE OATS. She lowered her eyelids and rolled her eyes upwards, smouldering but too apprehensive to direct the full force of her most intimidating glare at her mother.
Said mother left with the other children in tow with I MEAN IT, PENNY! in the most cutting tone as her parting shot.
She waited until the noise of the car had receded into the distance. What to do; what to do! She was now very late for school.
It dawned on her that there was no longer anyone around to police her. She could dispense of the now cement-like porridge, but where? Not the dustbin – that would be too much of a waste. She looked around the kitchen, scheming frantically. The cat was curling itself onto the counter next to the kitchen sink through the window. The diamond mesh burglar bars had a small gap at the bottom through which the window could be latched closed. Amazing that the cat could jump up there from the compost heap and…the compost heap! That was it!
She jumped up knocking over the cat’s blue plastic milk bowl that luckily was empty, scuttled down the back steps and around to the side of the house, breakfast brick in hand and disposed of the offending mass most satisfactorily.
Half an hour later she arrived at school. The playgrounds were deserted, the bell must have rung ages ago and everybody was already in class. Her heart plummeted into her very empty Jungle Oats free stomach. She pushed the school pedestrian gate open and walked gingerly alongside the tarred netball field, hoping no teacher or prefect chose this moment to visit the toilet. The red brick of the school buildings offered no solace as she crept along. She walked down the passage, placing each foot carefully and slowly, then tiptoed down the steps towards the Standard Three classroom.
Mrs Owen stood in front of the blackboard while all the girls sat bolt upright at their desks. Mrs Owen! oh no, she could not face this. This teacher had the most sarcastic tongue of all the teachers and nine year old Penny was convinced that Mrs Owen hated her more than any other girl in the entire school.
She turned around and headed back to the bus stop intent only on getting out of there as soon as possible. She caught the Number 22 Cyrildene bus, disembarked at the usual bus stop near her house and sat down on the bench. What could she do now? This whole thing had somehow escalated out of control. She was usually a very well-behaved obedient little girl and now she had broken so many rules she didn’t think there was any way back to her old self. All these many years of trying to do the right thing, always, wiped out by one bowl of Jungle Oats. She bit her lip and tried not to cry.
A car pulled up. Oh no! Her mother had found her. She was bundled into the car. YOU ARE GOING STRAIGHT TO SCHOOL, NOW! WHAT DO YOU HAVE TO SAY FOR YOURSELF? WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU ARE UP TO?
But, Mum, Mrs Owen will kill me!
WELL, YOU SHOULD HAVE THOUGHT OF THAT EARLIER!
She was frog-marched into the classroom and humiliated in front of everyone. It was awful. A terrible, terrible day. But the funny thing was, Mrs Owen was never sarcastic towards her, ever again.
Forty years later Penny stands at her gleaming glass topped stove with the overhead extractor fan. The kitchen has granite counters and cherry wood cupboards with delightful little corner shelves for display purposes, lovely big pot drawers and a cupboard specially built to conceal the dustbin. A far cry from that grubby cluttered kitchen with its dirt engrained wooden table, mine field of pet bowls and green peeling novilon counters.
She stirs continuously to make sure nothing sticks to the bottom of the pot on the stove and, most importantly, to ensure no lumps form. Once it starts boiling, she turns the heat down to let it simmer for a few minutes. She
takes all the trimmings out of the cupboard; cinnamon, honey, milk and her favourite bowl with the orange and blue stripes.
Mmm, her favourite breakfast. She smiles to herself as she spoons the Jungle Oats into her bowl then laughs out loud at the thought of another day, another bowl, another house – so long ago! Imagine if Mom could see her now, voluntarily making herself Jungle Oats!