Series: School Friends: Book 4
By Ann Bryant
It’s so peaceful here in the secret garden. I can sit on this bench and just think my own thoughts in silence. Not that I don’t love the busy, buzzy side of boarding-school life, hanging out with my close friends in our dormitory, or at lunch, or racing round the athletics track. But out of the six of us I think I’m the one who most needs to be alone sometimes. I came across the garden last September when I’d only just joined this school. My best friend, Katy, found out about it too, and then a bit later we told our other close friends where it was. It’s tucked away behind a high hedge way on the other side of the athletics field and we six from Amethyst dorm think we’re still the only ones who know about it.
The school is called Silver Spires, and it’s the best boarding school in the world. On a day like today, when the sun shines on the main building’s tall spires, they really seem to sparkle like silver. It gives me a lovely warm feeling, seeing them reaching into the sky, and I love the thought that this is the same sun that shines onto my home country in Africa.
I come from Ghana, and I’m a princess, but I absolutely hate people knowing that. I tried like mad to keep it a secret when I first came here, but in no time at all people found out, and it was exactly as I’d feared. Loads of people suddenly wanted to be my friend, not because they liked me but because they liked the idea of having a princess for a friend. But, worse than that, the ones who didn’t rush to be my best friend went round saying I was stuck-up and that I thought I was something special. I was miserable for a while and it was Katy who came to my rescue. At her old school everyone had wanted to be her friend too, because they knew that her mum is a famous actress in America. But that’s one secret that will never ever come out here at Silver Spires. Katy only told me about it at first, but then at the end of last term she told the others too. The six of us best friends from Amethyst dorm are sworn to secrecy about that now.
The glinting sun in this English spring is like a dim reminder of the bright sun that bakes the earth of Ghana, and I can’t stop my thoughts from slipping away to all the poor people I saw last week during half-term, when I went with my family to visit our home country. It made me sad and cross when I met a girl called Abina and saw with my own eyes what she has to do every day. She’s twelve years old, the same age as me, and at five o’clock each morning she goes to a muddy waterhole, where animals drink, to collect water for her family. It takes hours for the water to seep through the ground and for the mud to settle, and even then it’s dirty and not safe to drink. But I visited other villages in north Ghana where a charity called Just Water has built wells and installed hand pumps, so the people there can have clean water.
My father is the president of Just Water and now I’ve started to help the charity too. I’m really pleased to do this work because I feel so lucky to have the life I’ve got, when there are so many people in northern Ghana who don’t even survive to my age. How can that be fair? I repeat this question over and over like a mantra to myself, sitting here alone in the fresh English country air. But I never come up with any answers, just resolutions never to forget the people of Ghana.
I shivered as I looked at my watch, and got a shock because it was six thirty. I only had a few minutes to shake off African Princess Naomi and get myself back into regular-Year-Seven-Silver-Spires Naomi, having supper with her friends. Well, to tell the truth I never completely shake the princess part of me away, but I always try my best to keep it well hidden.
As I got nearer to our boarding house, Hazeldean, I saw Katy standing outside, her shoulders hunched up and her arms folded tightly. She waved when she saw me and came running over.
I hugged her. “You look frozen, Kates!”
“So do you!”
We laughed and I realized she was right. “I’ve been wrapped up in my thoughts in the secret garden, but I can’t say they kept out the cold very well!”
“I guessed you’d be there,” said Katy, looking suddenly serious. “Are you okay?”
I knew why she was asking me that. She’d listened in complete silence yesterday evening when I’d told her all about my time in Ghana, and at the end she’d said she felt guilty that I’d spent my half-term working for a charity while she’d been having a great time in LA with her mum. “You make me feel really spoiled, Naomi,” were her precise words. But I’d quickly told her not to be silly, because Katy and her mum are so close and don’t get to spend much time together. Anyway, I felt ten times more spoiled than that when I saw Abina’s school, which was scarcely more than a tree and a wooden hut, and I compared it with Silver Spires.
“I can’t stop thinking about Abina,” I told her quietly, as we walked across to the dining hall, which is in the main building.
“You can’t do any more than you’re doing, working for Just Water,” Katy said, linking arms with me.
Maybe she was right, but it didn’t stop a little niggling voice telling me I must do more.
“Slow down, you two!” came Georgie’s urgent cry from way behind. Katy and I turned round to see her half walking, half jogging, as though she was on her last legs at the end of a torturous marathon. “Why do people move so fast round here?”
I couldn’t help smiling as we waited for her to catch us up. Georgie is always so dramatic, but in a lovely way.
“I lost track of the time watching my Ugly Betty DVD,” she informed us in her puffed-out voice, when she finally drew level. “It’s totally cool. You should see it. I’m starving now, though. What’s on the menu, do you know?”
“Haven’t a clue,” said Katy as I slipped back into my other world for a moment. But I quickly shook the thoughts of poverty and starvation away. I knew they didn’t do anyone any good.
Georgie’s best friend, Mia, was in the queue for food, and beckoned to us lot to join her, but I didn’t think it was fair all three of us pushing in like that, so just Georgie went ahead. A moment later she was straight back, full of something she was dying to tell us. “Mia says that one of the Year Elevens has been looking for you, Naomi!”
Naomi hates the attention that comes with people knowing that she's a princess. But when she's asked to model in a fashion show, she can't refuse - after all, it's for her favourite charity...what could go wrong? Crammed with the glamour and gossip of boarding-school life, this is a fabulously aspirational new series from a well-loved author.
Ann Bryant is both an author and a musician. She started her writing when she was young, writing a play when she was still at primary school. At school, one of her favourite activities was just hanging out with friends and Ann is happy to relive these times again with the girls of Silver Spires in the fantastic School Friends series. Ann now teaches music and drama as well as writing children's fiction, including the very successful Ballerina Dreams series.
Visit www.annbryant.co.uk to find out more.