I asked Sister Bridget everyday when I could go home until she told me to stop asking. When she explained to me that boarders who lived close by went home every weekend but those who lived more than a hundred miles away must stay until the end of the term. I accepted then that living with friends albeit in an oppressive environment was better than being unwanted. I understood then why I was sent there instead of attending their convent in Sydney.
By the time my mother arrived from Hong Kong, paid my fees and had her row with my half-brother and sister-in-law, my older sister was installed in an apartment in Sydney and I was glad to be in boarding school a hundred miles away.
There were ways to escape the tedium of institutional life, for a while or for good.
I remember Juanita who fell pregnant in Form 3, at fifteen or sixteen. There was to be a wedding and she brought her grandmother’s wedding gown to soak in the bathtub and dyed it with tea. It seemed so romantic and we were all excited. Her mother came to visit and Juanita made me sing for them in the study hall; I was to be Yum Yum in the Mikado but she would have been married and gone before the performance.
Later I wondered why she did not marry from her home? Why was she still in boarding school? All those questions didn’t occur to me then.
Occasionally we jumped the fence and just went for a walk, visited the local milk bar for a shake and a burger and those of us who were bold enough, caught a train to the nearest town and partied. Our Vice Captain was caught one night and was beaten, though not expelled. The drama was described in my poem, To Christine.
The legitimate way to escape the confines of the convent was to go to the library. I was surprised that not many of us went. Once a week a handful of us filed out of the gate and returned with borrowed books, after we’d attended to everyone else’s shopping and had our fill at the milk bar. Maybe it was a privilege; I had the reputation of being one of the good girls. I read those books: four a week.
My sister abandoned her studies and left Sydney. By then my mother had bought a home in North Bondi. I enrolled into a Sydney convent as a day girl, moved into North Bondi and began a new era of part time school girl and full time landlady. I lived on boarding fees from my student tenants till my own return to Hong Kong.