Ring… Ring… Ring… Click! A small tape started to spin in the machine. “You’ve reached the Meier household. We can’t answer the phone right now, but please leave a message and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can.” Click! Beep! Click! “Oh, Anna - sorry, maybe you’ve left already? It’s only just gone six… uh, well, if you’re still there, I just wanted to say to have a good first day at your new school. I’m sure you’ll do great. Sorry I can’t be there to see you off, but you know, I’m still at this conference… Anyway, see you later, and you can tell me about it then.” Click! The machine fell silent, still unheard beneath the drone of the hair dryer upstairs. Anna sat perched on the edge of her bed, wrapped in a cream-coloured towel, holding the appliance in one hand while running the other through her hair. Otherwise, the room was neat and tidy with pale blue-painted walls, furnished in a simple Scandinavian style with a chest of drawers, a wardrobe, a half-stocked bookshelf, and opposite the bed, a desk topped with several well-thumbed books underneath a window looking out towards the lake. The wall adjacent to the bed was adorned with a Clara Porges landscape print. Next to the bed stood Anna’s mother, already dressed in a red dress with white spots, hairbrush in hand. “Anna dear, let me -” She reached out with the brush to Anna’s hair, met with a flap of her daughter’s hand and flinch away from the implement. “Mum, I know how to do my hair,” Anna replied, not entirely succeeding in hiding her exasperation. Her mother pulled away slightly at the response, shaking her head a little and tossing her long brown permed hair. “Okay,” she conceded. “But don’t take too long. I’ll go finish up breakfast.” She put the brush down on the bed, then turned and left the room, momentarily turning back to look at her daughter before closing the door. Anna watched as her mother left her alone, allowing herself only a moment to appreciate her temporary solitude before continuing to get ready. Picking up the brush, she finished off her hair, then replaced the towel with a pale blue blouse and a navy skirt, paired with a pair of grey socks. Pulling up the second, she checked herself in the mirror. A voice filtered through the door. “Anna! Breakfast is ready!” With one more check in the mirror, Anna snatched up the near-empty satchel leant next to her desk and swept out of her room and down the stairs. The kitchen was homely, with wooden-fronted cupboards lining the walls around the stove, while the room was large enough to accommodate a small table. This room, however, was somewhat less tidy, the countertops dusted with flour and strewn with bowls and utensils. The table was set for two, but perhaps stocked for four: bread, butter, honey and cheese sat around a pot of coffee, a mug of milk and several small cakes. As Anna walked into the room, her mother pulled out a chair for her. “I made magdalenas,” she explained, gesturing to the breakfast cakes as she sat down in the other chair herself. Anna gave a kind but nervous smile. “Thanks Mum,” she replied, “but I don’t think I can eat all of this. We need to leave in fifteen minutes.” “My little girl needs to eat or she won’t have energy for the day!” She flicked her wrist in conciliation. “But, have as much as you like.” Anna poured herself a mug of coffee with milk, then set about eating a slice of bread and butter with cheese, plus one of the magdalenas. The latter, at least, was mandatory given her mother’s effort, and the sweet lemony cakes were a part of her Spanish heritage. After a couple of minutes, her mother paused her own breakfast with a slight cough. “I’m sure you’re going to do great today!” Anna shot her a closed-mouth smile, chewing for a few moments and swallowing before replying. “I hope so. I don’t want to lose my place.” A light tinkle of laughter and rolling of eyes preceded her mother’s reply. “Of course you’ll do well! Don’t worry so much.” Anna shrugged and took a few seconds to drink some coffee. “Not everyone passes.” Her mother just smiled again in response, her expression just a little pained. Meal over, Anna strode off to the bathroom to finish her preparations while her mother tidied away the embarrassing surfeit of leftovers. They met again at the front door, Anna buckling up her shoes and settling her satchel on her shoulder as her mother left the kitchen. “You know you don’t need to drive me today, Mum,” Anna started. “I’m going to take the bus every other day.” “Nonsense. I want to see you off on your first day properly!” Her mother took a wide-brimmed hat off the hatstand and placed it upon her head, checked herself in the adjacent mirror and adjusted it slightly, then stepped into her shoes and picked up her handbag from the table beneath the mirror. The light on the answering machine flashed silently, unheeded, as they both walked out of the front door onto the drive. The white Ford Escort parked outside was mostly clean, sullied only by slight streaks of dust around the wheel arches. Anna’s mother fumbled in her bag, then produced the car keys, with which she unlocked the doors. Anna had already strode over to the car, and got in quickly. “You don’t need to go all the way there,” she tried again as her mother sat down in the driver’s seat. Another smile in response, the pain being hidden slightly less well this time. “I know you don’t want to be embarrassed by your mother, but I want to see you there.” Another shrug. “I know,” Anna replied, letting it drop. The engine sputtered, then spurted into life as the car set off on the road into the city. Anna looked out the window for a minute, then opened her satchel, checking her stationery and notebook, then unfolding and re-reading a familiar letter of acceptance to the Realgymnasium Rämibühl. *********** She had already memorised the instructions for her first day, and her gaze slid down the page quickly. Being sure was reassuring, but there was nothing she didn’t already know well. Letter exhausted of interest, she sat back in her seat and looked out of the window. The streets of Zürich streaked past the windows, punctuated by moments of stasis when the car came to a stop. It was a warm mid-August day, the light of the morning sun filtered through layers of cloud. The buildings and people passing by barely registered as she rehearsed the day again and again in her head. The car came to a halt again, Anna’s mother pulling up the handbrake with the car on the side of the road. “Well, we’re here,” she said brightly, breaking her daughter out of her reverie. “Just down the road, anyway. I suppose you don’t need me to walk you to the door.” Anna looked down momentarily in embarrassment, then fixed her expression and looked back at her mother, tucking a lock of hair behind her left ear in the process. “Ah, yes, I’ll be fine! Thanks, Mum.” Her mother smiled and brushed her cheek with a hand, then leaned over and kissed both. “Now, you have a good first day, and tell me all about it, okay? I’m sure you’ll do great!” With a brief smile and a nod, Anna briefly embraced her mother and then let herself out of the car, satchel settled on her shoulder. She shut the door and waved, calling out “See you later!” as she set off to the school gate, casting the occasional glance back at her mother watching her as she went. Rounding the corner to the entrance, and finally out of sight, she stopped for a moment to look inside. Up a few steps was a quadrangle bustling with students. Some stood around in small groups, chatting animatedly, while others hurried across the square towards the large, multi-storey buildings which dominated the other three sides. Anna already knew that she, too, would soon need to head inside, but took her time, scanning through the throng. Two other students from her primary school were also to start at Rämibühl - Stephanie and Thomas. While neither had been close friends of Anna’s, she wouldn’t mind seeing some familiar faces amidst the sea of others. Familiar faces were, however, hard to find in the crowd. After a couple of minutes of weaving through it without finding any, she supposed that the other new students who had already arrived had probably gone straight to the auditorium. Passing by the large building opposite where she had entered, she followed a sign with an arrow which had been stuck to the wall directing her to the “New Student Induction”. Another sign directed her into the auditorium itself, in which the tiered rows of seats were already filling up with her future classmates. She quickly noticed Thomas sitting on one end. He was a fairly stocky boy who seemed to be entirely clad in denim, despite the warm weather, with a pair of round glasses perched upon his similarly round face, which was framed with a tousle of blonde hair. Anna hadn’t spent much time with him before - they’d both mostly kept to themselves. But familiarity was, nevertheless, welcome. He already seemed to be engaged in conversation with the boy sitting beside him, though. Anna raised her hand in a half-wave, attempting to draw his attention, but there was no response. Shrugging, she went to find an available seat instead. The auditorium was filling up quickly as the students arrived; surely, none wanted to be late on their first day at the Gymnasium. Soon enough, her other former classmate walked through the doors. Stephanie was a little shorter than Anna, with her brown hair drawn back into a ponytail, wearing a green blouse with pink trousers. She, too, was more of an acquaintance than a close friend; Stephanie had been one of the more popular students at their primary school, and had chosen her associations correspondingly. They had never come into conflict, though, and in this new place they were, for now, equals. Anna once again waved her hand, a little more vigorously than before, and this time the gesture was successful. Stephanie smiled and rushed over to sit next to Anna. “Anna! So lovely to see you!” she exclaimed, lowering herself into the adjacent seat. “How are you doing?” Her effusiveness surprised Anna to some degree, given that they had never been that friendly before, but she supposed that she was just as glad to see a familiar face. “Hi Stephanie,” she replied, “I’m okay. I hope -” She was cut off by a rapidly-growing silence in the room which heralded the arrival of a middle-aged man wearing a grey-checked suit, the scattered grey in his neatly combed hair betraying his years. He walked up to a podium and drew a pair of glasses out of one jacket pocket, perching them upon his nose as he glanced at an index card. “Ahem,” he coughed, quieting the last of the chatter. “It is my pleasure to welcome you to Realgymnasium Rämibühl. I’m sure you’ll hear a lot of names today, but I’ll start with mine. I’m Mr. Eberhard, the new rector as of this year. I look forward to meeting all of you in time.” “You’ve already done very well to have passed the entrance exam and to have made it here, and I am sure that you will all do extremely well. I’m sure I don’t have to remind you that we will be expecting to see your ability shine in your first months here.” Some members of the audience shuffled in their seats uncomfortably, and Anna tugged at a lock of hair. “But that’s for later. First, I’d like to introduce you to some of our second-year students who will be taking you on a tour, and you’ll have an opportunity to meet your <tutor> before having lunch. If you could divide yourselves into groups...” Half a dozen students sitting on chairs behind the rector stood up and distributed themselves around the floor space, and the new arrivals stood up and started drifting towards the closest one. The murmur of conversation started up again as Anna approached the nearest guide, a boy of only about her own height who seemed rather pleased with himself. Stephanie accompanied her, and the two stood nearby as their small group grew. “The rector seemed nice,” Anna volunteered. Stephanie shrugged a little. “Maybe! I wonder if we’ll be in the same classes?” Anna looked once more around the room. There must have been over a hundred new students waiting to be taken off on tours. “I don’t know. When do we get our timetables?” Their conversation was once again interrupted, this time by Christian, their tour guide, whose name was printed neatly in capitals on a name badge. He carried a sheaf of notes and an air of solemnity. “This way, please.” The tour brought them around the various buildings on the site, including the piazza, library, canteen and sporting facilities, and also introduced the new students to the history of Rämibühl from its founding in 1832 and the four schools on the site. To Anna, none of this was new; she could practically have recited all the literature she had been sent, and it didn’t escape her notice that Christian was reciting from the same sources. At the end of the tour, he brought them to a board in the piazza where a list of all the new students had been pinned, with a teacher’s marked next to each. These, Christian explained, were their <tutors>, who would shortly be along to collect them. Anna scanned down to the “M”s to locate her name, and read “Ms. Rissler” in the other column. Stephanie nudged her in the crowd. “Did you find your name?” Anna stiffened briefly at the contact. “Uh, yes… with Ms. Rissler.” “Oh, I’m with Mr Miller, that sucks. See you later then!” Stephanie pushed through the students approaching the board, leaving Anna behind. Before she followed, she checked Thomas’ name on the list; he, too, was assigned to a different <tutor>. Ms. Rissler was a young, mousy-haired teacher wearing a maroon jacket and matching skirt. She led a group of two dozen new students, Anna included, to an empty classroom in the languages department, posters in French adorning the walls. The teacher sat down at her desk at the front, looking over a list on her desk and pointing at each student in turn before speaking. Anna took a seat in the centre of the front row. “Right! I’m glad to see you all made it here today. I’m going to be your <tutor>, so we’ll all be meeting up together regularly, and I want you to feel you can talk to me if you have anything on your mind. I’m sure you’re all excited to be here today! Would any of you like to introduce yourselves?” She paused, and looked around the room expectantly. The students did the same, none of them breaking the silence. “How about you?” She pointed to a student sitting two seats to the left of Anna. The victim looked briefly alarmed, then swallowed and introduced herself as Elisa. Anna attempted to half-listen to the introduction, but quickly found she was focusing on mentally rehearsing what she would say once the teacher moved on to her. Her neighbour started speaking before she had finished thinking, and she sat up straight and tugged at her collar in preparation for her own presentation. Once the student next to her - whose name she had missed - stopped speaking, Anna waited a moment, then spoke quickly and confidently.