WHERE DID IT COME FROM?
Tam sat rigidly on the wooden bench that ran around the gym hall. The noise of the springboard, the high-pitched giggling of her classmates and Miss Burns' piercing whistle made her head ache even more. She leant back against the cool brick wall, screwing up her eyes as a sharp pain flashed through her head. The bench beneath her rocked. She hung on tightly as the walls of the gym seemed to fall away and the floor rose and fell in great waves.
"Tamarisk Woodward, put your head between your knees," shouted Miss Burns.
Tam squinted as flashes of navy and white flickered past and muttered, "I hate being called Tamarisk Woodward."
She bent forward, her long blonde hair flopping to the floor. The strange musical voice in her head didn't call her Tamarisk. It called her Tam, over and over again.
"Tam, Tam, Tam."
The sound filled her head with a sharp pain.
Miss Burns dismissed her class and walked briskly across the room towards Tamarisk.
"I think you'd better go to the sickroom. Are you sure you didn't bump your head?"
"No, I didn't. It's just a headache. I've had it all afternoon." But it wasn't just a headache. It was something different; it was a singing, in her head.
She didn't like the sickroom. It always smelt of strong disinfectant. Instead, she made her way through the corridors to her locker. She stepped carefully, feeling as if her head was touching the ceiling. The corridor floor began to buckle as the voice called her name again. She staggered to the cloakroom and, with a gasp of relief, leant against the grey metal lockers. As she turned the handle of her locker, the floor tipped and shock waves ran through her legs, making her cling to the door.
"Tam, Tam, answer me," sang the voice. "Answer me."
"Oh, please stop it," cried Tam.
"Are you all right? Miss Burns sent me to check on you."
A familiar face floated in front of her. Tam shook her head and tried to focus as Shona Maye waved a hand in front of her dazed face. "Wake up, Tam! It's me, Shona."
Tam grabbed her hand.
"Did you feel the floor move?" she asked.
"No," Shona looked at her oddly.
"The floor did move. I'm sure of it." Tam closed her eyes. "Everything's been moving all afternoon."
"If we don't move, we'll be late for class."
"Don't go without me," Tam pleaded as she fumbled with her locker key.
"Okay, I won't. I haven't learnt my poem anyway." Shona shrugged her shoulders good-naturedly.
Tam searched in her locker, looking for her English book.
"I learnt one, a long one of Banjo Paterson's, all about cattle and drovers, but ..." She hesitated and frowned, "with this headache the words have disappeared. I can't remember the first line."
"You won't have to if we're much later. We'll end up with detention." Shona smiled ruefully. She was a large happy girl, often in trouble, yet always charming her way out of it.
"I must contact you." There it was again, ringing out loud and clear, as if someone were standing beside her. Tam turned quickly.
"What's wrong?" asked Shona.
"Nothing." How could she tell Shona that she had a voice singing inside her head?
With one hand to her eyes, she pushed her bag into the locker and closed the door. She felt numb with the pain.
"Let's go. The sooner this lesson is over the better. I just want to go home and lie down."
"I thought you liked English," Shona teased.
Tam lowered herself gingerly into her seat at the back of the classroom. Shona slipped in beside her. Mrs Zindler tapped loudly on the table.
"No more latecomers, I hope. This class starts exactly on time. Right? Now for the poetry you memorised for homework. You begin, Susan Cooper."
Tam tried to concentrate, but the voice filled her mind. She could barely hear Susan's monotonous voice reciting a Shakespearean sonnet. The strange singing grew louder until she could hear nothing else.
I'm going mad, she thought, staring at Mrs Zindler's mouth opening and shutting like a goldfish.
"Shona Maye, your turn, please,"
"Oh, Mrs Zindler, I couldn't learn a poem. I had to baby-sit for my sick aunt, and the baby cried all the time, and the dog got lost, and..."
The class tittered.
"And your excuses are never ending. Please stay behind this afternoon. Tamarisk Woodward! Stop dreaming. Your poem, please." The teacher tapped her pencil sharply.
The class waited. Tam sat quite still, staring blankly at Mrs Zindler.
"Stand up, Tamarisk, and recite your poem." The teacher frowned and leant forward to look over her glasses at Tam. "You have learnt one, haven't you?"
"Yes, I have," stuttered Tam, rising to her feet, scraping her chair on the floor. "It's about..." her mind was as blank as a freshly painted wall.
"We are waiting, Tamarisk."
The tap, tap, tap, of her pencil marked the seconds of silence. There was a suppressed giggling as the girls in the front rows turned to look at Tam.
"It's about a drover and cattle," Shona tried to prompt Tam.
"Silence, Shona," thundered Mrs Zindler.
Shona's voice woke Tam from her trance, and she began to recite in a hoarse voice.
I've seen a snow-white sparkling place,
Of dazzling, timeless light;
A petrified and frightening place,
A shadowless, searing sight.
Of building blocks, stacked solid bright,
Stretch up through endless sky.
Mosquitoes, giant and snow-white,
Alone are passing by.
As Tam finished the last line, she sat down abruptly. Mrs Zindler's face shone with pleasure.
"What an unusual poem, Tamarisk. So mystical, so imaginative. Where did you find it? Who is the poet?"
"Darwei, Mrs Zindler, a man called Darwei." Tam squirmed in her seat. The name had just slipped out. She'd never heard of it or the poem before.
"How unusual. We certainly must find out more about him. Thank you, Tamarisk."
The lesson continued, but Tam sat with her head bowed, her eyes shut.
Where had the poem come from? Who was Darwei? What if Mrs Zindler asked for more information, perhaps to see the poetry book? She'd think Tam had lied. She hadn't meant to. It was all too confusing. She turned her head carefully, waiting for the pain, but the singing voice had gone.