I lived in Padogar, a city in Venrednia, until I was 14. At that time, my parents were killed in an accident, and I was on my own.
My uncle Pushco took me in for a few weeks, but told me this would be only a temporary arrangement, as he valued his freedom and privacy. He said that he had an influential friend who could obtain a permanent residence permit enabling me to live is Margashtan, a neighboring country that is widely known as a welfare state. There, he said, youngsters reside in excellent boarding schools, and I too would be eligible.
So it was that I moved from Padogar to Vlivsi, a large city in Margashtan. With the residence permit, Uncle Pushco gave me a letter of introduction to one Maxro, a friend of his in Vlivsi who would help me get oriented.
Maxro was a very gentlemanly person and said I could sleep in his house till I was placed in a school. He told me placement sometimes takes a month or so. After that, of course, I would stay in the school enrolling me.
A day or two after my arrival in Vlivsi, following Maxro's instructions, I reported to the office of admissions of the Vlivsi Board of Education. I had with me a folder with grade transcripts, report cards and other records from my school years in Padogar.
I spoke to Jupnang, one of the counselors, requesting admission to one of the schools and informing him that I had my school records with me.
He said, "We won't need them. Margashtan's educational system is entirely different from Venrednia's. It doesn't matter how well or poorly you did there. Here we will conduct an exhaustive series of tests, and place you accordingly. So you may remain at the same level as in Venrednia, or you may be promoted or demoted, depending on the results of the tests."
This was a little alarming, for, although I felt that I could probably remain at the same level or even advance a little, the possibility that I might be set back a year or two was threatening. "Well," I said to myself, "the die is cast. I may as well accept the challenge and do what I can."
The next day I reported to the Vlivsi Board of Education's testing center, on Crevonda Road. There I was assigned to a cubicle where I would take written examinations for several days. They tested my knowledge and skills in reading, writing, mathematics, science, history, geography, languages and every other conceivable subject.
After the written tests, I was quizzed orally about my attitudes and opinions. I was asked to explain my views on the meaning of life, social problems, the economic situation and other general topics.
I was tested for any hobbies, crafts and entertainments that I occupied myself with. I was reviewed to see if there were others at which I might have proficiency.
My musical ability, appreciation of art, ability to draw and other such talents were evaluated.
I underwent a comprehensive medical examination, and I was tried at various sports, including swimming, running, skiing, wrestling, ball games and others.
I was amazed at the thoroughness of the tests, which lasted over 20 days, with no days off. I believed that they had gotten a completely accurate profile, leaving no stone unturned. I was aware of some of my own foibles and defects however, and leery lest they discolor the picture that had been made. I concluded that all would go well enough though.
On the last day of the tests, I was instructed to report again to Jupnang in five days, and I did so. Jupnang said that they had evaluated the tests by the most trustworthy scientific methods, as they always do, and that accordingly I would be placed in Ninavissa School. This is on Lomanora Road, in Truga Heights, one of Vlivsi's fashionable neighborhoods. This came as a pleasant surprise, though I had never heard of that particular school.
I was driven to the school by one of the Board of Education's chauffeurs. We parked outside the campus, which was surrounded by a fence of spears, with a granite arch forming the gate. I could see the legend Ninavissa School on a verdigrised plaque above the keystone.
I was breathless. This was a gorgeous school, with a large campus. I could see palm trees and banyans all about, with hosts of tulips and lilies. There were little hills that tumbled down to a silver creek. I could see the main building of the school, with its long colonnade of white columns, two hundred yards before us.
The chauffeur led me down a cobblestone path to the office where he said he would introduce me. On the way, I saw several girls wearing school uniforms, white leotards and tights and dark blue velours miniskirts. "Pretty," I thought.
The chauffeur introduced me to Enizia, handing her some papers. Enizia would be the one to get me registered and housed. She asked me to sit down while she briefed me.
"First, let me put this bracelet on your wrist. This is for identification. I'll explain a little later." She put around my left wrist a very elegant bracelet with something already inscribed on it, which I couldn't quite make out in the light I had. I could see, though, that, once she had snapped the closure, the bracelet could not be opened again.
"We've heard about the tests you took. In fact, there's been quite a bit of discussion about your case."
"Discussion? What kind of discussion? Case? What do you mean, case?" I asked apprehensively.
"We've concluded that you are potentially intelligent enough, but overly sensitive and bashful. Physically, you are frail and delicate. A boys' school would constitute a challenge and a danger that you are not equipped to face. So, after lengthy deliberation, we have decided to assign you to a girls' school."
"Ninavissa School is a girls' school?" I asked. "Are there any other boys at all?"
"No, no, you're the only one. This is the first time that we've ever had a case like yours in Vlivsi."
"A girls' school!" I cried. "This is an outrage! I simply cannot believe you're doing this to me! What if I just walk right out?"
"You will not be able to," Enizia replied. "Your bracelet has an electronic chip that closes any gate you might approach. You'll be confined to the grounds for an undetermined period, that is, until we have confidence that you won't run off."
"What if I break the bracelet?"
"It's unbreakable. So don't even try. Anyway, you would not want to spoil its appearance. It's such a lovely bracelet!"
I was crushed. I was wounded to the quick. I was shattered.
Enizia handed me a bag and said, "Here, step into the room over there, and put on this uniform."
"Uniform? Do I have to wear a uniform?" I knew she was talking about a blue velours skirt and white leotard and tights.
"Of course you have to wear a uniform."
"And if I refuse?"
Enizia pressed a button, and said into a mini-microphone, "Security? Send a team of six right away."
Two minutes later, six very large athletic-looking girls in their late teens appeared and started in my direction.
"Will you change voluntarily," asked Enizia, "or will you change involuntarily?"
"I'll change voluntarily," I whimpered.
Five minutes later, I came back out, wearing the school uniform. I was surprised that it fit as well as it did, and that it did become me. The vivid colors and the voluptuous fabrics were very titillating. I didn't want Enizia to realize that I liked the outfit after all, so I went sullenly back out into her office, as the security team of six girls left.
"Very beautiful!" she chimed. "Please sit down again for a minute, so I can explain something else that may take a while for you to accept. I suppose that in Venrednia, at your age, you were in the eighth or ninth grade. Here in Margashtan, we maintain a much more demanding scholastic regimen. We are going to have to demote you to the third grade. That is where you will be most comfortable and competitive."
"The third grade? This is absurd! This is ridiculous! This is absolutely preposterous!"
"I understand your disappointment, but the Board of Education was adamant. I hope I don't have to call Security again."
"No, that's all right," I answered with resignation.
"Well, come, let's go. Each grade has one large assembly hall where all the pupils meet in the evenings. During the day, you'll be divided into smaller groups for classwork."
Enizia led me to a room the size of an auditorium. Inside there were several hundred girls, all about eight years of age. I gasped as I realized that they would be my peer group for heaven knows how long. I was crestfallen. I was woebegone. I was in agony.
I realized, however, that I would gain nothing by being recalcitrant, unsociable or uncooperative. Having such attitudes would only worsen my situation. I decided to be as amiable as I could and to make a sincere effort to behave exactly as if I were in my own element. This was my own element, I said to myself with irony, recalling the Board of Education's findings.
The next day, I found myself in a penmanship class. The girls all could write, but the appearance of their writing left something to be desired in most cases. Penmanship was one of my strong suits, and all the girls noticed this right away.
"Look at Lidia's writing. It's so beautiful!" My new name was Lidia.
All the girls swarmed around me, asking me to show them how I did it. I was delighted to be the center of attention and, before long, we had formed a deep rapport that would last for years. I was of two minds. On one hand, I berated myself for fitting right in with all these eight-year-old girls. On the other, I was enjoying myself thoroughly.
Later, we went out to play on the swings. I recalled from my days in Venrednia that boys often try to swing in such a wide arc that the chains of the swing reach a horizontal position coming and going. That is, they try to swing 180 degrees. I had always considered this unwise and dangerous. I noticed that my new classmates swung in much smaller arcs. They were afraid to fall or have the chains break. I was gratified that I could swing just as the girls were doing without anyone making contemptuous remarks. Maybe I did belong with eight-year-old girls.
Also I found that sitting on a toy horse in the merry-go-round was more fun than riding a real horse, because I didn't have to worry about falling and breaking a bone. In the past, I would have been ridiculed as a molly if I had been riding in the merry-go-round with a dozen little girls, and this prevented me from doing so. Now it was expected and encouraged that I do so, and I discovered that I loved it.
One day a girl named Nansia exclaimed, "Look how big Lidia is! But she doesn't look that strong though. I bet I could beat her at arm-wrestling."
All the other girls seemed to disagree, so Nansia and I arm-wrestled, and she beat me, not just once, but a dozen times. Then all the other girls tried. I won a few times, but for the most part I lost. But neither the girls nor I thought anything of it. It was just fun.
Within a few days, I had completely accepted the idea that I was in the perfect class. I was developing a lot of esprit de corps.