Would you believe it? I did it again. Here’s my final true story about being locked in.
During my primary school years during the late fifties and early sixties, I had a good friend, Teresa whose name was often shortened to Tessie. Tessie and I attended the local Catholic primary school and we were great mates, along with Hera who lived at the local Marae. There was only a month between each of us and that seemed to connect us even more.
When we were in Standard 4 (aged around ten years) Tressie and I sometimes delayed going home after school. Hera unfortunately had to go straight home as she had to peel the potatoes for her hard-working mum. Our class teacher was a nun, Sister Bernice and generally she was pretty cool – for a nun.
Sometimes after school when all the other kids had left, Tessie and I would hang around in our empty classroom while Sister Bernice marked books and planned for the next day. Sister gave us little jobs to do such as sharpening the pencils with the big sharpener which was attached to her desk. It had a big handle and the shavings would fill up the sharpener’s clear plastic cavity. We would tidy the crayon boxes on the shelves and display the books in the library corner.
One afternoon we were busy filling the ink wells when the phone rang from the staffroom which was opposite the classroom door. Sister told us to answer it which we did. Of course, the caller wanted Sister.
‘It’s for you Sister,’ I said on our return.
Sister left to go to the phone.
‘Hey,’ said Tessie. ‘I’ve got a great idea. Let’s play a joke on Sister. Let’s hide under the desks and pretend we’re not here.’ (I actually don’t recall whose idea this was, but I want to blame Tessie).
‘Yeh,’ I said. ‘That’s brilliant.’
We crawled under some desks and waited silently, trying hard to stifle our giggles.
Sister came back into the classroom. She didn’t call out asking where we were and she didn’t look for us. She picked up her leather satchel, walked out of the room and locked the door. Tessie and I smiled at each other because we absolutely knew that Sister was playing along with the joke and was going to unlock the door in a minute. She didn’t. Tessie and I came out from under the desks and looked out the windows. We saw Sister in the distance striding across the school field to the convent where the nuns lived.
We were locked in the school. We looked at each other in horror. What were we going to do?
Then it started to lightly rain which added to our misery.
No knew where we were. No one was going to save us. We would have to save ourselves.
We opened the narrow lower windows and tried to bend the metal grips which held the glass pieces so we could pull them out and create a child sized gap. This was too hard. We couldn’t get out this way. Then Tessie wound the handle that opened the louvre windows near the ceiling onto an outside ledge about three feet wide.
‘We can climb up to there and slide out onto the ledge. Then we can climb onto the roof,’ she suggested with confidence.
‘You’ve got to be kidding,’ I replied. I was a bit plumper than Tessie, not as agile and definitely not as confident.
Well, she convinced me that there was no other was and we started to climb up the fixed wooden surround windows. Tessie got to the top before me (of course) and slid out onto the ledge.
‘Come on,’ she called encouragingly to me.
Slowly and anxiously I reached the top and then, unbelievably, I got stuck in the open window. Tessie had to pull me through and I landed in a puddle that had formed on the ledge. But we were out! We climbed onto the roof and then clambered down a drainpipe at the back of the school near the boys’ toilets.
The rain was still drizzling and the sky was darkening. It was getting late. We knew our parents would be worried and we were rather scared that we’d be in trouble. However, we ran across the field to the nuns’ convent and banged on the door.
Fortunately, Sister Bernice answered and there was a look of shock on her face as she saw two wet, bedraggled, anxious, little girls standing on the porch. She took us inside and we told her our story. Immediately Sister rang our parents. After that she took us into the warm kitchen and made us a hot cup of cocoa.
Our Mums and Dads arrived soon after. They had been very anxious as we hadn’t arrived home after school. They had rung each other to see if Tessie and I were at each other’s houses, and then they’d started ringing other parents.
They were so relieved to see us that Tessie and I didn’t get into trouble. Poor Sister Bernice. I don’t think she got into trouble either, not that it was her fault really. But that evening over dinner, both Tessie and I happily told our parents and siblings about our adventure locked in the school.
We never tried that joke again.