A Hundred Dresses – 1
By El Bsor Ester
Wanda is a girl of Polish origin studying in a school in America. She is, sadly, an object of derision at the hands of her American peers, because she comes from an economically disadvantaged background. Her friends, Peggy and Madeline often taunt her, unmindful of the hurt they are causing to their friend. To escape their mockery, she chooses to sit in the last row, where the brash boys of her class sit. These boys are poor performers, and indulge in disruptive behavior inside the class. Wanda is relegated to this dark and dirty corner of the class room– Room Thirteen– because she finds the attitude of her friends, particularly, of Peggy and Madeline too offensive to endure.
Today is Monday. Wanda Petronsky is absent today. But, her absence is hardly noticed by anyone, as if she matters little. Not even Peggy and Madeline, her habitual tormentors miss her.
Wanda maintains a muted profile in the class. She restrains herself as far as possible. To avoid attention, she sits in the last row in the company of the boisterous boys who rarely pay attention to their studies. She simply wants to shut herself out from her classmates.
Wanda comes from Boggins Heights which is quite a distance away. She covers the route by foot. By the time, she reaches the school, her feet become mucky. No one shows any empathy for her, nor does she demand any.
The bullying continues outside the class room too. After or before the school hours, small groups of students walking on the street have some mirth at her cost. On occasions, they wait for Wanda to arrive, so that they can have some fun with her. She definitely doesn’t quite enjoy these moments.
Tuesday arrived, still no trace of Wanda. It didn’t matter to anyone, because no one was concerned about her. The classes went on as usual.
It was Wednesday. Peggy and Madeline sat together with their peers, who came from well-off families. Peggy and Maddie sat on the front row, generally meant for high performers. Then, it occurred to them that Wanda had been absent for a few days in a row. Peggy was the star among the girls, because she had good looks, and wore fine dresses. Her hair was curly too. Madeline was her best friend.
That day, en route to school, they had waited for Wanda, so that they could have some fun at her cost. They waited too long to reach school in time. Wanda had caused them to be late for school by not turning up for school herself. The duo was a bit upset with Wanda.
On many occasions, they found Wanda a nice target for their mischief.
Oral comprehension check…
- Where in the classroom does Wanda ………….. Wanda had become a target of mockery by other students. Her Polish origin, and her modest family background made others look down upon her. She found such attitude very unpleasant. To avoid the gaze of others, she sat in the last row where brash and mischievous boys sat to engage in fun. The place had mud marks, and was generally untidy.
- Where does Wanda live? What …………………. Wanda lives in the Boggins Heights, some distance away from school. It apparently is a low-cost apartment inhabited by people of modest means.
- When and why .. ……….. Peggy and Maddie found out about Wanda’s absence on Wednesday –the third day of her not coming to school. That day, the two friends had waited for Wanda on the road , so that they could poke some fun at her.
- What do you think …. It means having fun at the cost of someone else. It might be pleasant for those who poke the fun, but for the target, it is an unsavory and hurtful experience.
Wanda Petronski’s Polish name proved to be her undoing. It sounded a bit odd when compared to American names like Allen, John, Thomas etc. that were so easy to pronounce. There was a boy with a name, Willie Bounce. The title ‘Bounce’ appeared funny to many, but not enough to cause trouble for him.
Wanda Petronski had few friends. She wore a fade blue dress that apparently, was not ironed to make it look smart. Although, the dress was clean, its shaggy look made it look dull and inferior. In the school, some girls did speak to her during the break hours, but no one wanted to befriend her. Small girls stood around her and played hopscotch.
Peggy would often rope in a few girls, and confront Wanda about her lackluster clothes. Although Peggy was courteous in her tone, the venom in her comments was clear.
Wanda would blurt out, “A hundred’. Peggy would react with a big sigh and try peer into Wanda’s face with disbelief. Other girls playing hopscotch would pause their game and look at the beleaguered Wanda.
Peggy gets a chance to pillory Wanda further. She would like to know if the dresses are all of silk, or some such thing. With remarkable impassiveness, Wanda would reply that they are velvet, in different colors, and exquisitely beautiful. It is baffling how Wanda built up her story so calmly and quickly.
Then, Peggy would like to corner her hapless victim on the point of shoes. In the same way, Wanda would reply that she had sixty pairs of shoes of different types, all lined up in her closet.
Asking Wanda about her dress and shoes was a way to chide the miserable Wanda for her humble means. The idea was conceived by Peggy and her bosom friend Madeline.
After the encounter, Wanda would walk back home alone as she does on all days.
Peggy might have been a snob, and a bit childish, but she had a tender heart. She couldn’t tolerate little children being bullied by elder ones, nor did she see animals being subjected to cruelty. But, when it came to the question of humiliating Peggy, she didn’t see any wrongdoing on her part. Instead, she pinned the blame on her victim, Wanda. She assumed Wanda was at fault for claiming she had such an extravagant wardrobe. Peggy didn’t much guilt because she never brought Wanda to tears. In her silliness, she would assume that Wanda brought it on to herself by her peculiar name.
Madeline didn’t quite enjoy the sarcastic questioning of Wanda by her friend Peggy. She feigned disinterest in the act by playing with marbles in her palm. Madeline was not from such an affluent family herself. She feared the prospect of being the target of such ridicule, but she also conveniently assumed that Wanda was at fault for claiming to own a hundred dresses. At the end, she wished Peggy end her teasing of Wanda Petronsky.
Oral comprehension check ..
- In what way was Wanda .. Wanda Petronsky was a girl of Polish origin, unlike her native American peers. Besides this, she came from a very modest family background that made him to wear second-hand clothes.
- Did Wanda have hundred …….. Wanda never could have a hundred dresses. She wanted to deflect Peggy’s taunts by making such an extravagant claim.
- Why is Madeline ….. Madeline was from a family of modest means. She feared other girls of her class could turn on her to humiliate her in the same way. She is a native American, not like Wanda Petronsky of Polish descent.
It was the day when both Peggy and Madeline reached school late, because they had wasted time on the road waiting for Wanda. Wanda had remained absent that day. Madeline sat down to do her Arithmetic sums, but the thought of the absent Wanda came to her mind time and again. She was beginning to dislike the idea of teasing Wanda. She wanted to say this to Madeline, but felt it a little awkward. Instead, she wanted to scribble a note to Peggy suggesting her to stop teasing Wanda.
A strange fear gripped her mind. She imagined that other girls have stood around her in the school yard and asking her questions about her wardrobe. Their tone was as piercing as it was for Wanda.
Peggy’s mother had gifted some clothes to Madeline, and had stuffed one old pair in the packet. Madeline feared that this embarrassing fact could come out in their class room. It would shatter her standing among her peers.
Madeline’s mind oscillated between anxiety and normalcy. She tore of the note she had written for Peggy. She reasoned that Peggy being her best friend wouldn’t like to berate her in the matter of dress.
Madeline recollected how Wanda had talked about two of her dresses – one pale blue with coloured trimmings, another jungle green with red sash. Madeline and Peggy had commented that she would look like a Christmas tree with the dresses. It was a left-handed compliment meant to mock, not admire.
A drawing and coloring contest had been conducted in the school. In this contest, girls were expected to draw fancy dress designs, and boys were asked to draw motor boats. Madeline thought Peggy would have an upper hand in the contest, because she owned such an impressive array of dresses. This apart, Peggy had a good drawing hand. Madeline knew Peggy would walk away with the first prize when the teacher announced the result the next day.
It was drizzling the next day. Madeline walked under Peggy’s umbrella, the two friends clinging to each other. The contest results were to be announced, so they didn’t like to wait for Wanda.
The teacher Miss Mason was supposed to announce the results. Peggy was upbeat, and Madeline also felt her friend will come out on top.
On entering the class room, they were taken aback to see beautiful sketches of dresses stuck everywhere. There were so many of them. Everyone spoke in hushed tones trying to figure out the purpose of so many sketches being there.
What followed in the next few moments took everybody including Peggy and Madeline by surprise.
The boys prize had been own by Jack Beggles for his drawing of a boat with onboard motor. His sketch was displayed in Room number Twelve.
The girls prize had been won by Wanda Petroski for her entries that were each a master piece. While other girls submitted one or two sketches, Wanda had submitted scores, but each one of them was a treat for the eye.
Wanda, sadly was not present that day to receive the applause. The teacher hoped she would come the next day. In the meanwhile, the girls were told to quietly go round the exhibits and feast their eyes in the beauty of the displayed sketches, mostly of Wanda.
The entire class broke into a celebratory mood. The boys, as usual, made a lot of noise.
Peggy and Madeline spotted the blue and green dresses Wanda had mentioned earlier.
Oral comprehension check …
- Why did Madeline ask Peggy ……. Madeline came from not a very well-off family. She had very limited number of dresses, often gifted by others. She understood the predicament of Wanda, and empathized with her. She felt, she, too, could be a victim of such ridicule later. This is why, she wanted Peggy to stop bullying Wanda.
- Who did Maddie think …………….. Maddie assumed that Peggy would carry the day , not only because she had a large collection of dresses, but also she had an impeccable drawing hand.
- Who won the …………….. Wanda Petronski won the drawing contest. She had dawn quite a number of sketches of dresses, apparently in her possession.
Questions and answers will be posted soon.
———————————–To be contd—————-