It was a brand new school year, but Ava Reid knew that before long she would be left out.
And she was right.
“Listen up, Year 5. Today you will be working in pairs,” said her teacher, Mr Kelly, on Day 2. “So I want each of you to find a partner.”
Friends rushed towards each other. Soon all the students stood in pairs … except Ava.
“Each pair is going to make a birdbath for the school gardens,” said Mr Kelly.
The students murmured to each other.
Mr Kelly clapped his hands. “A bit of shoosh, please,” he said. He flipped up his spectacles and rubbed his eyes with his crusty knuckles. “This is the procedure I want you to follow. First: get a terracotta saucer and roughen the inside surface by rubbing it with sandpaper.”
“What for?” asked a solid boy with hair that stuck up at the crown.
Mr Kelly peered over his spectacles at the class. “Would anyone like to answer Boris’s question?”
A tall girl put her hand up.
“So the birds don’t slip over,” said Jemima.
Boris flapped his arms, staggered sideways and fell to the ground. Everyone laughed, except Mr Kelly.
“That’s right, Jemima. Second: place your saucer near some shrubs or trees.”
“Why?” asked a girl with wavy brown hair that reached her waist.
“Can someone answer Emelia’s question?”
Ava put her hand up. Mr Kelly nodded in her direction.
“So the birds can hide from predators.”
“What are predators?” asked Emelia.
“Things that eat birds,” said Ava. “Like cats.”
“Very good, Ava,” said Mr Kelly.
The students murmured again. Mr Kelly clapped his hands. “Third: place some stones in your saucer.” He snapped his suspenders. “And fourth: put water in your saucer. But make sure that the water is no more than five centimetres deep. Can anyone tell me why?”
Ava was the only student who put her hand up. Mr Kelly nodded in her direction again.
“So the birds don’t drown.”
“That’s right, Ava,” said Mr Kelly. “Birds can drown in deep water. Especially little ones.” He blinked rapidly in the bright summer sunlight. “Off you go.”
The students rushed overtothe plastic crates that held the saucers and sheets of sandpaper.
Mr Kelly ambled over to Ava. “Don’t you have a partner, Ava?”
“No,” she said. She felt her cheeks redden.
“Never mind. You’ll probably finish before the others because you won’t have anyone to chat to.”
But I’d like to have someone to chat to, she thought. She joined the end of the line in front of the crates.
When Ava got her saucer and sandpaper, she sat in the shade. She rubbed the sandpaper back and forth across the inside of the saucer until her arms ached.
“How is your birdbath coming along, Ava?”
Ava jumped in fright. Mr Kelly was standing in front of her.
“It’s all good,” she said hastily. “I’ve finished roughening the inside surface.”
Mr Kelly ran a finger over the inside surface of Ava’s saucer. Ava had to stop herself from counting the spots on the back of his hand.
“It does feel rough enough,” he agreed. “You can make your birdbath over there.” He pointedtoa garden behind the bike shed.
Ava chose a spot beside a prickly hakea shrub and raked it until it was smooth and level. She placed her saucer on the spot. She put three stones in it then poured water into it from a large watering can.
She sat back on her heels and admired her birdbath.
Now I just have to keep it clean, she thought.
She gave the watering can to Boris.
Boris pointed. “Look at your birdbath!”
Ava turned and saw a Crested Pigeon drinking the water. “My first bird!”
The bird moved and Ava saw rainbow colours dance across on its breast feathers.
“What?” said Boris.
Ava looked at the bird again. It was a plain grey colour.
“Nothing,” she said in a puzzled voice.
The sports teacher, Miss Meagher, strode along the path. Her legs looked like long brown scissors, snipping their waytowards Ava’s class.
“Good morning, boys and girls,” said Miss Meagher.
“Good morning, Miss Meagher.”
Mr Kelly ambled towards her.
“Good morning, Mr Kelly,” she said.
“Good morning, Miss Meagher.”
The two most popular girls in the class, Fallon Connolly and Kiana Kamaka, walked over to Ava.
“You look busy,” said Fallon, checking the daisies she had tucked into her blonde braid.
“Yeah, very busy,” agreed Kiana, inspecting her nail polish.
Ava scowled. I wish you two were busy, she thought. Somewhere else.
“What’s the matter, Ava?” said Fallon. “Are you too busytotalk to us?”
“Yeah, it’s rude not to talk to us,” said Kiana.
“I know how to get her attention,” said Fallon.
She hooked the toe of her shoe under the edge of Ava’s birdbath and lifted her foot up. Water sloshed out and the stones rolled to the lower side.
“Hey!” said Ava. “Stop that!”
“She speaks!” said Fallon with a smirk.
Fallon jiggled Ava’s birdbath up and down.
“Get lost!” said Ava, jerking the saucer away from Fallon.
Fallon stared at Ava’s hair. “Did you know that your hair is the same colour as this saucer?”
“It is!” squealed Kiana. “It’s terracotta. Fuzzy terracotta!”
Ava felt her cheeks redden.
Fallon snorted with laughter. “Now your cheeks are terracotta,too.”
Fallon and Kiana high-fived each other.
Fallon leaned towards Ava. “I hate your hair,” she hissed. “It makes you look like my old piano teacher.”
Ava’s mouth fell open in surprise. “But …”
Mr Kelly ambled towards them.
“Miss Meagher brought our copies of the school newsletter,” he said.
Fallon and Kiana took their newsletters first.
Ava took hers next. “Thanks, Mr Kelly.” She flipped it open. Her eyes were drawn to a paragraph about the School Swimming Carnival.
I’m going to go in some races, she decided. They’ll stop picking on me when they see how well I can swim!