Aisha bint Abu Bakr
I have never seen two women more generous than ‘Â`ishah and Asmâ`. They had different ways of being generous. As for ‘Â`ishah, she used to gather things, until she had a collection, then she would distribute it.- Al-Bukhârî
Peaches is a bit of a packrat. It’s a lifelong habit, really, a tendency to tuck things away in corners, coming back to them later. When she was a child, she would hide candy in her bedside table, keep the boxes from presents, save string and other odd little knickknacks. Her father always reminded her that he could just buy her what she wanted, but Peaches felt that wasn’t the same. It was different, when one was keeping things themselves and not waiting for others to give it to her. It was special. It was secret. It was hers.
The first time she gave away anything from her collection of odds and ends, it was to a girl in her primary school, Abigail. Abigail was a quiet girl, very shy and unassuming. She never smiled. Peaches, who smiled too much, never understood her frown. In a desperate attempt to make her smile, she gave her a button, a pretty mother-of-pearl one that fell off her mother’s blouse.
She gave it to her because she knew Abigail collected buttons, and she wanted the girl to smile. She did.
Peaches has never really stopped since then. She loves finding the perfect gifts; she likes being able to reach into her closet at a moment’s notice and find the right thing for the right moment. The boxes in her basement make ideal playthings for Chloe’s children; the strange gears and gadgets make Polly’s eyes light up every time. Chelsea admires her rare book collection, and Peaches always gives her whatever Chelsea’s eyes rest upon longest. Saffy and Bella like the out-of-the-way cottage by the sea that she owns, and Peaches finally just gives it to them, because what need does she have for it? Annabelle dawdles over her art collection; Kelly, her postcards. Peaches gives Annabelle her most obscure pieces. Peaches selects the best postcards, puts them in an album, and presents it to Kelly.
She sends money to St. Trinians; she has safe houses for criminals, prostitutes, abused women, and whoever else may need them at any given moment.
Her life, in many ways, is about things. Buying things, selling things, stealing things… it’s her job, her family business.
She delights in giving away as many things as possible.
I arose as a mother to Israel.- Book of Judges
Anoushka thinks they talk to her because her English is so poor, and so they trust her not to tell their secrets. Posh-Totties seek her out, really, confessing things that they won’t share with others. She always listens patiently, nodding and patting hands, trying to decide if they want advice or not.
Because her English is broken, but it isn’t poor. She understands what they’re saying. If only she could understand what they need.
It starts with the Posh-Totties, her first year at St. Trinian’s, when she is just eleven, jaded and dispassionate. She does not remain that way long, because it is hard to be dispassionate at St. Trinian’s, and besides, with girls whispering pregnancy scares and family scandals and school fears into her ears, how could she be? They talk to her because she is small, and new, and Russian, and, to them, not a threat. She accepts it all with good grace.
When she is fourteen, it expands to others. People who need her particular brand of justice. Chavs and Geeks who don’t fit with their Clique, and know that she, too, is an outsider in hers. They come to her, and she holds them close. She seeks out their enemies. She protects them the only way she knows how.
At fifteen, the teachers begin whispering to her. They feel persecuted, judged, scared for their lives. Anoushka nods and pats their hands, murmurs her sympathy, her empathy. She fixes them drinks, and they cry into their arms until they fall asleep.
By sixteen, she feels like she is rearing the entire school. She is the unofficial Agony Aunt. She is their sister, their lover, their mother. Anoushka is whatever they need her to be.
In the end, it’s really no surprise that she becomes a bartender.
For how can I endure to see the evil that shall come unto my people? or how can I endure to see the destruction of my kindred?- Book of Esther
Becoming the deputy headmistress at St. Trinian’s was never Annabelle’s plan in life. Of course, neither was becoming Kelly’s operations manager in her years as a spy, and neither was learning how to kill a person with her pinkie finger, so she supposes that she should just accept the fact that the plan is to have no plan, and life will work itself out.
If the years have taught Annabelle anything, it’s that she isn’t a natural leader. She’ll be the second-in-command, but she’s happiest when she is implementing someone else’s plan, relaying instructions from someone else. Perhaps that is why she is the deputy headmistress. Still in the chain of command, but not the top. She answers to Auntie Camilla. She answers to her students.
And really, she returns to St. Trinian’s because if she doesn’t, who knows who the school will go to when Auntie Camilla retires? Who knows what it will become?
St. Trinian’s saved Annabelle, she firmly believes. If she’d stayed at Cheltenham, she would have faded into mediocrity, never learned to embrace all her potential selves and futures. St. Trinian’s is about possibility, in her eyes, and she’ll protect that. She’ll protect the school song, the school motto, the school uniform, the school building. She’ll protect the legacy; the past, the present, and all the possibilities of the future.
For years, Annabelle saw how badly the world treats St. Trinian’s women. She knows how people long to shut their school down and disperse the girls to other schools (normal schools says the whisper of Kelly, from years upon years ago) in order to break their spirit, to beat the individuality out of them.
She will not let this happen.
Zainab bint Ali
You should know that you can not eradicate our message, path and memory. You should know that our memory will never die.- from Zainab’s sermon at Kufa
Kelly visits Annabelle, sometimes, when she’s working. She enjoys strolling through the halls of St. Trinian’s, wading through the hordes of girls, ducking hockey sticks and paper airplanes. She’s made a life out of making do wherever there is a bed, but she’ll always remember St. Trinian’s as her first real home, the first place she truly felt safe.
There are reminders everywhere. Outside of the science classroom the poetry that she and Polly wrote still rests, bold and stark in spray paint. She cringes when she reads it. She gave up on poetry all together after graduating; she remembers why, when she looks at what her youthful self wrote.
The chemistry lab still has scorch marks on the ceiling from where she blew it up.
The CCTV cameras are still where Polly put them, unchanged since she left.
She can see water damage in the main hall from when the school flooded, although it’s faint and barely noticeable.
One of Andrea’s paintings hangs in the English classroom, a portrait of Miss Dickinson having a nervous breakdown.
There’s still a reddish-brown stain on the stone staircase outside, a reminder of when Taylor got into a fight she couldn’t win and bashed open her skull.
The statue that Annabelle broke in a fit of rage is awkwardly glued together, uneven pieces creating sharp edges and looking much better for it.
The school is run on solar power nowadays, Celia’s efforts finally coming together.
The still continues on, Tara and Tania’s creativity leading girls astray even now.
The library. The holes in the wall of the dining hall. Dorm D. The telegraph machines. The defense and first alert system. The Socratic seminars. The fish tank. The leaky pipe. The monuments. The distinctive paint smear on the dining hall’s floor. The broken mirrors in the third floor lavatory. The pianos. The smashed chess set. The misshapen vases. The holiday traditions class. The St. Trinian’s Prayer of Mourning.
It’s all there. Reminders that Kelly and her friends were there.
She smiles, and touches her fingertips to the walls.
Joan of Arc
[This] woman is scandalous, seditious, and wanton, towards God, the Church, and the faithful. She takes herself for an authority, a doctor and a judge.- Master Denis Gastinel
When Celia first meets Polly, she doesn’t like her. Later, she finds out this a common reaction to meeting Polly.
It’s just that she lacks modesty, a trait that Celia much admires in people. She likes people who are humble about their accomplishments, who look down and away and blush prettily when complimented. She likes people who respect the fact that they are not, and never will be, an unstoppable force. Celia has always known that she is a tiny person, and that nature could come and destroy her (like it did her parents, killed in a freak storm when she was a baby). She likes people who know the same.
Polly is not one of those people. She is quick to take credit for things she has done. She smiles and tilts her chin upwards when people compliment her. She once told Celia, “Nature can’t tame me, Celia. I’ll tame nature.” She’s a scientist, and Celia isn’t particularly fond of scientists. They think they’re gods.
Celia likes people who have a healthy amount of fear in them. Polly is fearless. Celia likes people who admit that they don’t know everything. Polly raises an eyebrow and says if she doesn’t know it now, then she will later. She likes people who show emotion. Polly might as well be carved from a block of ice for all that she emotes.
Polly is arrogant. Celia hates arrogant people.
But things change, slowly. Celia watches Polly, and realizes that while she isn’t openly emotional, she has small tics that show off her irritation, her happiness, her sadness. That she’s extremely passionate about what she does. Celia realizes that Polly may not be particularly modest, but she is always swift to point out other’s accomplishments as well. She’s rightfully proud of what she’s done, Celia thinks, looking at the changes that Polly has wrought around the school. Working together, she learns that Polly isn’t fearless; she just channels it into boundless energy, endless hard work. Polly fights for her knowledge. She doesn’t just wait for it to come to her.
Slowly, Celia realizes that she admires Polly; what’s more, she respects her.
Slowly, she and Polly become friends.
And Jael said to him, “Go, boast before your father in hell and tell him that you have fallen into the hands of a woman”.- Liber Antiquitatum Biblicarum
She delights in Pomfrey’s downfall, perhaps a bit too much. Lucy laughs when Miss Fritton steals the manuscript from him, hoisting the pirate flag high and getting the girls to sing a rousing sea chantey with her. She records the footage of his climbing out of the water, his look of bewildered anger, his despair and chagrin and rage, and she laughs, because she helped cause that.
He raided her school; he stole their feeling of safety. It’s really the least she can do.
And it’s made so much better, really, because he thought they were silly schoolgirls. He hated them, and they bested him. It’s wonderful, a delicious sense of irony. That he should fall under the very people he hated most, distrusted most, thought the least about. It makes his defeat twice as humiliating. Lucy laughs until she’s nearly sick with it.
Then she cries, because who could hate them so much for being girls?
Naomi and Ruth
For wherever you go, I will go; And wherever you lodge, I will lodge; Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, and there will I be buried.- Book of Ruth
She hears the rumors. How can she not? The students all think she’s drunk beyond the point of comprehension, and on top of that, she’s the school Matron. It would be impossible for her to avoid hearing the rumors. They make her smile, and she and Camilla drink cocktails while giggling about the creativity of their students.
Admittedly, Fiona understands where they may have gotten the impression that she and Camilla are lovers. They are attached at the hip. They have been ever since Camilla hired Fiona, in 1995. They’re kindred spirits, the two of them. Howling at the wind, and all that. Staring down the sun. Neither of them will be taken by whatever is opposing them.
Fiona has a string of failed marriages in her past. Gerald, Hector, Stephen, and Lawrence. Gerald was the one who drove her to drinking, mimicking his own habits. Hector was sweet, gentle, and too stupid to entertain Fiona for long. Stephen had three mistresses, one of whom became a dear friend in the end. Lawrence wanted children; Fiona most certainly did not. None of them lasted.
She helps hold back the ocean at St. Trinian’s, not from any real devotion to the school itself, or even the students, but because Camilla loves the rotten place. She’ll be damned if she just stands back and lets Camilla’s dreams die with the school. She mixes drinks for her, forces her to bed, buys her a dog, helps bury the dog, patches up the children, listens to Camilla’s distress about Thwaites, hates Thwaites with her, loves Thwaites with her, does whatever she can.
She grows to love St. Trinian’s and her girls. When feeling whimsical, Fiona thinks of the girls as the daughters she and Camilla will never have. They raise them together, far more than the parents do. They shelter them. Love them.
So she understands and accepts the rumors and gossip. And she knows that, if St. Trinian’s should someday fall, everyone will know exactly where to find her. By Camilla’s side, where she belongs. Where she has always belonged.
Surely I have said all I have said in full knowledge that you intend to forsake me and knowing the betrayal harbored in your hearts. It is but an overflowing of the soul, the venting of fury, that which my psyche cannot tolerate, an unburdening of the chest.- from Fatima’s sermon
Zoe has always resented the injustices of the world. Poverty, war, hunger, all of it. It makes her sick. She became an Emo not because she wanted to write poetry or dress all in black or angst about her love life, but because she genuinely feels the world’s pains pressing upon her, and it drives her to distraction. It depresses her and it enrages her, and between those two poles of emotion she hangs. She was really the perfect candidate for the Emos.
She knows perfectly well that she isn’t very well liked at St. Trinian’s. Andrea was the usual model of Emo. Dark, but not too dark. Emotional, but not too emotional. Andrea was an artist, friends with many people, and gentle with others. Zoe is none of those things. She’s mostly a lone wolf, despite her Clique leader status, and she’s never gentle. If anything, she’s a bit hateful, so sick of the pettiness of people that her disgust oozes out of her, unstoppable.
Zoe rages at people, even if she rarely raises her voice. She can rant for hours about any particular topic. Genocides around the world, past and present. Stupid wars. Needless hunger. Untreated disease. Sexism, racism, fascism. Xenophobia. The few friends she has nod back at her, but they never really contribute. She wonders if they actually care, or if they’re just humoring her.
The others, they ignore her. Give her patronizing smiles, roll their eyes, walk away. Zoe watches them go and wonders if they’re happier, letting things just happen in the world. Passively watching people die, or the closest thing to it. There are days when she wishes she didn’t care, that she could just ignore it all in favor of falling in love or watching something on the telly. When she tries to stop caring, she winds up hating herself for giving up, and so she gorges herself on the news and cries until she’s ill. She organizes fundraisers and awareness campaigns and pushes herself twice as hard for giving up, for even a moment.
But God, there are days.
Mary of Magdala
o woman with the wild thing’s heart.- Song for Mary Magdalene by Padraic Pearse
She roams the world, explores the corners that have been hidden from her. She lives on the streets, in caves, in hostels; she sleeps by rivers, on hard mountain ledges, under the stars, under a tin roof. She carries with her just one bag, the contents always changing. Food and clothes are her constant. Occasionally, a book. A gift from someone she met on her travels. Postcards she means to send and never does.
Roxy wanders the world, a nomad at heart.
From time to time, she considers returning to England. She thinks about Annabelle and wonders how she is doing, if she has a job, if she’s married, if she’s happy. If she’s forgiven Roxy for leaving yet. She thinks about Annabelle’s laugh, and she winds up smiling, looking down at the road she’s walking on so no one can see. Her smile belongs to Annabelle. It’s the only part of her that does.
She considers returning to England, but she can’t stomach the thought. Not now. Maybe one day, when she’s tired of walking. When she’s tired of relying on the kindness of strangers, or when she’s tired of sleeping on the hard ground.
But for now she walks. Nothing is going to stop her. Nothing at all.
you will never make me learn to lay beneath the mountain.- Evening on the Ground, by Iron and Wine
There are times when Chloe wonders if her entire life will be about her husband. When she looks at her daughters and wonders if she did wrong, if she deprived them, if life would be better if she had not killed him. When she feels the eyes of her friends upon her, carefully not saying James’ name, avoiding any mention of marriage around her. When she looks at the phone and wonders if today will be the day her mother calls her, and knows it won’t be.
But he’s dead. And she’s not. She won’t spend her life forever buried beneath the weight of his memory.
She moves on as best as she is able. She plays with her daughters, rejoices in their laughter, cries with their defeats, triumphs in their victories. She has tea with her friends, gossiping and sharing news, holding hands and whispering secrets. She dates, when she has the time, enjoys the occasional night out with a new man, enjoys learning about him. She works, and is the best at what she does, and knows that someday she will not be vice president, but CEO, and delights in that knowledge, forcing herself to work faster, push harder, and dares others to hold her back.
Chloe cannot doubt that James helped define who she is. But as each day passes, she knows that he is not the only one that did. She is more than he was. She has her own life, and her own story, and she is not forever bound up in the role of murdering wife. That was one moment in her life, one chapter, and it’s done now.
Chloe revels in her freedom.
Well, knowledge is a fine thing, and mother Eve thought so; but she smarted so severely for hers, that most of her daughters have been afraid of it since.- Abigail Adams
Saffy knows that she isn’t smart.
Everyone tells her that oh, yes, she is! She just needs more confidence in herself; she’s intelligent in different ways; all women are smart.
She’s hears all these things and wonders. She knows, accepts, that she just isn’t smart. Not book smart, not street smart, none of that. She’s a woman of fluff, not a lot of substance, and whenever someone reassures her how no, really, she is intelligent, she’s insulted.
Because is there a crime in being stupid? Is being smart the most important thing about a woman? Do you have to be smart to be a strong woman, or is that trait optional? Saffy has always believed herself to be a strong, independent woman, always believed herself to be her own person, making her own path, and she’s always believed herself to be a bit stupid. She’s never once had a problem with that.
And yes, she admires women like Chelsea, who pretended to be stupid and then finally embraced the fact that no, they’re quite intelligent, and they want the world to know it. Saffy believes that no one should hide their intelligence. But she also believes people shouldn’t be ashamed about their lack of it.
Saffy loves who she is. She doesn’t wish, pray, dream of someday being smart. She is comfortable being the dumb one in the group. She is comfortable not understanding conversations, of reading magazines over great literature, with needing Bella to explain things to her. She’s fine with that. She leads a happy life without that spark of genius that resides in so many other St. Trinian’s girls.
She still has things to contribute in the world. She doesn’t need brains to do it.
she was born to be the woman we could blame/make me a beast half as brave, I’d be the same.- Jezebel, by Iron and Wine
Geek politics are a convoluted, twisted, dangerous pathway. They have always been fraught with landmines; they always will be. But in recent years, they have been far worse, and everyone whispers the name Najwa as though she were a particularly dangerous ghost; as though invoking her name would bring her back to St. Trinian’s, and so it must be whispered so her ghost does not hear.
Harriet finds it all ridiculous, but then, she would. Najwa was her friend, her mentor, her first crush, the one who opened the world to her.
All Geeks know the story of Najwa. It might as well be inscribed on the wall. A Muslim Geek, battered and beaten in the halls, who led the Geeks with a quiet fury against not just her tormentors, but the entire system. Even if they weren’t there for the years following her graduation, they can feel the shockwaves from her leadership. The backlash. The fights. The silent spite between the two sides of the Geek Clique.
And always, always the whispers.
The ones who don’t like change, the ones who like the world static and constant, they resent the memory of Najwa in Polly’s leadership, in Lucy’s leadership, in Harriet’s. They resent the hand that all three of them have at fixing the things that have long been broken at St. Trinian’s. Polly was a like a chess master- you didn’t see her gambit until it was too late, and by then, there was nothing one could do. Lucy’s was awkward, stumbling, and lacking subtly, but always gentle and loving and good.
Harriet is like a hammer. Blunt and to the point. Her fury is not quiet.
They whisper, God save us from another one; they whisper, too angry, too sharp; they whisper, she’s just like Najwa, distaste in their tone.
And Harriet thinks, If only.
If only I were that brave.
Khadija bint Khuwaylid
She believed in me when all others disbelieved; she held me truthful when others called me a liar; she sheltered me when others abandoned me; she comforted me when others shunned me.- The Prophet Muhammad
All St. Trinian’s girls have their heroes. They look towards certain women, occasionally certain men, and hold them above all others, admiring them and striving to be more like them.
They all have one hero in common.
She is no great beauty. She holds fewer degrees than some heroes, has not made significant contributions to science. Her dancing is laughable, her singing painful. Her acting is flamboyant and joyful, but few would call it particularly skilled. She holds no political office, nor has ever sought one. Her speeches are heard only by a few, not by scores. She has not led revolutions, nor has she stood against them. Her memoirs are unpublished, her works of fiction only found in ledgers and tax records. Her art is beautiful, painfully so, but she has produced nothing under her own name. Her true work hangs in no public gallery. She is not a religious leader or a religious figure. She has not gone into space. She has not cured cancer. She does not fight fires or put criminals behind bars.
But she sheltered them. She taught them. She stood by their sides. She was there. She loved them when no one else would.
Camilla Fritton will always be a hero in the eyes of her girls.