Annie hesitated shyly in the doorway of the classroom. Already there were two or three people seated in the rough semicircle of chairs, those strange chairs with a hinged flap for writing notes (If you’re right-handed, she thought). A brisk looking woman stood in the centre talking to them. With a birdlike motion of her head, she looked across at Annie. “Come in, Come in.” She gestured with a clipboard. “Take a seat anywhere. Come and meet your fellow students. We are just getting to know each other.”

As the others turned to look at her, Annie steeled herself to leave the shelter of the doorway and cross the open space to the chairs. She took a seat at the end of the row furthest from the others where she sat primly, her knees pressed tightly together, her hands on her lap grasping her handbag and a very new looking manila folder. She fumbled in her bag to make sure that she had brought her pen. A subdued sound alerted her and she looked up to see the bird woman, pen poised over the clipboard.

“I am Miss Benton, but please call me Natalie. I am the Facilitator; sorry, that’s a very technical name for it, some people prefer the term ‘Group Leader’. Anyway, Welcome to the Awareness Group. And you are…?”

Annie blushed, the rising tide bringing colour to her pale face, “I’m Annie Andersen. E.N.” she stressed out of habit. “It is a Norwegian name.” She took the sticky label on which Natalie had rapidly scrawled ‘Anna’. She spotted the misspelling at once but was too embarrassed to request a correction. Besides, it somehow gave her a longed for anonymity. ‘Anna’ let it be, she thought; and ‘Anna’ it was for the rest of the course.

Natalie proved a good teacher. She led her little flock through the graded exercises, stimulating the desperately shy into self-expression, and from there, into self-assertion. Week by week she watched their growth as the introspective strangers became a family of friends. But her pride and joy was Anna. From the most withdrawn and reticent of her students, Anna had become the group’s natural leader. She displayed a warmth and sensitive empathy that won the love of the group; and a member of the group. Natalie smiled to herself as she observed the growing romance between Anna and Ted Olson. Norway and Sweden – like Melbourne and Sydney, she thought. Officially she was supposed to discourage liaisons, but what do They know, the stupid bureaucrat! It was only natural that these lonely people should turn to their first close friends. Natalie kept a motherly eye on her flock to ensure that no predator sneaked in to take advantage but apart from that they had her blessing.

The whole group went to the wedding. The bride drew Natalie aside after the ceremony. “And to think I owe it all to you, Natalie. But I don’t know what would have happened if you hadn’t misspelt my name.”

Natalie’s bird head cocked to one side. “You didn’t LOOK like an Annie. You are every inch an Anna!”

H.St.V.Beechey 1993