I wasn’t looking forward to the end of gym. I had two options, go early or late. Going early risked the teacher noticing. Going late risked Haley staying back.
My indecision limited my options anyway – end of class was called. Damn, I should have gone early.
I stalled, it wasn’t hard. It was the last class so no one particularly cared how long I took to get changed. I didn’t have a class register to miss.
After everyone filtered out I gave it 10 minutes for people to change and hoped I’d be forgotten. I decided I’d probably left it long enough and slowly walked back to the changing rooms.
Stupidly our school had a gym uniform – I’d managed to steal mine from the school supplies for those who forgot to bring their kit. If fit about as well as any other clothes I owned and I didn’t mind it.
The problem was having to get changed into it.
I don’t think anywhere is a better place for bullies than a school changing room. I hated my body, I was one of those girls who was all bone, I didn’t have any chest to speak of and I was nearly 15. The bruises didn’t help either, I bruised easily…
It seemed bullies thrived on humiliating their victims, and what better place?
Luckily as I went through the door I found it empty, I could feel myself relaxing – another day down. My favourite part of the day was ahead of me, a few hours in the computer lab feeling like a normal person, alone and not having to worry about anything much.
It was cold, so I stripped down to my underwear quickly and reached out to my bag hanging up on my peg. Was it me or did it feel a bit too light?
I realised what was going to happen as it started. I shouldn’t have let my guard down.
I was pushed from behind up against the wall, the pegs digging into my shoulder.
“Thought you would be clever did you? Thought you could wait us out? I don’t like people who think they are better than me, you really should know your place.” Haley was the one speaking, of course. She started with a string of insults, the others picked it up and ran with it. Their grinning faces made me want to punch them. At least she had let go of me so I could put my back against the cold concrete.
I felt so exposed, someone had grabbed my gym kit so I couldn’t put it back on. They all had a good laugh at me. I could feel my face burning and felt betrayed by my body – It revealed the feelings that I put all my willpower into hiding. It let them know they had hit a nerve.
“You love gym don’t you, getting to see all of us you little faggot,” haley said
I hated that word. As I processed what she was actually saying though I couldn’t help but let out a strangled laugh at the irony of it.
It turned into a choke when I saw their shocked reaction.
“What the fuck is so funny?” she said
What the hell. I was fucked as soon as I made a noise. I might as well tell them.
“You’re calling me gay to insult me, but you’ve just stolen my clothes and cornered me in my underwear in a changing room…” Ok, it wasn’t that funny when I said it out loud.
She was speechless. Which wasn’t as good as you might think. She slapped me across the face with the back of her had. It shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did and I fell to the ground. She kicked me a couple of times, she was probably calling me something but my ears were ringing from the blow to the side of my head and I wasn’t really paying much attention to anything but trying to get my arms in the way of the kicks.
After a couple of seconds she deemed me suitably punished and stopped, turned and walked out without a backwards glance. I didn’t catch what she said to her friends.
I lay there for a few minutes thinking about how stupid I was. Why didn’t I just shut up? I wondered if I was going to get a bruise on my face, they usually didn’t hit me in the head. I felt for a bump, my face was wet. Fuck, was I crying through that? Damnit.
Sitting up made me feel ill for a bit. I stayed still and concentrated on breathing, waiting for it to pass. When had this gotten so bad? Last term it used to be name calling and insults. They would steal my stuff and hide it, push and trip me or spill stuff on me. When had they started kicking me? How far was this going to go? Maybe I should try telling someone.
No. Last time I told a teacher the head got us in a room and had told me I should try make friends with them. Seriously. Friends. They stepped up after that, and I wasn’t going to make the same mistake again I didn’t know what they would do if I told anyone, that’s if they believed me. They were nice girls, did well in class, were in various sports teams and I was some weirdo loner.
It was cold. I needed to find my clothes. At least everyone will have gone home by now. Standing up I searched the room thoroughly. I found a pair of gym shorts stuffed down the back of one of the benches – well that was better than nothing, I pulled them on.
So they had taken them out of the changing rooms. At least they didn’t steal my underwear, I had a training bra – I’d never needed anything but training it seemed – which served as a very short crop-top.
Opening the door I checked the hall, empty. I guess I’d have to just go for it. After a few seconds to gather myself I took the leap and stepped through the doorway. I started my way to the office where they kept the spare gym clothes, I could swipe another set to get home.
It didn’t go to plan. As I rounded the last corner I practically charged straight into Mz Greggory. Just what I needed, she was already looking too close at me.
There was a lot of me to look at. I felt myself blush again as her eyes darted down, taking in the bruises spread over my ribs and legs. They weren’t even mostly from people hitting me, most of them were because I was so clumsy. I seemed to bruise if someone looked at me too hard.
“Alexis, what happened to your clothes?”
I considered what I could say, the best I could come up with in such a short time?
“They got wet?” Why did I ask it as a question? I guess I was just wondering whether she would accept it as an answer. She didn’t.
“It’s not raining. Did someone take them? Who? Are you ok? It’s freezing! Here come with me.”
She took off her blazer jacket and passed it to me. I grabbed it, it was cold. I was hoping she didn’t want answers to the questions she asked, she didn’t seem to expect any response – just started walking down the corridor towards her office. Should I follow? I guessed I didn’t have any choice.
I’d been in her office before when I asked if I could stay back in the lab after school. Nothing had changed, it had a few more posters on the walls. They were all of movies I’d never seen. She gestured to the seat in front of the desk. I sat and pulled my knees up to my chest. She started rummaging in one of the cupboards in the corner.
“I assumed you had problems at home you know, I’d never imagined they were here.” Maybe if I stayed quiet she might shut up and let me go. “Why didn’t you tell anyone? We can sort this stuff out you know”
I gritted me teeth, I must have made a noise because she turned to look at me, surprised. I quickly resumed a neutral expression and forced myself to breath calmly. I couldn’t stay quiet though.
“I did,” I said, “no one took me seriously.”
“But, look at you! You’re so thin.” Great, now she was insulting me. It must have shown in my face because she stopped speaking for a moment. “I mean, you are covered in bruises”
“I bruise easily.” I said. She frowned. Then she turned from the cupboard with a backpack in her arms.
“Here, I always keep some spare clothes here in case I want to go to the gym after work.” She spilled the contents on the chipped wooden desk. “You’re only a few inches shorter than me. You can roll up the trousers. I know they aren’t very pretty but I don’t have them to look good…”
She pulled out a pair of khaki linen trousers. They were actually nice – they looked almost new apart from a bit of wear round the hems.
I grabbed them and pulled my shorts off and shoved my legs in as fast as I could, pulling them up. They were far too loose around the waist but I’m sure I could improvise a belt.
She handed me a plain black top and a grey lumpy jumper. They were warm, feeling a bit safer and less exposed I felt my muscles relax and my breathing slow a little.
“Thanks for these, I’ll wash them and bring them back straight away tomorrow morning I promise.” I said.
“Oh, don’t worry – you can keep them.”
“What? They’re almost new, I can’t take them” What was I saying? I usually get my clothes from thrift stores or outright theft. Of course I could take them… I don’t think anyone has given me anything before, I didn’t know how to react.
“New? I was going to throw them out anyway, don’t worry about it.” Why would she throw such good clothing away? She must have so much money. “How are you getting home? You don’t have a coat do you?”
Bugger, I’d forgotten about that, it was a good coat. It would take me a while to find one to match it.
“I dunno,” I said. “Walk I guess. It’s only 2 miles or so.”
“You can’t go all that way without a jacket or something, not in this weather. I’ll drive you if you don’t mind staying late like you usually do,” she said.
We sat in silence for a while. I looked at my hands.
“If you tell me who did this to you we can try fix it you know,” she said eventually.
I got to my feet. “I told you, nothing is going to fix it. Calling them up on it is only going to make it worse. What could the school possible do to stop it?”
“They could get suspended for what they did.”
“Yeah, that’s if anyone believes me, it’s my word against theirs. And anyway what then? How long would they get suspended for? A week? Wow, they get a week holiday and they can beat the shit out of me when they come back. It won’t fix anything.” Oops, I didn’t mean to swear. I was getting angry again, my hands were bunched into fists.
She didn’t really have an answer to that. What answer was there? I kind of felt sorry for her in a way, she was as powerless as me. At least her ribs didn’t ache…
“I believe you…” Goddamnit, why was she being so nice? I don’t know why it made me so mad but it did. My eyes were watering. I walked to the door, I had to get out this room and away from her.
As I slammed the door to the office shut tears streamed down my cheeks. Stupid eyes. Stupid teachers. Stupid brain. I didn’t know how to deal with her being nice to me, why did I get so angry? She’d given me the best clothes I’d ever owned and listened to me, believed me. All I could do was slam the door in her face.
I went to my usual chair in the computer lab via the changing rooms. I’d left my shoes.
I picked up a tablet and started running through my algorithms for the latest math problem. It helped me organise my thoughts a bit, or at least calm myself down.
I’d never really had a friend before. I’d never had anyone make any effort to talk to me or had anyone take the time to actually seek contact with me. Today it had happened twice and I’d tried my hardest to prevent it.
Maybe the problem was me with me? Maybe there was something wrong in my head?
I shivered. Everyone has one big fear. Mine?
Maybe I was like my mom.
* * *
“Turn left here,” I said and the car drifted round the corner. “It’s just here on the right.”
I opened the door and quickly stepped out of the car, grabbing my bag.
“Are you sure you are going to be ok? I can walk you to your door. It’s not very safe to be alone around here.” Do Not Want. I couldn’t believe she thought this place was bad. I thought I had picked a good area!
“No it’s fine Mz,” I said.
“Call me Jane.”
I didn’t. Maybe I should? I didn’t know what to do. She was looking at me with a sad look in her eyes. I settled on bailing out. Run. Flee. Dangerous situation encountered. I turned and ran to the nearest flats I could see and after a hesitation shouted “Bye!” over my shoulder.
Thank god they had an open porch, I went in and turned to look through the frosty glass. When I was sure she was gone I waited five minutes and went back out.
Only another mile to go…
* * *
Bone tired I slipped the key into the door as quietly as I could and swung it open 20 or so degrees. It squeaked if you opened it much further.
I took my shoes off so I could walk as quietly as possible. Mom spent about 23 hours a day in her bed. She’d shout for things, but if I was quiet sometimes she wouldn’t know I was in or not and I could ignore her. I imagined how many hours she must spend shouting at an empty house.
Not many people had seen the inside of our flat. I’d like to keep it that way. It was paid for by the Government. I managed to sort out the paperwork every 6 months forging mom’s signature. The Government didn’t pay for much. This was the famous Montreal Island though, you could always steal. We took our electricity from the substation around the corner that was now a spiders web of illegal wiring. The deeper you went the further back, some of the patch wires were fifty years old. Someone, somewhere must pay for some electricity… But famously a gang ran a set of cables across the river and we leached off the rest of the city.
You need to know people to get the best line though. Ours was temperamental, and the expensive copper was thin. What little power we did get could run an ageing battered digital radio, and maybe the kettle. We didn’t have heating, so the damp got bad in winter. However much I scrubbed the walls with bleach mold would thrive. After a few months I gave up trying so our exterior wall had some interesting colours growing on it. When it started sprouting fluff I got round to scraping it back a little…
I wasn’t much for housekeeping. The place was a tip. Washing up was hard with cold water and whatever I could steal. We didn’t have anything fancy like a vacuum. I washed my clothes in the bath and hung them across the livingroom/kitchen, which was also my bedroom.
I hurt, and I was so tired. I laid down on the battered sofa. I flicked on the kettle. My ancestors were refugees from England, I seemed to inherit their taste for tea – Also one box lasted about 3 months and only cost ten dollars and it filled my stomach. I pulled the blankets round and nursed my chipped mug, switching on the radio and listening to the BBC Interplanetary News.
I fell asleep to the story that the Novyy Mir, a century old Russian exploratory spacecraft sent out a century ago should have finally reached its destination, a new planet, promising great riches. They all promised great riches.