I walk into the room, only to find the occupants staring at me before I’ve even raised my eyes from my worn out sneakers to find an empty seat.
There is one, but its smack dab in the middle of the classroom like some practical joke from the heavens, if you believe in that sort of thing.
I believe in being bullied by your classmates for something you can’t prove, leading to the kind of treatment you’ve only seen in movies, and therein lies the fault in our perception; we think it all happens in the movies until it happens to us, and that is when we realize things are much worse off-screen.
This time, however, there weren’t any whispers. It was rather terrifying, for someone to have been met with jeers, and accusations, to be the focal point of everyone in the room rather than the teacher. I was still under the burning gaze of the spotlight but there wasn’t much noise. It was awfully peculiar, the way they held me under their silent scrutiny, like walking into a museum of statues only to find out you’re the only one there. As for the statues, they appear to be infused with breath, which they only let out as you walk past them, subtly tickling your hair; not enough to make you turn around in horror but enough to make you hyper-aware of perhaps, not being the only living thing in the room.
“Thank you for joining us, Miss Hemmings, as always on time,” the teacher spoke, but the malice I was so accustomed to was absent. I couldn’t make up my mind if the situation had become better or worse, so I did the only thing I could; I sat down on the empty seat and mumbled an apology.
The class remained oddly silent for the next quarter, with a few questions thrown in here and there, and I felt relieved for the most part, until a note landed in my lap, passed on from behind. Anxiety shot up inside of me as I placed my suddenly cold hand over it. I waited a moment or two, and then opened it:
“Are you alright?”
I…was not expecting that.
It was surprising to the extent something in my chest tightened, and a knot formed subsequently at the base of my throat and moved upwards. As it moved towards a point I could barely contain a cry of pain, it drew pressure out of my eyes.
However ugly things might turn out, I refused to cry. I would not shed a single tear in front of these people who had so openly shunned me, called me liar, betrayed my trust in them as rational, sensitive, young minds who had the so-called ability to change the world when it had turned out they couldn’t even change the way they viewed certain people. My crime had been to speak the truth, and their punishment had struck hard and fast against my self-esteem and ego.
Never again, I had promised myself, never will I allow them to prey upon my weakness.
I forced back the moisture in my eyes, swallowed that tight knot and pushed aside the rigidity of my pain aside to focus on the teacher’s words. Not long afterwards, another scrunched up paper found its way to me, this time, at my feet.
“I’m so sorry. Please talk to me. I’m so fucking sorry for not listening. Please just give me another chance; I’m here for you – Anna.”
Bitterness arose inside of me as I took in the words. This time, I would not relent. If after showing me their – her – true colors they thought they could lend me an ear of all things, I would laugh at their attempts to pacify their own guilt. I wouldn’t relent to their false promises of keeping my confidence before they ran to the nearest source and uttered every word out of my mouth.
As the bell rang, I was the first one out of my seat and away from the classroom. I could hear Anna calling my name among several others, but I didn’t stop. I kept walking away from her until I reached the glass doors that led out of the department.
I knew then, why they had refrained from their usual cruelty and had tried to play another more sinister game of false kindness.
The bruises inflicted on my skin hadn’t yet faded away.