By Zaynab Merchant
(This story is told in the point of view of Hannah Winfield, a teenage high school student.)
The smiles were forced. Through the tears she carried on, dragging along, barely making her way through…
She never let anyone inside, never showed them what she was going through. She didn’t think they would care. She went on as though all was well.
She couldn’t take it anymore. She had to give up. She had to let go.
I throw a scathing look towards Tessa. Here she is once again, strutting about the school as if she owned the place, followed by her ever-so-loyal band of followers. Of course, she never misses an occasion on which she can flaunt her new designer top. Forever21 must be out of stock for all the shirts that girl has bought.
Long ago had I abandoned the hope that this was simply a “trying to be cool” phase, that one day someone would knock sense into her, or she would simply get tired of all the pretense, copious amounts of makeup, scanty outfits and her overall rather indecent appearance.
I remember her first day at E. E. White High School, about a year and a half ago. Her dressing then, barely differed from what she was wearing now. She has donned a short skirt, bright pink high heels, and a tank top that ends above her bellybutton and is completely covered in sequins, making it shimmer in the electric lights of the school corridors. Her face… well, it is hard to tell what she really looked like underneath all those piles of foundation, concealer, blush, crimson lipstick, winged eyeliner, golden eye shadow, and stuff I couldn’t even name. She probably has to wake up at 5am just so she can have enough time to do all her makeup, I thought, rolling my eyes in disgust.
The arrival of Tessa Marin made the next few days’ gossip. Naturally, she attracted many glances that turned to stares wherever she went. It was an alarming rate at which almost every student joined the “Cheap-T Club”, as Amy and I liked to call it. This “club” consisted of girls and boys alike; boys hoping to catch the infamous Tessa’s attention, and girls, who, before Tessa’s arrival had seemed completely sensible to me, but now looked like no less of idiots than the leader of their club did. These girls rapidly began changing their dressing styles to resemble Tessa more and more. The heels grew higher, the tops tighter, the skirts shorter. I strongly suspected that they only stuck by Tessa to have a fraction’s share in her popularity, however minuscule theirs may be.
Having finally decided to stop clattering about her noisy high-heeled shoes, she began to animatedly talk to someone else, waving her hands about a lot; hands which ended in inch-long talons that had been meticulously painted with matte polish, the color of the sky at midnight, an inky shade of blue just short of black. Her group that shrunk considerably since her arrival, now that people have started to get bored of her ways, is huddled around, trying to get as close as possible and catch her attention, perhaps even get a compliment if they were lucky.
I turn around to make my way to the Calculus class. Anything that Tessa does is of no concern of mine.
Several days pass just like that day, bearing few differences. However, after about a couple of weeks, during my long periods of trying to find yet another aspect about her to criticize, I began to notice a change in Tessa. It is slight, yet not so subtle. Most obvious is the change in her clothing. The skirts and sleeves are longer, while the heels have become shorter. The clothes she has started wearing are loose and their color is more dull and inconspicuous as before. Her laughs are now quite obviously forced, and when she thinks no one is watching her, her face falls into its now usual expression of worry. Her eyebrows knit together and her forehead creases into a frown. Sometimes I even see her eyes swimming with tears, and I hastily look away thinking that I have witnessed something indecent, something I am not supposed to see.
I cannot imagine a weak Tessa.
I notice these changes in Tessa growing more and more pronounced over the weeks, and they do little to stir my sympathy. What can she, the grand, popular rich Tessa have to worry about? Of course, this is yet another scheme, a technique, to gain even more attention. Play the role of the martyr. How convenient.
Pushing the matter to the back of my mind, I haughtily make my way from the cafeteria to the lockers to look for Amy and do some last minute revision. Our first exam, Biology, startsin about an hour.
Finally! The last exam is over! And though I can’t say it went extremely well, at least I’m free now! Exiting the claustrophobic exam hall, I heave a sigh of relief. It barely crosses my mind that Tessa hadn’t given her last exam todayfor being absent.
I grab my backpack and head towards the school building’s main doors to look for Amy. She finished her exam before me and left the hall earlier. We had agreed in advance to meet over there. As we leave the building and enter the grounds, the crowd and the babel of end-of-term laughter, chatter and gossip engulf us.
As Amy and I push our way through the crowd and through the school gates, I catch sight of a group of girls huddled together, conversing in low and worried tones. Being the eavesdropper that I am, I lean closer and catch phrases like “…wonder why Tessa didn’t come…” and “I hope she’s not ill…”
I scornfully look at this group of Tessa’s fan club.
“As if they actually cared about what happens to her,” Amy scoffs.
“Yeah,” I agree, rolling my eyes. “Whatever’s caused Tessa to stay absent from school today, I hope it’s serious. I hope it gets her to never come to school again…”
Amy’s lip curls maliciously, and I grin in savage pleasure.
I got my wish.
Finally managing to free ourselves from all those noisy, rough pupils, I can now breathe in peace.
Since the exams ended, Amy and I decide to go to a café nearby to celebrate. It’s not much, but we’ll probably have more fun on our own than at a party with a bunch of rowdy fanatics from school.
After a coffee with Amy, we both take our separate ways home. We can’t spend some more time together because she has to go home; her family is leaving for Majorca tomorrow morning.
It’s about half past 6, but I don’t want to go home just yet. I know my family won’t mind if I stayed out a bit longer today, so I decide to take a walk around the neighborhood, savoring my newly acquired freedom. I’ve lived here practically all my life, and know all the great spots, hidey holes, and places where I’m pretty sure nobody will bother me.
However, today, right now, I’m not looking for a spot where I can sit peacefully and relax. I just want to roam around aimlessly. I do just that, not really thinking about where I’m going at all. That’s relaxing in its own self, in its own way.
Before long, I find myself walking down a narrow winding street that is usually isolated and completely uninhabited. One of the few spots I didn’t bother ever exploring – it just didn’t look interesting enough.
Dusk has fallen and a light cool breeze plays across my face. I walk on, intending to reach the end of the road.
As the street widens out a bit, I begin to hear voices: a man who sounds drunk, shouting and swearing loudly, and the sound of a girl trying to stifle her sobs. I am too far into the street to turn back; exiting from the other side will be quicker. For once, my intention isn’t to overhear another conversation.
I quicken my pace, walking faster and faster. I wish I had just stuck to the main road; why did I have to come wandering out here?
As I grow nearer to the sources of the sounds, I can begin to just make out the words.
The man is yelling and saying, “You’re useless! I have no idea why you were even born! You’re a waste of space, that’s what you are. A disgrace to everyone around you!”
He slurs out a few more garbled sentences in colorful language.
The crack of a slap resounds through the chilly night air, making me flinch. The girl’s sob hitches on its way out. She hiccups. I am close enough to see the tears pouring down her face, making glistening tracks across her cheeks.
With a jolt I realize who I’m looking at.
I stand, dumbstruck and rooted to the spot in the middle of the dusty street, my mouth agape. Miraculously, she hasn’t seen me yet and nor has the madman who I know is her stepfather.
Finally coming to my senses, I quietly run to a large upturned dustbin in a corner, hoping they don’t notice me.
I am a coward. I know I should run and get help, call 999, doanything. Instead, I stay just where I am, peering out from behind a dustbin, unable to take my eyes of the horrific scene in front of me.
Eventually, Tessa, who is facing me from a few meters away, notices me and her eyes find mine. She looks pleadingly at me. Beseechingly, I didn’t think such emotions could ever have anything to do with her.
I cannot move. I cannot help her.
The man shouts incoherently again, and I watch as he inflicts yet another injury on her by punching her in the stomach. He is probably three times her size, and his punch knocks her down. He remains standing and kicks her hard in her ribs. He stamps on her face with his massive shoe. Blood gushes out and pours down her face, and she is still conscious as sobs wrack her body. My stomach churns at the sight of the crimson blood spurting from her nose.
“Perhaps that’ll teach you a lesson,” growls the man, with one last kick and staggers away drunkenly.
Seeing his retreating back knocks some feeling into my legs. I run. I run, not towards Tessa but away from her. I am a coward. I run as far as I can, as fast as my feet will take me. I run, once again with no destination in mind. I run and run and after what seems like days I double up in agony, tears dripping down my cheeks. Tears of regret. I pull out my phone with a vengeance, but only shakily manage to dial the police. Through sobs I manage to get out the story. They tell me they’ll come as soon as they can.
I am a coward.
I notice that I am in a big empty field, on a long stretch of grass. Darkness has fallen completely, and there isn’t a soul in sight. I lie down on the grass, letting my tears drip onto my hair. The stars are bright tonight.
After a few minutes of me lying there – or perhaps it was some hours – a ball of blue-green light appears directly above me. It rapidly cuts across the night sky, leaving a trail of brightness behind it on its inky background.
I close my eyes, and I wish upon a shooting star.
I wish for Tessa.