'Johnson, Samuel?' The teacher's sharp voice rang in my ears. The boy next to me gave a half-hearted “here” in response.
'Kalign, Mary?' Another shrill call. Another sleepy response.
'Kursignson, Adam?' The voice was lower this time, softer, almost hesitant. I didn't glance up, but I knew all the faces were on me. “Yes Miss, here”, I said, eyes still glued to my desk. My response stuck out, but I wanted to make a good first impression by being polite.
The register continued, my focus drifted away. My eyelids began to droop. I was tired, exhausted even, after a sleepless night. My shoes were too tight and the starched shirt was itchy. The uniform at my old school had been a polo-neck, much more relaxed. But the uncomfortable shirt was a small price to pay.
The lesson was interesting only in its lack of interest. Much of the course I had studied before at my old school. I dutifully completed each exercise, then sat staring blankly out of the window. The girl across the row caught my eye. She looked enquiringly back, then returned to her work. I returned to facing the desk. I needed to keep my head down.
The sharp scream of the bell broke through my thoughts, and I quickly thrust everything into my bag and, eyes down, I lumbered out of the room. I had no one to sit with for the break so I took out a book and sat at a bench in the quadrant. I opened it, then sat staring at the page in front of me, the lines of text, the sketchy illustrations. The black squiggles of ink began to shift and blur, slowly forming an image, a face, his face. I snapped the book shut, and to my surprise, noticed someone was now sitting opposite me at the bench. It was the girl from across the row.
'Hi, I'm Lizzy. It's Adam right? Adam...Kursignson?' I nodded, then stared down at the book in front of me, eyes fixed, mouth dry.
'Unusual surname that, Kur-sign-son. Like the guy, you know, the one who...' She trailed off, embarrassed. We sat there in silence, both our tongues leaden in our mouths.
The bell for lesson screeched once more, saving us from the awkward silence. I remained rooted to my seat, staring down at the green leather cover. She stood up, swung her satchel over her shoulder and walked away, slowly, murmuring a hesitant 'see ya'. I thrust the book into my own satchel, then consulted the timetable folded in my pocket. English, Room 71. Where was room 71?
I looked up, to see if Izzy, or Lizzy, or who ever, was still there, but she was gone, sucked up into the stream of students rushing along the veranda. I figured it would probably be right at the back of the school, so I made my way to the big concrete build. I walked the length of the building, the numbers ticking by. ...68, 69, 70. It ended there. 71 must be one of the mobiles, right at the other end of the school. I turned and headed along the path, emptier now as the students filed off into their classrooms. By the time I found room 71, the others were all inside, and I jogged up the last metal steps, then quietly pushed open the door.
I was greeted by a sea of faces, that turned row by row, wave by wave, till the teacher at the front glanced up from her desk and set her dark eyes on me. She raised her eyebrows expectantly.
'Sorry I'm late, I got lost, I er...' I trailed off, voice drying in my throat. The faces of the students stared and stared, and I recognised one of them, that Lizzy girl, sitting in the middle of the middle row. Our eyes met, then she turned a whispered something to the girl on her left. My pulse began to race, my face went red. I sat down quickly into the nearest seat. Was it my imagination, or did the girl next to me edge away? What was Lizzy saying, what had she said? She recognized my name, who wouldn't, who wouldn't know it after what happened? My hands were shaking as I pulled the my book from my bag, and the flimsy plastic pencil case. I placed them on the desk in front of me, then steadied my hands on my legs, pressing down into my thighs, fingers curling and gripping through the trousers, nails biting into my flesh. My breath caught in my throat, I felt the desk begin to swim in front of me, I twitched in my seat. The girl edged further away, but who could blame her? I screwed my eyes tight, tight shut, focused on blanking my mind, but all I saw was him, staring and staring, and the students faces staring and staring in my mind's eye. With a gasp, I stood up, and rushed out of the room, feeling their eyes burning into the back of my neck.
The brakes on the bus hissed, and I quickly descended onto the pavement, bag clutched to my chest. I began to head for the quadrant, hoping it would be deserted at this time in the morning, with the majority of students electing to hang around the front gates till the first bell. Along the way, I thought to chuck a few of my books into my locker for the later lessons. Approaching it, I noticed a long, thin cut on the blue paint, from a key perhaps. My breath caught in my throat, and I mumbled a silent prayer that it was a random piece of thoughtless vandalism. I turned the key in the lock hesitantly, and peered into the box. A folded page of newspaper lay on top of the books in my locker. It must have been posted in through the slots in the door. I opened it cautiously, and it was the bottom of the image that I saw first, followed by his eyes. I didn't need to read the header to know it was from the 3rd December 2009 issue of the Sun. My fathers grim face stared back at me from the page, lip curled in a sneer. The harsh, black writing read : Killer Kursignson Convicted. His eyes stared and stared at me, seemed to taunt me, jeering out at me through the years, through the black ink, staring and staring. I crushed the piece of paper in my hand, and threw it back into the locker, slamming it shut. She knew. They knew! They all knew, or would know soon! How could I have believed I would get a new start here, why had I been so stupid? No one escapes a past like mine, no one can live with the legacy of a murdering psychopath for a father! At my old school I used to find photos of the girls in the locker, or their names scribbled onto the pages of my work books. It had made national news, it had made headlines, of course it had, of course they would know! How could I have been so stupid? The disgusted voices rang in my ears and in my head. 'Why didn't you tell the police, Adam? Why aren't you in prison, Adam? You deserve to be, you deserve to be dead as the girls, Adam. Why don't you just die?!'
Why couldn't the past just die? I sunk down to the floor, back pressed hard against the locker. I felt hot tears spill from my eyes, and I rubbed them away roughly, disgusted with myself. I didn't deserve to cry, to feel sorry for myself. They were right, I knew they were. I should have, I should have gone to the police. But I was scared, of him, of what would happen. And now I had to pay for my cowardice, live in the shadow of my mistakes. His eyes stared at me in my mind, stared and stared, like the girls' eyes, in the jars, on the shelf, staring and staring at me. I pushed the palm of my hand hard into my own eyes, creating patterns of sparks to block out the images. I wanted to forget, I needed to, but I couldn't, I never would. The eyes would always stare, his face, the faces of my peers, of the people in court, staring and staring. Eyes wide, staring.