What do you do when some reasonably fit boy is sitting right next to you, staring at you so intensely it feels as if he’s trying to look into your mind like some sort of strange psychic? Oh, and your also surrounded by eight other people all waiting patiently for your answer.
Message for my brain: ARE YOU WORKING? Obviously not because you can’t seem to remember the question that Harold just asked you. Knowing him, it was some up-lifting question about my confidence.
I struggle to think of some sort of answer. Maybe I can be smart and ask him a sassy question back? The only issue is I have no idea what the question he asked is.
“Pardon?” I squeak and shut my eyes tight and then open them, like I’m blinking really slowly. Harold smiles at me from his plastic blue chair.
“I asked you what you want to aspire to be.” So not an up-lifting question about my confidence.
“Career wise or what?” I ask and Harold lets out a little laugh. What’s so funny? Was it something I said?
“Career wise and any other way you can think of.” The Gleam shines in his eyes. Whenever Harold is in a conversation with somebody, involved with somebody, a sort of beaming glint twinkles in his eyes. Everybody calls it The Gleam.
“Well, I want to aspire to be many things.” I say as I try to think of a clever answer. If this boy next to me will stop staring so intently at me then maybe my brain will decide to function like normal.
“Like?” questions Harold and I gulp. Like? Like what? What do I want to be? Who do I want to be?
“Well, I want to be a helper. Not those kind of weird helpers that help out at nurseries, you know the kind that have to wipe the snot off kid’s noses and change their full nappies and always smell of talcum powder and sick. I don’t want to be that kind of helper at all.” The Gleam shines even brighter. Hey, Harold is conversing with me and I’m conversing back, so he’s really happy. A little too happy in fact.
“Well then what kind of helper do you want to be?”
“I want to be one of those useful helpers. The kind that help the kids with special needs or anger issues. I want to be the kind of helper that kids brag about: ‘oh, I have Miss Lavender helping me today’ and the other kids being jealous. The kind that is helpful and nice and calm and respectful.”
“I see but-”
“That isn’t all I want to be,” I interrupt and Harold smiles. He motions for me to continue, so I do. Suddenly my brain is working and spouting ideas like an erupting volcano. Maybe the boy stopped staring at me.
“I want to be famous. No, I want to be well-known. If somebody says my name to some other person, I want them to be able to picture me in their heads and know who the other person is talking about. I want to be a role-model, somebody a person can look up to. I want to be loved, not just by everybody, but by one special person. I want to be smart and beautiful and kind and lovely and calm and helpful and tidy and sassy and funny and every good trait somebody could have. I want, I want, I want-”
“I want to be perfection.”
Silence fills the room and every single person is staring at me. I shrink down in my seat. Did I say something wrong? Harold lifts his hands. What is he doing?
And then he starts to clap.
Calmly, slowly and then faster. Everybody else joins in, calm and slow, then faster. Clap. Clap. Clap. Clap. It turns into applause, loud and clear. A smile slips onto my face so I stand up and bow. A few laughs fly around.
“Thank you for that Zoe.” But his words seem to drown out again. I quickly glance over at the boy. He’s still staring at me and my mind begins to cry out. Help! Weird boy staring at you! Slap him! Kick him where the sun don’t shine! Do something!
So I do. I stick my hand in the air and try desperately to ignore the holes the boy seems to be burning into my head.
“Please may I move?”