Striking Thirteen

“You taught me that there was no such thing as soulmates.” He laughed out loud then and I stared at him, bewildered. “That’s funny,” he whispered. “You taught me that there was.” Based on The Name On Your Wrist by the lovely and amazing Helen Hiorns!


1. Striking Eleven


Entry 1:

The counsellor suggested I start keeping a diary. Of course, she only did that so she could read said diary and probably invade my mind and twist my words, so I’m keeping two. This is the one she won’t read. I hope she won’t anyway. I’ve done a pretty good job at encrypting the files if I do say so myself. If you’re reading this, you’re probably a government official. If you’re not- well I’m probably dead or something. I probably don’t really care.


Sounds kind of morbid when you put it like that, doesn’t it? A lot of people have been offing themselves recently. It’s been all over the news. It’s been happening so often that they’ve made it a criminal offence, which has got to be the most stupid thing I’ve ever heard. The worst part is that people are actually buying into it. The criminal offence thing. The Psychology Centre where I go is one of the last ones left, or so I’m told. Therapy is seen as enabling now. It’s seen as helping out a crim or whatever. Because if you’re not happy, if you’re not totally content with the hand you’ve been dealt then you’re one step closer to being a criminal. I guess that makes me pretty badass and rebellious.


Anyway, I should probably get on with the diary thing. Today was my first day back at school from ‘sick leave’. I spent 4 months in the hospital that I don’t want to talk about. I think the whole point of the diary is that I talk about it, but I don’t care. I don’t want to talk about it. I really don’t. Nothing has changed since I left, of course. Nothing ever changes anymore - there are people who work for the government whose only job is to maintain complete stagnation.


I sat at the back of the first class by myself. I don’t have any friends at school. I made one friend in the hospital, but I haven’t seen her in a while. Actually, I really hope she’s okay. If any of these people knew what I was really like they’d think I was a freak, a bad person, maybe not even human. That’s why I never really talk to anyone for very long. I spend whole months without talking to anyone sometimes. That might be what makes me feel so sad.


The first class of the day, by the way, was English Literature which I hate. Don’t get me wrong, I really like reading, but I hate the books we do at school. All the ‘approved’ books are about one thing: soulmates meeting each other and falling in love and living happily ever after. The names change, the places change, but the story stays exactly the same. I haven’t told you what’s wrong with me yet. I guess I should tell you: I can’t feel love.


I mean I kind of love my parents because they’re my parents, but that’s a different kind of love isn’t it? I can’t feel the kind of love love that you’re supposed to be able to feel, the kind of love that separates you as a human being. We learned about it in science pretty much as soon as we could talk: what separates us from animals is that we have soulmates. They tell you all your life that your main purpose in life is to find your soulmate, the person matching the name scrawled on your wrist in an ugly font. If you don’t, you may as well be a bug or a goat or something. All the other boys at school talked about their dream girl all the time: what she’ll act like, look like, talk like. That’s until they actually meet her and then she’s all they talk about, even though the actual girl usually is nothing like the person they described before. But every time I try to imagine my dream girl I get stuck. I don’t want to kiss a girl, I never have. I don’t want to sleep next to one or marry one or do anything like that.


I used to spend hours trying to figure out why it was that I am the way I am, searching the internet to see if anyone felt the same way. But there’s no one, every man has the name of a woman on their wrist, and every man finds her, and every man loves her, even if she doesn’t look or act the way they thought they wanted her to. Eventually I stopped questioning it. So I can’t feel love, so I’m defective- what can I do? I still hate myself for it, though. I still feel like I’m lying to everyone. I don’t deserve the title of human being if I can’t do basic things like love someone. My whole world revolves around something I can’t do.


One thing I should probably mention is that I don’t have a problem with females per se. I’m not one of those arseholes who goes around treating them like lesser citizens. I actually I tend to get on with them, I like them better than boys a lot of the time mainly because they talk about things other than soulmates. Back when I had friends, most of them were girls. The girl I met in the hospital, Jacinta, who is my only friend, I really like her. We definitely sort of understand each other, but I only care about her in the way I care about my parents. The thought of making out with her or anything makes me feel kind of sick. When I told her that, she actually laughed. I’d never seen her laugh, she always looked really sad, but when I said that she thought it was hilarious. Then she gave me a hug (maybe the first hug I’ve had ever) and she said she didn’t particularly want to make out with me either. I don’t think she realised that I was trying to tell her something serious, but that’s okay. She was really nice to me while I was in the hospital. She asked if I had a name on my wrist, and that was weird, because everybody does. I do have a name on my wrist - it’s Patricia. But there’s not much point in dwelling on that, because I can’t feel love. I guess I should feel sorry for Patricia. I know I’ll meet her one day and not love her and then I’ll hate myself even more. I might end up breaking the law. You know, the one I mentioned earlier.


So yeah, that’s why I don’t really talk to anyone anymore and why I don’t have friends. It’s also sort of a bit why I had to spend all that time in the hospital. There’s nothing else wrong with me really. I mean I’m smart, everyone says I’m probably going to be streamed into medicine, which I think is really great. I want to work in the hospital that I was in and help people with problems like mine, but a lot of them are being shut down since the suicide laws pass. I hope that one doesn’t get shut down. It probably will.


Entry 2:


I called Jacinta tonight but she didn’t really want to talk. She said that she didn’t want to live here anymore. I wasn’t quite sure what she meant by that, but she wouldn’t tell me. I asked what had upset her, and she said ‘nothing’ which is what I say when I want people to leave me alone. I tried to make her laugh again. It didn’t work so I hung up.


Entry 3:


I hope you’re sitting down, imaginary person, because I have some truly shocking news. I actually spoke to someone in school today. I was sitting at the back of that stupid English class and we were doing Romeo and Juliet for like the thousandth time and there was this other boy who I hadn’t seen before and he was also sitting at the back. And he just leaned over to me, cool as cucumber.


“What a load of shit,” he said.


I didn’t know what to say so I just nodded. Then I said “Yeah” because I wanted him to know I agreed.


He smiled at me then, and it was weird. Like, really weird. Not the kind of smile that people normally give me which is either sympathy or just pretend. It was like a smirk, but it wasn’t mean. It made my insides feel really strange, kind of like I’d eaten something that didn’t agree with me and then gone for a run. Something like that. But it was actually quite nice. I’m not explaining this very well, am I? Well anyway he smiled at me really weird and after that I couldn’t stop looking at him. He’s quite tall and he has blond hair and blue eyes. Quite generic looking, I suppose, but I couldn’t stop staring. He had a smile on his face all the way through the class, which was also strange and I think that’s why I kept looking at his lips. They looked really soft and I wondered what it would be like to touch them. That’s weird even for me so I tried to look away after that. He was reading something on his TTC, but it wasn’t Romeo and Juliet. He wasn’t covering his wrist either, and it said ‘Leah’ on it. I wondered if Leah was pretty. I kind of already decided I didn’t like Leah, which is strange because I don’t know her.


I’m always the last to leave after a class because I don’t like to walk in the crowds, it makes me feel uncomfortable. I think the other boy worked out my plan to stay behind because he seemed to be waiting for me and doing everything very slowly. When everyone was gone he turned to me and gave me that smile again. And it did that thing again that I can’t explain, that’s like being ill but not in a bad way.


“I’m Akama,” he said.


I didn’t know what to do at first, and I think I didn’t speak for like 30 seconds, but it could have been less or more. I told him my name was Jonah because it is and then I just waited for him to say something else.


“Have you ever read any proper books?” He asked.


“What do you mean?”


“I mean stuff that isn’t on this fucking list,” he waved the school’s approved reading list in my face.


“You can’t read stuff that isn’t on the list,” I said, stating the obvious. You’d be arrested even for looking into it.


He gave me the smile again and I was starting to get annoyed because I didn’t like that he could make me feel weird without trying.


“What do you want?”


He typed something frantically on his TTC and sent it over to me. I was easy to find on the network: I was the only one in the room.


“I just thought you might want to read this.”


Entry 4:


There was a book in the folder called ‘1984’ and I thought it was going to be about disco music. It wasn’t about disco music. It made me feel very confused. I didn’t really understand it. I thought it was quite interesting, because I never really thought about what life would be like if the government was different. To be honest, the one in the book wasn’t that different, but I hope I don’t have a camera in my room. I didn’t like the bit where he falls in love. I’m going to ask Akama tomorrow why he gave me this. I hope he doesn’t smile at me again.


Entry 5:


I couldn’t sleep last night because I kept having weird dreams. There were lots of rats involved, they were climbing all over me. Akama was there too and I’m not really sure why. I called Jacinta again, but her sister said she was in the hospital. That made me really sad. I don’t want her to be there forever.


Entry 6:


I saw Akama again. I was sitting by myself eating pizza.


“That’s a lot of pizza you got there,” he said, surprised. We’re only supposed to get the right amount of food to keep us healthy. It’s perfectly measured out to our specific needs, but boys my age normally have about the same.


“I lost a lot of weight recently,” I mumbled into my pizza. “I was ill.”


He sat down on the chair next to me, leaning in close.


“Did you read the book?”




He grabbed a pizza crust off my plate and started munching on it, not giving a damn if anyone saw. “And?”


I didn’t know what he wanted me to say.


“It was interesting.”


He started laughing at me. I wanted to hate him for it, but it wasn’t a mean laugh. He was smiling at the same time and everything. Like he really did think I was funny, not that I was stupid. He put his hand on my knee under the table and I flinched. This was the first physical contact I’d had with anyone since Jacinta gave me that hug. That’s probably why it felt so tingly.


All confidence, he leaned right into my personal space and asked “Why are you sitting all by yourself?”


“I don’t have any friends here,” I answered, trying to look away from him.


He laughed again, and put his hand under my chin, pulling my head round so he could glare into my eyes. “Well now you have one.”


He ran off after that, like actually ran. I thought that was kind of a weird thing for one friend to do to another, but who am I to say what’s normal when it comes to friendship?


Entry 7:


Akama joined me at lunch again today. I think he might just want to steal my food, because I never eat it all and I really do have a lot. He sat right across from me and rested his elbows on the table with his head in his hands.


“Jonah.” He said my name in a way that made it sound like it was a nice name, which I didn’t really think it was normally. I watched his lips while he said it, and it looked nice too. I dragged my eyes away from his lips and looked at his eyes. They were bright and blue and were staring right at me that made me feel like he already knew too much about me. Desperate to find somewhere to look that didn’t make me feel weird my eyes settled on his wrist, staring at the word ‘Leah’, tracing the L-E-A-H with my eyes. When I looked up, he was staring at me with an amused smile.


“Are you going to ask about her?”


I frowned. I wasn’t sure I wanted to know.


“She’s a good friend,” he said. Which is a really weird thing to say about your literal soulmate.


“A good friend?”


“Yes.” He leaned back and stretched, looking totally relaxed. “I don’t love her. But I don’t mind marrying her if that’s what she wants.”


My heart started to race and my eyes grew wider “You… Don’t love her.”


He just shook his head and carried on looking at me like I was really interesting (which I’m not).


“Who’s Patricia?” He asked.


I meant to say “I don’t know” but it came out as “I don’t care”.


He looked confused, and I began to feel really sad again. Like sadder than I’d felt since I’d left the hospital. I knew I would have to tell him my secret soon and that he would decide I wasn’t worth knowing. He was bound to think I was some kind of freak.


“Why are you crying?”


I frantically wiped my eyes “I’m not. I’m allergic to…” My voice trailed off. I didn’t have a good lie. I’m crap at lying. “Akama, you probably don’t want to know me.”


He leaned in close, right over the table so I could hear him breathing. “And why would you say that?”


I glanced around the room nervously. "I'll tell you later.”



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