Volani! Are you listening?” The call comes from the front of the classroom; he must have spotted me again. Damn. “Volani!” Again, he shouts, he sounds a little angrier now. Maybe I should open my eyes. “Volani! I will not ask again, get your head off that desk and pay attention!” He’s definitely mad, but I’m not sure I can. My arms ache, I can’t feel my legs and there’s a throbbing in my head that I just know will be unbearable if I force my brain to think. I open one eye, but the sun’s morning fury blinds me, filling my vision with harsh white as every instinct in me tells me to close it and go back to sleep.
Suddenly, I feel a pain in my stomach, crushing me; my muscles tighten against the unseen weight, pushing down on me with unrelenting force. My mind screams as an invisible blade works its way towards my heart, ripping my flesh mercilessly, bursting vessels and shattering my ribs.
My eyes snap open as I jerk backwards; twisting away from the knife that only I can feel. I see only blood red, but slowly faces begin to form. I know they are all staring at me. Damn.
“Is something wrong?” The teacher asks, not patronising, but a little hesitant. I sigh inwardly.
“N—ʺ Damn stammer, not now, not with everyone watching. “N-nothing, Sir.” I feel my left hand tense and begin to shake; everyone’s eyes are drawn to it. I see a group of girls sniggering, venom in their grins. The teacher tries to regain their focus, but not before the bell sounds, the pulsing in my brain flaring again.
I remain seated, hand still shaking, willing the group to leave. Who am I kidding? I push my chair back to get my bag from under the desk, but a defiant foot stops it. I realise I’ve been looking down for some time now, so I turn.
There she is, arms folded, jaw set. Ellie. Damn. She leans on the desk behind me, practically glowing with cruel confidence. Her straight black hair covers one of her bright green eyes. The unobstructed eye darts between my hand and my chest, examining and cold.
“Careful, looks like you’ve put on weight.” The words hit me through a sneer, painted on an annoyingly perfect face. I don’t answer, but my shove on the chair is enough bait for her. “Not keen to chat?” I grab my bag and force my books into it as quickly as I can, so as to hide my trembling fingers. “Is your hand OK? Just let me take a look…” She pulls at the black glove that covers my wrist and hand, her fake concern doesn’t fool me. A sharp jab of my elbow and she releases, I push past the giggling onlookers and out of the classroom.
In the corridor no one stares, no one points, no one sees any difference between me and the next girl at a glance. I try to lose myself in the crowd, become someone else for a moment. The sound of a hundred feet echoes through my head, becoming a steady drone underneath the frantic beating that resonates in my ears. Down a set of stairs, colour fades, as my eyelids creep into view. I lean on the wall for a moment, breathing laboured and painful. A sharp pain pierces behind my right eye, vision closing, closing, closed.