I trudge over, reluctant but with no choice but to sit down next to that conceited grin. I refuse to look at her, making it clear that I do not want to speak to her. On second thoughts, maybe I should have tried reverse psychology, if I willingly spoke to her maybe she would get bored. It’s too late now though; she knows I’m not in the mood for conversation, so she won’t stop talking.
“Hey, V-V-Volani.” She says with her usual fake charm, mocking my stutter.
“I don’t stutter ‘V’s.” My mumbled voice replies, monotone, eyes on the board that Mrs Morgan is decorating with names and dates. She notices me not writing, so asks Ellie to pull out a page from her book for me. She smiles sweetly and hands me the page, I try to take it, but she doesn’t let go. A glint in her eyes tells me what she wants. Damn her.
“Th–ʺ I try, but, feeling the stare of my classmates, my throat tightens, or my tongue forgets its task. Still Ellie’s eyes glare, not satisfied with that embarrassment. I tug on the paper, but her fingers hold tight. I give her a sarcastic smile and bow my head.
“My gratitude.” I say in a mock English accent. Ellie scowls, but lets go of the paper. I take it and start frantically noting everything down, before the board needs clearing. Well, I hope the structure of the Weimar government isn’t too important; I won’t be able to read this. My scrawl is barely legible, but it at least creates the illusion of work. Not that I don’t work, I just try and do the bare minimum. My grades unfortunately do reflect that, I sneak above the pass mark in every test, except English. Not that I don’t understand it, it just takes twice as long for me to write my thoughts down.
I risk a sideways glance at Ellie; she’s not paying attention at all. Her chin resting on her hand and her gaze directed at the bare branches of the weary oak. A few bronze leaves still cling on in vain, the first December winds battering them mercilessly. Still they try, doomed to fail, but still trying to get a last breath of life. I doubt any of this is going through her mind. It’s more likely her next serrated comment. Her eyes lock with mine, one eyebrow rises, she laughs to herself before opening her mouth.
“You’re taking notes then?” She gestures to the tree. “You are trying to lose weight right? Whatever the diet is, let me know, it’s working for you.” One side of her mouth lifts; she knows exactly what she’s doing. I resist the temptation to mutter something about a tin of soup and half a portion of rice. Instead I turn back to my actual notes and try to answer the question Mrs Morgan has just written: ‘Explain the advantages and disadvantages of the Weimar Constitution’. I haven’t a clue. I think we’re supposed to say something about proportional representation, but I don’t know what that is. Ellie loses patience for my reply, turning back to her work, her pen moves with such speed I am mesmerised for a moment. I shift slightly in such a way that I can get the gist of her answer. She notices and moves her elbow to block my line of sight. Damn.
“Try doing some work for yourself.” She snaps, but obviously not content with that, she speaks again, this time more calmly. “I know it’s hard for people like you to understand, but you need to stand on your own two feet rather than feeding off the rest of us like some kind of parasite.” Her smirk quickly vanishes as I launch myself towards her, making contact with the girl’s shoulder and arm.
She is knocked to the floor as the whole room gasps, my tears begin to flow as I begin to kick her and hurl insults.
“Jdi po prdele!” I curse, “Ty, děvko!” No one else knows what it means, but their guess is probably right. Two of the boys grab my arms and pull me away, I keep shouting, screaming even. Ellie just lies there, trying to look surprised. Miss tries to intervene, her yells drowned out by the jeering laughter and cries for a fight. I refuse to give in, she can go to hell and I intend to send her. If she knew anything of my life, if she knew how much I wish I was back home. If she knew how much I wish we didn’t have to rely on the goodwill of passers-by for our next meal. If she knew, it probably wouldn’t stop her. How can she live with herself, knowing what she’s done to me? The boys keep me pinned to the wall, restraining me, a wall socket digging in to my back painfully. Still I struggle, watching as Ellie is sent to the first-aid room, I keep hurling my insults, but she is long gone.
Knowing she can’t hear me, I let my body go limp, surprising my classmates again by crumpling and curling into a foetal position. I try to make myself as small as possible as my tears keep streaming from my bleary eyes. I wish the world away, rocking myself and whispering, knowing my words to be false but hoping that, by saying them, they would come true.
“It’s just a dream.” The two boys step away from me, unsure what to do now their muscles are no longer required. I repeat the words to myself over and over again, waiting for wake that I know will never come. I hear someone kneeling next to me, a hand on my shoulder which I try to shrug away. Mrs Morgan’s voice is soft and gentle, not angry at all.
“Volani, what did she say?” I shake my head, gasping for air between my sobs.
“It’s just a dream.” I repeat
“Volani, you know this isn’t a dream and I have a class to teach. Now, either I need you to calm down and continue with the work, or I will get someone to come and take you somewhere else to calm down. Which is it to be?” I open my eyes slightly to look at her; I see no hint of blame, though I know it will come later. I nod and stand quickly, staring blankly at the floor as I return to my seat.
“Right, where were we?” Her voice projected again to prompt the shuffling and scraping of chairs as my colleagues settle down from the excitement.
I stare at my gloved hand, shaking violently with my breaths, the fake leather masking the sound of my knuckles knocking against the table. Wiping the tears from my face I pick up my pen and try to write. Damn. How can I focus? I’ll just sit and stare blankly at the last leaf losing its fight. Hope of recovery lost, as the air becomes its master. And now it is falling.
My head hits the desk.