After a brisk walk to my class and a few stern looks from Mr Firth, the Deputy Head, and Mr Whaite, my English teacher, I was allowed to take my seat. The space next to me is empty as usual, a number of my teachers ensured that I was on my own after a couple of violent outbursts at the end of last year. Not that I mind, I wouldn’t want to talk to them even if there was someone else here.
So as usual, I sit alone at the back of class, ignoring Mr Waite, finding more interest in the frozen ground below me. A slight shimmer passes across the frosted grass as the waking sun finally breaks through the dejected sky. Subtle crystals extend from the recently barren branches of the oak, replacing the mellow tones of dying leaves with harsh white. The arms that once swayed gently in the autumn breeze now stand rigid against the rasping of winter’s icy tongue. Every detail in the scene before me proclaims that winter is here.
Of course, no one else notices, they are all too busy with sensory detail to look around and see the frigid beauty of this bleak morning. Their eyes fixed to a deep winter scene, completely unrealistic in its pure, undisturbed white snow. I hear Mr Waite telling us to ‘imagine being there’, a statement that forces my hand into the air.
“Yes, Volani?” he asks, seeming to anticipate a difficult question. I mentally roll my eyes, I hardly ever ask for help and when I do, I’m sensible about it.
“Couldn-n’t we look outside? We don-n’t have to imagin-ne being in some photosh-shopped win-nter scen-ne when-n we have on-ne just outside.”
“No, Volani, we don’t have time. Now, if you’d like to get on with the task I’ve set we can move on to the next scene,” he says, completely dismissing me.
I put pen to paper and write about an early December, cloudy morning. I dismiss the fake image I’m supposed to be taking inspiration from, just as Mr Waite did for the real world. Instead of basing my words on the next picture, I base it on a memory of a similar, rainy day in Šluknov.
Naďa runs ahead, dragging me by my wrist, as yet unscarred. Each step on the glistening pavement drenches us with splashes of water. The downpour soaks our hair in a breath, but we don’t care, we keep running, laughing, brightening the gloomy day with our smiles. We dart down side streets and passageways, under the shadows of the looming concrete buildings. My legs begin to grow tired, but I keep running, letting the sky’s tears refresh my muscles. Turning down the track that leads home, we hear the roaring river, almost bursting its banks as it hurtles under the stone bridge. The ageing mossy bricks that form the walls establishing our departure from urban territory, the pavement of the track becomes dirt, the hedgerows become overgrown and the slap of our shoes on the ground become muffled squelches.
The sweet aroma of fresh bread drifts lazily towards us, Naďa tries to run faster, but slips on the sodden earth beneath her. She falls on her side, cushioned somewhat by the water-logged mud, but still caked in dirt. I go over to her and offer her my hand to help her up. She takes it, but she tugs sharply, pulling me down with her. She begins to laugh uncontrollably, as the side of my face makes contact with the muck. I throw a lump of dirt at her, sparking a fight, which becomes more and more heated. Until our hysterics are broken by a shout.
“Volani!” I hear. The voice of my mother is strangely merged with that of Mr Waite, who is stood by my desk. I blink furiously, willing Naďa out of my head, but the sound of her laughter continues throughout his spiel. I’ve heard it all before, how every lesson is as important as the exam itself, that we need to apply ourselves fully from the first day to our last.
“Yes, Sir,” I reply quietly. He glares at me, then returns to the front of the room, straightening his pristine tie as he does so.
I notice a single drop of rain on the window pane, reflecting my scowl back at me. It falls in bursts, sticking on invisible ledges as it carves its path to join its frozen brothers. But it loses its form too quickly; the drop becomes a weak stream which loses momentum. The journey home was too much, falling so close, but a single gust of wind knocking it off-course in such a way that it would land not on the ground, but on the glass to my left.
“Volani! If I have to tell you one more time, I swear you won’t be going home on time for the rest of your school career, do you understand?” Mr Waite bellows. I manage to resist the temptation to tell him that there’s nothing I’d like more.
“Yes, Sir,” I reply. He gives me another stare, which I hardly see, as the edges of my vision start to creep in.
The familiar pain in my chest returns, the invisible blade back for another try. This time, I do not twist away, I tense my stomach, trying to resist crying out as my rips collapse in on themselves. My left hand starts to burn, the dark clouds around my eyes fade slightly to a blood red. I feel my legs shaking, the pain becomes unbearable. I start to scream. I scream and scream, each outburst a disappointing sign of my weakness.
I vaguely feel a knock on my head and my world rotating. Vision closing.