i don't know.

❝ my head is a radio, and every so often the dial is turned the wrong way, and all that comes out is white noise. ❞


4. four


today has not been a very good day.

it started with an ending: the end of the weekend. Mo always says that i should stay positive on a monday, because somewhere in the world people are getting married and babies are being born and kittens are being adopted by doting gay partners. but, to be honest, it's pretty hard to find something good about mondays in my tiny little pocket of the solar system, when i woke up far too late to find out that everything i needed at that moment was either broken (calculator), incomplete (biology homework) or missing (history textbook) and because my first lesson of the week just happened to begin with a test. i do adore all the not-knowing, but when it comes to not knowing where i left my protractor in maths or how to answer an exam question, i have a feeling that the huge and deep philosophies of the universe are not always in my favour.

i haven't seen Mo since yesterday morning, when i woke up early to meet her at the river and we talked and talked until she had to rush home and continue with revision. like me, her gcses start in less than three weeks, and there's barely any time to spare. that means the demons in my head are more dangerous than ever, and it takes all my energy to fight them away.

by lunchtime i'm ready to give up and go home; i'm pretty sure the entire year feels the same way. as we file into the canteen and load our plates in the hopes to keep ourselves going for the next three lessons i hear talk of revision sessions and extra classes. voices tie themselves into knots around me, tightening and tightening along with the blank glances of my classmates as i scan the room for a place to sit. this isn't enough to make me to panic, but it's enough for the anxiety to start crawling under my skin. finally i spot my two friends hunched over a table at the back and, whilst somehow managing to avoid the gaze of everyone surrounding me, i keep my head down and grab a seat.

charlie, says sven, while looking up at me from over his tray of greenish-looking macaroni, i trust you had a pleasurable weekend; more pleasurable, perhaps, than the plate of unpalatable pasta i am forcing down my esophagus at the present time?

sven is swedish and when he first moved here people used to tease him because he didn't know a word of english. so he locked himself in his room for six months and did some online training course for foreign students. his english is now so impeccably faultless that he feels the need to remind us of this whenever possible, by using very large and unnecessarily complicated words. incidentally, his mother makes the best meatballs in the entire world but has no understanding of modern technology and thus, it seems, no understanding of what seven hours spent playing Minecraft every day can do to your son. sven, however, is unaware of this problem.

my weekend was good, i reply, and then half-listen to sven rambling on about the new level he reached on his new computer game while i force myself to shovel down forkfuls of dry macaroni. my mind strays to Mo, as it always does, and i think about what she might be doing right now. i count down the minutes until i see her again; until the end of school, when i have just a matter of hours to recover from the day until i face homework, and dinner, and the preparation of doing the same thing over again for the next four days. there might be good things happening in the world on mondays, i decide, but it certainly doesn't feel like it to me.

i look up from the table to see sven pushing back his fringe of white-blonde hair to stare intently at the straight-faced boy sitting opposite him. gecko, sven says slowly, i believe i deserve an explanation as to why you have neither completed nor returned my geography homework that i gave to you last week.

gecko - so called because of his unnaturally large eyes (and, unfortunately, the rather unwelcome but painfully visible outbreak of acne that comes with being a hormonal teenage boy) - is the smartest in our year. he runs a sort of black market business whereby students can give him their homework to complete, and, for a small fee, can have it returned to them on the morning it is due. he makes about thirty pounds a week and he uses the money to expand his growing collection of model cars. he also never wears a tie, but for someone who has gotten straight A-stars since pre-school, the teachers can't really complain.

didn't have time, gecko says simply, pulling at his tie-less collar while grimacing at the food in front of him.

not good enough. says sven immediately.

back me up, charlie, gecko says, with a pleading glance at me; i spent all saturday babysitting my little sister, and on sunday i had to catch up on revision.

you've been revising for gcses every day since last year, i point out.

obviously, gecko replies.

(being friends with the smartest kid in the year does have its disadvantages. he makes the rest of us look bad.)

if you managed to complete everyone else's homework, there's no reason why you couldn't complete mine, sven says indignantly.

dude, gecko says with a frown, you're you. i wouldn't do your homework for you even if you gave me three hundred pounds.

i am not your 'dude' sven says irritably.

well, gecko says, i am not your bitch. do your own homework.

sometimes i wish for Mo; not because i crave her company, but simply because our conversations are always better than those i experience every lunchtime at school. of course, there isn't a time when i don't crave her company. i suppose it helps that some parts of her are with me, always, in my mind and in the things that i do and hear and say and touch. because i think that when you love someone, parts of them cling to you like dust even when they aren't around, and you use those parts to construct some kind of image that you desperately hope will be enough until you see them again. sometimes it isn't enough. sometimes it is. and sometimes i hang in between, wrapped in a comfortable sense of longing like a colourful daydream i can escape to whenever i please. so i hang there for a while, half-listening to my friends flinging feeble insults at each other across the table and half-dreaming of all the things i cannot have but will have soon.

yet again the bell interrupts my thoughts, the painful buzzing sound now synonymous with the heavy feeling of reality seeping back into my bones. gecko, sven and i dump our trays of half-eaten macaroni into an overflowing bin by the door of the canteen and trudge back to our classroom. our tutor, mrs wrayland, emerges seconds later. perching on the edge of her chair, she calls the register before shooing us off to our lessons. gecko hangs back to hand out hastily completed homework to any last-minutes customers; once he's collected his cash we walk the corridors in silence until we reach our classrooms. i almost walk past the brightly painted door with its no talking sign before i remember where i'm meant to be. with a nod at both my friends i leave the rush of the corridors behind and enter the library, dodging the beanbags and computers until i reach the furthest table.

charlie! miss mirlott says, with a smile like plastic and a voice like syrup. how are you doing?

fine thanks, i answer, dumping my backpack on the floor and pulling out a chair.

anything new to tell me? she looks up from her clipboard and tosses me a glance. any worries? any doubts?

if i'm being honest, i really don't see the point of a guidance counsellor. i am not about to confess my deepest fears to a person with a clipboard and a pager. but ever since last year, when the panicking got worse and the demons started crawling in through the cracks in my skull and screaming, screaming screaming until every fibre of my body, every nerve was gasping for relief-

i take a deep breath, dropping my gaze to the floor. now is not a good time.

- ever since then the attacks have got worse, and more noticeable. and so my parents decided that the only possible solution was to pay a woman i had never met and would certainly never trust to listen to my problems. the only thing was, in order for her to listen to my problems, i had to tell her them first. but once demons dig caverns in your mind and make a home there, it becomes much more natural to hide things away. miss mirlott, friendly though she is, has no idea what i'm feeling, or what i'm thinking, or, more importantly, how i'm doing. nevertheless, she keeps on with our little sessions once a week in the hope that, one day, i might open up. so far she hasn't been very successful.

charlie? she prompts again.

i look up, meeting her gaze with a grim expression, and reply. no. i say firmly. nothing wrong.

for a moment i don't think she's bought it. i clench my fists under the table and will myself to hold her gaze for a little bit longer, the voices in my head screaming for retreat.

well. she sighs. that's good. 

you see, lying isn't so difficult once you get used to it. i've learnt to hide everything i'm feeling with a shake of my head and a breathless muttering of words until people stop questioning it and start to believe it. because the sad truth is, we are curious, but we are selfish: so selfish that eventually our selfishness overrules our curiosity and we give up on what we want to know simply because it doesn't concern us. i paint white lies with colours until there are rainbows painted on my lips and it burns; hiding the truth is so painful, but i am sure it is less painful than honesty. i paint my lies and hope that the rest of the world is colour-blind.

so, the bright-eyed teacher tries again, how is revision going? exams are getting close!

one thing i will definitely never understand is how teachers can say the word exams in such a positive way. those five letters strung together make me want to cry. or vomit. or both, simultaneously.

it's going alright, is all i manage to admit. spending free time revising isn't particularly enjoyable, i add, trying to limit the sarcasm in my tone.

well, it may not be great now, but it will really benefit you in the future! miss mirlott says with another cringe-worthy smile. that's another thing - the way she speaks as if there is an exclamation mark after every sentence, as if every aspect of the world excites her. i can't imagine it does; somehow her words sound almost as artificial as the red-lipsticked smile she tosses at me whenever possible. it can't be healthy to smile that much, surely. they say smiling takes less effort than frowning; this lady must be the laziest human being in the universe.

silence stretches out like an invisible rubber band between us; i try and pull at it for as long as possible. eventually it snaps and hits me in the face.

but will it really benefit me in the future? i ask possibly the stupidest question in all of the universe. i mean - i struggle to make sense of the words in my head - is it really worth it? all this work?

oh yes, of course! miss mirlott doesn't hesitate. i should've known teachers could talk about this for hours. if you work hard enough, she continues, you can get brilliant results and a great college application, and let's not forget university, you can get an amazing job if you put the effort in -

but is it really worth all the stress now, just so my future can be better? i ask before she can keep going. it turns out it isn't just the word exams that makes me want to cry; any words pouring from the mouth of my guidance counsellor seem to have the same effect.

well, she replies, a little breathlessly, it definitely guarantees a good future, yes - charlie, if you're having doubts about this, i've got a great leaflet on the benefits of education -

i try and restrain myself from laughing. or smacking her. or both, simultaneously.

what i'm trying to say is, i continue, is that it doesn't seem like totally stressing myself out now is going to be absolutely worth it. i mean, i could get hit by a bus the moment i walk out of here. and what would all that work have been for? nothing. i just - i hesitate, the thoughts in my head tying themselves so tightly together that i can't pull them out of my mouth. i have this theory. this theory that all we have is now. because, if you think about it, the present is just a long sequence of nows; just lots of different moments in time joined up together. and eventually the future will become another now. and so, theoretically, all we have is now. and if we all have is now, then i don't want to spend my now doing something that sucks just because it could possibly make a future now even better. almost everything is temporary; nothing is certain. we just don't know. so if i'm thinking about this, then normally i'm thinking, you know, this is not how i want my now to be. my now is filled with revision. i want to enjoy it. because i don't know how many nows i have left.

i am proud to say that i have never seen miss mirlott looking so flustered. or indeed confused. i am not proud to say, however, that i just admitted far too much to a woman i know far too little about. and whom i trust barely at all.

i tilt my head to glance at the clock and realise, with a considerable but hopefully not noticeable amount of relief, that today's session is over. without another word i pick up my backpack, swing it over my shoulder and push back my chair.



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