the rest of the week is a tragic routine made up of school, homework, revision, and occasional, delightfully rare bursts of freedom. Mo and i can barely salvage enough time to talk, our daily walk home becoming almost stressful as we hopelessly try to cram in a whole day's worth of conversation into such short amounts of time. as the weekend rolls around i look forward to catching up on sleep but dread having to fill two entire days with nothing but revision.
well. that and procrastinating.
i drag myself out of bed at 9:00 on saturday morning, spend approximately three minutes staring bleary-eyed at the wall and dreaming of sleep, and then resort to breakfast. upon arrival in the kitchen i find that my father has already laid the table and my mother is making tea. both of my parents have showered, dressed and probably completed every chore that needs doing, all within the last hour. i pull out a chair with a sigh, wondering if making your children look utterly disorganised is part of the parental job description.
morning, son. my father says gruffly, eyeing me from over his newspaper.
i stifle a yawn. morning.
good morning charlie, my mother says. did you sleep well?
well enough, i answer. she nods. got any work to do today?
i try to stop myself from daydreaming about a day when i don't have any work to do. yes, i say finally. revision.
well, she says with a bright smile not unlike that of miss mirlott, (although without the blindingly red lipstick) it'll all be over soon! and then you can start thinking about college...
briefly, i wonder whether those words were supposed to be the equivalent of some sort of pep talk. (because nothing gives me more motivation to finish school than the idea of starting another, more sophisticated and even more demanding school). i force my lips into something that hopefully resembles a smile but say nothing.
finally my mother sits down at the table, handing my father his tea and artfully placing a napkin on her lap. breakfast goes how it always goes: small talk, and when there's nothing small left to talk about, we eat quickly and carefully, hoping that the sound of scraping cutlery will somehow fill the silence.
it never does.
i push my chair back as soon as i've finished my last mouthful of cereal, muttering some excuse to leave the table, and escape to my room. my father picked up his newspaper halfway through eating and hasn't put it down since; my mother barely tosses me a glance. it seems as if my absence is a relief to them. luckily, it is to me, too. i always wonder how my parents get through the day by being so painfully polite with one another, as if each person is treading on broken glass but is past the point of caring as long as the other doesn't notice. i notice. the silence is always deafening around here. and i wonder what goes on at the university where they work; whether they drag out the small talk in the staffroom just like they do at home, or whether they try and keep a distance. ever since i met Mo i find it hard to believe that my parents love each other at all - not real love, not something deep and wonderful and honest. i was never told how my father fell for my mother, with her slender frame and shoulder-length chestnut hair and green eyes. i have no idea how she fell for my father, the man with the burnt-umber hair and eyes the colour of dead tree branches in winter - so plain, so bare, so simple. i wonder if they ever want more; something exciting, something different. does my mother ever want to scream curses at my father every time he gets up at 4am to watch the baseball on American television? does she ever want to shout at him when he shouts at her when his team loses? do they ever think of not coming home after work, but driving somewhere else instead? spending the evening at some fancy restaurant and talking, really talking to each other, rediscovering, just because they can? i always thought adulthood would give you freedom, but my parents show me that with each moment of freedom there is something pulling you back, some sense of obedience that you are supposed to have at all times. just to prove yourself, just to show that you can handle facing the world on your own. growing up pushes back the boundaries, but it fills them with things that make escaping even harder than before: responsibilities, and expectations, and doubts. it feels like a trap. i don't want to fall into it, but of course i know that i will anyway.
i pull out my school bag from the mess of books and files and papers that is my room, and survey the list of things i must get done today. my exams are in two weeks, and with 11 subjects to study, there's no time for putting things off. or panicking. but that doesn't stop me from doing both. it is half past 10 when i finally get started, having finally managed to silence the demons while simultaneously motivating myself to get something done. i work on biology for two hours, take a lunch break, do another two hours of history, and somehow i haven't collapsed in a heap by 3 in the afternoon. my mother has been out shopping, my father has gone to do a workshop at the local library, and i have bored myself senseless by inhaling pages and pages of information that means absolutely nothing to me. by my parents' standards, it has been a pretty good day.
i, on the other hand, can think of endless alternatives to spending my day doing school work. one of them is sleeping (i find that sleep is the most effective way of relieving stress. presumably because it involves unconsciousness.) and one of them is giving myself a migraine. (unfortunately, that's happened anyway). by half past four i have forced myself through an hour or so of chemistry revision, and my skull feels like it has been turned inside out. the only consolation is that i have two missed calls from Mo. i push the papers from my desk, fall onto my bed and grab my phone, the monotonous dial tones being the only sound of freedom i have heard all day.
charlie bucket, Mo greets me with a smile in her voice.
charlie bucket? i ask with a laugh.
from charlie and the chocolate factory, she says. do you like it?
i do, i say. she has reinvented me yet again, and i can't thank her enough.
or maybe i'll call you wonka, she says. i grin. that might be pushing it a little too far.
so, charlie bucket, she declares. what have you been up to today?
can you guess? i say grimly.
yes, she says, and groans in a way that sounds suspiciously like a cat is being strangled from the other end of the line.
you just accurately summed up my feelings about school, i say honestly. she laughs. well, i'm glad i've done something right. i've been revising all day and it feels like i remember nothing.
that's the problem, i reply. teachers don't care about what you know. exams aren't about what you've learnt, they're about what you remember. it's bullshit.
yes, she answers. yes it is.
you make it better, though, i say. because she does. she is the one thing i can count on to keep me sane, to keep me whole. i don't love anyone or anything more than i love her.
you make it better, too, she says. just keep your chin up, okay? if you stop thinking about how crappy now is, you actually get something done.
i guess, i reply. i'll do it. for you.
hey! she says excitedly. you coming to band practice tonight?
i have not been informed of this.
sven messaged me, she says simply.
oh. he probably sent me some private message on that dumb computer game of his, i answer. but i'll come. normal time? i ask.
normal time, she confirms.
see you there. if i don't bore myself to death first.
please don't, Mo says.
i won't. for you.
and then all i'm left with is silence.