I know it sounds bad but the truth is that, in our school, any new kid would be automatically judged on face-value upon their first entry to the classroom and then their fate would run accordingly. People got excited about new kids because they had potential. They didn’t happen often but, when they did, they were sensational. Right up until the moment of arrival them they could potentially be dream-girls. In our fantasies they were allowed to be supermodels, Jennifer-Lawrence-to-bes. We had some sort of repeating conviction that each new pupil could be a blindingly beautiful girl from a magazine cover.
Shallow, but true.
“This is Iris.” Mr Thomas said, making a grander show of his normal entry into our tutor-base than normal and gesturing to the girl crammed behind him. My head shot up; I think I thought, for a moment, that I might find myself staring at the product of my seven-year-old imagination. I didn’t, of course, but I imagined that I would.
Beside me Aaron whistled quietly and then smirked. “Not bad, not bad,” he grinned, surveying her.
Not bad. I kind of had to agree. She was nothing like my expectations; small and pale with whitish-blonde hair that seemed to have been plaited into some sort of tangled waterfall. She was pretty but escaped the cliché of cascading effervescent gold, the plait was kind of messy like the strands were racing each other and weaving each other and leading each other on. She was blonde but not in a sunny L’Oreal-Paris kind of way; there was an iciness about her that was only enhanced by the hard pale blue of her eyes.
“Eight out of ten, I reckon,” Aaron said.
“You gotta be kidding, she’s got practically zero boobs,” Jac said, which was typical of him because he didn’t seem to really care whether or not girls had faces. I think if you asked him to identify his girlfriend by her cheekbones or her eyebrows, he’d be lost. All the same, I was surprised that he’d scanned her to such an extent because my eyes were still roaming her face; caught on the thick black outlines of her eyes. “That puts her down at least to a six,” he declared.
“You’re so shallow,” I told him which was pretty unfair because the game was probably an idea I’d created. I liked People-Watching but People-Judging was even better.
“And you’re not,” Aaron snorted. “Come on then, Master of depth, pureness and gravity, give us your opinion.”
I flipped my middle finger at him because it seemed like an appropriate reaction. For the first time, I didn’t find the game of rating and discarding so interesting.
I kind of wished they’d shut up actually.
“So how come you’re here?” Cerian asked at lunchtime. Cerian was Jac’s fourth girlfriend of the year and that meant that we had to put up with her almost non-stop. She was not so much a burden as an unsought addition, like a complimentary salad. “Did you move house?”
“Nah,” she shook her head and stuffed her hands into her pockets. “I live in Llandrindod Wells; lived there since I was eleven.”
“Oh,” Cerian said licking crisp crumbs off her fingers. We were all kind of shocked because, to us, Llandrindod Wells was enormous and we couldn’t understand why anyone bother coming to our crappy little school in The Middle of Nowhere if they lived in an actual proper town. “Why don’t you go to school there then?”
“I did,” She said. “Got permanently excluded three weeks ago.”
“So you basically got expelled?” I asked, irrationally pleased by the carelessness with which she said it.
“Yeah – I think they just say permanent exclusion because it sounds less bad.”
“S-i-ck” Jac emphasised, eyes lit with rebellious fervour, and Cerian looked kind of crushed. “What did you do?” he asked.
“Fucked up my maths teacher’s car – I bunked the lesson and smashed all the windows. Was gonna set fire to it as well but they stopped me.”
She made a fleeting and apparently involuntary grasp for her right wrist and gasped a little so that her lips pushed forward and her cheeks sank into relief. I wasn’t sure if the other’s had noticed because they seemed to be staring less at her and more at the idea of her. The idea of a beautiful rebel.
I think Jac would have upgraded her to an eight if Cerian hadn’t dragged him away.
“So,” she began, surprisingly unaffected by the ripple her story had created. Her voice was detached, as though the whole incident wasn’t really anything to do with her. “Is this school as shitty as every other school in the world?”
“Just about,” I said. “Except it never opens if it snows.”
“Countryside perks,” she grinned and opened her ‘breakfast bar’ with her teeth even though it would have been easier by hand.
At my school there wasn’t a uniform. With 30 kids in a year, it was too small for blazers and logos and ties and, even if it had been bigger, nobody would have worn something so impractical. Most of the students spent their evenings and mornings on the family farms and so there was no point in buying crisp white shirts when their existence depended upon dirt soil. We didn’t have a farm but most of my friends did. The school drew us all in from across the countryside. Our houses splattered the fields like paint drips and the school and our local churches were our points of congregation.
The letter you got when you started school explained the clothing requirements; we were expected to be dressed smartly and presentably with no ripped jeans, no T-shirts with slogans and no skirts of indecent length.
Dan and Matt always found that suggestion that they might choose to wear skirts of indecent length hilarious. Once, on an April Fools’ Day, they took a couple of Bron’s miniskirts and paraded into school with them, drunk on their own wittiness. They got sent home after ten minutes and returned looking very pleased with themselves. The thing was that everyone else thought it was funny too. Sometimes I wondered if I was the only one who thought that they were stupid.
Iris didn’t seem to have read the list of clothing rights and wrongs because she was dressed in a way that couldn’t really qualify as ‘smart’. She wore pale blue jeans that were sort of baggy but pretty at the same time. They had rips down one leg and were pale and thin-beaten like they’d been washed too many times. I wondered whether they looked like that intentionally or if they were just worn out.
Then I wondered why I was wondering about girls’ clothes. Girls wore clothes, sometimes girls wore nice clothes, sometimes girls wore trashy clothes… What did it matter?
For some reason, with Iris, it mattered a lot. Her T-shirts bore the shouted names of recycled rock legends – the kind my dad liked – and she always wore this length of red scarf around her right wrist. It coiled against her skin like a snake, entwined with wrist bands and things that only half qualified as bracelets. As far as I could tell, they were never removed.
The teachers looked at her, stared even, and then said nothing.
It was pretty obvious that there was nothing ordinary about Iris.