I’m standing in a large classroom with twenty something pairs of eyes staring at me. My fingers wrap around the ends of my shirt and tug at the bottom. There’s an alphabet poster at the back of the room, with a clock that hangs above, reading, 9:07am. Outside the window, on the right, is a small grey robin with an orange underbelly. It catches a worm before flying up to its nest and dropping it gently for her babies. I can hear the teacher introduce me to the class, but I’m too interested in the bird to listen.
I never did like the first day of school. It’s not that I hate meeting new people, or being in an unfamiliar environment, I just always hate the part where I have to stand in-front of the classroom and talk about myself as if my life is anything but television and a couple of days at the park. Why do we have to tell everybody about ourselves, anyway? It’s embarrassing! Not to mention boring. As Ms Allen continues to drone on about how the class should make me feel welcome, I think back to my last school, and how this new kid, Robbie, had made quite a name for himself on his first day – and how I don’t want the same to happen to me. Having to say something interesting about himself, the poor boy was so nervous that instead of saying he liked bees, he accidently said cheese. It was at that moment that they knew him as ‘cheese boy’, and everyday they would give him pieces of cheese at lunchtime because they thought that’s all he ate! They humiliated poor Robbie. It wasn’t until a few weeks later where he moved again that everybody forgot. I don’t want to become the new ‘cheese girl’.
I’m brought back into the classroom when I hear Ms Allen call my name. The bird outside has now disappeared, leaving nothing but a rather bleak looking tree swaying in the wind. I twiddle with my thumbs and look at my teacher, who is staring down at me with a smile so wide she could fit a coat hanger between her teeth. Apart from her creepy smile, Ms Allen is a rather thin looking woman, wears her hair in a bun and has round glasses perched upon her nose. Today, she is wearing a yellow and pink-coloured shirt which makes her look like a giant candy floss machine has just vomited all over her. She attracts the attention of the class and tells them I’m new (not like they didn’t already know that), and beams brightly as in pride. After pointing out the obvious, she looks down at me again and I know what is about to come. I feel the heat rise in my cheeks and the nausea feeling prick the insides of my stomach. Suddenly, it feels as if even the walls have eyes. I start with my name; it seems like the simplist beginning. But then again, even the simplist of tasks can be a challenge for someone like me. As everyone looks at me, I think about the speakers who choose this for a living. Note to self: never get a job that requires speaking in-front of large groups of people. I say my name with a stutter, then desperately search for my next sentence like my life depends on it. With a spark of luck, I am interrupted by the opening of the classroom door.
A dark-skinned girl, who is rather skinny, enters the room. Though you wouldn’t notice that she was skinny if you weren’t paying attention to her. She wears a blazer two sizes too big, just like the little girl next door who plays dress up in her father’s coat. Her hair is black, jet black as my mother says. I can’t help but think it is beautiful, but it is also very messy. It tangles together like a spider web at the back, the same way mine does when I wake up each morning. The once silent classroom erupts into indiscreet whispers. ‘Sorry.’ She mutters, not daring to meet eye contact with anyone. She walks, head down, towards the back of the room. She isn’t the type of girl who likes to stand out from the crowd, and if it wasn’t for the fact she came in late, I would have hardly noticed her. But as she walks past me, I can’t help but look down towards her feet.
‘Good morning Alia.’ Ms Allen greets warmly, I get a feeling she is used to her barging in the middle of class. Alia’s socks are purple, I only know because they are sprouting out from the holes in her shoes. Her toes wiggle through the front, but they don’t seem to bother her as she continues to make her way to her desk. All eyes are now on her, some in embarrassment, some in amusement. I am relieved the attention is no longer on me, but when I hear the silent giggles of girls in the corner, I can’t help but want it back. They whisper in each other’s ear, ‘she’s gross’ says one girl. Alia, to my surprise, doesn’t take any notice of the whispers, instead, she just rushes to her desk. Once sat down, the class turns their attention back to me. I shift uncomfortably, but I know must talk about myself, so I talk about my mum, who is the most wondrous woman in the world. She is kind and caring, and I love the way she tucks me in at night to read me a bedtime story. I love that she gives me cuddles and buys me new toys to play. When she told me she and dad were splitting up, and that I was going to be going to a new school, she comforted me for hours. My mum is my superhero. After I finish speaking, Ms Allen gets everyone to clap, and for a second, I get why people do this. ‘We’re happy to have you here. Please take the first available seat, Eva.’ She says after the applaud slows down. I smile widely and search the room, trying to find a seat, but most of them are already full. There are only two seats left, one between two boys, who are making paper airplanes from the scraps of their notebooks, and the other next to Alia at the back. I immediately go towards the back as mum always tells me to never sit next to troublesome boys. “You’ll either get distracted from your work or become a troublesome yourself,” she would say repeatedly.
Walking over to my desk, I notice Alia looking down at her desk and drawing with a red crayon, a frown upon her face. The same girls keep giggling and my stomach drops. What is so funny? I can’t help but feel a little sorry as the laughter gets louder. I drop my bag and slide into my chair. Alia looks at me in surprise, almost as if no-one has ever sat next to her before. ‘Hi’, I say, smiling so she knows I’m friendly. My cheeks flush. Although it looks like she wants to reply, she doesn’t. Maybe she isn’t used to anyone talking to her. Instead, she just smiles slightly, showing off her crooked teeth, which have a gap between the two front ones. ‘I’m Eva.’ I say.
She doesn’t reply for a moment, instead she scribbles something on her notepad before lifting it up and showing me. She taps it to get my attention, and in big green, scrawly writing is the word ‘Alia’.
‘That’s a pretty name.’
Alia smiles again, her cheeks beam a pinkish shade. Mum always tells me to never judge someone by how they look, and that if I ever see someone sad I should comfort them. Just like my mum comforted me. ‘What are you drawing?’ I ask, noticing a picture on the right page of her notebook. She has drawn an orange squared house with a pink triangle roof, a family is on the left side, one girl, a mother, a father, and a little dog in the middle. She used green for these. ‘Is that your family?’
Rather than replying, she shuts her book almost immediately and turns to look at Ms Allen, who is writing timetables on the board. Knowing I must have said something to upset her, I go back to organising my desk and grabbing the pencils from my bag. There are drawings of a giraffe, and an elephant marked onto the table. The room felt silent for a moment, though I could hear Ms Allen talk about math. She is going through the 4 times tables, which I was amazing at because my mum started teaching me them every night. A few months ago, she got a book to congratulate me on doing them all on my own without needing her help. Ms Allen asks what 4×6 is and I raise my hand, eager to answer. However, before I can get to answering the question, Alia distracts me by pointing at the blue-coloured puppy watch I have around my wrist. Like a kid at Christmas, she eyes it with interest.
‘It’s a watch.’ I whisper when someone else answers the question and gets a gold star. Alia looks at me with raised eyebrows, and I lower my hand and look between the watch and her. She tries to grab my hand and inspect it further. Surprised by how fascinated she is by it, I take it off and give it to her. She eyes it with admiration and continues to stare at it as she has never seen a watch before. ‘It tells the time.’ I say, but this only confuses her more. I point to the big clock above us.
‘Ahh tyd, tyd!’ Suddenly her confused expression changes, and she excitedly jumps in her seat. I laugh as she does so. Alia looks hard at the time on the watch and it takes a few moments before I hear her saying the numbers ‘nine’ and ‘fifteen.’ Though she struggles to say the words, she speaks with a unique accent.
‘Well done.’ I say, and she looks at me with a gushing grin. She’s so proud of herself, and a swell of happiness wells within me. She goes to hand me the watch back, but I stop her by putting my hand up. ‘No. You keep it.’ I tell her. ‘It looks better on you, anyway.’ I didn’t need the watch, in fact, I didn’t even like it. I hate the colour blue and I only wore it because it was the one pack I hadn’t worn yet. My mum gets me magazine every week from the supermarket and it contains different colours each week. So far, I have got a pink kitten one, a purple panda and even grey monkeys, which was my favourite until I dropped it down the toilet. I help Alia put the watch on; the blue really pops with her skin tone, much better than it does with mine. She claps her hands and keeps turning the dial on the side. It was something she could play with for hours and for some reason, I enjoy seeing her happy. She gasps when it ticks, and I laugh along with her.
I am too distracted with Alia to notice that Ms Allen has now stopped talking to the class and is now giving her full attention to two women who are standing at the door. All the other children are talking loudly to each other that I can’t make out what they are saying. The women both wear suits, both have short hair no longer than their shoulders. Alia is not paying attention to them like I am, she is too interested in the watch to notice anything around her. Now, she is counting how many puppies are on it – I think she’s onto eight. Ms Allen looks over to our direction as she talks to the women. Only a few seconds later, they walk over to us.
‘Alia.’ One woman says. She has blond hair, unlike the other who is ginger. Alia looks up at her but says nothing.
The other woman speaks this time. ‘Alia, are you okay to come with us?’ She whispers in a polite tone before looking at me. Alia battles her glance as she looks terrified between all four of us. I struggle to say anything.
Ms Allen, who is standing beside her, then says, ‘it’s okay Alia’ but she isn’t listening and keeps her gaze on me.
‘They’re puppies.’ I say when she points to the watch. With that, she smiles then stands up. The two women place their hands on Alia’s back and talk in her ear, which she nods at. I get a strange feeling of detachment when she walks away. Before she leaves the room, she turns around and looks back at me. A wave of sadness flashes in her eyes.
‘Thank you.’ She says in the same unique accent before she walks out of the door.
Ms Allen comes up to me seconds later. ‘You’re probably not going to see Alia again, Eva,’ she says, ‘but remember that you will have changed her life just by being her friend.’ She talks quietly so no one else could hear. Though I want to ask why I will never see her again, I stay silent, afraid of the answer I will get. With one last look, she gets back to teaching her timetables. However, instead of listening, I keep thinking about the girl with holes in her shoes.
Written by Courtney Mcphail