“I can't speak but I’ve got a lot to say.” I’ve always thought these words describe me perfectly.
Sunlight danced on my face as I groggily got out of bed. The smell of scrambled eggs and coffee filled the air. Mom was jamming to ‘Single Ladies’; the usual routine. She’s been letting off her steam about Dad leaving us five years ago this way but in her defense, Beyonce does prove to be quite therapeutic.
I’m thirteen and today’s my first day of school. I know most people go through this ordeal a lot earlier but none the less I’m quite excited. I’ve been homeschooled all my life. I never complained because as a young and growing boy who couldn’t speak, the fear of communication has always overwhelmed me. Even though I was constantly afraid, I couldn't shake off the feeling of missing all the rite of passages of a teenager. The feeling of relief for not getting called on when you didn’t know the answer, the happiness of passing a test I didn’t study for, a friend whose stationery I could keep borrowing without ever returning it, maybe even having a first crush. I’ve always longed for these ordinary experiences. So here I am, in the car, on my way to them. I can’t wait!
When I stepped into the classroom, there was a sudden silence. I could feel the stares glaring down on my back. I quietly took my seat in the second last row, beside the window. I could hear the inquisitive murmur. “Hey who’s the new boy?’....”Looks a bit weird, doesn’t he?”...”I like his hair”....”I wonder what he’s like”. Just then our homeroom teacher entered and asked me to introduce myself. Since I couldn’t speak, I walked up to the board and wrote my name. Thankfully I’ve always had good handwriting so I was relieved there was one less thing to be judged about. As I chalked my name, most of the students just thought I was trying to be different and I liked that but Mrs. Miralles was quick to burst my bubble and explained the situation. Just as I anticipated, there was a predominant “Huhhh???” in the class after the revelation but it was successfully hushed.
The first half of the day was rather dull but then…SHE came. A scent of rosemary, hair tied up in a high ponytail, warm hazel eyes that squint when she smiled. I was so taken back by her sheer presence that I didn’t realize she had leaned in to say Hi. I nervously grabbed a book and responded.
“Do you want to have lunch with me?” she asked.
“Yes”. I wrote.
She immediately made herself comfortable across my desk and without a second thought, started a conversation. After two exchanges of notes, she declared reading on paper wasn’t her forte.
“Here’s my number, text me” she insisted, clearly displaying her affiliation to the millennial era.
The recess lasted for a good forty five minutes but in her company, it ended in a flash. Just as the lunch break was about to end, she plucked out her cherry hair clip and placed it on my palm. She was brimming with confidence when she explained, “It’s limited edition; just like the place you’ll soon hold in my life. Tell me, will you be my cherry?” I was flabbergasted but gingerly picked up my cell.
“If you’d like :)”
The rest of the day suddenly didn’t seem so bad.
I couldn’t help thinking about her that night. I always thought communication would be challenging for me but she made it seem so easy. The effortless warmth she resonated filled me with confidence for the next day. That night, I didn’t know things would start plummeting very soon.
The next day three boys suddenly approached me in the hallway. One of them grabbed me by my collar and frisked me for money. I tried to struggle out of it but I was no match for him. He finally found the money and shoved me to the ground. I was alone on the floor. Nobody came to help me; they were too busy laughing. I decided I didn’t want to involve the teachers since I didn’t want to be branded a tattletale but I felt miserable, restless, scared and a tumult of other emotions, however, it vanished as soon as she came. Just as comfortably as the previous day, she sat down before me.
“Oh I’m Naomi by the way, I forgot to mention it yesterday” she said while sheepishly scratching the back of her head. Her smile instantly robbed me off the discomfort from earlier.
In the following days, school got progressively worse but she kept me going. The same trio of boys constantly ganged up on me. They stole my books, my money; they purposely kicked me down in the hallway and in the field. They humiliated me for my lack of speed while answering in class because I had to keep pulling out a pen and paper to express myself. To the entire school, I had become laughing stock. They never helped me in my fight; neither when I tried nor when I cried but I never felt alone or hopeless because I knew no matter how bad things got, when the recess bell rang, she’d come for me. Thus I survived the year.
13th February. It was the last day of the academic year. Despite all the uneventful things this year had put me through; it had also got me Naomi. And today I wanted to thank her. I wanted to thank her for her smile, her warmth, her constant company and… I wanted to thank her for making me her cherry.
Out of all the lunch breaks, this one I longed for the most. However, things didn’t go my way. I couldn’t find Naomi during the break. The day started to feel like a burden after that but I survived till the last class of the day; it was P.E.
At the end of the class, after all the boys left the locker room, the trio emerged from their stands. I knew from one look at their faces that I was in trouble and before I could escape, two of them rushed in to grab my arms. The third one stripped me off all my clothes. He took off my jumper and tied it around my eyes. They pinned me up against the wall and photographed my helpless state.
“Sent!” one of them exclaimed.
I was hurting; I was scared. I felt the tears streaming down my cheeks. I wanted to scream but there I was; weak and voiceless. After an eternity, they finally let go of me but this time I was furious. With the last of the strength I had left in my fragile body, I punched one of them. In retaliation, they knocked me out. When I regained my consciousness, I found my clothes lying on the floor. Every inch of my body was aching but I stumbled my way to the classroom to get my belongings. Even in my dire situation, my naïve mind somewhere hoped, “If only I could see Naomi…” As I approached the classroom, my wish came true….unfortunately.
“This is the best! Out of all the things I’ve asked you all to do to him, this one’s the best!” she laughed in merriment with the three boys while looking at my photos which were now all over the grade.
“He’s such a delight. Oh you should see how excitedly he texts me” she said while jokingly imitating my manner.
“Hey Hey Keith, do you think Kevin will like me now. Do you think he’ll find me cool now?” she anxiously asked.
It was the same smile but this one hit me cruelly; it was so cold. Why was it cold? It was supposed to be warm! I knew it was her; my eyes couldn’t deceive me but I didn’t want to believe my ears. Just like my voice, I hoped they would fail me too.
“Will you be my cherry” I remembered her asking me. I realized I had become precisely that. She sucked out my life for her entertainment and when she had had enough, just like a leftover cherry seed, she cast me aside.
I didn’t make my presence noticeable. I silently placed her cherry hair clip on the floor and left.
I changed my words that day, “I’ve got a lot to say but I’m glad I can’t speak”.
Author ~ Anushka Bamnikar Editor ~ Manas Mehta