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I don’t want to mention her name, because she never had one. Maybe she had one at home, but in school, she didn’t. She had other names, instead; sharp, prickly thorns created with a swish of our tongues.
I always wished that my tongue would not fit under the same category as those hurtful name-creators, but I guess I contributed, in a way, since I was pretending that nothing was happening. I was pretending that the game wasn’t taking place. No. I was pretending that the game didn’t exist at all. But pretending, of course, didn’t change anything.
For some reason, everything she did was wrong. That was what I noticed straight away as soon as I arrived in my new school. Only two or three classes had slipped by when I noticed the difference in my new classmates’ voices when they were talking to me, and when they were talking to her. It was surprising how those round, smooth-edged marbles would break into pieces, into teeny tiny shards, whenever she approached. And as time passed, I found out why.
She cheated in tests. She couldn’t speak Korean or English properly. She would always get the answers wrong when she was called by the teachers. She didn’t know when she wasn’t wanted. She deserved all of this.
She deserved being taunted, laughed at, and pushed around by the boys. She deserved hearing rumors spread among the girls. She deserved everything her classmates did to her. Were they unreasonable? No, of course not. The girl was being herself. That was a good reason to play this game with her. Were they cruel? No, certainly not. It was just a silly game. A silly game that would bring the class altogether, and allow everyone to have a big, hearty laugh.
Yet something was wrong. It wasn’t just a game. Pretending didn’t work. Every minute I would stop talking and look around, she would be looking straight at us, straight into my eyes, asking, asking. It was hard to turn back – the thread connecting our eyes was too strong to cut. Nevertheless, I was a newcomer. What could I do? This excuse was good enough. They sharpened the blades of my scissors, and allowed me to snip the thread in two. It wasn’t good enough, though, to wash away the sticky guilt that stuck to my brain like gum.
These feelings of guilt, however, helped me to experience one of the queerest relationships I had ever been in. It all started with a project an English class: a paper about “manipulation and alienation”. I still remember the groans that leaked out here and there in the classroom, along with a few curses and blames towards the counselor. And I still remember when the teacher assigned me to work with my best friend – and her.
Right that second, I was lost. I was lost in the jumble of threads, her shivering eyelids, bits of marbles, thorns, gossip, rumors – dangerous and intoxicating, wet brown pupils, and scissors. But I had to do the project, didn’t I?
When the teacher gave us time to discuss, the three of us gathered in the front row, and talked. I was careful at first. My best friend laughed and smiled like she usually did, but the little crack in her giggle indicated she wasn’t feeling so well, either. We would take peeks at her, who remained quiet, like always, that careless, almost stupid looking expression plastered to her face. She continued to look at her feet, giggle at a few jokes, but remained silent. Finally, she said: “I want to do something on rumors and gossip.”
The words dug deep into my skull and picked at my brain. For some reason, I was scared. But I was a newcomer. What could I do for her? I had no choice. I didn’t like her, anyway. It was her fault, her fault, her fault.
And how did our discussion go?
It was a success.
We spoke, like friends, normal friends. Laughed, giggled, frowned at some ideas. We all jotted down notes. At the end of class, she decided that she wasn’t much of an author like my friend and me, and asked us to do the paper. We agreed, careful not to show that we thought she wasn’t capable, and walked away from each other.
Like normal friends would do.
But the game continued.
There was one time when the girls all ran away to the English room and slammed the door in her face. It was a Vietnamese girl’s birthday, and she had ordered pizza for "all" of us. I drank too much soda and had to go to the bathroom. There was someone weeping in an occupied cubicle. I ran straight back to the classroom.
And for some reason, I started to work harder on our paper from then. I gave examples. I gave my own opinion. The single crack of a keyboard increased, and resulted in huge waves in the ocean. There were more letters, more words. Her sobs continued to echo in my ears. More letters. More words.
My friend seemed a bit more enthusiastic, too. She edited, sentence by sentence, word by word, very thoroughly. Was she there, in the bathroom, too? That couldn’t be answered, but one thing was sure: she had the same thoughts about the game. She was just like me, except she was braver. She confessed, while we were writing, and right that moment, I knew I could trust this girl, whatever situation I was in. Our friendship strengthened. She suggested that "she" should present it to the class. It was risky, but I agreed. After our paper was polished, I hesitated, yet soon wrote: “Even the simplest word slipping off our tongue can damage others terribly.” And hesitating a bit more, I added: “Aren’t any one of you a murderer-to-be?”
And we gave it to her.
We thought she would at least hesitate.
But she didn’t.
She simply stapled the papers together, slipped them in her file folder, and walked off.
The day before the presentation, I felt kind of sick. I pretended that I didn’t know why, but the truth was, I did. I imagined her up on stage, stuttering in a tiny voice, timidly looking down at her feet, and, in the worst case, bursting into tears. While those concerns buzzed around in my head, the presentation day slammed right into me. In one second, I was talking uneasily with my friends during break time; in the other, she was up on stage.
My heart slammed against my chest until the sides split and the sawdust spilled out. And just before I felt like puking, she began the presentation.
Her voice was hard, smooth, and emotionless – molten lava, every drop of anger now solid. Her Korean accent was still there, but no one really took notice of it. She stared right back at people, presented to them, talked to them, asked them. Her hands pointed out to the PowerPoint presentation on her back, fingers outstretched, pointing to every single main word, accusing them for their malicious actions: gossip, manipulation, rumors, alienation. She often smiled, a cold smile that froze every drop of blood in peoples’ veins. She was speaking for herself. She was speaking for everyone in the situation. Her tongue twisted and turned and announced those words which most people like her would be scared to say. If the sentences pricked her tongue, she didn’t show it. They just flowed out, rapidly and naturally, like river currents. Finally, the presentation reached its end, and there was only the last sentence remaining.
Even now, I remember almost everything in that second: how her smile slightly cracked at first, but were soon glued back together, how her eyes flashed, how her lips slowly yet sharply pronounced each syllable, – “Are any of you a murder-to-be?” – and how peoples’ foreheads dripped with perspiration. And right that second, I fell in love with her attitude. How she changed from a weak and useless little girl to the calm yet angry adult. How this presentation wasn’t revenge, but a “question”.
She bowed, and came back to her seat.
Everyone clapped, but you could see they were reluctant.
They were scared, because they knew the answer to the question.
At the end of class, they dumped their fears on her. They clustered around her, and asked. What was that supposed to mean, what did we really do to you, that was a dirty trick.
One of my classmates even went up and commented: “The word ‘murderer-to-be’ is a bit too much.”
I always wished that my tongue would not fit under the same category as those hurtful name-creators, but I have always contributed, in a way, since I was pretending that nothing was happening. I don’t recall what I was thinking during that time, but I must have probably decided that I could grant my wish for once. So I said, loud enough for everyone to hear: “I actually wrote it.”
Although it took all my courage to say those words, nothing really happened.
I was expecting roars, something like “Why did you do it?” or “What is wrong with you?” but they simply nodded and started talking about a different subject. We all walked away from her, and a hurtful comment about her would pop out from here and there. She was alone, again. But I knew that she must have heard me. Heard me speak for her.
Lunch that day was one of the greatest moments of my life.
I mostly talked to my best friend, and, attracted to some strange feeling, looked around. Our eyes met. The tips of our lips curved up. There was no need for scissors. We stared into each other for a little while, and our gaze naturally faded away. She returned to her solitude, I returned to my conversation.
That was it.
The girls still whispered behind her back.
The boys aimed for her purposely when playing dodge ball.
When the class threw a farewell party for me the week before I left, she wasn’t invited.
Yet, she had showed me, showed us, a different side of hers during class. She had warned them that she knows what they are doing. She had proved how strong she was.
That was good enough.
Even good enough for me to say that the relationship between her and I was the strangest one I ever had, in a good way.
I still don’t want to mention her name, because, even right before I left, she didn’t have one. But it was a pretty name. A name that perfectly suited a person like her. And although I am not in touch with her, I have a feeling that she’d be perfectly fine. Even if she’s not, her other side, which may pop out at any time, is probably doing well.