I am awoken by a kick to the side. I groan and look up, vision blurry from sleep. It's Mrs. Mayorlon, the school's vice principal.
"No sleeping on school grounds," she tells me harshly. Her face is caked in makeup and she has a colourful dress of pleated chiffon dyed in many patterns. She looks down at me with squinted eyes.
"Yes, ma'am," I reply. I get up and make my way through the doors to my first class. Chemistry. I can barely concentrate in it though. My mind is throbbing and entirely out of it. I get called out by the teacher and told to concentrate. I apologize to him and try my best.
And it works. A tiny bit. I am able to catch some of his words here and there before they go to join the swirling mass inside my mind. I feel embarrassed. I feel like a failure.
But I don't care. Somewhere deep inside me, is something telling me to be strong. And I listen to it.
After class I walk down the wide, wide halls. Most students scooter their way across the school. It's really the only way to get to places on time. But I don't care. I like walking. I don't mind if I'm late.
The halls are decorated with all manners of fine sculptures thrown haphazardously here and there. Though I guess it's not really haphazardously. The interior designers spend a lot of time carefully rearranging everything every two months. But still. It feels haphazardous to me. There are many plush seats covered in fine, patterned fabric also strewn about, with swirling, carved metal trimmings. The high walls are carved in many swirls and blossoms. And translucent, light holograms shine over everything, students flowing through them as they make their way through the halls. Strings of incredibly tiny, crystal-like lights fall in webs from the ceiling. They form so many patterns. Coloured, blown-glass vases filled with flowers line the walls.
It's all too much. I keep my gaze on the floor.
And I bump into a few things as I go to my next class.
Math. It's especially important to pay attention now. For some reason that make it even harder to pay attention. My screaming inner world pulls me down, pulls me down, pulls me down until I'm once again drowning in the whirlwind. The teacher stares at me with hard, cold eyes. But I'm too wrapped up in my inner thoughts.
After math is English. I hate English most of all. It's so ... I can't describe how it is. It's just, they act like truth and meaning is stored in the colour of lipstick a character wears. And like that truth is the ultimate truth. I can't stand it.
But I sit through it and occasionally I answer questions. The teacher likes me. For some strange reason. The teacher is kind to me. But not kind enough.
She still insists that I try to be a normal person. As if being normal wasn't slowly killing me inside. As if normal is who I am.
Nobody really knows who I am. They only know who they want me to be. Even I don't really know who I am. And I don't know who I want myself to be. I only know that I'm not this, this perfect cookie-cutter, smiles and rainbows girl that everyone wants me to be. That's not who I want to be.
English class ends and I breathe a sigh of relief. It's time to go for lunch.
I walk over the tiled floors and silently make my way to the spiralling crystal staircases that surround the wide crystal elevator. I go up the stairs to the very top floor, a floor that is really more of a scaffolding hugging the wall tight with a narrow strip of stone. Nobody sits here. I'm not entirely certain why. But in the stillness of the solitude I feel at least a little bit free.
I don't touch my lunch. I simply lean back against the wall, fold my legs underneath me, and close my eyes.
The whole school smells like the floral soaps the robots use to keep it all meticulously clean. It's a cloying smell, though I've heard that the others like it. Here with my eyes closed, the artificial fragrant garden flowers assault my senses head-on.
But still, I'd rather be here with my eyes closed rather than having to face everything in the terrifying fullness of it all.
Laughter echoes faintly over the walls and into my ears. This laughter makes me feel lonely almost. All the other students have their groups of friends who they laugh and talk with. Who they go visit. Who they go out doing fun activities with. It's only me who's all by myself. It's only me who's alone.
But I'd rather be alone than with them. I did try talking and being friends with other kids. I tried it for a long while. But those relationships always felt so empty and hollow. They always felt so unreal.
It was all always about entertainment. The whole relationship was about entertainment. About being entertained. And about entertaining each other. I didn't feel like a person in those relationships. I didn't feel wanted for who I was. Wanted for who I wanted to be. I only felt wanted for the laughter, the jokes, and the interest I could bring to the group.
It was subtly degrading in such a cutting way. It made me feel lonelier than ever. It made me feel more alienated than ever. So much more alienated than when I was alone just with myself and I could just be myself.
And so I stopped those relationships. I decided that it is better to just be by myself until I find another soul who I can relate to. Someone who can really see me for who I am.
I doubt that I will ever find anyone like that. It's a thought that brings me cold, wet, falling melancholy. Like I'm drowning in the freezing rain. Like I'm inhaling dark purple poison fumes, sharp and acidic.
But I've learned to make peace with it anyways. As much as it hurts.
Because I have to live with it whether I want to or not.
I think about all the things my friends talked about when we were spending time together. Clothes and shoes and makeup and jewelry and posters and immersive shows and immersive games and holo-books and the theatre and food and their dream homes and their shiny new things and their dream cars and stuff like that. I never really got to know my friends. I only got to know them from the outside. Or at least that's what it always felt like.
Emotions, besides the emotion of lazy interest and shallow elation, were all locked away beyond us.
Now at least I can feel my emotions even if I don't know what they are. Now at least I can be some sort of semblance of myself instead of keeping myself hidden. Instead of keeping my emotions hidden.
Because I have no-one, I have no-one to hide from. Because I have no-one, I have no-one to show myself to. But even if I didn't have no-one, I would have no-one to show myself to. Even if I didn't have no-one, I would still have no-one anyways.
I wonder if I'm just existing for myself. I really, really don't want to do that, exist for myself. It seems like the most horrible existence there could be.
But everyone lives for themselves. They live to make more money. They live to spend more money. They live to buy more things. They live to buy more experiences. They live to hear more stories written by artificial intelligence programs and hear more songs sung by synthetic vocaloids.
Even when they're in a group, be it a family or a friend group, they don't care about anyone beyond the group. And even within the group, it's about what the group can do for them. What status or security or emotional labour or entertainment their people can give them. It's not ever about true togetherness.
We are all isolated in these insular little groups and we do not care at all for people outside the groups. It's a lonely existence no matter what.
Part of me wants to love people. To love everyone. But I don't know how. I don't know what love is. I don't know why love is. And at the same time I want to hide from everyone. To find a small, dark hole to cower in until I have things figured out, which I think I never will.
I want people. But I don't want people. I want company. But I don't want company. I want the loneliness to stop. But I know it never will. I know it never can.
And so I sit here with my back to the granite walls and I think of nothing and of everything all at the same time.
Hunger rips through me as it oh-so often does. I've been walking for hours and I haven't eaten since dinner two days ago. But I deal with the hunger. I'm at strong. I can take it. I'm strong enough to go for days without eating. Or maybe I'm simply not strong enough to bring food to my mouth. I do not know which one it is.
I let myself feel my hunger. And it's almost soothing. It almost takes my mind away from the whirlwind of my thoughts.
The bell rings, loud and fake and melodious. And it's time to get to class. I sigh and pick myself up with a heavy pull, slinging the black backpack over my shoulders and making my way down the crystal stairs that get replaced every few years.
The next class is physics. I arrive ten minutes late. Everyone turns to look at me. Everyone knows who I am, with my plain, ugly face and my plain, ugly clothes and my messy hair and my slouching posture and my constant lateness and my distraction. Everyone knows me and everyone hates me.
Some people even pity me in a strange, sort of disgusted, disdainful way.
"You've finally decided to join us then," the physics teacher announces coldly. I give him a sheepish smile and take my place in a large, chrome desk with wavy edges.
As always, I don't concentrate. And I don't hand in the homework that was due today. I know this wil get me a detention. I have detention pretty much every day.
After physics is French. I actually kind of like French. The teacher is friendly and the class is fun. That doesn't mean I'm not dazing off half the time though. The teacher asks to see me after class. We both know we have a spare after French. A spare I was really looking forwards to. But oh well. You can't have everything you want. In my case you can't have most things you want.
"What is it?" I ask the teacher, Miss Maycroft.
"You are always late. And you're never finished your assignments. I know I've asked you this before, but do you need to see someone?"
By someone she means a doctor or psychiatrist. I think it would be really rather dangerous seeing one of those. Trying to explain to them why I feel the way I do.
"I'm alright," I answer. "I just don't much see what the point of school is."
"It's my job to teach you well. If your grades are bad - and they are, they're really bad - then that reflects badly on me. I'm not doing my job properly."
"Don't worry about it. I'm sure your higher-ups know that it's my fault, not yours. And if they don't, then I'm sure you'll be able to explain it to them."
"They trust me to teach every student. But I haven't been able to break through to you. No-one has. Why is that?"
"I already told you. I don't much see the point of school."
"School is for your future. So that your future will be successful. What would anyone do without school? Don't you want a job?"
"Maybe I don't."
She stands there, aghast at my words. And I take this time to walk out the door and into the rest of my spare period.
I go up to my little rafter space. And I sit there, letting the hunger burn through me. And so I think about her words.
Without school I won't be able to get a job. And without a job I won't be able to eat or live or do anything. Do I really care about that? No. I already rarely eat. I already spend a lot of my time outside. I already don't sleep in a bed. If I slowly die, I'll slowly die. And that will be that.
Because what's the point of eating? What's the point of drinking? What's the point of doing all these things?
I just can't for the life of me figure out.
I wonder how dying will feel. Painful, no doubt. But I like pain. Pain focuses me. Pain shows me something that nothing else does. Something I want with all my heart to cling to.
I remember a poem. Written by a rich white man during the pinnacle of colonialism and class inequality. I learned it in my early childhood. It just stuck with me.
A slumber did my spirit seal
I had no human fears
She seemed a thing that could not feel
The touch of human years
She has no motion now, no force
She neither hears nor sees
Rolled round in earth's diurnal course
With rocks, and stones, and trees.
I wonder if dying will be like that. If being dead will be like that. But I doubt it. I doubt will be so poetic. But there is poetry to that. To something not being poetic. There is beauty in the unholiness. Though beauty and ugliness are both not the right words at all to describe it.
I don't know what beauty is. Nor ugliness. I just know what is aesthetically pleasing to others and what is not. And what is subtly magnificent within me and what is not and what is neither and what is both and what is some holy, unholy combination of any of those four.
I make my way to my last class. Biology. And I sit through it. I force myself to sit still though everything inside me is restless. I long to get up. I long to get up. Oh how much I long to get up. And to sit back down somewhere dark and cold. But I cannot.
"Simran. Come see me after class." The teacher is speaking to me. Her words are devoid of warmth. But there is a sort of heat to them, like a realistic fire as when you stand too close.
And eventually the class ends and it's just the two of us standing in a room lined with many models of the inner intricacies of the human body, with a soft red light glowing down from the many chandiers. It's actually really creepy in here. And I'm not the only one who says it. I've heard many students talking about how frightening this room is.
But what frightens me most is the blond-haired woman standing in front of me. Her name is Mrs. Humstad.
"What is this about, ma'am?" I ask.
"You. You're so very disorganized. You need to get your life in order."
"I'm alright ma'am. I have what I want."
"No you don't. You're a mess. You need to change things. You need to change them right now. You can't go on doing all these things and just not caring about anything. You have to brighten up. You have to actually live your life.
"First, let's talk about your clothes. You can't just keep wearing the same clothes day in and day out. You have to put some effort into what you wear. You have to go out and get better outfits. Get more outfits. Pick out a nice outfit every day and wear it. Change things up.
"And your makeup. You don't even wear makeup. That's not alright. You need to make yourself look presentable. And that means you need to put on makeup in the mornings. Pick some nice lipstick. Some pretty eyeshadow. Some warm blush. You'll feel better when you look better.
"And do something with your hair. Straighten it. Curl it. Style it better. You can't just go around looking like a wild child.
"And do something fun with your free time. I always see you just moping around. Go make some friends. Hang out with them. Go places with them. Do activities. Don't just spend your free time doing nothing. Go out dancing or to a museum or a restaurant or a game or a theatre. Go shopping. Hang out at the mall. Do things.
"And school. You can't just show up for no reason. You need to actually learn things. I know you find that hard. But once you've straightened out the rest of your life, once you're looking good and feeling good and actually having fun, it will be a lot easier for you to do school and work and all the other things you actually need to do in your life.
"You're off-putting to everyone around you. We're all scared of you. Things would be a lot easier for yourself and for others if you just focused on fixing your life. If you just focused on fixing yourself. And if you stopped being such a mood-spoiler and learned to fit in with everyone else."
"Is that it, ma'am?"
"No. It's not. I've talked to the school authorities and we all agree that taking you to see an expert would be best. You will be transported to the Young Lightning Youth Rehabilitation Center tomorrow."
I speed my way out of the school building.
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