I had never been able to understand people. People are not simple, they’re dynamic and multifaceted. I sat in the A level common room and observed the groups surrounding me. They chattered amongst themselves engrossed in the trivial gossip that seems so interesting with ones friends.
The common room was small, barely larger than a broom cupboard. Little over twenty girls could fit at any given time and most of them would have to sit on the carpeted floor. Velvety, soft and a calm sea green, the carpet was by far the best aspect of the room. Just gazing at the carpet gave me a feeling of tranquility, and brushing it with my bare feet was something I never got bored of. The room, however, had been built as an afterthought, with peeling paint and a outdated TV. The white walls gave it an unreal air. I didn’t like white walls; they got dirty too quickly.
“Sir Kamran is so annoying, he always gets angry on the smallest things and he doesn’t even listen when he starts yelling.”
Hearing the Chemistry teachers name, I snapped out of my reverie and located the source. I’d known who it was even without looking up. Jannat, as usual. The girl pounced on any opportunity to complain and give her own cynical opinion. She loved to hear herself talk and it often astounded me that she had any friends. Then again, she was pretty, with long curly, lusciously thick hair that often fell freely down her back. You could tell she took great pride in her appearance.
“Today I came five minutes late to class and he wouldn’t let me come in.” she was going on lifting her chin indignantly, telling anyone who would listen. “Fatima and I had to sit outside. Everyone passing by stared, and we ended up getting in trouble when Maam Maleeha caught us.”
“Why did you come in late Jannat?” Layla asked innocently.
“Oh you know, I can’t sit in class all day. I need to go out and you know, stretch. The school treats us like we’re robots. They’re mad if they expect us to sit through forty minute long lessons. We’re humans, we get tired too.” Jannat stated matter of factly. Her best friend Fatima nodded vigorously at everything, with an occasional ‘yeah’ for emphasis. I was amused, and wondered if Fatima would ever disagree with Jannat on anything. I knew for a fact that she liked Sir Kamran and often went to him after class with questions on the lesson. She was the only person I knew who remotely liked chemistry.
“The chairs are so hard. My back starts hurting.”
I grinned. True the chairs were hard, but what did these prissy girls want? Cushioned sofas and maybe a leg rest?
“I heard the kids at Foundation get special seats that are meant to help improve posture. They’re really comfortable.” Zahra closed her book and informed the rest of us. “My cousin goes there and she was telling me.”
“Our school heads are such cheap skates, they leech so much out of us and spend hardly do anything.”
“Yeah. You know the students at Foundation have so many activities, and for free too!”
That was Amira joining in the conversation, by now almost everyone had. Jannat was visibly glowing.
“Football, cricket, art, music, literature and debating clubs so far…… didn’t Foundation open three years ago?”
Layla was new to the school and the city. She was from Lahore and had moved here when her father’s network of departmental stores had extended to Faisalabad. That was barely two months ago, at the start of the school year, in September. No one had shown particular interest in her, being too pre-occupied with their own gangs to take time out and show the plain new girl around. The teacher’s acknowledgement had lasted a total of two days. She was not very bright.
She was shy, I was shy. It took a while for me to introduce myself. I felt bad for her, with her wide eyes and confused expressions she looked so helpless. I walked her through the ways of the kids and the teachers. I’m not going to say we clicked right away; we each had qualities that annoyed the other. But she accepted me for them and didn’t try to change me. I liked her. We settled into a routine, and I was grateful for her company. She was the closest thing I had had to a friend for a long time. The school year looked somewhat bearable.
Disaster struck a few weeks later when Amira, in a fit of boredom, decided to get to know Layla. It was more of an interrogation. I was there too, between them, being ignored as I usually was by the majority of the student population. I was only spoken to when needed. I silently prayed for Amira to lose interest, I was the class loner. If Amira took a liking to Layla, she was hers. I didn’t have anything that could keep Layla with me, Amira had friends, Amira was somewhat popular. Sitting between them and being invisible hurt, but Layla ditching me would be worse.
The inevitable happened, though it wasn’t Amira who got Layla, it was Jannat. The questions uncovered many things, the most interesting for my classmates being Layla’s fortune. It didn’t take a minute for Jannat to pounce. She sank her claws into Layla and all I could do was watch. I wanted to say something, to protest. She was my friend, I liked her for her, not her money. Surely Layla could see through such an absurdly obvious charade. However as Jannat dragged her away I stayed silent….. I didn’t deserve a friend anyway. Layla would be happier with Jannat. Besides if she wanted to stay friends with me she could, I wouldn’t stop her. But if she didn’t that was her choice, not mine.
.Layla, poor sweet innocent Layla thought she could be friends with both me and Jannat. She tried including me in conversations, calling me to eat with them and everything. Her efforts were futile, and I was merely an awkward unwanted onlooker. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that she had to choose between us, the girl was trying so hard, and that I dreaded being called to ‘join in’. It just highlighted my isolation.
“Yeah, they did.” Fatima answered.
“You’d think Sarbaland High School would be better, it’s had over thirty years to improve.” Amir observed.
“Why would they? They just want to make a profit offa us.”
“The only reason they’re still running is because of the name. Everyone thinks they’re better because they’ve been here longer.” Zahra said pushing her glasses up.
“Our grades only slightly better than theirs, and that’s all parents care about.” Jannat sighed dramatically.
“Well it’s our school, if you want it to be better, do something.”
Everyone turned, annoyed. I flushed, and regretted opening my mouth. It just bugged me how they all complained, all the time and never actually even did anything. I mean what was the point of even talking about how bad the school is if you aren’t even intending to do something about it. The whole conversation was pointless. But as my classmates glared at me with varying degrees of hatred I wished I had let them continue their banter.
“Who asked you?” Amira sneered.
“Why don’t you do something?”
“Oh please, when was the last time you did anything for your school?”
“Here’s an idea, shut up.”
It was free for all. I flinched at the avalanche of abuses and sarcastic comments. I kept my face as apathetic as I could. A reaction would only fuel their blood lust. They would get tired eventually. I glanced at Layla and saw her pitying eyes. She was frowning at the other kids and looked like she was struggling to say something. I shook my head. She shouldn’t get into this.
Gradually they calmed down and settled back into isolated groups of conversations, though some still graced me with a hateful glance now and then. Shouldering my backpack, I left. I didn’t have any more classes today so I headed down to the library, intending to avoid any further contact with my classmates and finish reading Pride and Prejudice while I waited for my driver to come pick me and my siblings up.
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