She had shining, chestnut hair and the girl with duller locks watched her from afar, as if she was some kind of painting. When she laughed, her whole face lit up; her eyes blazed, mouth stretching into the widest smile you’d see.
Her walk was precise, feet tapping the floor of the corridors: she carried herself with ease, interacting with the people around her with a certain finnesse that the other girl could never replicate. Her laugh was never forced, always ringing out above the rest – her long limbs and delicacy dominated every room she entered.
Her marks in tests were sparkling, perfect – she seemed to have everything under control. It was because of that that the other girl watched her with a certain admiration, only increasing with time. She was everything that the other wasn’t, or so it looked.
On a sunny day in mid April, the other girl noticed the change. It was a gradual process at first: her walk became slower; her laugh became a little less vibrant. Going from gold to bronze, she kept up the facade of happiness, strolling down the same corridors and greeting the same people. When green eyes met brown across the lawn, only by chance, the latter was utterly devoid of emotion. They weren’t filled with the usual laughter and the other girl frowned, a fleeting look of worry crossing her face. The brown-eyed girl turned away, almost seeming to be disgusted.
Breathing deeply, she walked after the girl whose face she could never figure out. She was only a formless blur in the hallways to her but perhaps one voice would be enough to do something, anything. Before she could ask herself why she cared, she shouted – “Hey!” running to catch up with her, tapping her gently on the arm.
The girl whirled around, flinching violently, eyes widening in astonishment and panic. A breathy laugh escaped before her mouth flattened, visibly, as a struggle took place. Her features smoothed into the polite, distant mask which you see on strangers – so different from the alive expression she once wore; so alien from the agitated gleam which the girl with green eyes had seen.
“Um, yes? Is everything okay? Indifference laced her tone, tinged with a small slice of impatience.
“I, ahh…” Stumbling over her words, the girl glanced from left to right – barely able to focus on the face of the girl in front of her. “Look, I know you don’t know me and it’s probably rude of me to ask this, but – are you okay? I couldn’t help noticing you’ve looked really, um, not yourself the last couple of days…”
The girl stared at her, starting in surprise. “Me? Yes, I’m fine. Why do you ask? You don’t know who I am. You don’t know how I usually act!” Her tone acquired a hint of sudden defensiveness as she stepped forward slightly, intently gazing at the other girl.
“I know but I just wanted to check… I haven’t told anyone; I just saw you and you weren’t smiling and you looked so sad and-”
“You’re telling me I always have to smile? I always have to look happy? I’m not allowed to feel like shit – is that it?”
“No, no!” She was flustered, face flushing; blinking a few times, she focused back on her face. “All I was asking is if you’re alright. You might need someone to talk to… It can help.”
Upon the girl straightening up to her full height, it was evident that she’d been slouching for such a long time that it had become her normal posture. She stepped forward still, air rushing into her lungs with an audible swish. “Someone to listen to me! You know what – I do need someone to listen to me but it isn’t you. What-” Her lips twisted in slight scorn – “I don’t know you, at all, and the only time you noticed is when I showed it. Funny how the people who are supposed to know when you’re feeling awful don’t see shit and those that don’t know you at all are the only ones that notice!”
Taken aback, the other girl shuddered a little. “I only want to help,” she mumbled, glancing fleetingly into the eyes of the taller girl. “Do you want help?”
“Yes, I-” She broke off, blinking. “I’ve needed help for so long but everyone thinks everything is fine. They think that my head’s all put together but I don’t know what to think; I want to scream and inside my mind I’m shouting!” At this, her hands came together in a sharp clap, making the girl in front of her jump. “I’m so fucking twisted and sick with myself that I don’t know how to feel alright anymore and nobody bothers to ask why because they think I have everything under control.
“People don’t like to see me cry because if I cry – if the so-called perfect, high-achieving girl cries – then they think the world’s over. I don’t want people to take this too seriously – I’m fine most of the time – but I can’t stop this now.”
Nodding, the other girl bit her lip softly. “I’m sorry – people have expectations of you. They – I don’t know – they want you to be someone you’re not.”
For a split second the girl of flawed perfection appeared terrified, the soft angles of her face morphing into hard and unforgiving lines. Her mouth opened, white teeth blinking in the light, as if in a gasp that only she could hear. She swayed, breathing in, out, in, until her breaths mingled with that of the wind and the other girl’s. Her shaking subsided, giving way to a terrible stillness.
“I don’t know who I am,” she whispered, her murmur seeming somehow flat. “I don’t know where I’m going because there’s no one here to help me. I’m trapped and alone and nobody sees except you but to you, I’m just someone you saw randomly and decided to help for God knows what reason. I’m scared – I’m so scared-”
Green stared into her eyes and shivered at the look within them. The raw emotions, the fear and wildness, withdrew behind shutters that she could almost see close. Even the air around her seemed to be stagnant as it waited, every emotion bleeding from her, only leaving the surface behind.
“It’s the only thing I can do,” her eyes seemed to say. “Who am I?” The mask dropped into place and the board was wiped clean: she was blank again. What could the other girl do to bring her back, really?
After she had walked abruptly away, the shorter girl stayed there – standing – for a few minutes. Replaying the encounter in her mind, she realised that the girl was utterly shattered, the only thing she do being to smash down her feelings. Would anyone notice, when the exterior was so whole? Did anybody care enough to look?
* * *
Sometimes, the people who seem the most put together are the most broken. Sometimes, people aren’t what they seem and you never really know a person until you see them at their most vulnerable.
From Elm 🙂