It was never enough. Even when he pulled out all the stops. Even when he strained his mind to breaking point. It was never enough. The beatings were not so bad as the glares; and the angry stares not a patch on his private tears. His inner fears.
In his room, where he escaped from darkness into night, he brooded through dreams of silence that sat upon his naked brow as a vulture sits, poised, waiting for movement to cease. And always that smell of burning. He woke to find the ceiling had crept a little nearer and the walls huddled around him as if for warmth. And he knew they wanted more. They always wanted more.
At school, the teachers wrinkled up their noses when he walked by, and the other children curled their lips as if imitating that old rock and roller – the one who died on the karzi. He got the message. It wasn’t difficult to tell that he was rotten eggs in the flower-show.
On fine day – filled otherwise with intermittent fragging and furtive escapes, a new girl came to school. She was … she was perfect. Black this, glossy that, red around the edges. He was smitten instantly. He decided to kill himself that night.
In a life of disappointment and crushing defeat – to fall in love, and be mercilessly denied would be the squashed worm in the bottom of a cup of cocoa. He thought to the rope coiled behind the wardrobe, the hook already fixed to the beam – all load tested and ready to go, and he smiled. His first smile in a very long time.
“Hi. I’m Esme.” She looked into his face. His smile froze. Locked into his reverie he hadn’t seen her approach. A faint scent of vanilla sent a rush of feeling heavenward. He fell into her eyes – a whirlpool of the deepest azure. Blood raced through his mind and her red lips parted again. “But if you ever, ever call me Esmeralda – I will shank you. Understood?”
Nothing existed but her eyes, her lips and the words that fell from her like manna. His was the desert, hers was the rain. He was the turbo-charged, the jet-propelled, the rocket-powered; and she fuelled him and filled him and sparked him to life with the warmth of face and the caress of her words. He was …
He shook himself and swallowed hard. Bile rose within him still and he heaved a frown onto his face, staggering back with the effort. “Back off, bitch.” A snarl as he fell back – ready for the storm.
Laughter like a clear brook caught him in its crystalline embrace and soared his mind through the stratosphere to a place of light and honey. “Seriously?! How did you know that Guns ‘N Roses are, like, my favourite band? Ever! But wait – you’re a fan too. I can tell. What’s your name? I’m …”
“Dude, your name is not Esme.”
Her smile hit him like a cannonball and razed the forest of gloom from his heart. His scowl fled to the far end of the corridor – shattered and forgotten. The last shreds of sorrow were ripped from his mind and kicked into the corner as the glow of her words warmed and melted him.
“Bartholomew.” The bare shadow of a smile flitted across his face and was gone. “But if you ever, ever call me Bart – there will be war!”
Esme slipped her arm though his and began to pull him down the corridor towards an area of sunshine streaming into the building from an open window.
‘Maybe I’ll kill myself tomorrow,’ he mused as he let himself be led towards the light.