In the summer of 2005, when school started after a vacation that didn’t suffice, two girls met for the first time. They were both new to the school, and they watched with wariness as the class arranged itself along fault lines. Old with the old, new with the new. So they sat next to each other and introduced themselves. They had similar names, which could be shortened to the same nickname. They called each other by that nickname. They had already decided to be friends.
From afar, you could say they looked like sisters. They were of the same height, their bodies curved the same way, though one had the grace of a dancer and the other had clumsy feet. One of them was beautiful, her skin the colour of a biscuit, her hair brown and curly. She was the pretty one, they knew that. The other one, not so much, she had the glasses and the black bush that passed for a ponytail. She was the studious one, they knew that too.
They needed each other. They spoke fondly of the friends they left behind, the kind of friends they’d never make again, of this they were confident. They complained about their teachers, and the students who formed cliques and shut them out. They spoke on the phone after school about the same things.
A whole year passed.
This time, during summer vacation, they were inseparable. They went to the mall and tried on clothes their parents wouldn’t let them wear. They paraded in the trial room, admiring each other. They swore it would be their secret. They found a book that had solutions to every problem set their Physics teacher had given them for the holidays. They copied it all, felt only slightly guilty, and decided to never bring it up in class. They created names for boys and girls they didn’t know, like X-ray Eyes. He was the boy who had the creepiest eyes they had ever seen. When he looked at them, they felt unclothed. They spent lazy afternoons listening to Outlandish and Eminem, and they wondered how Linkin Park knew they were angry with the world. They occasionally danced when no one was watching. They spent all day at each other’s houses stuffing themselves with junk until they couldn’t move.
Another year was going by, their last year of high school.
That day began like every other day. They sat in the sweltering heat and took down copious notes hour after hour. Lunch was almost over, and they walked quickly to the restroom at the far end of their floor, hoping to make it to class before their English teacher. She liked having latecomers stand outside. Now, they didn’t particularly like this teacher. In fact, they almost despised her, and told everyone she resembled a toad. They believed she played favourites beyond the acceptable limits of favouritism, they couldn’t stand her accent when she read lessons out loud. As they came out of the restroom, they saw Toad walk into the Staff Restroom. They looked at each other for a minute. They knew what they had to do, though no words were spoken. They made sure they weren’t being watched, walked over to the Staff Restroom and locked it from the outside. Then they returned to class and sat down as if nothing earth-shattering had just happened.
The class was growing restless.
Maybe she’s absent?
No, I saw her this morning.
Maybe she forgot, should someone go call her?
No, no, no!
As they always do, they had conversations on little pieces of paper, dropping these neatly folded pieces into outstretched palms under desks.
“We can’t tell anyone what we did!”
They calmed themselves down.
Toad arrived, about thirty minutes later. She looked furious, and was even more nasty than usual. She yelled at everyone for being noisy, badly behaved children. Irresponsible, she said. She yelled until the next teacher showed up and it was time for her to go.
As everyone sat there wondering what they’d done wrong, the girls allowed themselves a small smile. This secret was safe too. And because they were cautious, they tore the little pieces into even smaller bits and put these in the trashcan on their way out.