Can't You Hear Them?

Filippa Samella

HAEF Psychiko College IB (Athens, Greece)

My favourite time is that before dawn. When the shadows still lurk in this haze of light that rests heavily on the ground. When the crickets are silent and the birds asleep. When the sea is resting and the trees still tired. When the wind surrenders to stillness.

I trust this gloomy twilight. I find comfort, I relax. There is no obligation nor need for effort, no shame nor need for control, for all floats gently above reality. While the breeze roams free and cold. It’s before the sun appears, shyly at first, but stretching its golden tentacles to reach every corner. And long before the alarms go off, the traffic begins, and school, and bells, and voices.

Voices. I am tired of voices. At home, voices are stern and absolute. They shout, they argue, they reprimand. Or dripping with honey. They caress, they care, they ring with joy. Or they void you of it.

At school, voices are incessant, pointless. They chatter and gossip and whine and giggle. And teachers toil to rule over them by scolding and yelling and menacing. There are nice voices too. These voices have names. They are Alex, who knows everything and is very ticklish. She is green tea and old books and glasses and sarcasm. They are Nate, who always has an opinion and loves chocolate. He is music and brown hair and high-fives. They are Tom, who is very quiet and fails every test. He is mint and grey eyes. They are friendly voices that I have grown up with. Built sand castles and snowmen with. Watched movies and eaten pizza. I think they're what others call friends. Though recently something has shifted. They turn ugly, poisonous. They whisper, they murmur. They plot and scheme. And I can't switch them back.

Today, Alex was very happy. I like it when she smiles. She does it with her eyes; they get tender and sparkly.

"Morning handsome" she chirped when I opened the door. "Hurry up, you'll make us late"

Handsome? She never calls me handsome. Does she find me handsome? I called on sarcasm to hide my blush.

"As if you never shower a bit too long, or brush your hair, or paint your nails or whatever it is you girls do"

She laughed out loud, threw her head back, and nudged me while giving me that offended pout. And she held my gaze a second too long.

She was humming for the rest of the way to school, almost hopping around.

"Why are you so happy today?"

"No reason" she said, but her grin showed otherwise.

"Come on, Alex. You have joy painted on your forehead. Spill."

"I just happen to be in a good mood. Why are you being so annoying?”

Her voice slapped me unexpectedly. The sweetness was drained from it, her laughter no longer rang in the school yard. And her eyes-that outshine the sun and put shame in the stars- turned ugly again. Her voice cold and distant and irritated. I looked at my feet until I reached the classroom.

“Yo man, wassup?”

Now that is the unmistakable butchering of vocabulary, grammar, and syntax by Nate. It lifted my mood. Only slightly. Tom is sitting next to him, but his mind is elsewhere. Travelling in a land far, far away. Alex is nowhere to be seen.

“Have you guys noticed anything off about Alex today? She was extra happy this morning, and then, all of a sudden…”

“Alex? No, I haven’t seen her today” That was Nate; Tom is still in his wonderland.

But it’s a lie. I saw them walk into a classroom after gym. An empty classroom. Why an empty classroom? I remember they looked happy. His hair was dishevelled. I don’t understand. I check his eyes. No, they’re still warm.  And his voice flows gently, naturally. I never knew he was such a good liar. Liar. Liar…

“Earth to Tom, earth to Tom, earth to--“

“Yo you can stop it Nate, I’m here, I’m here.”

“Do you know where Alex is?”

“Nah, I haven’t seen her today”. Grey eyes are never warm. They pierce you without trying and they know that you know. And yet he lied too. They have French together. And you can’t miss someone in a class. Especially not Alex. Alex is loud and funny. She disagrees with teachers because –as we all know- she is always right. And when she can’t win with logic, she conscripts sarcasm to outsmart them.

But he was with her in French. He lied too. Liar. Liar…

When the bell rang, I got up quickly and stormed to the bathroom. It was pleasantly silent, until voices –unknown, faceless voices- barged filled it. And in all that hubbub two of them stood out. They belonged to chestnut hair and cloudy eyes. And they whispered.

“I’m telling you, he’s not going to find out”

“But if he goes on asking around…”

“Come on, he’s not that smart. Alex needs to be more careful though.”

“We are terrible liars. He might be gullible, but he isn’t blind”

“We’ll be more careful, and we’ll see. There’s no need to freak out.”

And the hubbub returned, and the walls closed in and the floor started to sink. But one word rang louder than others. Liars. Liars…

I couldn’t concentrate at home. Every time I tried to study my thoughts trailed off. They plunged into swirling waters and twisted and twirled until it fell with a heavy thump at the bottom of the abyss and everything was dark. And there, where the blackness ruled, I crafted explanations and excuses. Based on facts and logic, I made a spark. But it is opinions and hopes that build up these facts when you need assurance. And hope feeds the spark and builds a fire. I sat there as the scarlet tongues devoured the darkness and the heat spreads out. And only when they licked my skin did my mind shut down. My eyelids grew heavy and I tumbled into a soft, uneasy sleep.

Penknives are not allowed at school. I don’t remember where I got mine from. Or from whom. Come to think about it, I never really use it much. I just like knowing it’s there. With its blades of various sizes and twisted scissors and hidden pen. There’s even a corkscrew.

Next morning, Alex didn’t come by before school. I didn’t really mind. Thought has left me tired and nauseous, and the sun is hurting me.  When I entered the school yard I saw a very familiar car. There was a brown head with dangling dark curls in the front seat. As if impulsively, I walked closer and the radio died down.

“What about him?” said the curls.

“Tom thinks we should act normal and wait.” Each syllable fell like a violent stab into my chest. And with pain logic disappeared and made way for anger.

“Ugh, sometimes it is so hard to pretend.”

“I know, I know.” He said shaking his head.

And she held his gaze a second too long.

After school, I was fidgeting with my penknife while waiting for the bus. She came out of nowhere and sat by me. She smelled of jasmine, and her cheeks were blushed by the cold. There was a long, torturing pause, as if she were looking for the words to use. When she couldn’t find them, she gave up and looked ahead. A bus arrived, she got up, looked at me, smiled a smile I couldn’t decipher and got on the bus. There was no voice.

The next morning, I get up before the sun. He has not yet licked the horizon. I leave the house when the streets are cold and the sky still sombre. My pulse is quick, my steps short, and my mind on a loop. Liars. Liars. Liars…

When I get to her door, the crickets have left. I dial her number and wait till she picks up. One ring. Two rings. Three rings. Four rin—  

“Hallo?” Her voice is coarse from sleep. She is dragging the vowels.

“Hi. It’s me. Come down a second.” My hands are fidgeting again. The wind has died.

“What? Now? Are you crazy? It’s five in the morning” But I need her to come down.

“Please. Only for a minute” My voice is shaking. My hands are trembling. I don’t control them.

“Fine, give me a sec” And the line goes silent.

When the door opens, I take a step back. Her curls are tangled. Her skin is smooth and light. She looks at me, eyebrows raised, and I relax at the kindness in her eyes.

“What’s wrong? Did something happen?” She sounds worried. I hesitate.

“I—I—” I stumble. And then her voice turns ugly. Her lips, brighter than usual, form a hypocritical grin. Liars. Liars.

“You can tell me,” says the grin. I laugh at how stupid I was; fooled by her tender eyes. And as the grin sits there and her voice rings mocking and jeering, my fingers fidget out of control. In less than a second, she staggers and falls on the gravel. A stain matching the colour of her lips seeps into her shirt and spreads slowly, until it comes running down the pavement. The grin looks at me still and frozen. And all the voices-Nate and Tom and Alex- are gone.

Until day breaks and light fills the sky. Until the birds begin their song the wind rushes through the trees. Then, voices that don’t belong to a face -with no eyes to help me translate, no body to accompany them- they whisper on the streets, murmur in the hallways.

“What is the matter with him?”