Woman Like Me
As she sat in the large Jeep the air conditioning welcomed Mae with a cool embrace, her long limbs uncomfortably crumpled behind the driver’s seat. In fact her lanky frame put her in stark contrast with not just her distant relatives but her entire family and it wasn’t the only thing that her parents thought to be odd about her. Of course it could not be assumed that all those of Chinese descent were on the shorter end of the height scale but that was definitely the case in her family. She often felt like the cuckoo that had invaded the nest of magpies, instantaneously disrupting what had been perfect harmony. Her hair naturally fell in waves whilst for her relations it was deathly straight. If that difference wasn’t obvious enough her gigantean frame causing her to tower over both her male and female relations. Her features were also far stronger in comparison boasting of a strong nose, big eyes, full lips and large clearly defined eyebrows.
Her family of economists, accountants and bankers also found themselves in the company of the worst thing they could imagine possible, an artist. It was something they had strongly discouraged, in fact her mother had always described art as a outlet for lost people with no real purpose in life. To their disapproval Mae had still managed to discover art on her own and better yet her own style and inspiration. She felt her works were the one thing that were truly her own and whether she was drawing, painting or simply just examining art a whole new world entirely opened up to her. One of freedom, beauty and passion where the only rule was that you expressed yourself honestly and with reckless and colourful abandon.
No wonder they exiled me she thought to herself. She then chuckled because in thinking they had punished her, her parents had actually given her the most valuable gift possible - freedom. During the holidays it wasn’t just the thick Chinese smog that left her feeling suffocated it was her family as well. If they had taken the time to listen to her, actually really listening to her instead of forming opinions free of their own preconceived notions. Then they would have quickly seen that she understood the need to be financially secure in your profession. Art was her passion and she would always maintain that but she understood if circumstances meant it could not be her career. Which is exactly why she was studying Art, Physics, Mathematics and Chemistry for her A levels. It left her with breadth and the option to become an Engineer or even an Architect if she so wished. A year prior to the present day she had explained all this to her parents thinking they would be pleased by her logical decision making. Of course that was not the case and they suggested, no commanded she drop the Art nonsense and take up Further Mathematics as a much more worthy substitute.
The arguments that followed were heated and she was sure all the neighbours didn’t even have to have their ears pressed up the walls, to hear all the sordid details of the angry Mandarin being thrown around the room (so they could gossip about it in detail together later). However, she stood her ground as Art was something she believed she had the capability to take very far either as a critic or if they were good enough by selling her own works. For that reason she needed to have both created and analysed it in an educational setting not just simply as a hobby. The Art World was hard enough to get into and the odds stacked even higher against you if you had no inkling of its foundations.
Suspiciously for a few days her parents were very quiet leaving her completely to her own devices. Then they announced that they were enrolling her into Ghana International School (GIS) for her last two years of education leaving her in the care of her father’s sister. They would be travelling the world working for Business firms across the globe whilst she did so, besides as her father had cruelly told her it wasn’t as if she needed them. For she never took their advice so they would leave her to do things her own way.
In her first year she had therefore been utterly determined to make the most of her new situation and her Aunt had greatly helped her with that. She too was more of a black sheep in the family and as a teacher at the International School she might as well have been an artist. Their relatives said there was no money in it and what was the point in teaching English of all subjects. However, just like her stubborn niece many years before Constance Lee had stood her ground. She had been greatly inspired and proud of her niece doing the same. The older woman did her best to reward her nieces bravery and their home was scattered with all the works Mae had created, with the art supplies her aunt had bought for her.
In fact she had been introduced to her six best friends through Art and their meetings could have only been architected by fate.
The last day of her first week at GIS had been a non-uniform day and everyone had made the assumption that someone else would tell her so, including her Aunt. This of course meant she had not been made aware of the fact she was supposed to be in her own clothes until she entered the School courtyard and noticed she was the only one in uniform. She felt what had been a confident disposition crumble and her shoulders slouch as a result of her embarrassment. Then out of nowhere Adele Meyers had come over to her and introduced herself before taking her gently by the arm and leading her to the girl’s bathrooms. When Adele had first walked into Mae’s eye line she had been in awe. Her mocha complexion was unlike that of most people walking the streets of Beijing. On top of that she had immensely beautiful hazel eyes and rich chocolate brown hair that had a slight wildness to it. Her clothes had also been phenomenal and quickly caught the artist’s eye.
Once the reached the safety of the bathroom Adele had quickly made the suggestion that she give Mae her forest green blouse and in return she would take her white one. It took awhile for Mae to catch on but she eventually understood and agreed. Once the swaps had been completed Mae doubted that even those who had seen her beforehand would remember she had come in uniform. It was as if Adele had picked an outfit that went perfectly with the uniform for such a situation. The two girls now admired themselves in the mirror Adele in a white shirt and jeans looking rather effortlessly stunning and Mae in a stylish green blouse and a pale blue skirt feeling more confident than ever and their friendship was born. No one had ever gone out of their way to help her like that and she knew she would always look to Adele, as an example of how to treat people whether they were strangers or best of friends.
The introduction of Adele and Mae to Cora Johnson was perhaps a bit less stressful. Though Adele and Mae shared no classes together with Adele’s subjects being much more literacy based - Philosophy, English Language and English Literature. They made a huge effort to spend as much time with one another as possible whenever they had breaks. Just a week after the non-uniform disaster Mae saw something that caught her eye at lunch.
One thing she couldn’t understand about GIS was how they distributed lunch. They had stalls arranged at the far end of the room and it was basically a mad rush or a free for all once the lunchtime bell rang. Both Adele and Mae had wisely decided to make lunch at home each day to eat in the canteen. Yet, for the past week one student repeatedly waited behind the others not willing to push in.However, the situation was becoming absurd and every time the student in question finally got her food she often had less than five minutes to eat it. Mae recognised her from her Art class, Cora Johnson was Italian with a pleasant accent and insurmountable patience that allowed her to produce the most exquisite pieces. She was perhaps 5 ft 5 and so much smaller than both Adele and Mae in stature with a nice curvaceous shape and dark features perfectly complimenting her jet black hair.
Something had to be done so Mae came up with a plan that she quickly let Adele in on. The two girls would pack extra food to give to the smaller girl next lunchtime. Mae was just unsure of how they would get her to eat with them in the first place but Adele reassured her that she would think of something. Sure enough the next day both girls opened their lunch boxes to reveal more food than either of them could possibly eat. Then Adele made her move once she had spotted Cora in her usual position at the back of the queue. Mae looked over at the two dubiously but to her surprise not long after she had left, Adele was making her way back over to the table with a new companion.
“As I was saying by accident we both made one another lunch and forgot to notify the other. We really don’t want the food to go to waste so it would be great if you could have lunch with us”. Adele said warmly
Mae smiled encouragingly at Cora in the hopes that she would sit down and she did. Using the subject they had in common Mae started telling Adele about what a talented artist Cora was as the girls ate. By the end of lunch they had shared many laughs and it was clear they had made an extraordinary new friend. Cora was also studying Geography and Computer Science. They also quickly discovered that though she didn’t mind the queue she also would have rather brought food from home. Yet she had no idea where to buy it and Adele quickly offered to pick her up on the weekend to take her and Mae to some of the more continental food stores. Cora’s smile was so genuine that Mae felt a warm feeling inside for the small part she had played in creating such a positive outcome.
Unfortunately, sports were not the strong point of Mae, Cora or Adele and they found themselves questioning the meaning of life in the compulsory sports lesson they endured each week. It was a requirement that all the students did some exercise weekly and this week the sports teacher had decided they should play girls vs. guys football. Luckily they were on a team with the phenom Faye Russell who had literally carried their 5 a side team to victory evening managing to score a hat trick along the way. Cora had noted the fact that Faye didn’t even look tired her light brown skin glistening whilst hers was a raging red simply from doing her best to stay out of the Brazilian girl’s way. As they entered the locker room each of the girls shot her grateful looks. Since they shared Mathematics and Chemistry classes together Mae decided to take the initiative.
“Thank you so much for saving us all from the embarrassment of suffering an embarrassing defeat” Mae said looking in Faye’s direction.
“It was my pleasure, trust me. It is kind of a Brazilian birth right to love and play soccer well” Faye replied kindly.
“In fact I was wondering if you guys had any more room on your lunch table. I notice you all bring your lunch at home and so do I.” Faye continued.
“Sure that would be great, it is the least we can do to say thank you” Cora replied quickly.
Just like before the latest addition hit it off with the others and they developed deeper and deeper respect and support for one another over time. They all learnt that Faye hoped to one day be a Physiotherapist for the elite athletes of the world. Which explained her A level choices of Biology, Mathematics and Chemistry. What they all liked most about her was that though she had endless energy and talent but she managed to never take herself too seriously.
It was not hard to remember Geneva Jones because she was in fact named after Lake Geneva and she happened to be Swiss. She has this calmness and serenity around her that implied she could never be caught off guard. That fact had held as long as the other students had known her, even though it had only been for a couple weeks. She was very prim and proper with not a light brown hair out of place. Often held back in a sophisticated bun of some sort, she loved order and it showed in her studies of Mathematics, Physics and Further Mathematics. Yet she was so warm and gentle when you got to know her and held no airs, graces or false pretences.
When Mae had been struggling with the Physics assignment she had been the first to offer assistance and she was so dedicated to helping her that they lost track of time. When the other girls came to get Mae for lunch from the library, they too found themselves fascinated by the girl with the unassuming grace and quiet determination. Her features were doll-like with pale pink lips, a small pointed nose and yet it was her green-blue eyes that stood out. They were fierce and revealed an unbreakable will even when tested.
Lillian Smith was just the epitome of light and love, she was a tiny creature at 5 ft nothing but what she lacked in height she definitely made up for in spirit. Studying Religious Studies, Geography and History it was clear she wanted to learn everything she could about the world. In order to make the world more inclusive and enjoyable for everyone. She considered her Indian heritage to be a privilege as she could really get into the minds of those who had been ostracised based on features or scenarios she couldn’t control. She always looked at the bright side and pushed herself to engage with new people each day. One lunchtime she saw the five girls eating lunch and instead of being intimated by what seemed to be a well-established harmony like most, she saw a chance to make some new friends. She all but skipped over to them and introduced herself unperturbed by their initial confusion, speculation and slight annoyance. She was quick to win them over with her bright, happy and easy going charm. Soon she too was a regular at the table and all the other girls felt better for it.
Lastly there was Celeste with her last name Mensah proudly identifying her as of Ghanaian descent and she was what you would call a Ghana International Lifer. Having attended the school since nursery, no one knew its inner workings better. For her A levels she studied Economics, Politics and Business and if any GIS student was going to rule the world it would be her. She had this underlying purposefulness that allowed her to see that wanting to change the world was all good and well but you had to actually be in a position to make and change legislation. She had a noble air about her with strong thick dark eyebrows, thick lips, strong check bones and a rich melanin complexion. She was most definitely a force to be reckoned with, possessing the strength, beauty and compassion of a Queen.
As the final member to join the friendship group, their meeting had been completely coincidental. She had been late to lunch and there had only been space on the large round table where the 6 girls were already sat. She could tell they had all moved to GIS for Sixth Form and if it hadn’t for the lack of available seating she wouldn’t have even given them a second thought. However she was glad she did because within ten minutes of talking to them she could already tell that these were the kind of people she had been missing in her life.