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Smile, Old Heart

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Allen released my shoulders (to my great relief!) but held my right hand instead. “I’m not like those people. Don’t judge me and my actions like you do theirs.” Sober blue, vibrant red, and confusing silver. But as 2016 gives way to 2017 with the long-winding turmoil of Brexit, student activism, and partisan politics, so will they paint their canvases with the flurry of colors that come out of the woodwork of their families' shared history. Smile, Old Heart is the chronicle of struggles experienced by two sick teens during the aftermath of the Brexit vote. This is the heartfelt account of how they survived one year of twists and turns in British society and the landscape. One heart is all they need to live beyond the year but the problem with finding enough donors and care is worsened by NHS' troubles with public sector pay. Ultimately, this book is about learning to find meaning in suffering - even if there is suffering, it does not have to be useless - it just has to anchored onto something good.

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The zoo is a better place than this school. Why did I ever go back? What’s the point when I barely have time left for my own life?

I took a deep breath then poked my head into the room. Early morning sunlight through the blue curtained jalousie windows reflected off the peach walls and twenty purple writing desks. As I searched for vacant seats, raucous twittering filled my ears. I slammed my mouth shut and mentally glared daggers at the students in the room. Fun for them was hell for me. Yeah, it pleases me a lot to see them again. Of course, they have done a lot to make me welcome in this school. They even affected the way I looked at my death. #Achievement for them. Bravo.

Then before I could step into the room, something propelled my body to bump against the door. My palms scratched against hard, red stony wall as I fought the imminent swaying of my body. I scrunched my nose at the smell of rust, ivy and sweat that permeated in the misty air.

“Ouch! Punyeta!” I grimaced as my forehead found the cold wall. I turned and narrowed my eyes at four handsome boys who crossed the room. One of them tilted his head to the left, smirking at me. Oh, how I want to gouge out those sapphire-blue eyes and pull out that pink nimble tongue! Just wait, Allen… Your heart will taste the bitter tang of my anger soon!

Shaking my whole body back to composure, I tiptoed to the single empty seat at the back of the room. I bowed my head low, letting my hair cover my face. When I reached the desk, I at once slung my bag at the back of the chair and sank my head onto the desk. It is better to sleep than endure the lively thrill reverberating here. Their sheer joy intoxicates my being to the point of overwhelming my own. They rearranged something inside me that has always been messed up beyond repair. I cannot stand them anymore. But what can I do? I could hope that the afterlife is better than this one.

Just as I dozed off, I felt a hand tapping my shoulder. I looked up to see a girl with strawberry-scented blonde hair but slanted brown eyes. Sara Jean “Saia” Lee, I mused, the resident sweetheart of Saint Bridget Grammar School. Always needing to interact with people. But only with the “acceptable” citizens of United Kingdom. How quaint. Her smiles are as trustworthy as a snake’s hiss. Why I ever thought of her as a friend during my first year in senior school still makes me wonder to this day. With a nondescript roll of my eyes, I let her chatter and chatter with lovely gossip and intelligible gibberish.

“Saint Bridget Grammar School is a lovely school, isn’t it? It’s a place where you can’t get enough of anything you ever ask for in your life… What do you think, Maydee?” Saia said.

“Anything can happen here. God only knows,” I shrugged at her, and then closed my eyes. Or perhaps you know but you’ll never let me know until it’s too late for my heart. Thanks in advance, Saia.

Saia gave me an upturned grin, and I raised an eyebrow at that, feeling a cold prick at my nape.

Bang! I looked to my right and saw a bronze-haired boy guffawing in front of his friends. I winced, Wow, things still haven’t changed with me. I shrugged off my fear. Well, it could only get worse anyhow.

Allen Bonneau, the monkey whose golden head was above the rest, called out. “Welcome back, Maydee!” I cringed at the sound of his voice–though it was so beautiful, like a musical tune–because it was so cold. It radiated the chill into the air and I shivered. Dangerous as a hedgehog, that one.

I released a gusty sigh when they stopped striking their bags against the back of my chair and merely took their books, perusing them casually. De puta! Honestly, don’t they have better things to do with their time than taunting me? It’s seriously getting old, guys. The pandas are wiser living their lives inside their specialized habitats in the zoos than the four of them.

“Oh, Maydee, just don’t mind them. They’re haughty idiots…” Saia said, wrinkling her nose.

And you are not? Ha! I looked at her with a deadpanned expression.

Before I could ponder on this more carefully, Saia nudged me at the side.

“There’s our teacher, Maydee…”

I turned and saw a young woman walk into the room. She had her dark hair pulled in a tight formal bun and her green eyes focused, walking with auspicious superiority.

“My full name is Adelina Salvador. But I want you to call me ‘Ma’am Heidi’. I will be your adviser and English teacher from now on.” She said at once as she put her bag on her table. “I expect you to act as the star section you are. I will not tolerate any misdeeds in this class – least of all, bullying. No one of you may belittle or hurt another with no just reason. Whoever will not abide by these rules of mine will meet their desired punishment…”

“So now, I want to know about you guys…” Aw, she meant us introducing ourselves. Of all the bad luck, I thought. Being in front of other people – let alone to speak to them – was never fun and great for me. I’m nervous around people and it hurts if someone in the crowd leers over me. That would be, often, the one who would pick on me the most during the school year. He or she listens to my speech long enough to know how to bully me in the most hurtful way possible.

I tuned out most of the introductions because I need not know anything more on my classmates. To avoid boredom, I got a book from my bag and caressed the pages as much as I did so many times before. I also checked my notebooks, skimming through the things I wrote until I was satisfied with the seamless glide of the words in my head. Good to know none of them is missing this time.

One thing that made my ears perk up, though, was how Allen cursed and swore about being Second Honours again after Jamie. He wanted so much to best Jamie at everything, Science, Math, English, History, you name it. He always wants to prove himself, the efforts so much that it already makes me sick. But why does he have to do that? It’s not like he’s making up for something bad. No one but me should have suffered a hard life, languishing for uncommitted sin.

I then looked at Saia for a good explanation to this. The pain-stricken look on her face was so heart wrenching that it reminded me of my darkest and most devastating secret. “Sorry, Maydee, can’t tell you about it for now… He’ll kill me; he’ll kill me for it…”

I furrowed my brow at the urge to investigate Allen’s problems. Tsk, it’s not like we’re friends. He’s not my pack. Anyway, I’ve never felt like I belong here with awfully rich people. I gave up trying to get along with them a long time ago.

In the middle of the introductions, a ruckus roused me from my book. Many girls in and out of our room cooed at Allen and his friends like hyenas licking their chops at their prey. Looking out the window, I saw fifty something girls outside who craned their necks to get a peek inside. I‘ve seen those eager looks and heard patronizing noises before, I groaned sickeningly. Kuya Jun is a handsome excellent swimmer who often gets shrieked at by hormonal vultures. Yet he did not feel interest for a girl other than the one he met in his last year in senior school.

Ma’am Heidi glared at Allen, Jamie, Ling and Ben, seething then strode off to the door. She walked in snappy yet elegantly graceful strides that the girls could only look at her in awe. She flowed sinuously in front of the girls at our door and gave them a disdainful look. “Girls, don’t you have your classes right now?”

Ma’am Heidi’s beautiful voice was velvet and she never raised it but the girls still felt the soft tone of her voice was a deeper threat than a roar. “Y-Yes, Ma’am.” They said meekly.

“Then you should be there right now. I suppose you wouldn’t want detention on the first day of school, right?”

“N-No, Ma’am…” the girls could barely control their whimpers.

“If you want to go out with the G-Ladz, don’t ogle them during class, not in my class. Go.” The girls didn’t need another order for they turned their backs and scattered in many different directions.

The G-Ladz was more than eye candy. They are the bane of my life here, with Allen who’s using them as a bullying force. They were the prefects of Saint Bridget Grammar School since they started here. But they soon became more formidable than our teachers. And Allen led them to an iron-fisted rule in the school.

He saw himself as the predator and me as prey from day one. He no longer thought as a human, but as an instinctively violent animal. I was no longer treated as human but as little more than a tool for his conquests. I am forever an “Other”, the enemy of the rest. Yet most of the ink spurts that cloud their minds against me are things I cannot hope to control, qualities that are not the totality of my being. The Other is categorized and classified according to the use that the ego can get from it, can exploit from it, until it gives out from the pressure. Hatred damages the Other far worse than murder because it keeps the suffering Other on the brink of death as long as the hater’s satisfaction demands of it. By isolating the Other, this act dehumanizes both the bully and the victim. They anchored themselves on hate that is more fatal than outright murder because it pushes the victim to do the nasty deed himself. Instead of brethren who take care of each other and survive all trials together, the world is full of wolves that compete and judge each other by the hierarchy of strength.

I was so deep in my thoughts, without realizing that they grew darker and grimmer. Ack! Sharp pain lanced through the side of my heart. I bit down a gasp and ducked under the desk. No, no, not now, please, I said under my breath. I gently rocked my body in my seat to fight the dizziness. Thankfully, Saia’s bright, glossy eyes glued raptly at Jamie as she laid a hand over hear heart. Lucky Saia, she will have the love of her life for the rest of her life. They’re both fortunate to be normal so they’d normally end up together. And they’ll raise a family of blue-blooded Tories who will be luckier inheriting Jamie’s hearty and open behaviour. Saia will also spearhead perfect tea parties and charity galas with only the rich in the guest list, regardless of their corruption records. She’ll be the perfect hostess and socialite.

Allen tilted his head towards me as if in askance and I shot him a bird, biting my lips tersely as I tried to keep my breathing back under control.

“Hey, you okay there?” He said in a soft voice I detested. He dares! How dare he try to probe me? How dare he act like he cares! It’s not like he knows me! Never has he tried to see for who I am.

“Piss off!” I hissed, mustering the darkest glare I know at him. I bit the inside of my left cheek, never mind the sting of my teeth, as he nonchalantly winked his right eye at me. The nerve of him!

“Just go to the infirmary later after class. The nurse will know what to do with your condition.” My head pounded as he nodded at me curtly, speaking with a steady, lower-pitched voice.

I barely remembered what I told the class during my introduction speech because of Allen. I hate how he could cunningly invade my thoughts with nary a conciliatory sentiment or remorse. He’s so insufferable! But I don’t mind it. There are so many things that can occur within my third year of secondary school. Yes, I’m prepared for possibilities… And I feel strongly that they are so likely to happen.

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