As usual, Yendall English Private School was a bustle of activity. Each grade had about one-hundred and something children. Before classes, during break time and after school, the halls were filled to the brim. Students chattered, screamed out each other's names and pushed their way through any obstacles, which just happened to be other learners.
Rilah kept her head down and her shoulders hunched; she didn't want anyone to notice her. She high tailed it to the library, where she hid during free periods. She also caught up on a lot of reading in there. Mrs Nzimande, a kind plump woman, knew she was a regular. She always had books waiting for Rilah and was always ready to discuss any uncertainties. Mrs Nzimande had a quick mind, and was very smart. Many people didn't think much of her, dismissing her as quite an average librarian. Rilah continued with reading The Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde. The book was interesting and she found it difficult to put it down when the bell rang, signalling the beginning of classes. She opened the door to her classroom, a wave of conversation hitting her. She sat behind the table second from the back. No one paid attention to her and Sylvia always came in late. Being one of the popular girls, naturally liked by everyone for her bubbly personality and her great fashion sense, she constantly stood out in the crowd. Sylvia was not a self-centred queen bee but she definitely was not a reject like Rilah, even though they were best friends.
Rilah took out her Life Sciences book and a bunch of blank papers. She started reading while drawing on a paper, keeping her head down to avoid attracting any attention. The Life Sciences teacher, Mrs Hammond, clapped her hands thrice to attract everyone's attention. Half of the class turned and paid attention while the rest continued with their conversations. Sylvia burst into the classroom, breathing heavily like a woman in labour. Mrs Hammond gave her a stern look, making her reconsider any excuse. She apologized and took her seat next to Rilah.
Immediately her friends engaged her in gossip and talk. Rilah was now used to this; she could not keep Sylvia all to herself. Just two minutes after Sylvia arrived, the door swung open to reveal Tyron and his current girlfriend Cynthia. They delivered false apologies to Mrs Hammond and took their seats. Cynthia sat right behind Rilah and Tyron sat at the back, three seats away from her. Rilah shivered a little when she felt Cynthia moving closer to her. She breathed a sigh of relief when Daphne, one of her friends called her over. She knew it would not last as Cynthia sat behind her half of everyday. Mrs Hammond was the one who had moved Cynthia from her original seat when she had gotten fed up with Cynthia's tendency to make noise during her lesson. She had placed her right behind Rilah, in hopes that she would be more quiet. She had been right; the noise levels had decreased but only because Cynthia now spent her time tormenting Rilah. It was one of her daily routines now.
The period went by quickly, considering that it was a one-hour lesson. Sylvia perched on Cynthia's deserted seat and tried engaging Rilah in a conversation.
"How about you come to my place this afternoon? I'm going to a party on Saturday and I need an outfit. A sexy but not too revealing number. A statement outfit. And you have to come with me. Please!!!"
Rilah groaned. Sylvia was not a very persistent person but she had those light brown doe eyes and when she started begging, it was hard to say no to her. Not to mention that she also had the cutest dimples, and a sprinkle of freckles that ran along her left eye. At times those freckles looked like they are artificial, like they were part of her makeup and she never told anyone otherwise. Right then she widened her eyes and put on a puppy dog look. Rilah rolled her eyes. "You know I cannot. I am not allowed to go to parties", Sylvia's face drooped and Rilah hastened to cheer her up. "But I will come to help you choose your outfit."
Sylvia's face lit up like New Year's and she displayed one of her cute dimples. "Thank you, thank you, thank you, Rye. I love you!", she stood up and hugged her tight. "I gotta go. I'm meeting Peter right now. We're walking together to our Isizulu class." She blew Rilah a kiss and was out in a second. Sylvia and her boyfriend, Peter, had agreed in their first year, grade ten, to take Isizulu class as they both had mutual friends that speak Zulu. So far they loved the class and Sylvia tried teaching Rilah some sentences while Rilah tried teaching her French. Besides that, they both took English Home Language, which was compulsory for all students.
Just as Rilah settled for Life Orientation, Cynthia came to stand in front of her. Her voice was filled with venom as she said, "I wonder what the hell she sees in you. Just look at you; big bushy hair that looks like it houses mice, hand-me-down clothes which aren't even the right size. I wonder which shop you robbed to buy that matric jacket." She looked Rilah up and down slowly, a disgusted expression on her face. "Where do you get the money, huh? Where?"
She moved closer to Rilah until her face was barely inches away from her. She clamped Rilah's wrist with her sharp nails, threatening to draw blood. "How did you get that money?", she whispered menacingly.
Rilah choked a little before replying, "The same way that I pay the fees here."
"And who pays the fees? The Daniels? We all know that they don't. So who the hell are you fucking to get that money?" Rilah flinched as Cynthia's claws dug deeper. It wasn't the pain that made her flinch though; it was Cynthia's words. They'd had the exact impact she'd planned them to. All the students who had been watching scattered as the teacher came into the class. Mr Ndlovu, a billowing old man with a bald head called the class to attention. He might have been old but he was still young at heart. He taught L.O. like a twenty five year old, demonstrating every now and then. He also had a quick mind. Everyone loved him. He started teaching a new topic, one that was not part of the syllabus; abuse.
Cynthia, sitting behind Rilah, had never been able to pay complete attention to a teacher. Instead, she kept her eyes on Rilah, her constant punching bag. Tyron had given her permission to do anything to Rilah, not that she'd needed his permission. When she'd called Rilah his sister, he'd denied that and told her that she was more a family servant than a family member. Cynthia watched Rilah dab her eyes and try to ignore the teacher, something that she never did. Obviously, this lesson touched a nerve, so she decided to provoke her yet again. Cynthia leaned in and whispered, "One could swear that is a biography of your life. What do you think? Accurate, right?" Rilah kept quiet, barely repressing her anger.
"Say something, Rilah. Come on. Did they forget to include deaf in that biography, huh?", she continued taunting.
Rilah had had enough. She was tired of keeping quiet, it had been long enough that she kept on being submissive to the witch that was Cynthia. She had to stand up for herself. She turned around slowly and faced the bully behind her.