There was a girl with curly hair, the colour of autumn leaves.
She was five and wore the checked monstrosity of blue and green and white – the uniform of her South Melbourne school. It was a small school, her mum had said, and everyone remembered everyone, so her shoes were polished to Year Prep Perfection. She fussed about the plastic pots at the kitchen ensemble, creating imaginary cakes with exotic flavours.
A boy with Sharpie black curls like hers, came up beside her and asked, ‘Can I cook too?’
She shook her head. ‘Boys can’t cook.’
Heavy footsteps thundered behind her, cutting through the childish chatter. She turned and her lips parted, eyes rounding in horror. The man was big, like the trolls in her books, but there was a gentleness to him that made her relax.
He had the same curls as the boy, and said, ‘Boys can cook too.’
The girl nodded and passed the plastic spatula to the boy. She left for a table, her imaginary cakes forgotten.
Introduction To New Things
She shifted in the padded chair, trying to ignore the sweat forming on her arms, never expecting that much heat. It was always colder in South Melbourne. A hairdresser with plump lips stood behind the girl, armed with a weapon.
‘A trim?’ the hairdresser asked.
‘Maybe, that much,’ the girl’s mum replied, using her fingers to show how much to cut.
It was too much, but after years of rehearsed complaints, the girl knew she wouldn’t be listened to. Her mum sat on a soft-but-hard couch that lined the wall, a magazine in her hand.
There was the creak of scissors in action. A slight breeze made the plastic cape flutter. The girl nibbled her lip, and could only watch the hairdresser slice her lengthy, apricot locks. Tendrils of orange landed on the floor with a sigh.
Her view was blocked by the hairdressers boobs and a flush stained the girl’s cheeks. She tried looking away. Water burst across her face and she cringed, then closed her eyes.
The hairdresser smoothed fly away strands, then held a length of orange out to snip. The girl thought of something, then. A term used at her new Burleigh Heads school, and something she saw on the Gold Coast streets. She had to ask, and she could finally fit in.
‘I want a side fringe,’ the girl said.
‘You’ll need to straighten it daily.’
Another term the Year Four Girls used, another way to be normal.
She nodded. The hairdresser lobbed off chunks of hair, orange curls pooling in the black cape.
As the hairdresser chopped, the girl squeezed her eyes shut, then opened her eyes again when the hairdresser announced she was finished.
That look, the one she had when she met the boy’s father in Prep, came across her face. It shifted into something, bluer. Her lip trembled.
It wasn’t a side fringe.
But a front one.
Her mum paid and they headed back to the car. She gnawed her lip, tears pricking the corners of her eyes. When her mum started the ignition, water flowed down the girl’s cheeks. Any chance of being normal was now forgotten.
Overture To The End
It was Year Seven, her final year of primary school, and her last year with the sniggering fools and gossiping buffoons.
She was in the library, because only girls like her lament their social skills with the company of books. A boy her age entered, and only an idiot like him would come inside the air-conditioned safety net of the library, to do whatever it is idiots like him do.
Her grip tightened on a hardback Egyptian textbook. The table was near-empty, save for the girl and her Egyptian Gods carved on the pages. The boy sat opposite her, and she wanted to scream.
Scarlet stained her cheeks, and she focused on the tea-stained pages. She felt his stare burn the crown of her head. The girl peered over her book. ‘What do you want?’
‘Remember when I asked you out?’
She turned a page and was on a chapter about Ma’at, the goddess of truth and justice. Ma’at would’ve been beautiful if she were human. Tall, thin, and with skin the colour of ink – smooth and with a sheen to make others curious. She wore a white dress in the book, with a feather strapped to her headpiece.
A lovely distraction.
‘Well, do you?’ asked the boy.
How could she forget? It’s what defined year six, what was whispered when the teacher’s back was turned, and what made her beg her parents to move back to South Melbourne.
How could she forget the way the boy with a smile of an innocent liar, gathered up the class, and planned her downfall?
‘It was a test,’ he said.
She closed the book, and it slammed in the silence. She gnawed her lower lip, her mouth quivering.
‘I wanted to see if you’d say yes.’
She shot to her feet. She didn’t have that expression she had at the hairdressers, or when she met that boy in prep. This was something else. This was when she realised her cakes were imaginary, and that her fringe would be tedious and ridiculed. But it was brief, and a surge of warmth coursed through her.
The boy looked at her, the shock evident on his pasty face.
‘Just, shut up!’
He didn’t say anything more. She knew why he picked her. There was a slight bulge where a smooth stomach should be, a pair of breasts pushing against her shirt. She wasn’t like the Year 7 Gold Coast Girls, with their thin stomachs and flat chests.
She was different.
‘Leave me alone.’
The boy rose out of his chair and his mouth gaped slightly. He left the library, left the girl.
She slumped back into her chair, chest rising and falling from sudden energy. The girls’ fingers curled around her book, and as she opened it back up Ma’at smiled up at her from the golden page. The girl couldn’t resist.
A slight tug pulled at her lips, her small triumph always remembered, the boy’s taunts forgotten.
Catalyst has been the student publication of RMIT University since 1944. We may be older than your parents but we’re still going strong!