by Bee Lewis
It was the name calling that you hated most. The threats scared you, but the name calling fused with your blood cells, carrying the message through your veins and arteries to your brain and heart. You were fat, you were stupid, you were a slag. No-one wanted to be your friend and you’d never get a boyfriend. You felt a dread in the pit of your stomach each morning, knowing that there was only an hour of sanctuary before school and that you’d have to walk past them, face the stares, the threats, the pushing, the laughter.
You put on your uniform. Your mother wouldn’t let you wear make-up, or take up the hem of your skirt. Instead of letting you wear black woollen tights like the others, she made you wear long, white socks that you were constantly having to pull up. When you protested, you were grounded for being cheeky. The grounding didn’t bother you, you didn’t have anywhere to go, but the unfairness sparked a pilot light of resentment inside you.
Charmaine waited for you, surrounded by four other clucking girls, flapping and squawking, all legs and elbows. You advanced, wary of feet snaking out to trip you up, ready to dodge any slaps that came your way.
“Oi, you, come here.” Charmaine pointed and you obeyed, feet dragging.
“You work in Patel’s, don’t ya? I seen you there.”
Denying it was pointless. “Yes,” you said, your voice barely audible above the traffic noise.
“Get me some fags.” Charmaine looked round at the other girls. “And for them too.”
“I … I can’t do that! I’ll get the sack.”
“Get me the fags or we’ll get you. Okay?”
You nodded in misery.
“Bring them here tomorrow morning. We’ll be waiting.”
All day, you worried about what would happen if you stole the cigarettes and what would happen if you didn’t. You thought about calling in sick, but knew it would only delay the inevitable. Besides, you couldn’t contemplate turning up for school empty-handed tomorrow morning.
You loved this little job. Mr and Mrs Patel didn’t care that you were fat, or stupid, or that you’d never had a boyfriend. You saw your chance as Mr Patel went into the stockroom, but you just couldn’t bring yourself to steal something so valuable, so instead, put a handful of Mars bars in your pocket. Burning with shame and jumpy as a grasshopper, you told Mr Patel that you weren’t feeling well. He let you go home, because he was a kind man. His kindness broke your heart and you nearly confessed to him, but the thought of Charmaine stopped you.
The following morning, Charmaine was waiting. “Where are my fags then, slag?”
You hesitated, then handed over the Mars bars.
“What the fuck is this?” She was furious. “You stupid, fucking cow. Give me the fags.”
You held firm. The others held you down as Charmaine battered you.
Born in Liverpool, Bee Lewis now lives in East Sussex, on the south coast, with her husband and their Irish Setter. She is working on her first novel and is currently studying for her Creative Writing MA with Manchester Metropolitan University. Bee has a number of publishing credits, the most recent being a short story, The Iron Men, in Best British Short Stories 2015, published by Salt.