The New Girl
The sun does not shine. Under the ugly gray sky, a van screeches to a stop in front of an iron gate. She slides its door but is unaware of her scarf being stuck under her own bag and trips. Someone snickers. She does not turn around to see who. Another amazing day, she thinks.
A middle-aged man sighs, stands up from a metal chair and opens the gate. It says Sabir on his dark blue security guards’ uniform. She spares him a nod and keeps walking. The brick pathway is still wet from a drizzle that must have happened last night. She steps on wet leaves and beelines straight to a classroom upstairs. The glass door with its metal skeleton bangs behind her. She struggles with shivering hands to light a matchstick and takes five full minutes to get the gas heater going. There is now a stain of soot on her shirt that she does not care about. Kicking off her sneakers, she sits cross-legged on an uncomfortable chair. A ragged copy of Pride and Prejudice is open within seconds and she is home.
Sania likes reading in winters. The chill that seeps through clothing and teases her to the bone continuously wars with the warmth of a heater or a fire and makes her body too preoccupied to interfere with her mind’s journeys.
Sania is the first student to get there because her van is early. Her unfortunate partners in this dreadful endeavor are all young enough to belong to the other side of the school so she reads to pass time. Them being her equals would not have helped anyway. She would still read to pass time.
There are few people whom I really love, and still fewer of whom I think well.1
Half an hour passes before the loud chorus of the national anthem rings from the window. Two girls open the door, pause mid-sentence, pass a glance and then continue talking. They walk towards her and murmur a greeting. Sania is aware they want the heater and not her company. Ten minutes later, there is a group of girls and boys standing around her united in their agenda against the weirdo sitting atop a chair deliberately blocking everyone from the warmth.
“Deal with it,” she subconsciously registers a thought.
Soon, a balding professor walks in. Everyone scatters but Sania simply wears her shoes and straightens her chair. The heater stays hers. Mathematics commences and the professor strides around the room, carefully fashioning the amplitude of his booming voice to make it seem like he is reading a dramatic sonnet. Sania is busy scribbling when someone knocks and proceeds to slowly drag the classroom door open. The Mathematics Sonnet sputters and dies.
“May I.. May I come in, Sir?” A girl’s voice.
Sania looks up. Brown hair in a neat braid down her left shoulder. Dark brown skin that contrasts with yellow and blue in the dupatta around her neck. A kind face that slowly curves into a beckoning smile for Sania. A little bit of sun peeks from behind its thick blanket of clouds. In response, Sania huffs and returns to scribbling.
There is a stubbornness about me that never can bear to be frightened at the will of others.1
The two morning classes are over, and the three long hours of nothingness are upon her. Sania does not grasp the concept of leaving college students roaming around the campus for three hours and expecting them to adhere to a bunch of redundant rules. Girls and boys mill around the common room. They sit on couches, play cards and gossip exactly as they ought to do. Some sneak around and bully those who are physically weaker. There is a group of bitter rebels mulling in a corner of the A levels computer lab. Another group have successfully hacked the school’s firewall and are playing counter strike. A bunch of vain but gutsy teenagers try their hand at pathetic football as pretty girls loiter by. There are even a few who are utilizing the time to read reference books.
Sania munches on a sandwich and struggles to hold onto her backpack as she runs towards her favorite bench behind the bushes. As she turns around a corner, someone shouts a warning and a football misses Sania’s sandwich by a millimeter.
“I am so-,” the boy pauses to take in the resigned look on Sania’s face. He simply picks up his ball and leaves.
Trying to take out Pride and Prejudice with one hand while the other holds the sandwich away from the book, Sania finally reaches the spot only to find her usual seat occupied. It is the new girl. She sits on the bench in a manner so ladylike it puts Sania’s entire existence to shame. In her hands, there is a book. Sania huffs again, walks over and thuds on the bench so her disapproval gets across. The new girl does not budge. Sania places her food beside her and takes out her own book. She graces the new girl with the sound of a cleared throat as she waits for her to get uncomfortable enough to leave. She crosses her legs, adjusts her backpack, re-adjusts it and then puts it back. Soon, it is getting frustrating. Sania gives up and opens the book. The clouds are thinning.
I cannot fix on the hour, or the spot, or the look or the words, which laid the foundation. It is too long ago. I was in the middle before I knew that I had begun.1
By lunch break, the new girl has firmly established her position on Sania’s designated reading spot. She reads with a serenity Sania is sure she herself cannot master. Spending long minutes on each page, she delicately turns them while Sania devours the words off the yellowed, battered pages in front of her; hungry for more. The new girl is calmly busy apparently absorbing some mysterious philosophy when they hear a crack. Someone has fallen straight through the bushes shielding them from view.
It is a little boy with a uniform that confirms his identity. O levels and less. The new girl is up in a flash. The boy is also up but howling in pain. He is clutching his ankle and heaving as he sobs. His attackers have already vanished. Sania watches, frozen, as the girl holds the boy’s hand and whispers reassurances into his ear. She hugs him and tells him he will be okay. The howling and sobs soften. In a few minutes, the girl is already busy holding the little boy’s arm over her head as she helps him drag himself to the infirmary.
Sania refuses to be impressed.
It is not that Sania is arrogant. No. She is simply more inclined to keeping her own company than letting others share it. Nor is it that she is incapable of discovering goodness in people. She reads about the inherent tendency of people to be both good and evil and simply chooses to not focus on either. It saves her many hours every day. People who are only nice and admirable do not exist. And those who do, excel at keeping facades. Sania believes she does not have the time to unravel facades.
Nothing is more deceitful…than the appearance of humility.1
Sania returns after the two remaining classes to wait for her van. Once there, she picks up the new girl’s still abandoned book. A brand-new copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Sania lets herself have the pleasure of a smile. She takes it to the infirmary and, not finding her there, to the Principal’s office where the girl is busy testifying against the bullies. Sania discreetly tries to watch the spectacle from under a window. Hands tied behind her back, she stands firm and defiant. The injured boy sits in a chair, now with a bandaged foot. A much bigger boy is standing in a corner with his head hanging. An elderly couple is apologizing. The Principal thanks the new girl and asks her to leave. Sania is about to leave herself after handing the girl her book.
The new girl offers her hand. To her own surprise, Sania shakes it.
I must learn to be content with being happier than I deserve.1
“Hi, I am Rabia.”
“It was very nice to meet you.”
“So, I see you like Jane Austen?”
Sania hears a whirring noise as her annoyed heart finally relinquishes affection. There is not a cloud in sight. The green of the trees around her is brilliant. Dry leaves crunch under her feet as she walks towards the gate. The sun is shining.
“Ugh, I have to be a friend now?”
Contributed by: Hafiza Noor ul Ain