11th February 2019
“Marcus Hunt. Let’s see here…”
The school registrar, a kind, elderly lady, scrutinised the list. She mumbled each name as her finger travelled down the list.
Standing before the counter, Marcus looked at the ground and shuffled his feet as he waited to be allocated to his class. He could see a toe poking out of his worn sneakers. His jeans were decorated with multiple rips. Some came with the jeans. Some were due to fights in his old high school. Marcus gazed at one long vertical rip along his jeans, from kneecap to thigh, which was due to a knife used in one of his old fights.
He winced, recalling the pain, the days spent in the hospital. Afterwards, the school let him go, citing that he was too dangerous and unpredictable to be a part of the school body, never mind the fact that it was one of their other students that was brandishing the knife.
“Ah!”, she exclaimed, jarring him from his recollection. ‘There we go. 10B. Just take the stairs to the left. It will be the first class to the right.”
The school registrar slid his school ID across the counter, which Marcus grabbed and pocketed.
“Thank you.”, he replied.
“You have a good day at school, hun”, she says in a monotone voice born out of repetition.
Marcus picked up his backpack, one which he has been using since he was a little kid, and started to move towards the stairwell.
The recess bell rang as he moved through the corridor. Doors smacked open, all manner of sneakers slapped the floor. Soon, a wave of conversation washed over Marcus as he found himself stuck in the gaggle of students that is the student body of Riverdale High.
“Jared. Jared! Hey, man. What’s happening? You look….”
“Nah, that doesn’t sound right, man. Behind the school? Crazy mothe…”
“Abigail too? Great. Looks like I’m going to the doctors for a check up….”
“Oracle? That app ain’t doing shit. I’ve tried it but…”
He struggled through the crowd, being careful not to hit anybody with his backpack. In every direction, he could see the different facets of student life. Marcus swerved to the right to avoid a couple making out by the lockers, their hands grasping and groping, their mouths hungrily chasing each other as if death awaited them if they failed to lock lips.
By the stairwell, Marcus had to squeeze through some thick bodied and sweaty players of the basketball team. He bit his lip in protest as one of them accidentally bounced the ball on his exposed toe. However, the assailant didn’t notice and soon drifted away with the rest of the team as Marcus walked up the stairwell.
He approached his class, already hearing the gaggle of conversation occurring just inside. Before entering, Marcus takes a deep breath and leans against the door.
He closed his eyes, his weary mind swimming. Where am I again? Which school is this? How many places have I been to? Marcus used to keep count. Now, he couldn’t even remember where he was before this, such was how swiftly he moved from one place to another.
The problem was that trouble followed Marcus wherever he went. At Homestead High, it was Jake, mouthing off how he was not wanted by his parents, thrown away like some toy that’s outlived it’s usefulness. At Oxdale Charter, it was Liam, learning about his past criminal history and boasting that he could take Marcus in a fight, publicly goading him into one. Well, he succeeded.
Then, there was that last place. Marcus could still feel the impact his fist made on that orphans face, the teeth he knocked loose spraying all over the place, the wet thud as the boy hit the floor, unconscious. The roar of the mess hall as the other orphans gathered around to watch them duke it out. All of that because the guy brandished a knife. He should have known better. You never brandish a knife in a fist fight.
Shaking his head, Marcus glances up at the sign of his new classroom, ‘10B’, in glossy, black lettering.
A finger taped him on the shoulder.
“Um, ‘scuse me.”
Marcus turns around and sees a whole host of students staring at back at him.
“The bell’s rung, man. You going in?”, asks the blonde guy who had taped his shoulder.
In his rumination about the past, Marcus didn’t even hear the bell ringing. He nods and follows the crown into the room. He stops in front as the others find their seats, conversation rising in a crescendo once again.
Soon, everyone was seated except for him. Some glanced at him, curious about the boy that entered his first day of school half a day late.
Marcus only had himself to blame for that. The subway has changed since the last time he was here. Everywhere Marcus turned and stared, a new and strange Victoria City stared back at him. It didn’t help that the nuns at the orphanage were generally unhelpful with their directions, giving him vague responses when he had asked them the direction to school. Ultimately, Marcus had to use his wits, his scant knowledge of the area and his smartphone before landing smack in the middle of the day at school.
The door dragged open once again and a loud voice ripped through the room:
“Settle down class. Break’s over so get back in your seats and say quiet. I said settle down!”
Marcus turned around and faced a woman, her short stature bellying her authoritative demeanour.
“Oh, who do we have here? Marcus, was it?”, she said, surprised. “I was expecting you this morning. When you didn’t show, I just assumed maybe tomorrow…”
Her voice drifted off. She turned and faced the now silent classroom.
“Today, class, we have a new student all the way from Silverlake City. Marcus, why don’t you try to introduce yourself?”
Before Marcus could say a word, a voice rang out from the back of the classroom:
“I heard you’re an ex-con! Care to explain?”
The words got caught in Marcus’ throat as the stares seemed to intensify. Mumbles and rumbles started to take a hold of the class.
He narrowed his eyes, his anger intensifying with every breath.
How did they know? I just got here yesterday! he thought to himself as he scanned the crowd, seeking the one who asked the question.
“I’m just saying, Miss Helen”, he continued, mock concern plastered on his face. “Have our standards fallen so low that we’ll accept any rat off the street?”
“Hey, come on, knock it off, Omar. Jumping on the new kid? That’s low, even for you.”
Marcus followed the source of his defence and found the blonde boy that taped him on the shoulder earlier, staring back at Omar.
“You watch your mouth, Sam”, Omar threatened. “Else, it’s you I see next in the fights.”
“Quiet down!” Miss Helen yelled, silencing everyone immediately. “I swear, all of you will be the death of me. Omar, apologise to Marcus. Else, you’re seeing me in detention after.”
“Sorry, teach ”, came the reluctant reply from the back.
Marcus stared at Omar.
Their eyes met.
Omar’s mouth curled into a smirk.
“And sorry – convict.”
Again, the class erupted in a wave of gossiping.
“My God, what’s wrong with the school? Why did we accept an ex-convict?”
“See, Rebecca? This is why I carry pepper spray all the time. Ain’t no con gonna touch me!”
“What has he done? Do you think we’re safe?”
Miss Helen sighed.
“All right, settle down”, she said, more subdued now. “Omar, detention afterwards.”
Omar snorted in response.
“Right, let’s see”, she continued, scanning the classroom. “There’s an empty spot next to Sam. Why don’t you sit there?”
Marcus nods, trying manfully to keep his anger in check.
He walks through the narrow funnel formed by the row of tables, feeling the stares on him as he made his way to the empty table and sat down.
He sighed inwardly.
Great. First day of school and I’m already being targeted, he thought as he took his place.
“Right, now that’s over, let’s begin…”
Miss Helen turned around and started scribbling on the board.
Marcus turned ever so slight to see Sam whispering from the corner of his mouth
“Don’t you worry about Omar, yea?”, he continued in a hushed tone. “He’s just got a bad vibe around him. If it were me, I’d brush off whatever he says.”
“Man, fuck you.”, Marcus responded casually, venting his anger. “I can take care of myself.”
The blonde guy recoiled back in surprise, as if he was hit.
“Hey, come on, there’s no need for that”, he persisted. “Think about it. Riverdale High may be the premier school of the city but you’re new here. On the other hand, Omar”, indicating with raised eyes, “he’s the star of our basketball team. Seems like he’s got problems with you. How long do you think it’ll be before you find yourself cornered and having to face Omar alone? The odds aren’t in your favour, man.”
This just keeps getting better and better.
“Personally, I don’t have any problems with you.”, the blonde guy continued, sensing Marcus’ uncertainty. “You’ll need someone to watch your back, wouldn’t you say?”
Marcus didn’t respond. He couldn’t fight against that kind of logic. He eyed Omar out of the corner of his eyes, taking note of his muscular physique and arrogance emanating from his being.
I’m gonna need a whole lot more than my fists if I’m to take him down, he thought.
A hand thrusted into view.
“Name’s Sam. Marcus, was it?”
Marcus gingerly nodded, watching the hand warily.
“Come on, man”, Sam said, noticing Marcus’ reluctance. “It’s just a hand! Swear it’s clean, honest to God. I say you could use a friend or two around here”, ending with a smile.
Friends. When was the last time that happened? he thought to himself. He’s been hopping from one place to the next for so long that forming tenuous relationships with others always ended up with a hasty goodbye and driving down the highway whilst seeing the bewildered faces of his new friends, now strangers again, waving goodbye through the back view mirror.
It never ends well.
Marcus’ hands remained unmoving.
“A shy one, huh?”, Sam said, withdrawing his hand. “It’s alright. I’ve got your name from earlier, Marcus. Stick with me and I’ll show you around, freshie. Let’s start the tour right away, shall we? Miss Helen. Now, she’s alright. Tough but fair. Unfortunately, she teaches history and, you know, there’s only so much one can do to make history interesting”
“I heard that, Sam!”, Miss Helen voiced from the front of the class. “One more word and you can join Omar in detention. Now, the eye of Horus …”
Marcus shot a glance at Omar, who winked at Sam. It was a wink that promised pain.
“On second thought”, Sam muttered, careful not to let anybody hear what he was saying. “Why not we continue this after class, when my life is not on the line?
Sam clamps his mouth shut and, for the first time in a long while, Marcus’ lips threatened to form into a smile.
The class bell rang.
“What a snooze!”, Sam said in a satisfied voice as he yawns and stretches.
“You slept through history.”
“I know! And it was amazing”
Sam give his hands a final stretch before slumping back into his seat with a sigh of contentment.
“Well, I see someone’s lips are a little looser than this morning, eh?”
“Why are you helping me?”, Marcus asked bluntly. “You have nothing to gain by being friends with me and, judging by the reaction of the class, everything to lose.”
“I couldn’t care less about what anyone in our class thinks”, Sam shrugs. “Truth is rumours come, rumours go. Friends are forever, though, and I’ve never been able to make friends with anybody in this class.”
“The Warwick family are one of the wealthiest and most influential families in Victoria City. It means we have some friends and numerous enemies. My father’s not known to be the most – caring – man in the city and I suppose some of the students here have felt hard done by my father one way or the other. Includes that guy right there.”
Sam pointed towards the empty seat at the corner of the class.
“Since I started attending Riverdale, Omar’s got something on me. I’m not sure what the problem is but it most probably stems from my father as well.”
Marcus glanced at the empty seat.
Omar had left just before the class ended, citing the need to attend basketball practice. Considering Miss Helen’s tightly pursed lips, it was obvious he’s used this excuse one too many times and that it was wearing thin. But, she did not stop him as he sauntered out of class, not before shooting Marcus a glance as he exited, slamming the classroom door shut.
“So, Omar’s after both you and me”, Marcus begins, finally understanding the situation. “You want to make a deal, is that it? For standing up for me today, you want me to watch your back if and when Omar goes after you. Is that right?”
“I was going for something less complicated”, Sam replied, scratching his head in confusion. “Like just making a friend?”
Marcus shook his head.
It couldn’t be that easy, he thought.
“You’ll have to forgive me. I just…don’t have good experiences making friends in schools.”
“Well, isn’t that the truth.”
“I’m assuming you refer to the rumours”, said Marcus.
“Mm-hmm” grunts Sam.
“Who started it?”, asks Marcus.
“The same people that start every rumour. The virtuous students of our wonderful school of course”, Sam replied. “Still, it is funny how many people already know about your past. Hell, I heard about it myself last week and you weren’t here yet!”
“Is that what everyone’s afraid of? That I’ll beat them to a pulp?”
“Nah, nah”, Sam replied, eyeing him cautiously. “I’ve heard the rumours but I don’t believe them. You aren’t a beater. Believe me, I know one when I see one.”
Before Marcus could reply, a yell echoed down the hallway outside the classroom.
“Sam! Sam! Where is that prick? I’m gonna kill him!”
Marcus had never seen a face go ash white as quickly as Sam’s did
“Ah, son of a bitch. Quick, hide me!”
“What?”, Marcus replied, surprised. “I mean, where?”
Sam scuttles across the floor of the classroom and tries to hide behind Marcus’ chair.
The door slams open hard, any harder and Marcus feared the sliding door might come crashing out of it’s rails.
A slight but angry looking Asian girl stomps through the now open door. Her cheeks were a fierce red whilst her eyes looked wild, scanning the room for someone.
Her eyes fell on Marcus’ own with such an intensity that he couldn’t help himself. He pointed backwards.
“Hey, what’re you doing? Stop blowing my cover!”
Finally spying her prey, the girl walks towards Marcus. Her black hair was tied back into a twisting ponytail with a small red tie. She also seemed to be wearing a different uniform from the rest of the students, a plain camisole adored with a red bowtie complete with a tartan skirt whilst her thin wrists were adorned with multicoloured bands. As she got closer, Marcus spied the glint of a silver ring worn on her right hand.
The girl stops in front of Marcus’ table.
She nocks her head to the side.
“You know I can see you right, asshole?”
Marcus heard Sam curse softly under his breath.
He peaks from the side of the chair, like a deer in the headlights.
“Oh, h-hey there, Mari”, he greets her, his wavering voice betraying his friendly tone. “What a surprise. It’s been sometime since I last saw you.”
“And do you remember when that was?”, Mari asks testily.
“Ah, let’s see – “
Mari hefts a camera in one hand. It was clearly broken. The lens was shattered, cracks webbing across the glass. There were deep scratches across the handgrip and a hole existed where the electronic flash should be.
“I loaned this to you for a day. A day! And what do I find in my locker this morning? An apology note next to my broken camera. What did you do to it?!”
“Hey, hey alright! Calm down, Mari, and I’ll explain.”
Sam gets up but makes sure that Marcus and his chair stays between himself and Mari, like a cage in a zoo exhibition to ensure the wild animals don’t get to close and harm the visitors.
“So, ah, you’re gonna laugh at this.”, Sam began.
Judging from Mari’s face, she doesn’t seem to find the humour in Sam’s statement. Marcus almost felt pity for him.
“Remember how there was going to be a blood moon yesterday? That was why I wanted to borrow your camera to – you know – get a picture of it.”
Mari says nothing in response.
“So, umm, you see”, Sam continued, his voice beginning to falter, “It might’ve been a little dark that night. And, you know, how clumsy people can be in the dark”, ending with an unconvincing chuckle.
“You dropped it, didn’t you”, Mari asked in a deadpan voice.
“It wasn’t a long fall!”, Sam protested, animatedly wringing his arms. “I didn’t know it could break that easily. That’s why I left you a note. Please accept my apology!”,
“Fuck you, Sam!”
Mari’s foot swung into view. Marcus’ winced as it connected with Sam’s groin, causing him to let out a surprised yelp and collapse to the floor, clutching his prized but definitely bruised jewels.
She glanced at Marcus, noticing his grimaced face. Mari nocks an eyebrow, daring him to challenge her.
Marcus merely shook his head, not wanting to get in between whatever it was that was happening here. He already made an enemy in Omar. He didn’t want to get in the middle of another dispute on his first day at school.
“Here’s what’s going to happen”, Mari continued calmly as Sam rolled around on the floor. “You’re gonna go get me a new one, rich boy.”
She extracted a flyer from her backpack and passed it to Sam, who was still prone on the floor.
“This is the one I want”
Sam gingerly took the preferred flyer, while keeping one arm up in self defence.
He quickly scanned the flyer, which as an ad for a brand new camera.
His eyes widened.
“What, are you crazy?”, he croaked, still feeling the aftereffects of the kick. “The camera is going to cost me a week’s allowance!”
“This camera costs me my yearly allowance”, Mari retorted. “You’re not backing out of this, Sam! You either buy me a new camera or I could walk up to your front door and ask your father to help pay for this camera. Remember, I know where you live.”
That threat seemed to scare Sam enough.
“Alright, alright!”, he responded, finally conceding. “I’ll buy the camera.”
Mari glances at Marcus before walking away. Sam didn’t get off the floor until he heard the classroom door banging shut.
Marcus looked around and just realised the entire class was watching the exchange.
“Aha, nothing to see here, guys!”, Sam said as he got up. “Just two – ow – friends doing some business. Move along now”, ending with a few sharp claps.
Marcus felt the class mentally shrug indifferently and the noise returned to its normal wave of gossip, brags and after school flirtations.
“What was that all about?”
‘Well, let’s just say Mari is a little protective of her stuff, particularly her camera”, Sam replied, wincing as he massaged as close to his groin without being indecent in public. “She’s a transfer student from Japan. I guess, over there, camera’s gotta be a lot more expensive. So, I understand. In fact, most of the time, she’s just a glorious ray of sunshine.”
Marcus thought back to the red face and the kicking that Sam received.
“Can’t really imagine that myself.”
“It’s your first day. You’ll see it soon enough.”
Sam gets up, seemingly recovered from the kicking.
He hefts his backpack and swings it over his back.
“Whatever. Anyway, I’m going back home”, he continued good naturedly, “The sun is shining. The birds are singing. I’m not gonna let a little kick get my mood down! You coming?”
Marcus shakes his head.
“Nah. I’m meeting a few people before I head back.”
“More like family.”
Graves are always the same. They consist of three things, a tombstone, a neat pile of dirt and some flowers that are so wilted they look little more than strings of vegetations held up by the wind.
A fresh bouquet of flowers remained clasped in his hand. Lavenders, bright purple in the sun. He thought it was his mother’s favourite because he had seen one picture of her standing in a lavender field, looking straight into a camera with a wide smile on her face.
Marcus didn’t know whether lavenders were really his mother’s favourite. He just wanted to bring something that made her smile once.
He placed the bouquet down on the leaf strewn ground and looked around. The city’s graveyard has certainly seen better days, if one could say graveyards have better days. Numerous tombstones littered the yard as far as the eye could see. The dirt ground, apart from a few innocuous leaves scattered here and there, was neat, rows of lines crisscrossing across the ground depicting a rake having swept here recently.
Marcus glanced around and saw the graveyard keeper just a few feet away, using said rake to sweep some of the other tombstones. The keeper, a seemingly young person, caught Marcus’ eye and nodded in response.
Marcus turned his attention back to his parents’ graves.
He crouched and rubbed his thumb across the name on the left tombstone.
“Martha Lewinsky – Hunt. 1960-2012.”
He shifted to the side and proceeded to swipe his thumb across the name on the right tombstone.
“Jacob Hunt. 1965-2012.”
Has it already been seven years? Marcus wondered.
He closes his eyes and tried to remember what happened back in 2012. All he could recall were the right and blue lights flaring repeatedly. The words “It’s okay”, “It’ll be alright” and “car crash” constantly ringing through the night.
He opens his eyes, glistening with tears.
Seven years. Not a day goes by that Marcus’ doesn’t miss them.
“Mom. Dad. I’m home.”
The graveyard keeper continued sweeping, one eye on the ground before him, the other watching the boy by the Hunt tombstones.
He could certainly hear the weeping from where he was standing but, other than that, he wasn’t too sure who the boy was.
He continues to watch and sweep as the boy gets up, brushes the dirt from his knees and, after lingering for a moment longer, walks towards the entrance of the graveyard.
The keeper continues to sweep until the boy is out of sight.
Dropping the rake, he purposefully moves towards the tombstones and reads the names
He activates a hot mike located underneath the lapel of his shirt.
“Got one. Last name, Hunt. Find him.”ting!