A hand floated up above the heads of the other students seated in class. “Here.”
“Moo … Moo here-ee.” The teacher tilted her head back, peering through her bifocals with all the intensity an aged woman such as herself could muster.
“It's Mhuiri.” Came a soft voice from the seated students. “Moo like a cow and weary like when you're tired.”
“Ah, Mhuiri. I see.” Said the teacher. “Mhuiri Korenko. Well everyone.” She paused, putting her glasses down and setting the attendance sheet aside. “As you're all aware, we have a new classmate this semester. Mhuiri is not from around here, so I expect you all to be kind and show her around. Everyone know what it's like to be new. Make her feel comfortable.”
Mhuiri was petrified. She now sat in a room with nearly forty other warm bodies. She had never been trapped in a room with so many people in her entire existence.
“Well, today we're going to start with some basic algebra, you all aware of what chapter we left off of before the Christmas break … though very few of you actually finished the homework I assigned.”
The class rumbled with under the breath laughter.
“Well, here's a refresher.” She said, going to the white board. “If x is equal to y then x times two y is equal to what?” She looked around the classroom.
Mhuiri shrunk in her seat, pleading with the powers that be to not let her get singled out.
Sure enough, the woman's wrinkled smile set on Mhuiri.
“Don't worry, I'm not so cruel as to have you answer something before the class just yet.”
Mhuiri was stunned, she looked around, unsure as to how the teacher had gleaned the exact thought that was coursing through her mind. Emilia was capable from time to time to do the same, but this woman whom she had never met, was able to tell immediately what she was thinking. A spark of intrigue ignited in her mind. How outwardly apparent was she displaying her thoughts? Suddenly the spark collapsed upon itself and twisted into the insurmountable realization that she was being watched by every set of eyes in the classroom. She had never truly felt the sensation of self-consciousness as potently as she did in that moment. It was as if the world had stopped to poke and prod at her like young boys do to roadkill out of mundane curiosity. She was the roadkill, and every person in school had a stick.
“I think I need to use the bathroom.” Mhuiri said.
“Well, Mhuiri. I'd appreciate it if you went before getting to class.”
“I'm sorry Ma'am.” She said, getting up and leaving the classroom as quickly as she could without looking absolutely frantic. Surely she still did look absolutely frantic.
Once outside, the hallway seemed to spiral into a maze as she tried to find the washroom. Finally there it was, and she burst through the door and into a stall. Her senses were on high. She had never felt the things she was feeling now. Her body, seemed out of control and for a cybernetic organism that seemed rather odd. Finally her breathing calmed, but then the door to the bathroom slammed open and she heard footsteps walking in. Then she heard voices and her eyes shot wide open. They were the voices of boys. It donned on her that she had rushed into the men's washroom out of habit. At the shop, there is only one bathroom, and on it the sign for men's washroom. In her haste she hadn't thought, she simply went with the familiar and was now sitting in a bathroom stall with two boys just feet away using the urinals. Her mind was racing, while her hand lay clasped around her mouth so that she wouldn't make a sound by accident.
Eventually the boys left, without washing their hands of all things, and Mhuiri took her chance to escape. She unlatched the stall door and peeked around, when it was clear she was alone, she bolted for the door and burst out into the hall where she nearly flattened another girl.
“Oh I'm so sorry, are you okay?”
“You scared the crap out of me! Hey … what were you - ”
“Nothing, I just made a mistake.”
They stared at each other for a brief moment that seemed to last forever.
“Well, Mrs. Beams asked me to come find you.”
“Don't thank me, I'm just doing what I'm told.”
“Oh … ” Mhuiri didn't know what to say, so she said nothing.
“My name is Rei.” said the girl.
“I know, I heard Mrs. Beams call out your name during attendance.”
Rei put out her hand.
Mhuiri looked down at it, perplexed for a short moment. “Oh!” she shook it and smiled. “Sorry, still a little shaken up from, well.” She looked back at the boys bathroom.
“Don't worry, it can happen to anyone.” Rei said, smiling.
They continued back to class, and each step was a sharper stab of anxiety for Mhuiri, but having Rei by her side was somehow comforting.
Then, she realized it.
She had made a friend.
Walking back into the classroom however, pulled her right back into panic. As they crested the doorway, every single set of eyes in the room spun to her. She smiled nervously and made her way to her desk, petrified.
Mrs. Beams stuck to her word, and didn't ask Mhuiri any class answers for the entirety of the maths period. When the bell rang, the class scattered like rats jumping off of a sinking ship. In seconds, Mhuiri was the only student left in the room, let alone sitting at her desk. She looked down at her itinerary and searched for the classroom number.
Her head popped up and she turned her gaze to the door. “Yes?” It was Rei, and she was motioning for her to come into the hall, so she did.
“What's your next class Mhuiri?”
She looked at her schedule again and fingered a time slot. “Arts.”
“Huh, me too. Let's go, I know where it is.”
When they reached the classroom the door was already shut and locked.
“Oh no, we're late.”
“I'm sorry Rei, this is my fault.”
“Don't worry.” She said, knocking on the door. “You're new, they should understand.”
The door swung open. “You're late.” said a man, sternly.
“Yes, I'm well aware.” Mhuiri answered.
“Are you back talking me miss?”
Mhuiri looked at Rei who shook her head as if to infer what she should say.
“No.” Mhuiri said matter-of-factly.”
“That's it! Go to the office.”
“What?” Rei screamed. “Just because we're late?”
“No, because I won't tolerate back talk from young girls who think they deserve special treatment when they can't be punctual.”
Mhuiri cocked her head in confusion. “I never requested special treatment.”
“I said to the office! Both of you, now scram.” The man shut the door.
“My mom is going to kill me if I get detention.”
Rei looked at her as if she had six heads. “Really?”
“No.” Mhuiri said, rubbing her head, apparently borrowing the nervous habit from Frank. “It was just a joke.”
“Right, well come on, let's go find out what our fates are.”
Rei turned and began down the hall, followed closely by Mhuiri.
“Go on in.” Said the secretary. “He's waiting for the both of you.”
“That's not a good sign is it.” Mhuiri guessed.
Rei sighed. “No, no it isn't.”
They reached the door as it opened. “Come on in girls.”
“Good morning Mr. Timmerman.”
“Good morning Rei, and you must be our newest student.”
“Hello Mr. Timmerman, my name is Mhuiri.” She extended her hand, which the Principle shook gently.
“Nice to meet you.” He said, all smiles.
This might not be so bad, thought Mhuiri. Rei did all the talking. She explained to Mr. Timmerman how Mhuiri wasn't sure where her classes were, and that Rei was helping her find them. Mr. Timmerman gave both of the girls a pass to return to class and let them know that even though they weren't in trouble, that punctuality was important.
When they left the office, Rei was extatic. “Yes! We crushed that! Whew, no dentention.” She patted Mhuiri on the shoulder. “Thanks to you being the new girl of course. Thank you.”
Mhuiri stood stiff as a board as Rei hugged her. She'd never been hugged by anyone but Emilia and Frank, and Franks hugs were rough old man hugs, the kind that left you wondering if your ribs were still intact, or in Mhuiri's case, her chest chassis. Rei's hug was unimaginably different. It was soft, and delicate. It was nice, so Mhuiri hugged Rei in return.
“Okay, Mhuiri, that's good, let me go now.”
Rei looked at her and raised an eyebrow. “You're not ...”
She froze; had she been discovered already? Was it so easy to tell that she was synthetic?
“You don't swing the other way do you?”
“I mean, I guess it's a personal question but. Well screw it, it's out there now. Are you a lesbian?”
It took Mhuiri a fraction of a second to make the connection between the odd gaze, the hug, and Rei's question. A wave of relief washed over her. “Oh God no. No I'm ...” Then suddenly she wondered. “I'm.” And wondered. “I don't know what I am.”
“Oh so you're on the fence or something?”
“No, I'm not on the fence... I'm not even in the yard.”
Rei laughed. Mhuiri didn't know why, but she laughed with her.
Rei sighed. “Okay be quiet, we're here.”
Again they knocked on the door.
This time the man simply opened it and returned to his desk as he continued his lecture. “And so Picasso wasn't even accepted as an accomplished artist for quite some time.” He peered at the girls as they made their way to the back of the class. “Now, we're going to be using the x-acto knives on your desks today to cut out the warped objects from Picasso's paintings. It looks like a scalpel, and it's just as sharp, so be careful.
Mhuiri took up the x-acto and inspected the blade. She looked at a boy next to her who was sliding the cutting edge along his finger. She imagined him cutting himself, and imagined the blood that would gush from the wound and spit out onto his clothes, the desk, the floor. She looked at her finger and wondered how different her own internal fluids would look if she were to cut herself. In her musings, she understood in that moment that her secret was only skin deep.
Her humanity, was only skin deep.
“Mhuiri” Rei nudged her. “The teacher's giving you a look.”
“What's so special about your lap?” He asked Mhuiri.
Mhuiri looked up from her finger and the blade. “Nothing sir, sorry.”
Rei looked at her and giggled. “Nice one.” She said under her breath.
They day went on. Rei continued to chaperoned Mhuiri from class to class until finally classes were over. As others waited for their buses, Mhuiri got her bag ready and began her walk home. She noticed Rei nearby.
“Hey. Are you walking too?” Rei asked.
Mhuiri nodded. “Yeah, I live down by the market.”
“No way, really? So do I. My dad's a cop, but he likes living down in the market. He says he gets a better perspective on how bad things are getting.”
“Are they bad?”
“Well, I guess not. I haven't heard of anything really bad happening lately. I know there are still protests from time to time, because the market has a lot of Cybernetics workshops. A lot of activists like using those places as targets for their cause.”
“Don't worry though, If you ever need anything just let me know.” Rei said, smiling. “Well, my place is up this way, so I guess I'll see you tomorrow.”
“Yeah I guess so.” Mhuiri didn't quite know what to say. She didn't want Rei to go. If she spoke her mind, she'd ask her to come home with her, so that she could show Emilia that she had made a friend.
As she was waving goodbye to Rei, the thought of Emilia rekindled the argument they had in the morning. She was still upset at what Emilia had said … but also felt sorry about how immaturely she had reacted. She'd have to make it up to her somehow, that's all.