I’m tapping my right heel on the steel foot-bar of the wood chair I occupy. My arms rest on the pine table; my fingers clasped together. This is how I stared out at the world, even when I was seventeen.
The weirdest thing about my observations of people is that I only seem to take in their eyes. I don’t observe the skin, the wardrobe, the feet, the fingers. Sometimes I notice exceptional jewelry that stands out – like a pair of startling emerald earrings that my friend was wearing the other day. Mostly, it’s just the eyes and the posture. If I fall in love with someone – it’s always his eyes. If I look at a child – it’s the eyes. If I want to know what this person has been through till this point in his/her life – it’s the eyes.
Most importantly, if I want to ensure that my opinion is not known, I avert my gaze. When people are talking about something I’m not interested in, I don’t want to be a part of, or I have a radically differing opinion of, or it’s a subject I happen to know too much about and don’t want to sound like a pundit on, I avert my gaze. I look at the ground, I look at my hands, I basically look away.
I know my eyes give me away completely.
Which is why, that hot summer day, ten years ago, when Arushi rushed to my table, breathless and slightly disheveled, I smiled faintly at her, and looked straight into my coffee mug.
“You’re up for Head Girl,” she declared as she slid into the chair opposite me and dumped her bag on the third chair at the table.
“I know,” I said, beginning to stir the perfectly stirred coffee.
“You knew and you didn’t tell me? God! This is like the most prestigious thing! You’re going to be Head Girl in our final year of school – that’s like Head of the Student Council – that’s like the most important…”
“I know what it’s like.” I cut her off. “It’s alright, not that big a deal.”
“For you, maybe!” she said. “Well everyone knows its going to be you, you know…all the teachers just love you.”
“Yeah,” I said. “It will probably be me.” Didn’t she understand? I didn’t want to talk about it.
“So, you have to promise us a treat when you’re formally selected.”
Dear, dear Arushi. I look at her and smile. So absolutely full of zest for life and that bubbly vitality that goes so well with teenage-hood. Treats, parties, movies, boys…this is primarily what makes up Arushi’s life at the moment. Throw in lots of school work too.
“Of course I promise you guys a treat.”
After a little more gossip, I pay for my coffee and exit the café. Walking back home, I wonder about being Head Girl. Sure it’s cool. Sure it’s great for my record. Sure it will be an awesome experience in management and leadership.
I know I’ve been elected. I’ve already been through the interviews, though I didn’t tell Arushi about it. The selection committee’s informed me of their decision. But I’m not ecstatic. To me, being Head Girl is just another way of labeling me. Singling me out from the rest of the crowd as someone “different.” Magnifying my multi-talented nature almost to the point of making me stick out like a sore thumb, when all I want to do is blend in. Desperately, blend in.
I want to be able to know the one thing that I must do, and just follow it – like everyone else does. Instead, I am torn between my numerous talents and I cannot choose which one to pursue with complete focus and which ones to leave out. They are all a part of me. How can I let a part of me just wither away when I know it’s alive?
I’m all over the place. I live on stage. I write, I sing, I compose, I dance, I choreograph, I speak, I act, I direct, I study. I’m everywhere. Some days, I’m so tired of being everywhere, I’m so tired of hearing my name called all the time – I can’t imagine why my peers aren’t sick of me yet! I’d be sick of me if I was them!
The Principal calls me into her room the next morning, and formally informs me that I am the new Head Girl, and Head of Student Council. I smile and nod and express my gratitude to be invested with this honor. I promise to live up to her expectations and do my best.
But my eyes give me away.
If she looks deep into my eyes, she will see the sorrow, writ large in them. I am accepting this role, but I know it will separate me from my peers. It will be just one more reason for me to be labeled “the perfect student” and therefore, the un-cool one.
I cannot hold her gaze for too long, lest she read the truth in my eyes. So I look at the name plate on her glass desktop.
I am proud, yet I am sad.
For a long time to come, I will be lonely.
This, I know.
Only my eyes will give me away.