Encounters, Tian Yi
They’re chucking my bag between them, laughing, and I’m in the middle of the circle staring at some soggy dead leaves on the ground. My sister and her pack of Year 10 witches have been after me since last term, and I can’t exactly fight back when it’s six against one. Maybe saying witches instead of the word that rhymes is one of the reasons why this keeps happening to me, but there are probably a million other reasons too. There’s not much I can do about it.
Tree Trunks Trish holds my bag out and says, Come on stupid, don’t you want it back? And Frizzy Izzy shouts, Get her stuff, go on! I sneak a look at my sister who’s leaning against the back of a bench, scowling. She lights one of her stinky cigarettes that she hides in the cake mixer on top of the kitchen cupboards at home. Mum never touches the cake mixer. Dad was the one who baked.
I feel a bit sick. If they open my bag they’ll find Henry. Of all the days for them to catch me again, it has to be the day I have Henry with me. Last time it wasn’t that bad, though Trish gave me a wedgie and Izzy took my pocket money. My sister with her newly manicured nails dug them into my arm and said I was a little weirdo and needed to stop being such a conspicuous target. I said I didn’t think she knew big words like conspicuous, and she dumped half a can of Diet Coke on my head, the rest of them laughing.
One of them yanks my plaits and shoves me and I end up on my bum in the mulch, so mum’s going to yell at me for getting my school skirt dirty. And for cutting through the park. A kid got killed in the park last week, the news said it was a stabbing and mum saw it and cried. She cries a lot these days, because our new house was a project she and dad wanted to do together, and then he died halfway through the kitchen installation. Heart attack. So mum doesn’t like it when I cut through the park, or when I’m home late, and she and my sister are either screaming at each other or not talking. They started fighting before the funeral and it’s been over a year. Really I think me and Henry are the only sane ones in the house.
Tree Trunks Trish is opening my bag now. She shakes everything out onto the ground and her tree trunks look even more mighty than usual, it must be the angle. They all crowd around except my sister. She’s normally in on the action but she’s still by the bench, smoking. She thinks it makes her look cool, but it’s like when she used to try on mum’s lipsticks, when we were little.
Someone called Rina or Rita, I can’t remember, kicks at a bright plastic packet on the ground and wrinkles her nose. Are those pads, god, what a skank. I haven’t even started yet but I keep a few in my bag just in case. I don’t want it to surprise me. I want to say, being sanitary is the opposite of being a skank actually, but I don’t.
Then Frizzy Izzy goes, What’s this? And I reach out because she has Henry’s box, but it’s too late, she opens it and I think I hear my sister say, very quietly, Oh fuck.
Henry busts out of his box.
He does that thing where he grows and stretches and suddenly he’s towering over all of us, he’s bigger than I’ve ever seen him before; he must be getting more powerful. He gets in between me and the others and his enormous pincers flash in the light of the nearest streetlamp. There’s a moment when nobody moves. Then Frizzy Izzy starts screaming and tries to back away but stumbles and falls over and then they’re all screaming and someone yells, Run! The box is open on the ground and one of them trips on it as they leg it across the park.
Then they’re gone and Henry disappears. I look around for him but there’s only my sister, who still hasn’t moved from the bench.
I knew it, she says. She looks at me, frowning but sort of nodding, almost like she’s pleased.
Grandma was going to help me, I say. And then dad. But he couldn’t really.
I thought it would be me, she says. I still can’t work out if she’s angry. I’m older.
She steps forward. I wince and tense up all my muscles but she’s only dropping her cigarette and putting it out calmly with her foot, and alright, maybe she looks a little bit cool.
Just get it under control, she says, and walks away.
My hands are shaking. Once I’m sure nobody will come back I fumble with my phone. I shine the light around and find Henry hiding under a big leaf.
I scoop him up and check he’s ok. I’m so relieved that I cry a bit. I whisper to him that he could have been hurt, or he could have hurt someone, like the kid in the park last week. It wasn’t the kid’s fault but he shouldn’t have surprised us like that. I closed my eyes when Henry went for him with those pincers.
I lower Henry back into the box. All my things are muddy but I stuff them in my bag anyway. It’s not all bad though, I think, as I head home across the field. My sister didn’t do anything to me this time. Plus she actually spoke to me without being horrible. I carry that thought as carefully as I carry Henry in his squashed box, and it’s sort of nice even though it’s not much.
Tian Yi lives and works in London. Her writing has appeared and is forthcoming in The Daily Drunk, Fractured Lit, CRAFT, Visual Verse, and elsewhere, and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She has recently completed an MA in Creative Writing and is working on a short story collection.