I walked into class on Monday and weaved my way through the ancient wooden desks to the back. Force of habit would then have had me fling my bag onto the bench, but my hand was stayed by the notice of my usual place being already occupied. I took an uncertain step back. Ziya looked up, her eyes taking too long to focus than they should.
“I’m sorry, am I in your seat?” she asked me.
“I could move if you want me to,” she said, her body language betraying her unwillingness to do so.
“No, it’s okay, I’ll manage,” I said.
I wasn’t oblivious to Ziya’s nomadic lifestyle. She drifted her way around the class all the time. Nobody minded much, though. We knew she operated on a different frequency, not seeing the world quite the same way we did. Well, at-least that was the impression I had. Maybe the others thought she was just weird.
I looked around. I had few seating options left. In fact, just the one. I resignedly slid next to Ziya, reminding myself that I really needed to get to school earlier than this.
She managed to sit still all the way through chemistry, but by the second hour, Ziya had started humming. I glanced at her. She was running her fingers over the scarred wooden surface of the desk. That wasn’t too weird by Ziya standards, but most of us kept any contact with the furniture to a bare minimum: the risk of any wandering body parts making contact with chewed-up gum disposed of sans dignity with the furniture as their final resting place was a real danger. The furniture had been there pretty much since the beginning. Minds wandered during classes, and they had silently borne the brunt of serving as the outlet for students’ frustration, amassing over the years the seemingly inevitable signatures of those using them. The widest variety of tools from pens to dividers had left its mark on the desks.
“You like black,” I observed, almost accidentally, taking in her black nail-polish, mascara and the cluster of rings punctuated by turquoise stones.
“Black…absorbs,” she replied simply, continuing her examination of the table-top. I didn’t think she was talking about heat.
Once the four ‘o’ clock bell dismissed us, the illusion of being busy took over. Ziya wandered away and I did not have to deal with any more cases of encroachment of property. She seemed to have the tendency to fade away, not just out of notice but out of memory as well, and not much of my consciousness concerned itself with her until a few months later.
The budget-hike that the school had been pressing for finally came through. The first order of business was to do away with the unsightly old furniture. The desks and benches were hauled out of the classrooms on the aching backs of the house-keeping staff and piled up in the parking lot.
Chance had it that as I passed by them on the way to the school offices on an errand connected to my financial dealings with the institution, I noticed Ziya out there. The normal thing to do when faced with Ziya doing something not quite ordinary, which was most of the time, was to turn a blind eye and walk away. If it was a conscious decision that ruled, I confess I’d have done the same. However, I stopped. She was walking between the lines of desks piled up, running her hand on each one slowly.
I watched for a while, and then, breaking all established classroom protocol, stepped into the parking area.
She took an eternity to register the greeting, and then she turned slowly.
“Hello,” she said pleasantly
I walked over casually, casting my mind around for small talk.
“They’re being taken away,” she said, saving me the trouble.
“Yeah, I know. What are you doing here?”
“They’re being taken away,” she repeated, her tone indicating that that was supposed to be an explanation.
“So, are you, I don’t know, saying goodbye to them?”
With anybody else, that would have been a joke, but I wasn’t sure if that wasn’t something Ziya wouldn’t do, so I made sure I sounded half-serious.
“You can feel them, you know,” she told me.
I wasn’t even sure if she was responding to my question.
“All those people, leaving some part of them behind. The scribbling, the carving, the cuts…” she faded off, and I waited for her to continue. It was a while before she remembered that I was there.
“The people, you can hear them. The parts of them they leave behind at-least,” she finished.
I should have known this would turn out to be a bad idea.
“Yeah? That’s, er…”
“No, really,” she said strongly.
She leant forward and grabbed my wrist.
Her touch was icy. I swear, I’ve known ice to be less cold. She guided my hand onto a desk.
“What are you-?”
“Hush!” She said forcefully, and I fell silent compliantly. “Listen!”
I did try to listen, but I was relieved to hear nothing.
“You can’t hear it,” she noticed sadly, then brightened, pulling me along. “I know, some memories are stronger, maybe…”
She placed my hand on a section, with the initials “SVS” carved over every inch of its surface.
“Broken love. Anything? No? Okay wait, this should do it,” she continued along the line, scanning the desks, walking swiftly past several exhibits, including a highly amusing, but unflattering comparison of educational institutions to incarceration centres until she found what she was looking for.
“Anger. That, unfortunately, is the one that hardly fades.”
Here, I put into words the bare facts, only what happened, without claiming any significance to the event.
As she placed my fingertips onto the desk, whose engravings seemed to be deeper than the others, a chill that I’d rather not try to explain ran down my spine and I could feel goosebumps along my arm.
“Well, that was something,” she said. “I didn’t expect you to hear them, but even you can feel something that intense.”
I didn’t ask her what she meant. I didn’t really want to know. I was perfectly happy trying to deal with the world I could currently interact with, without throwing whatever I’d just felt into the mix as well.
The next day, the classroom had been furnished with new desks and chairs, totally unmarked and untouched by juvenile vandalism.
“It’s silent, isn’t it?”
I jumped. I hadn’t heard Ziya come up behind me.
Silent? I turned to her, doubtful whether the world she lived in was devoid of the early morning chatter of thirty seventeen year-olds that presently occupied mine.
“No, I can hear them,” she said, even though I hadn’t vocally raised my concern. “Can’t you feel the silence though?”
And as much as I was afraid of understanding Ziya, I knew what she meant.
It was one of those things noticeable only by its absence, like a missing tooth. The way you run your tongue over it when the tooth falls off. It’s the empty space that feels different.
Beyond the voices of my classmates, there was an absence, something that had been there yesterday.
Ziya sadly ran a hand over the top of the new metal desk.
I didn’t think she could hear anything anymore.