CONTENT WARNING: ABUSE, BULLYING, SELF-INJURIOUS BEHAVIOUR, RAPE
How can this even happen?
(Vitor wonders, shivering, hands gnawing at the inside of his pockets like ten eager fangs.)
How can he get away with it? There's a borderline strategic value behind the other boy's attitude, something that implies targeting as an appropriate plan of action.
(His nervous hands don't release the navy blue fabric at any point.)
While the teachers are eager to ambush any kind of misbehavior, hiding in the surroundings - Mrs. PE, Mr. History, Mrs. Geography, Mrs. Literature-Grammar-and-Portuguese - he transforms and shapeshifts into a whole new person, one who walks between plastic tables chanting cheerfully:
“Good morning, Vitor, Pedro, oh yes! Good morning, Maria Laura, good afternoon, good morning, what a beautiful, beautiful day this is!”
(What a clown, Vitor thinks, but no sound leaves his compressed lips. The white cotton shirt has black ink spots, and says, in all capital letters: o Municipal School of Rio de Janeiro.)
The theatrical entrance comes to an end, and this is when everyone starts to worry, as he sits on top of his table - Vitor's table.
“André Bianco! Leave Vitor alone,” Mrs. Geography announces, in a stern tone. André raises his hands in false pacifism, the right one holding Maria Laura's stolen star-shaped eraser:
“But we're such good friends, prof, I swear!”
(Vitor holds his breath. The blue nylon is forgotten under the desk, over his legs. The stained t-shirt rests straight, covering his chest. A pentagram made of brass lies over his sternum. His empty look wanders to the blackboard. André obscures part of his view.)
During a brief moment of seeming recognition, Mrs. Geography analyzes the scene:
Two boys of the same age (15 and 15-and-a-half, to be more precise), sharing the same class for five long years, since they were nine. One is tall, slim, athletic, somewhat good-looking; B+ and A- grades in most subjects. Plays soccer and volleyball. Acquainted with the majority of his classmates. His leg covers an open notebook, and he shows a braced smile (rubber bands colored dusky blue). His right foot shakes repeatedly in the air, like a tic. One hand holds the pink eraser, and two shiny dog tags hang from his neck.
The other, well…the other is Vitor.
Before finally obeying her, André turns to face the other boy:
When André first met Vitor, he wanted to giggle. He was wearing a school uniform too big for his infantile size - a baggy t-shirt falling halfway down his thighs, and synthetic blue pants folded by his mom so he wouldn't drag them on the floor. But this wasn't the first detail of his appearance André's quick eyes had noticed, of course; no amount of battered clothes could distract others - could distract him - from the surprise waiting patiently above Vitor's neck.
“Here comes the ocelot! Meow!”
At nine, André was shorter than most of the girls, but he compensated with a habit about to become typical: sitting on tables. His own, other people's, Vitor's.
Vitor’s tiny little kiddy hands covered his tiny little kiddy face. He knew what they meant: jaguatirica, feminine noun, the Tupi word for ocelot. Coating his cheeks, both sides, small white patches sprinkled the russet skin, coming from the corners of the mouth and going down his neck.
He shouldn't have done that. André stared in amazement, squashing his own hair, dark and curly, heart beating accordingly. Vitor's fingers also had rosy white stains.
Ocelot, in his opinion, kept being as fitting a title as it had been on the first day, even as time passed. Year after year, Vitor got new white-dyed freckles (“Vitiligo, André!” yells the prof, bright red and frantic.) By fifteen, his face wasn't completely uncolored – the eyes had a bleached fragment in the middle of each row of upper lashes like biological eyeliner, the patches in the fingers climbing up his arms, and mixed their lightness with Vitor's natural brownness.
Then, he started with the black - black leather wristband, black hoodie, black home-dyed uniform, black sneakers, black socks, even black eyeliner. Kinda gross, André thought. Kind of girly. It matched the dark stripes of the cat, though, so it was all good for André's sense of humor.
“Does your mom allow you to leave the house like this, Ocey?” One shoulder crash in the middle of the corridor, and Vitor would fall to the ground. The dog tags swung back and forth with the movement. “What ya gonna do, kitty? Meow at me?”
André kicked that nasty old notebook he had in his hands, trashing the printed image of a silly goth band with his Nike sneakers.
“Fuck off, Bianco,” Vitor growled like a wounded cub, still on his palms and knees, trying to put everything inside his backpack. His long fringe was the color of his eyes, so big, shiny and brown. “Leave me alone.”
“Kitties that scratch people get declawed, y'know that?”
André towered over him, taller and stronger, a hyperactive enthusiast of anything involving impact. He shoved Vitor back to the ground, his left foot gluing him to where he belonged (underneath me). Finally, he smiled. A small glimpse of silver metal and blue rubber appeared with his yellowy teeth. He liked that. The reaction, that is - that's what he lived for. You shouldn’t have done that. Seeing anger and shame merging behind Vitor's low gaze made his blood pump like an injection of adrenaline. Watching him, he felt his heartbeat get out of control, just like when they were children.
After a sonorous slap against the other boy's nape, André walked out of the corridor, and yelled:
“If you keep showing your fangs, I'll take you to the vet, eh?”
(—ow how how how h—)
Vitor was dizzy. Hair fell over his nose and lids, blurring his vision, and he could feel his whole body move, like it was being pushed by another.
(no, no, no, how)
Still, he couldn't quite grasp what was happening. André was over him, again, like always. Every centimeter of skin that touched his was burning like boiling water, and the agitated breathing could belong to either one of them. Shaking, Vitor began to understand.
He was sprawled on the floor of one of the school's abandoned bathrooms, the one near the second building, right behind the bushes and the golden trumpet tree (Vitor recognized the disgusting beige tiles, as he had been there, in the same position, so many other times before). The door had a few wooden boards to keep students away, but they both knew you didn't need much to get in; just a strong push and it was done. André's hands were clasped tightly around his neck, choking the air out of him, but that wasn’t the only reason Vitor couldn't breathe: he was also suffocating with the blood flowing out of his nostrils, the result of two punches and the reason he struggled to think.
“— n't brea—”
(André stops; Vitor coughs, trying to get up, but he's still over him.)
(No, fuck, no)
Vitor isn't the only one bleeding. Fat red drops fall on his round cheek. André is pushing himself inside his body, between his legs. The dog tag that says “Bianco, José Onofre, Brazilian Marine, A+” is tickling the skin of his jaw. The other, “Bianco, João Otávio, Brazilian Marine, B+”, is trapped between his front teeth. It would be shocking if it was the first time, but it isn't. It started out with a kiss, years ago. It happened mid quinta série; André had slammed him against the wall, stolen a kiss, and ignored him for a week.
After that one week, he did it again. Vitor answereed that one. A strong bite followed, tasting metallic, and their tongues curled without thinking. His mental excuses were many - hormones, irritation, and some hypothetical masochistic attraction he didn’t choose to have. It was forced on him, wasn’t it? André mocked him in the corridors, imitating a cat, inventing new nicknames for his condition. And then, when no-one was looking, it turned physical.
(André delivers a push, Vitor pushes him back; the blow hurts a lot).
Ow ow ow, André covers his jaw with long fingers, tanned from hours spent beneath the sun. Kissing and hitting are not that different, really, one just hurts less than the other.
“André,” now he can talk, and his insides stops aching as badly, “André, please, stop.” The words are liberating in a sense, making Vitor come back to reality. He begs, his face is dirty and messy. Tears cloud his sight, but he – again - is not the only one crying.
“What did you just call me?” Bianco is how you address me, André's hysterical expression seems to yell, his hazel eyes splashing salt water. Bianco, Bianco. The class has three different Andrés (Bianco, Costa-e-Silva, Santos), but only one Vitor.
“Ah…?” Vitor is confused. It's his chance to shove him out of his bruised thighs, pulling back the blue pants to cover both genitals and the heavily cut skin. Using a box cutter on his legs is the only way his mother won't find out, but, thinking about it, André is the only one who knows for a long, long time.
(André starts sobbing. Standing, Vitor is struck by a welcomed sense of superiority)
“Why did you...?”
“I don't know!”
That sense is gone. Vitor shrieks back, running to the sink. He washes his face repeatedly, and his hands, the dirt under the nails, the parts of hair with dried blood, and proceeds to soak the t-shirt with water.
“I don't know, okay?”
Everyone is laughing when André walks in.
No human being is as cruel as teenagers, it seems; no-one is as heartless. Whether that’s statistically true or not, he wouldn’t find out quick enough to make a point back in 2005. Things were not as simple. The fact was that his classmates turned cloaks quicker than they changed clothes, André considered, standing next to the blackboard.
No one laughed at Maria Laura (that fat and unbearable know-it-all, with her pink notebook and silly frills), no one laughed at Pedro (slimy and silent, and whose existence was enough to annoy him). No one laughed at Vitor, god damn Vitor.
This time, they were all mocking him.
Changing the view to another angle, to a desk near the last window - his table, the one where he carved his initials A.B. with the box cutter he stole from Vitor - André tried to analyze the issue. Without a word, he walked slowly to his place, and realized someone had lifted the garbage can, and thrown the entirety of its contents over his chair and table. Even the floor was filthy.
Back to the blackboard, all sorts of things were written there with chalk, and the eraser nowhere to be seen. Every single one of them was about him.
It's his turn to shake, his turn to look around, eyes bulging, skin whitening like a ghost. André feels boneless, watching the expectation on their faces, awaiting the outburst that never comes. André doesn’t move. His eyes are ablaze. His throat is dry, closing up. Actually, he can’t remember a single occasion where - joke's on me - everyone turned against him. It was always Vitor. Maria Laura, maybe. Pedro, frequently. But, most of all, Vitor.
So, this time, André doesn't scream. He just runs, holding the dog tags and swearing that next time he'll punch them in the face. Next time, he'll figure something big, to make them all feel as bad as he did.
Before he leaves, he glances at Vitor, waiting in the last row of tables of the classroom. The other boy, bangs falling over the right eye, stares back. White spots dotting both cheeks, dark hickeys adorning his neck, black shirt with long sleeves. Vitor smiles at him:
Querelle is a Brazilian writer of prose and comics. When she's not writing about teenage tragedies, she publishes speculative fiction under the name H. Pueyo. Find her online on Twitter.