“Lies!” I defend, before I know which of my old selves this is—it doesn’t matter, for I won’t let her slander my reputation for being someone who does actually clean. She giggles as I look up. Fourteen, I’d say: the first Kiwi. The surprise must show in my expression, for she reads and reflects it.
She seems undaunted by the mess and settles down on my sofa, lounging over a pile of clean clothes; she kicks away some revision notes and watches me wince.
“They’re just paper,” she tells me.
I’m not sure anyone should sound wise at 14, least of all me. “But they’re—”
“Paper,” she repeats, eyes a little hard. “They give you cuts and grades, killed trees and stuff. Just paper.” She looks me up and down, head tilted in curiosity. “What’s up with you?” She gestures to the general state of the room, jabbing special indication at the pile of plates, mugs, cups and other objects that imply consumption. “Even I’m not usually this bad.”
“Tests?” She flaps her wrist and laughs. “Tests are paper too. Too much, if you ask me.”
“I didn’t.” I smile anyway, feeling myself loosen up. “I’m glad you’re here.”
“Why am I here? Not that I mind…you just never get me. It’s usually Fifteen or older, skipping over me. I thought I didn’t matter.”
Her voice is nonchalant and light, but I can tell she’s upset by this thought. I abandon my computer chair and join her on the sofa, resting my head next to hers on the giant stuffed shark. I tug her blonde ponytail, which makes her roll her eyes; she tugs my brunette plait right back.
“You’re important. I wouldn’t be Kiwi at all if it weren’t for you—how could the first not be important? It’s just complicated.”
She shrugs one shoulder and looks to the ceiling, wrinkling her nose at the creepy doll poster there. “It makes me think something happens by fifteen that makes you all able to talk to each other and keeps me out of the loop.”
I shudder a little. “You’re too intelligent sometimes.”
“Hah. Don’t tell my friends that—I’m the silly one. My teachers, either; they’ll start expecting things.”
I hold up my hand. “Scouts honour.”
“They had stale cookies. I quit.”
I remove a finger. “Queer girl’s honour?”
She laughs and bats at my hand. “That’s better.” She takes the scrunchie out of my hair and laughs when I pull a face; she starts undoing my plait. “Why are you stressed about these exams, then?”
“They’re for my final year. I’m kind of a senior in college. We call it ‘finalist student’ here.”
“I assume it comes with the accent. So what’s special about these ones, then?” She loosens my hair and fingers through her own.
“They’re worth a lot. A quarter of my entire time at university, just for these seven exams…I’ve had two already. I have two on Wednesday, one on Thursday, one on Friday…”
“Well that’s a sucky week,” she concludes, shaking her head. She starts plaiting our hair together, all brown and dark blonde like a Reese’s peanut-butter cup. “So not much sleep then.”
“I hope I’ll get some sleep! I just have to be…responsible.”
She looks at me, eyes a little critical, but she’s grinning. “Good luck with that.” I punch her shoulder and she laughs. “It’s okay if you’re not. I’ve got a science project due tomorrow. It’s not a big deal, it’s just school. Lots of paper. There’s more to life. And Murtari won’t care how I do either way! He may be a teacher, but he’s a guy too.”
“I’m just being an idiot.”
“You aren’t. You procrastinate. We,” she gestures at the two of us, finger waggling between us, “procrastinate. We do it well. It’s how we work. If I spent all my time beating myself up for not working, I wouldn’t enjoy my procrastination at all! Where’s the fun in that? It’s not like the teachers don’t procrastinate—think of Murtari! Or even Osborne, I think she does too. They don’t really care what we get, as long as we’re good people and we’re trying and we’re learning and stuff. And we don’t, like, chew gum and use cell phones. Don’t sweat it.”
“And what about Henrich? That little problem with the poster? You cared then.”
“That’s totally different.” She yanks the united plait of our hair and our heads knock together; she looks at me as though it’s my punishment. “That was me being an idiot. That wasn’t just me as a student, that was me as a person—I mean, forgetting to do a project, doing it a day late and forgetting it on the bus? That’s pretty stupid. So I cared. I don’t want Henrich to think I’m stupid. Procrastinator I don’t mind—it’s not me, it’s something I do.”
“Or something you don’t do.”
“Don’t do until the last minute, is the point. But it gets done.” She twists and turns our joint braid like a snake. “You’re cool anyway. Grades are stupid. You’ve got the hair and the clothes and the rainbow and now you’ve got an accent—and I bet you’re cool in other ways, too. That’s what matters. That and passing math.” She looks at me quite seriously. “You don’t actually have to take math anymore, do you?”
I laugh and feel wetness at the corners of my eyes. “No, just statistics, and it’s easy—a computer does it all. Is Varieur still giving you a hard time?”
She groans. “Her dresses are. Can someone tell that woman not to wear black-and-white polka-dotted dresses? She stands in front of the board writing all this stuff we don’t understand and talking to herself, and then steps away and all we can see are patterns. Patterns and her ridiculous pink shoes. I’m probably going to pull a B- again, but it’s a pass, so whatever!”
“B- sounds pretty good to me, for maths.”
She turns to me and pokes me in the nose. “There you go. A B- is good. What are you getting now, then? An A Kazillion Million Plus?”
I wrinkle up my nose and hide my face, turning away until she tugs it back with my hair. “I usually get A’s. Not on exams, though.”
“So you usually get the first letter of the alphabet on most paper, but not on some paper. And that’s supposed to mean you’re a good person. Right?”
“That does sound ridiculous, when you mention it.”
“Good.” She grins. “You’ll be fine. You’ve got killer boots. You really don’t need anything else in life.”
I smile at her. “How could you ever think you weren’t important? I wouldn’t have this name or hair or boots if it weren’t for you, you know.”
She gets a little flustered and turns away, smiling. She watches the unicorn poster she remembers from her own room back home, on another continent and in another year. “Yeah, well, I guess you’re important too—we’d probably still be getting B- if not for you. But don’t forget to be silly. If you get all serious I’ll never get to come back again—it’ll all be Fifteen!”
“I promise. And you’ll be fine with your project, you just won’t get a lot of sleep.”
“Well duh. A deadline kind of implies that.” She takes out the scrunchie and separates our hair with a few brushes of her fingers. “You’ll be fine too. Just don’t let those big tests cut you—a paper cut lasts way longer than some test pain!”
She stands up and watches me struggle some in the shifting laundry pile. I feel her hand grasp mine and yank me up. She laughs at me. “You’d think you were 80, not 21.” Her own leg moves and she winces. “Stupid leg hurts again. Always hurts these days. Stupid groin pull…”
I pull her in for a hug and am glad she’ll just pin it on my being a strange older version of myself. I squeeze her tight, unsure of when this first Kiwi will arrive again. She’s so strong and delicate at once, angered yet amused.
“Thanks for coming by,” I say, a little softer than I had intended.
“Anytime,” she answers immediately, grinning. “Just clean your room next time.”
She laughs as she exits my room, but she peeks around the wall again. “You’ll be fine. No big deal. Life is big and we’re small, so we’ll get lots out of it.”
“You too,” I murmur. I hear a pop and she’s gone.
I think of what happened to break her resolve, and how long it took…and the methods she picked up to regain resilience. I glance at my lists of revision tasks, which spikes my breathing, and see the coping method’s darker side.
But it’s just paper. I’m not paper. Nothing that goes down on paper can wholly capture the complexity of a non-paper entity, even if I’m the one writing it—especially if I’m the one writing it.
I'm finding my revision - or "Daily Dose of Doom" as my 14-year-old self would call it - quite difficult. Mainly because I'm not sure how to study for an essay exam when I'm basing it off science reports made up of statistics, number facts and graphs. That and because it's Mammalian Reproduction. I kind of stink at this class.
I'm tired. I was bad today. I wish I had the sanity I had at 14, though I'm glad I procrastinate a little bit less now - if it's possible to believe.
Alright. Nervous, but back to work with me. Just need to get through this week and I can clean my room, take a little breather before my final exam ever. I can do this. Can do can do can do. Can keep sane. It's just a bunch of paper, a bunch of paper to prove that I've learned the material I needed to in university, the material that tells me too many trees are being cut for too much stuff like paper...
"It was the rainbow gave thee birth, and left thee all her lovely hues."
[W. H. Davies]