"You are enough just as you are."
- Meghan Markle
In the mirror, a girl looks back at me.
Long, thick lashes curl around each corner of her black, dispassionate eyes. Vague, dark circles shadowed her olive skin. A hand raised to caress the slightly rough texture of her colored features, and her eyebrows furrowed in disdain. The detached expression in her eyes turned rotten at the sight of her appearance.
I loathed the sand-like composure of her hide, the vacant aspect of her face, and the frizz and density of her ebony locks.
And her body.
Oh, how I hated the way it looked. I was sure the very sight of it would turn off anybody. She didn't have the perkiness in her breasts that men and women alike adored. She didn't have the clean-shaven body of a slender model. She didn't have the curve in her dull, dip-hips, and she wasn't tall, only reaching her ridiculous height of 150 cm. She wasn't too fat, nor was she too skinny. She was... Average, but not enough to appeal to the eye.
I closed my eyes, not daring to look at the mirror again, knowing well that I would just hate myself more.
"Bellona! Are you done in there? School's starting in 15 minutes!"
"I know. I'll be out soon."
I glanced once more at the girl in the mirror and left the bathroom, wondering if she could ever change the way I wanted her to.
My mom dropped me off in front of the school. A feeling of dread overwhelmed me as I stepped onto the campus grounds. Even if it was only the second week of senior year, the same emotions would always hold me in place like I was some chained dog.
"Have a good day, Bell!"
"Yeah... Sure," was the bland reply that came out of my mouth.
Hearing the car drive away, I adjusted the bag over my shoulders, preparing myself for another shitty day at the academy. I tread my way into the building, greeted by a few judging eyes. I never understood why people liked to base their first opinions on the appearance of others. From the way they looked at me, I just knew they were already making statements about my looks. At least I wasn't shitting on them for the way they looked. I could hardly care less unless their personalities told me otherwise.
Honestly, I couldn't blame them for judging me. Regardless if I was in uniform or not, they would still find me repugnant. I wasn't a sight to look at. If anything, I was average, the kind of average that's noticeable but easily replaceable. Because I was attending an international school, there were plenty of attractive foreigners. I was one of them, excluding the attractiveness.
My first class was Symphonic Orchestra, one of the decent courses in my schedule. I arrived in the performing arts hallway, already hearing the choir students' melodious voices hanging near the practice rooms. I used to be a member of Honor Choir several years back, but I hated the wannabe divas in my group. Hearing the choir students sing everyday sort of made me miss the times when I used to sing.
I entered the orchestra room, the blasting of brass and the droning of strings rang in my ears, overlapped by minimal chatter. I walked to the back room so I could retrieve my viola. I zoomed past the few girls mingling in the corner of the room and grabbed my instrument from the rack. I opened the viola case, checking if everything was the same as they were yesterday. As I examined the contents, I heard the girls tattling amongst themselves in Tagalog.
"Parang baboy ang mukha..."
I heard them laugh, and I frowned. I knew they were talking about me, but I said nothing. I mean... What was I supposed to say? I had a pig nose, and my skin color looked the same as burnt lechon.
"Hindi niya maintindihan ang Tagalog!"
Little did they know, I did understand what they were saying. Tagalog was my second language. I learned it within two months when I visited Manila, but I forgot it overtime after returning to Cebu. Sometimes, I forgot I wasn't in the Philippines anymore. This was America. I feared speaking Cebuano ever since I came to the states, where I was met with racial discrimination. My parents thought that problem would be solved if they made me attend an international school, but nothing seems to have changed.
There may have been an abundant amount of people around the globe attending this academy, but that isn't going to stop the discrimination. It just doesn't magically disappear.
I shut my case, not bothering to even look back at them, and left the backroom, but their words still remained in my head like the countless lyrics of songs I've memorized over the years.
I sat in my assigned chair, unpacked my viola, and prepped it for playing. As I let my instrument rest on my shoulder comfortably, I glanced up at the clock.
It was almost 8 AM.
This was going to be a long day.
Japanese class. The last one of the day.
I loved taking Japanese despite my resentment towards some of the people in the class.
As I was entering the classroom, my Sensei bowed her head and greeted me kindly, "Konnichiwa, Bellona-san!"
"Konnichiwa, Sensei." I greeted timidly. I flashed a small smile at her and wandered off to my seat upfront. The person next to me shifted uncomfortably in her seat. I wasn't sure if this action was out of discomfort from my appearance or from the lack of familiarity. We frequently changed seats everyday. I've never seen this girl in my previous years of Japanese, so I assumed she was new to the academy. Trying not to make her feel that way, I did my best "hello" smile. She looked at me for a quick second and turned her head away, fiddling with her hands.
Terrific, Bellona. Great first impression.
I accepted my little failure and leaned back against my seat, waiting for the rest of the students to barge in. After a few minutes, the bell rang, and Sensei shut the door. Any students who were late to class had no chance of getting in unless they had some late pass.
Sensei gracefully walked to the center and smiled brightly at everyone. "Sara-san, please begin the greetings."
Sara, the girl sitting next to me, shot up from her seat, stuttering. "K-Kiritsu!"
Everyone in the room stood up.
"Rei!" We all bowed and greeted in unison. "Konnichiwa!"
"Chakuseki!" And everyone sat back down.
This was how Japanese class started every day. Sensei would call upon someone to do the daily greeting. I was glad she didn't tell me to do it today. I hated hearing the sound of my unnaturally deep voice. I could easily change my voice's tone and pitch to sound more feminine, but I wasn't going to risk my voice cracking or sounding strange while changing my way of speaking.
As my Sensei sat at her desk, she spoke up. "Today, we'll be changing seats again, but this time..." I heard loud clicking from her keyboard, "This seat change will be permanent."
I heard a couple of people erupt in chatter as she said this. They were probably upset about the new change. I scanned the room through the corner of my eye. I realized that there were a few new faces, the rest being ones that I already knew but never bothered to interact with. Beside me, Sara gulped. Clearly, she was nervous about moving seats. I wasn't exactly excited about it either. I was sure most of the people in the class were not fond of me, and I had no idea why.
The projector turned on, and an image of what looked to be the new seating chart popped up on the board. I searched for my name on the sheet. I was placed somewhere close to the front but in the middle row.
"Refer to the chart when finding your seats, onegaishimasu!"
I could already hear people jumping out of their seats and shuffling around the room. I got out of my chair and retreated to the front of the room, watching everyone look between the board and the rows of desks. I waited to sit down until almost everyone found their spots. I made my way to my assigned seat, plopping myself down on the chair and setting my bag under the desk.
Quickly zipping my bag up and placing my notebook and mechanical pencil on the table, I sat straight in my seat. I heard rustling to the side of me, and I looked to my side. I was met with an incredibly striking hue of grey eyes and smooth, blond locks of hair. I reeled back a bit in surprise. This was someone I never saw in my Japanese class before. Whoever this guy was, he shot a warm smile at me and started speaking, which stunned me.
His voice was like silk, sensuous and insistent, but gravely temperate. It was deep but soft enough to please the ears.
"Um, hello..." I greeted him, a bit shaken. This was a first. Almost all the people who ever bothered to say hi to me were not genuine in their speech, but this guy... This guy was different. The friendliness, rather than the animosity that I was used to, was apparent in his voice.
"This is my first year here at Desert View," the new guy said. It took me a while to notice that he had a minor accent. A British one. "It's not as... cozy as the last school I went to, but it's not bad."
I opened my mouth to respond to his opinion, but my Sensei spoke up first.
"Rinjin ni jiko shōkai shite kudasai."
I hesitantly turned to look at him, and he grinned at me. "I'm guessing we have to introduce ourselves in Japanese?"
I tried to avoid his piercing gaze, but I couldn't bring myself to look away, "Y-Yeah."
"Alright! Ladies first then!" He gestured for me to start, and I paused.
"Ano... H-Hajimemashite. Watashi wa Berōna desu. Soshite, jū nanasai desu. Itaranai ten ga ōi kamo shiremasenga, ganbarimasunode, yoroshiku onegaishimasu."
I bow my head as soon as I end my introduction. There was a short silence, and I slowly look up to see him gaping at me.
"Wow. How'd you speak so fast like that?" He leaned forward in his seat. "I can barely sustain a Japanese accent! You're really impressive!"
I was taken aback by his sudden rush of compliments, and I felt my face heat up in embarrassment. I wasn't used to receiving good feedback from people. I averted my eyes from him. It didn't help that he was undeniably good-looking.
"Anybody here could do what I did..." I mumbled in response.
"Well, for one. I can't do what you did, even though this is my fourth year of Japanese!" He chuckled and lowered his voice enough for only the two of us to hear.
"I'm just gonna introduce myself in English." He jabbed a thumb to his chest. "I'm Cyrus Alistair Drake. You can call me any of those three, but most people call me Drake. I'm from Cambridge, England, and just turned 18 a few weeks ago."
"Sō desu ka? Well um, hajimemashite... Ano... Sairasu-kun."
He beamed at me like a ray of light. "Bellona, huh? Are you... Hawaiian or mixed?"
He simply stared at me with this scrutinizing gaze, and I shifted uncomfortably.
"There's no way you're Filipino!" He shook his head. "You've gotta have some kind of African or Spanish blood in ya!"
I subconsciously lifted a hand to my face to touch my skin. "What makes you say that?" I said, my voice wavering.
Unexpectedly, he reached out and snatched a few strands of my wavy and curly locks. He gently rubbed it between his fingers and said, "All the pure Filipinas I've seen have straight hair. While you have this mix of everything!" He twisted a strand around his finger. "It's honestly exotic and fascinating..."
I was... Astonished. It was my first time hearing someone say that about my hair. Ever since I came to America, the only comments I've ever received from anyone were: Horsehair, wig hair, and witch hair. Back in the Philippines, everyone thought my parents weren't my real parents. They thought I came from an African or Pacific Islander family or something. There was never a single compliment that came from anyone, except now.
"Fascinating?" I muttered. There was no way in hell this was real. He was probably just saying that to seem nice.
He'll just hurt you like everyone else.
Out of instinct, I swatted his hand away, startling him by my abrupt action.
"Bullshit," I whispered and turned away from him. I could feel his eyes burning into me now, but I had no regrets.
I heard him sigh.
"Sorry. I must've made you uncomfortable. I should've asked first before touching your hair like that." He clicked his tongue, "A shitty first impression I must've made there..."
Deep inside, I felt a pang of guilt.
Was he genuinely trying to be nice to me?
Don't believe it.
Their kindness is all an illusion.
Trust no one.
I said nothing in response to his apology. I just wanted the class to be done and over with now.
It wasn't my first time meeting guys like him. Always so kind and open on the outside, but devilish and devious on the inside. Next thing you know, they'll either throw you away or use you as a tool for their convenience. I just... can't bring myself to become friends with anyone. They're just going to judge me and hurt me, treating me like I don't even have feelings! I have to keep my guard up at all times, no matter who it is.
Don't let some pretty boy waver your thoughts.
Trust no one, Bellona.
Not even yourself.
"Okay, class! Take out your textbooks!"
Hearing my Sensei finally speak up after a while relieved some of my stress, but deep down, something in me was cracking.
And I know it would soon break.
I watch Cyrus from the corner of my eye as I take my textbook out.
I wish I could trust you, but everything inside me tells me that you'll end up being just like them...
Parang baboy ang mukha: Her face is like a pig
Hindi niya maintindihan ang Tagalog: She can't even understand Tagalog
Nakakahiya naman: What a shame/Such a shame
Konnichiwa: Good afternoon
-san: A Japanese honorific closely meaning Mr., Miss, Ms., or Mrs.
Kiritsu: Stand up
Chakuseki: Sit down
Rinjin ni jiko shōkai shite kudasai: Please introduce yourself to your neighbor
Ano... H-Hajimemashite. Watashi wa Berōna desu. Soshite, jū nanasai desu. Itaranai ten ga ōi kamo shiremasenga, ganbarimasunode, yoroshiku onegaishimasu: Um... Pleased to meet you. My name is Bellona and I am 17 years old. I might have many flaws, but I'll do my best so please be kind to me
Sō desu ka: Is that so
-kun: A Japanese honorific used to address men, male children, male teenagers, or male friends or used by people of senior status addressing or referring to those of junior status