I never asked for much in life. I was always taught to keep quiet and stay in the background, because who wants to deal with repercussions, right?
I guess my parents' teachings worked. To a certain degree, that is. For the most part, I kept my mouth shut and was rewarded with a life free of trouble. Even when I wanted to speak out, when I wanted to call someone every curse word under the sun, I resisted, because why burden myself with the consequences?
Well, it's how I thought most of the time. Other times, I didn't want to remain in the shadows. I wanted to go out and live. I wanted to escape the burden of my 'virtuous' title and stir mischief. I wanted to prove to myself that a little trouble is okay — if done in moderation.
But my mother would never allow that.
"Absolutely not, Kyra." Her voice was like a whip, cracking and cleaving the air, a sound far too loud for the cramped space of my room. "Sit down and study. Partying will only rot that clever brain of yours."
I blew out a frustrated breath. A stubborn woman, my mother could not be swayed. In this house, her word was the law, and not even my angel of a father, bless him, could say a word against her. "It's just the way it is, Kyra," he'd tell me, clear resignation in his voice. "Your mother always has the final say. It'd do you good to remember that."
And I tried. I really did try to acclimatise to my mother's stern ways, but there was always something she did that was a step too far. I was smart; I choose my battles wisely, and many times I didn't put up a fight at all, if only because I knew the outcome.
But this party was something I had to do. A lot was weighing on this, and I couldn't afford to miss it.
"But why, ma? I'm about to graduate and I've never gone to one, not once!" My words rang true. In all my eighteen years of existence, I'd never attended a social gathering that wasn't family-oriented. I wasn't allowed to, and I suppose it tied back to my mother's analogy — remain in the background and keep out of trouble. In my mother's head, high school parties were breeding grounds for trouble. But didn't she know I wasn't like that?
It seemed she didn't. Her expression was stone, the hard-set lines of her face rough-hewn and cold. It was a risk, but I persisted, "Could you please consider it? Just this once? I won't drink or smoke or anything like that!"
My mother's slanted eyes narrowed. "No." She said it with a kind of finality that could stop tsunamis. "Stop revering this American-ized nonsense. I didn't bring you here to party, I bought you here to give you an edge in your academics."
I ground my teeth, and though I was tempted to blurt one of the many turbulent thoughts in my head, I knew I had to choose my next words carefully. My mother found academics a touchy subject.
"I've lived here my whole life, ma. I know life was tough where you were born, but that isn't the case here. I've grown up alongside these people, and this is what they do. Isn't it fair to say that I might want to experience it along with them?"
I thought over my mollified words. Anyone else may have paused to consider them, but not my mother. Lightning flashed through her eyes in an instant, the slate-greys roiling like storm clouds. Though I shared my mother's eyes, mine never burned like hers. I didn't have her combative spirit or will of fire. Where hers stormed, mine was quiet, like the static clouds of an overcast sky.
"Enough, Kyra!" She snapped. I recoiled into my bed. "You're incredibly ungrateful! My eighteen-year-old self would have given everything to be in your position. You're just—" she stopped herself short and sighed. Then, slowly, she raised herself to her full height. "You can't do one thing to make me happy, girl. You're always trying to push my boundaries, disappointing me, and sometimes I find myself wondering what it would be like to have a daughter who didn't."
I sucked in a harsh breath, as though she'd physically struck me. And, with the way my body throbbed, she might as well have.
I bit my lip and blinked back tears. I couldn't let her know she'd bested me — again.
She saw my tears, of course. She saw them and glared. Weak, I could almost hear her say, as she whirled around and flew out the door, slamming it shut with a loud bang. Nothing short of an earthquake followed, as everything in the room trembled in the wake of my mother's wrath — myself included.
After a few moments of silence, I allowed a tear to fall. I don't know why her words affected me so much. It wasn't the first time she'd uttered them. In fact, she'd only started saying it after seeing how hard I flinched the first time.
Furiously wiping away my tears, I stole a quick glance around my room. Trophies gleamed within their wooden case, several golden medallions clinking together as the last of the reverberations passed through them.
Gold. Everything was gold, because I was always winning — be it at academics or athletics. But for Mother, gold wasn't good enough. She wanted platinum. She wanted diamond. I had to be better, stronger, smarter, and lord forbid anyone best me.
I hated it. My life was nothing but a struggle to be the best, even when such a thing wasn't possible. I spent hours caged up in my room studying, and when I wasn't, I was out training for athletics. Even running — something I had once enjoyed — felt like a chore now. I wasn't even allowed the things other people my age had, like phones or gadgets or anything that could be a potential distraction. I wasn't even allowed a book unless it related to my studies in some way. I couldn't recall the last time I'd sat down and enjoyed a charming piece of fiction.
So lord forbid I attend a party.
My gaze shifted to the four-paned window, and I found myself staring out with longing. The final rays of sunlight were bleeding into the indigo sky, a few stars already winking amidst the faint clouds. I wondered how my friend, Alia, would feel when she noticed my absence at the party.
A painful knot formed in my chest. I'd promised Alia that I would find a way to attend the party with her. She'd been so joyful when I'd made that vow; it was as though I'd offered her a million dollars.
Like me, Alia had never attended a party. In the absence of strict parents, her reasons varied from mine, but I suppose they were just as valid. She didn't want to go because she feared she would seem too "awkward" by herself. Despite the many encouragements from her parents and myself, Alia had made it clear she would only attend if I were to go as well.
Great, I thought bitterly. Just another thing to add to my ever-growing list of things to do.
I looked out the window again, watching the final rays of sunlight fade into oblivion. Nevertheless, I could understand why Alia would want that. I was her only friend. Whereas I lacked friends because I didn't particularly want any, she couldn't make them even when she tried. It was why I made her so happy, and the feeling was mutual. In a life weighed down by expectations, Alia was my sunshine. Her bubbly nature was infectious, and many times it leaked into mine.
Guilt jabbed at my heart again. I could only imagine her disappointment at my not showing up. I sighed, and as I was about to turn away, a reckless thought entered my head.
I dismissed it immediately. In this house, sneaking out would be the equivalent of suicide. I'd never experienced my mother's worst punishments, but I didn't plan to discover what those punishments entailed, either.
Even so, I pondered the idea. There was something enticing about it — welcoming, even. Freedom was standing right before me, painted in indigo skies and fading street lamps and flickering stars, barred by nothing more than a flimsy latch on a paint-cracked window. I stared again into the world beyond, watching the trees sway in the breeze, their branches like arms beckoning me forward. Unconsciously, my hand drifted towards the latch.
I slapped myself away, gaze snapping to the door. What the hell was I thinking? Hell, I knew I had a rebellious bone in me, but I'd never gone to this extent! This was suicide!
Even so, I couldn't bear to think of Alia's disappointment. I wasn't sure I could stand hearing those sullen words again: "It's okay, Kyra. Maybe next time."
I returned my gaze to the window and, surprisingly, felt resentful. To my mother, I was a bad child. I was a constant disappointment, no matter how hard I tried or how well I performed. There was always a fault. So what did it mean to add another flaw to my mother's extensive list, one she could use against me in the future?
Maybe it was the fact that Alia deserved to experience teenage freedom as much as I did, or maybe I was simply going insane, but I unlatched the window and pushed it open. The cool breeze kissed my skin in an instant, numbing my senses and quieting my thoughts. I didn't want to think about the repercussions at that moment. I just needed to be there for my friend, and myself.
Without another thought, I straddled the window and shimmied down the drainpipe, trying not to make a sound as I thudded to the earth. I tried not to dwell too much on what I was doing, on what would happen if I got caught. Before I had an inch to change my mind, I stumbled onto the footpath and began my brisk walk down the street.