Daniel read the assigned text the previous night. Hence, he’s prepared for what’s going to be covered in today’s class, and by those standards, he’s prepared for the reaction such topic will inflict.
At least that’s what he tells himself.
He should be used to this, honestly. If the dried smashed potato currently residing on his shirt, which he intelligently hides by zipping up his sweater, isn’t evidence enough of how often he encounters such kind of treatment. And how good he is at appearing dignified and non disturbed by the contents of his food tray being tossed at his unsuspecting person, if that’s not evidence enough, then he doesn’t know what is.
Daniel mindlessly brushes his hand over the spot on his sweater under where the yellowish smudge is. He spent over twenty minutes trying to clean it off in the bathroom to no avail.
Yeah, he should be used to this.
Today’s topic of discussion in Daniel’s oh-so-favorite biology class is: The Immune System. Don’t get him wrong, he finds this kind of thing really interesting, ironic really, as most people would think he should be tired of hearing about something so often and which has so much influence over his life. Nevertheless, Daniel finds the human body fascinating, even when he feels betrayed by his own. What he does have a problem with, if you can even call it a problem, is with the sciences. He is not religious by any stretch of the imagination, but he still holds a grudge against science for not being able to explain certain things. So many things. Like dark matter, or the reason why we yawn, or how exactly did fifteen precent of the population came to be. But Daniel supposes it could be worse. He could have been born in a place where what little science has been able to explain is ignored, and instead of being seen as an outcast whose appearance is a natural anomaly, but natural nonetheless, he was seen as demonic and his body parts were used for witchcraft and the like.
So thank god for small blessings.
Miss Rose switches the class discussion from the function of the immune system to the consequences of its failing. The young new science teacher briefly directs her gaze towards the student who’s still mindlessly running his hand through his abdominal area, does he have a stomachache? She quickly discards the thought, as it wouldn’t be her problem anyway. The teenager has been coming in and out of his thoughts throughout the entire class, and maybe the woman would feel a bit more guilty about what she is about to do. That would be the case if it wasn't for the feeling of being ignored Daniel was inflicting on her, and of her self righteous idea that this is a good opportunity to show firsthand how what she is teaching looks like in real life. Is a teaching opportunity, she thinks, completely disregarding the possible feelings her daydreaming student might have on the matter. Besides, they don’t pay her enough for this.
“Our immune system protects us from diseases and potentially damaging foreign bodies. However, sometimes, in its attempt at doing this, it-”
“Creates people like Dalmatian over there,” at hearing the creative nickname of the day Ricky has bestowed upon him, Daniel stops his hand movement over that un-fucking washable spot on his shirt (who knew potatoes were such jack asses). He knows he should be more irritated at hearing Ricky calling him a Dalmatian, mostly considering the fact that the forsaken potato curse was given to him by Ricky himself, but that is something Daniel can safely say he’s used to, unlike the other guy’s more physical ‘attacks’ towards him. Besides, he supposes he would be irritated if he wasn’t so nonplused by the infantile level Ricky’s insults were coming down to, and a bit surprised at the latter’s scientific understanding of the very disease he constantly bullies him for.
He hated the guy.
Most would say hate is a strong word, but it really isn’t when it exactly describes what you feel towards another person. The word isn’t strong, the feelings it describes are. It isn’t surprising though, as anyone would adhere to that word in respect to the person that has tormented them since freshman year for something they have no control over. What is surprising, however, is the fact that for every time Ricky has tripped him, embarrassed him, and humiliated him, Daniel can’t get himself to not understand his antagonizer. And thus, Daniel finds himself in a constant understanding type of hate when going through everything Ricky makes him go through. Because if Daniel was someone with internalized hostility and he met someone like himself, he wouldn’t miss the chance at letting it all out by tormenting him as well. It just would be too easy, as he doesn’t doubt it is for Ricky to do so with him. It’s gotten to a point that when Ricky pulls one of his little antics, Daniel barely reacts, which could either be accounted to Daniel’s understanding of his bully or to his boredom of the usual. Still, the silence and understanding simply ends up fueling his hate for the guy more, so nothing’s really changed.
As the childish fucking class full of juniors and seniors erupts in a wave of snickers and small laughs, Daniel ignores the urge to turn around and glare at the red head who initiated it all. Instead, he directs his attention to the teacher in front, as he wasn’t worried about his classmates possible reactions but about the way the teacher might handle this subject. He really hates being the center of attention, and while being the subject to Ricky’s stupid jokes and taunts does make him one, it’s an entirely different type of torture and humiliation to be displayed as an animal by your teacher and being ogle with eyes of fascination and pity by your classmates. Daniel really didn’t want this to go there. But so it shall because the universe despises him and who gives a crap about how he feels anyway.
Instead of getting irritated over the interruption of her class, Ms. Rose felt robed of her duty by Ricky bringing up something she was so excited to bring up to the subject herself. Daniel didn’t fail to notice that, and when Ms. Rose simply waved a hand of dismissal towards Ricky’s comment, Daniel knew he was fucked.
“Mr. Wilson here is a great example of that,” the woman keeps going, as though she hadn’t been interrupted at all. She indicates to Daniel’s general direction with her chalky hand, for anyone who doesn’t know who ‘Mr. Wilson’ is. In the face of such unwanted, but predicted, attention and the dread he feels because of it, Daniel sits straighter, his shoulders back. Because he might want to disappear right now but he won’t give anyone the satisfaction of knowing he does. Because he might feel like a shit being displayed in a zoo but no one has to know he is.
“Mr. Wilson’s immune system attacks the pigment cells in his skin, also known as melanocytes. This causes the visible discolored patches you all can see and in many cases, as in this one, it also affects his hair”
Daniel could sense all the eyes in the room boring holes into him, but he just sits straighter, defiantly. This is who I am he wants to say with his stance, it’s not just some disease you can all leer at, it is part of who I am. And I am not a spectacle. But he is, he is the live example of what they’re going to be tested on next week. And so they eye him, looking and deconstructing all that he sees when he looks into a mirror:
His dark skin being tainted by white spots. They can’t see the bigger patches covering his arms, how it gets increasingly smaller around his shoulder and collarbone area, thankfully that’s hidden by his choice of clothing. What everyone can see, however, are the white markings on his hand and fingers, the way they disturb his should-be-dark complexion. The unnatural freckles spreading across his face, on the bridge of his nose, on the side of his mouth, taking over and polluting what should be normal. He knows about the one that looks like a stain around his right temple, how it broadens and expands across his head and contaminates part of his black curls with that aberrant whiter than white white. He knows about the contrasting color of his eyelashes. And of that one spot awfully close to his left eye. He knows about everything, because all of it is part of him.
And Daniel hates it, because hate is not a strong word.
“Vitiligo is generally considered an autoimmune disorder, can someone tell me why?”
Daniel sees a hand being raised by the corner of his eye, and he takes in a big breath and sighs. After all, he knew this was coming.
“Because the immune system mistakenly attacks its own body,” that snarky voice Daniel knows too well answers, after the teacher indicates permission for the owner of the hand to speak. Miss Rose praises Ricky, and just about when Daniel starts to have a little hope that that will be it the fucker adds, “How does it feel to be betrayed by your own body, Danny?”
Now, most of the time, when Ricky taunts him this way (which is often) Daniel lowers his eyes and keeps going as though nothing was said. He ignores the snickers and the occasional looks of pity, he ignores the witnesses who find the act abhorring but don’t do anything to stop it. He ignores it all. But for some unknown reason that Daniel won’t be able to figure out in the future, despite how much he thinks about it, in this particular instant, he turns around and meets his offender right in the eye. Trying to gather all the confidence that he doesn’t have, and forgetting for that moment that doesn’t have any. He stares into those so hatefully familiar blue eyes, which have something about them Daniel has never been able to pin point, and snarls,
“Real creative, Richard. You keep impressing me everyday”
The boy simply stares back, taken aback by Daniel’s queer behavior. He quickly composes himself and a slight smirk forms on his face.
“It talks!” He announces, the usual snickers following his comment, “My, I’ve always thought you were mute apart from sick.”
Then Daniel sees it, that weirdly colored patch on the ginger’s cheek. Daniel, due to his condition, is an expert at identifying skin colorations that shouldn’t be there, and that is most certainly skin-toned makeup on Ricky’s cheek. Daniel’s noticed it before, odd things like that about the boy. In fact, Daniel noticed the same thing earlier today when his lunch was being dumped all over his front, he didn’t think about it then. But now he sees it, although he was aware of it before, and even though his hatred towards the Ricky isn’t diminished, he can’t no longer unsee it.
That’s when they hear it.
Like something coming to existence out of nowhere. Like something making its way into reality from nothing. It stops Daniel’s rebuttal on its tracks and makes everyone freeze on the spot. Because they know, they’ve been warned about that sound before, they know what it brings with it.
The room holds a breath.
Ms. Rose, whose been sitting on the sidelines of the previous confrontation, takes a minute before processing what’s happening. Trying to make sense of the sound and the stillness that followed it.
Then some student bleakly vocalizes, “No one’s going to check?”