The eyes aren’t the portal to the soul. The eyebrows are.
Shave them off and you’ll know. You’ll see the stares; you’ll feel how people slowly alter their path when you come closer. They do that even when you’re far away, when they can’t yet see what might be wrong with you. They just know that there is something very wrong.
Like Martina in 7th grade. She was a ginger; soulless. So it was okay that we bullied her. You can’t hurt someone doesn’t have a soul. She was a person to be pushed, not touched.
It was fun to push her into the lockers. She never fought back; she just accepted it as her fate to be squeezed between lockers and the bodies of bigger girls and sometimes boys. Nobody moved away when she came. Nobody played by the rules when she was there – to move aside, make space to allow each other to pass. All just walked straight and Martina had to find a way; to squeeze to the side, between elbows and lockers, hoping that they didn’t attempt to connect.
It wasn’t us that ripped her hair out. She did that herself. Sitting in that seat, on the right side of class, close to the exit, she pushed her right hand deep into her curls. Then she pulled and twisted her arm, but her head stayed in place, unmoving except for the occasional twitch. She pulled the hand out with full force, holding a tuft that disappeared in her bag. She never looked back. She knew we were all staring.
Rumor had it at night her mom would sew the hair back to her head.
Martina wasn’t that bad, really. Just a ginger. Not like us.
The 4th of May Martina came to school. Lucy pushed her against the doorframe. Stella and Grace made fun of her when she came into the corridor and when she stood at her locker and when she went into class. Nick and Luke threw spitballs at her.
Nick and Luke made a bet. Nick said I would and Luke said I wouldn’t. I grabbed her left boob from behind. She was warm and soft. Luke cursed. For the two seconds that I held onto her chest I felt her heartbeat. It felt comfortable and warm and like the most wonderful thing I’d ever felt. In that moment, for the first time, I thought she might have a soul after all.
I said “Eww” and Nick laughed and Luke laughed and I laughed.
Martina bent her right arm upwards and behind her head and shoved her hand into her hair and she grabbed and we all watched how she pulled and struggled and we all heard the handful of hair rip from her skull. The teacher turned and looked at the class; then she turned back to the board and to how Rome built a wall in the middle of Britain. A dark red appeared in the light red of Martina’s hair.
“Gingers are so weird,” whispered Nick.
On the 4th of May we all thought that Martina didn’t have a soul.
That night I found a tuft of red hair in my bag. It was crusted and sticky at one end.
That night I saw her eyes whenever I closed mine.
That night I heard her heartbeat. I heard it in my chest, as if her heart was hidden behind mine.
The 5th of May she came to school and she entered the front door, but nobody wanted to push her. When she walked through the hallway and into the classroom a corridor opened for her, no matter where she went.
On the 5th of May we all saw that Martina didn’t have a soul.
We all stopped. Stopped pushing, grabbing, throwing, laughing. Just not the talking; the talking got more, but it turned to a whisper.
During lunch we all watched her. Watched how she chose a face and stared that face to death. Stared without emotion, without passion, without anger, without anything; just stared so hard that all that sat next to her chosen face slowly shifted away.
And the kid Martina stared at, they just froze. They left their spoon hanging half-way between tray and mouth and the straw of the milk packet in the corner of their lips. You couldn’t even see their chests moving anymore.
The bell. Martina turned and left and the face slowly thawed. With the face a shivering body returned to the warm inside of the cafeteria after a long and cold winter.
Nick said her pupils grew and swallowed him into a world of green ice and blue water fighting against one another and he was in the midst, drowning without hope for air, clawing for blocks of ice and at the same time escaping their sharp edges. He spent months there; a whole winter. He didn’t say much for the rest of the week.
When Lucy thawed she was gagging; gasping for air.
Grace held her cross and sank to the floor.
Luke dug his fingers in my arm.
Stella just cried.
And I was watching them all and I was one of those that were shifting away. But Martina never stared at me; I just stared at her, at this smooth spot above her eyes, wondering if the eyebrows had ever been there. I couldn’t remember anymore what she had looked like.
She was untouchable on the corridors. She flew past bodies and lockers and doorframes. In class she sat with her eyes to the board and her voice turned off, ripping single hairs out of her skull. And I watched her. Not even the teachers spoke to her anymore.
She hadn’t just lost her soul, she also lost all emotion. No smile, no anger, no boredom, no curiosity. Smooth, perfect, unmoving skin above frozen eyes and framed by red curls.
For years I watched her and for years she was just there and not. She moved through the school as if through a magic maze, an untouchable gliding smoothly through a tunnel that crisscrossed right through our world. She wrote exams, passed classes, switched schools. And I kept watching her as she froze new people in a new world.
I woke up every night, hundreds of times, with her eyes in my mind and a cough and the distinct taste of hair and blood in my mouth.
I dreamt of her climbing into my room and of her feeding me tufts of hair.
I fantasized about her climbing into my room and pressing her naked body against mine.
Even in my fantasy her skin felt cold.
In 11th grade, May the 4th, I stood at my locker. Martina glided around the corner, past the students of my world and along the corridor. Her tunnel broke. She stopped right in front of me. For the first time her eyes locked into mine and I too saw the ocean moving within her.
For the first time in years, she smiled.
She raised her left hand and placed it right on the left side of my chest.
Others stopped walking and stared at the miracle of the broken tunnel.
Her hand was first very cold, then slowly warm.
“Thank you,” she said. “For taking care of it.”
My chest grew warm, then hot. She pulled herself close to me. Her other hand rested on my shoulder. She stretched up and gave me a warm kiss on the cheek.
She pulled away before I could return the touch or kiss. She found a way through the crowd. My chest grew even hotter.
Someone whistled, many voices laughed.
And while they cheered I pressed my hands against my chest and I sank, slowly, to the floor and the floor, slowly, disappeared into an impalpable black.
The 5th of May I woke up under a white ceiling in a white room and a white bed and a white gown and with a heavy white pain in my chest. My hands were dull and tickling, but they still felt bandages under the gown.
They pulled a tumor from my chest; a tumor nearly as big as a fist that was pushing against the back of my heart. A teratoma, they said, but that didn’t mean much to me.
It was there for years, growing and feeding itself from my blood. It had grown round and thick. Teratoma, the doctor told me, often grow hair, but they never found one with as much as mine; long, curly hair that had spread in my chest and begun to tie around my heart.
It took a while, but I’m okay now. The scar is still there as a reminder, but I’m alive.
Martina, she looks pretty with her new eyebrows. Now she looks alive too, as if her soul has returned.
We never talked about what happened, or how. But sometimes, when she lies in my arms and thinks that I’m asleep, she runs her fingers along my scar and I can hear her whisper “Thank you.”