Chapter 6: Brave

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The following Monday, the new school year starts. It's our second year of the Baccalaureate and we've got a tough year ahead of us, and it's just Juan and I. We miss Diego and Fátima a lot. Marina has already finished school, she's a year older than us. At least we're in the same class to give each other strength. To everybody's surprise, Nico shows up for the first day of classes. We thought he'd dropped out. He has this arrogant need to tell everybody every single detail about his summer; if not, he'll choke up and die from asphyxia. He's dressed all in white to contrast with his deep tan, complete with a pair of bright orange sneakers. He talks a lot louder than necessary, compulsively shooting glances at everybody around him. He flicks his right wrist back and forth again and again as he explains this summer's exploits:

"It was awesome, we had the fucking time of our lives. They invited us to this birthday party. I've never had so much fun in my fucking life. We got totally wasted and passed out in a buddy's villa on the beach."

Juan walks past without looking at him. He's so focused on getting out of the classroom he steps on one of the bright orange sneakers, he must be the only one in the class who hasn't seen them. That's why we love Juan, he's genuinely genuine, he's always out of sync with what everybody else picks up on and gives importance to. The thing is, I don't know if it's the sneaker incident or that Juan wasn't paying any attention to his summer exploits, but Nico is in a real rage:

"What the fuck is wrong with you, dude?"

Juan didn't even notice. He doesn't get why Nico's confronting him so aggressively.


"Are you stupid or what? Fuck, you stepped on my foot, asshole."

"Sorry, Nico. I didn't see you."

It could have all ended there, but that apparently inoffensive, neutral response unleashes an inexplicable fury within Nico to the surprise of all of us there watching. We've never seen him this out of control.

"You didn't see me? Do you take me for some kind of idiot, a cocksucker? I'm standing right here, you saw me from a mile off. There's loads of space in the classroom and you have to come over here and step right on me."

"I'm sorry, man. Really, I just didn't see you, that's all," insists Juan.

"Assholes like you don't take notice of anything, you go round messing everything up like you don't get it. Like you don't understand a thing. You're so basic."

"So what?"

This statement only fuels Nico's anger even more. He thinks Juan's taking

the piss.

"You think you're so smart," he shoots back, his face flushed and the veins in

his neck about to burst.

Juan doesn't seem to grasp the seriousness of the situation and instead of keeping quiet, he comes back with another question:

"What kind of basic thing do you want me to do? I didn't quite understand."

Nico approaches him, but I step in. I can't just stand there watching.

"Nico, Juan didn't mean to step on your shoe."

"Shut it, doll, nobody asked you," Nico snaps at me.

Suddenly, a totally different Juan intervenes. Under different circumstances, he might have kept his head down, but it seems like the unpopular group's plan to try and do the right thing has given us all a confidence boost. I don't know how to explain it, but making the right decisions starts opening previously unexplored pathways within us, giving rise to new ways of thinking and acting.

"Maybe what really made you pissed is that I didn't even notice you. That's what got to you, that I didn't even look at you, that I didn't pay the slightest attention to you, not that I stepped on your foot. You can't stand not being seen, and that's where your constant need for approval, to boast about your success comes from."

Silence fills the classroom. Nico looks genuinely shocked.

"You feel like shit if people don't take notice of you, because you can't even stand yourself," Juan concludes.

More silence... Juan and I leave the classroom, our legs shaking.

We take a walk during recess.

"Damn, I've never seen you so brave, Juan."

"I didn't do anything wrong, he just started yelling like a total idiot louder and louder for no reason. And then he started with all that basic stuff. I lost track of what he was saying and as I was standing there looking at him, I realized that's what bothered him: that I didn't do anything, not even look at him."

"Basic, Juan, is a kind of insult. They use it for people who only care about the basics: sleeping, eating, sex... simple people who don't think about much more than that."

"Damn, well what could be more basic than desperately seeking other people's attention? He must be extra basic."

We laugh for a while at the idea and it helps relieve some of the built-up tension. When we go back to class, Nico isn't there. I'll never forget the look on our classmates' faces when we came in after that showdown. They look at us with a mix of sympathy and admiration, but, at the same time, it's as if they had their hands tied and their mouths gagged. Only Mónica and Laura come over and quietly ask us how we're doing. It's heart-warming that they at least dare to do it. The rest sit there chained to their chairs in silence, a silence they'll later regret. When you swallow the desire to say something real, something authentic, afterwards it becomes more and more difficult to let it out. You become cold and distant, disconnected from your feelings, damn it. Why don't they teach us these things at school? In the end, that's what life's really about, not second-order derivatives or the French Revolution.

At least this atypical "welcome back!" to school gives us a little peace and quiet for the first month. We've even started interacting more with other classmates, when the monarchy isn't around to control us.

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