Chapter 8: A Grand Exit

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A deathly silence once again fills the hall as the unexpected plot twist sinks in. It's already too late, nobody moves. Everybody sits silently in their seats with their eyes glued to the screen.

And then, without further warning, Juan presses play and the video of the abuse suffered by Diego that night at Gonzalo's fills the screen.

A blur of laughter, ridicule, alcohol, and hash fills the auditorium, but above all, Diego's pained cries: "Stop it, fuck, stop it, please, just stop!" His shrieks of desperation echo in the hearts of the audience. They shake the conscience of everybody present and shine a bright unforgiving light on the occasions in which we have all been complicit in the mistreatment of the vulnerable, whether through silence or looking the other way in unjust situations.

It's impossible to describe the expressions on Sandra, Gonzalo, Paula and Natalia's faces. They are petrified, literally petrified. It is the first time their faces reflect what they really feel: fear and shame, a deep and unbearable shame that I hope, at some point, they're able to digest.

The video lasts just four minutes. Jaime tries to enter the projection booth, but Juan has locked the door. When the projection ends, the audience freezes. Nobody knows what to do and even less so when Juan, Marina, and I appear on stage. Diego joins us.

We stand in a line and shake hands. We stand there staring at the audience for a while and then Diego speaks:

"Dear friends. I know I'm not the guest artist you expected, I don't usually turn up unannounced. It seemed important to be here today. I apologize for the lack of manners. A few months back I had to leave school. It was really difficult time for me, but I'm here today and that's what counts."

As he speaks, the principal comes on stage and says something in his ear. Everybody starts whistling and shouting:

"Let him speak, let him speak! Leave him alone, we want to hear him speak."

"I'm not here to vindicate anything, but I needed make the reason why I had to leave high school visible for all to see, why I left so suddenly without saying a thing. I was full of shame and fear. All I know is this would never have happened if I hadn't cared so much about being unpopular. That's why I let my guard down, that why I didn't leave sooner. Just for a moment I wanted to feel like one of the winners, one of the popular kids, to drink and smoke like they do. When I finally realized what was happening I was already too drunk to do anything, they held me down and abused me. They were assholes. Yes, I admit it, but for too long now we have let all kinds of abuse pass under the radar or even be used as a tool for power at school. One day we laugh at a joke in bad taste, another we look the other way when we see a classmate being humiliated, the next we stop saying what we think because others might disagree... I don't think I need to say any more. And that is why we, the unpopular ones, are standing here in front of you today. Thanks to everything that has happened, we're more united than ever and we won't be crushed by what you think of us. If the opinions of others do get us down, we'll be there to lift each other up. We don't feel proud of what we've done today, but we did what we believe we had to do. We feel at peace, which is even better. Judith, Juan, Marina, and Fátima, thank you for accompanying me in the most humiliating moment of my life. Thank you all, at least I can go out now with a bang. Goodbye."

A timid applause echoes out from the audience, then another and another... until the whole auditorium is on their feet applauding us wholeheartedly. "Bravo!", we hear. The audience start chanting, but we leave the stage in a hurry and head out through the back door of the hall. My brother is waiting for us in the car outside and we drive away, leaving school behind. We're not interested in a pat on the back or flattery. We just wanted to show the truth, what Diego had to go through, and we succeeded. We head to the beach and sit staring at the horizon in silence for an hour or more. We want and need to savor this moment, everything that's happened, to the sound of the waves and looking into infinity. Each wave lapping the shore soothes our soul. We cry, hug each other, and laugh together.

It couldn't have gone better. Back in my dining room, we discussed the idea of projecting the video that Sandra recorded with her cellphone. Diego was the one who proposed it and we all thought it was too risky, but he insisted and we went for it. We decided to fake the forced marriage situation. It's true that Fátima might have to face a similar situation at some point in her life, but it's not on the cards for now. We thought that, this way, they would let her speak to the class and we could project the video with Diego instead, but we never imagined in would be in front of an entire auditorium, complete with the board of directors and the City Council. When a wave sweeps you away, all you can do is surf it.

Years later, I still remember it like it was yesterday. The experience has been engraved on my mind. There were a lot of changes in high school that year. The absolute monarchy fell, and we could finally begin to be ourselves. A new order started. We went out to see the stars twice and this time, Juan and some new friends came with us.

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⏰ Last updated: Dec 28, 2023 ⏰

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