Silver: Cafe Noir
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Genre - Young Adult
Silver is a teenage student living in the capitol city of Cambodia. Her father was an American and he left when she was very young. She’s always known that she was different from other people and she has built a secret second life that she hides from everyone that knows her.
Can she keep her two lives separate, keeping her teachers, her friends and her family from discovering the truth?
One wrong move and both lives might come crashing down around her and then, who knows what she might discover?
Carolina was born in Cambodia and didn’t hatch from any kind of egg or congeal in a gutter, as certain comments on the toilet wall like to suggest. She is the opposite of our lead-writer in so much as she’s only managed to half-write a novel so far, and it’s not very good.
She’s worked as a student, professional nuisance, private detective and English teacher. Without exception, she was pretty terrible at all of them, which was why she became a writer.
Silver: Cafe Noir
She peered out with the eyes of a hawk, missing nothing. Her wings flapped and she soared high above the chaos beneath her. The drone of traffic, the jumble of people wandering around the city, all seemed so meaningless from where she was, looking down on it from so high above. She could go anywhere, see anything and know anything there was to be known.
She was above it all.
“Silver,” the teacher’s voice called out across the classroom, shattering her wandering thoughts as she stared out of the frosted glass window. She realised she’d been watching the vague outline of a bird as it drifted lazily by, free to go wherever it wanted.
“Sir?” she said dimly, turning to face him while blinking in surprise. She hadn’t expected to hear her name called out since her mind had been elsewhere, focused on more important, or at least, more interesting things. She wasn’t even entirely sure where her mind had been, but at least she knew it certainly wasn’t in her English class with her.
“What is a relative pronoun, Silver?” he asked. His expression was hardening into a frown and he looked annoyed that she wasn’t more focused on the business of studying his subject. His foot had begun to tap.
She sighed to herself and sat up straight, giving the appearance of considering the question as she thoughtfully rubbed her chin. But the fact was that she really didn’t care and any attempt to appear interested was doomed to fail.
She huffed to herself and with a loud sigh, said, “I read somewhere that the human brain has a limited capacity to store information. I don’t know if relative pronouns are important enough for me to put them in there. Can you give me a written guarantee that I’ll actually need to know about them in the real world?”
There was a ripple of awkward chuckling around the room.
“I can guarantee you’ll need to know about them for the final exam at the end of this semester,” he told her firmly with an angry little frown. There was definitely a little hint of a growl to his voice. “I would think that’s real enough for most students!”
She shrugged at him and said, self-assuredly, “I always pass, don’t I?”
Again, a flutter of nervous but muted laughter sounded around the classroom.
“Just barely!” he huffed at her grudgingly, but they both knew she was doing rather better than that. “I wish you’d take your studies in this class more seriously. You have the potential to be at the top of this grade, which is where you’d be if you put in just a little more effort.
“I wish this whole class would learn to take things more seriously.”
“From the gutter, you can only see the stars,” she told him flatly, looking back to the frosted glass where the bird had now left, flown away to who knew where. She wished she was able to leave right along with it.
He grunted at her and his shoulder slumped, he seemed to have given up on her. He turned to another student, who seemed to be taking it much more seriously than she was. “Heng, can you tell her what a relative pronoun is?”
Heng sat up suddenly, frowned to himself and looked quite worried about being singled out. He rubbed his chin, pretending to be considering it while focusing all the power of his mind on this task. “Teacher, is it like marrying your cousin or something?”
Mr Whitley cringed and rubbed his head in weary exasperation. “No, Heng, it’s not like marrying your cousin, or something,” he said angrily. He looked around at the amused but otherwise blank expressions staring back at him. Finally, quite sadly he asked, “Can anyone else tell me what a relative pronoun is?”
Silver put her up her hand; her face had a smug little grin on it. “Teacher, is it a pronoun referring to something already mentioned in the sentence?”
He glared at her for a moment before breaking into a weary little smile. “You’re not as stupid as you look, Miss Silver!”
From somewhere at the front of the classroom, someone said, just loud enough to be heard, “Nobody could be that stupid.”
Silver shrugged and said, “Well, there’s Heng!” The laughter was tempered with a little more boldness this time around.
“Alright, calm down or I’ll set you extra homework, or whatever,” he told them sternly, but without much real conviction. He was a man who was clearly resolved to the fact that he was now just doing this for the money. If anyone learned anything, it would be a happy accident that bordered on a miracle.
The classroom noise subsided, but there was still a background buzz of chatter and the teacher did nothing to stop it this time. He just rubbed his temples and seemed to just give in to it all for a moment.
The room was painted cream-coloured, the plaster was chipped and the paint was peeling. Apart from the windows down the side, it was left plain. There were no posters, and no examples of work stuck around as decoration. The teacher stood at the front beside an ancient wooden desk with one wobbly leg, and the students sat behind scratched up plastic-coated panels on plain grey metal frames. A dead cockroach broke up the boredom of the slightly grey tiled floor.
“Relative pronouns matter!” he told them sternly, but his heart clearly wasn’t in it. He probably wasn’t even sure that they really did matter, or why they might.
Silver sat watching him, feeling just a little sad for him. He was as good a teacher as they ever got and he had tried to help them. Some time ago she had quite enjoyed these classes, but now the whole thing was becoming old and stale and her heart simply wasn’t in it any more.
She knew that relative pronouns certainly didn’t matter to her, and she suspected that they wouldn’t have mattered to him, since not very much did.
Silver rolled her eyes and gazed back at the frosted glass. She could see the blurred outlines of cars and small bikes as they went on their way to who knew where to do who knew what. English was her favourite subject, but school had lost all interest for her recently. There was far more to her life, a whole different side to her that the world knew nothing about. She was a girl with many secrets and school now just kept her from them.
“He’s mad at you!” Rya, sharing the desk with her, leaned over and whispered in her ear, her hot breath blown onto her skin and startling her slightly.
She glared over for a moment with an expression that looked angry. “He’ll get over it,” she grumbled softly and calmed herself. “He’s always like this on Mondays. He drinks too much at weekends.”
Rya laughed, and then her face dropped as it seemed to occur to her that maybe she wasn’t joking. “How do you know he drinks?”
“Everyone who works here drinks!” she said coldly. “He comes in on Mondays with a grey line under his reddened eyes, and he takes a deep breath before speaking. He always smells of coffee which he uses to wake himself up. Trust me, he drinks at weekends.”
Rya laughed. “You don’t know that. You made it up.”
Silver shrugged and looked back out of the window. She was sitting in the left corner of the room, right at the back, on the far side from the door. “I’d drink myself if I had to teach you!” she said softly. “Trust me. He’s a drinker.”
The bell had gone and the class had made its way out. Silver was, as usual, the last to leave, waiting for everyone else to go first, watching everything as they went. There was always an excited rush as if there was something outside of great importance they had to be doing. Most of them just took out their phones and began playing games on them.
“Silver!” Mr Whitley called out. “Can I have a word?”
She sighed and turned to him, her fists digging into her sides as she glared defiantly. “Do I have a choice?”
“I’m worried about your grades, Silver!” he told her. “Your homework this week looked rushed. If I didn’t know better, I’d say you weren’t really trying lately; at least not trying your best.”
She nodded knowingly back and said in agreement, “Maybe you know better than you think.” Her tone was hostile, far more hostile that she intended for it to be. She regretted it as soon as she had spoken the words.
“I’m worried about you!” he told her as he sat himself on the edge of his desk. Neither one of them made an effort to approach the other and there was slightly too wide a distance between them. Silver was already edging back, widening the gap.
She sniffed and looked away. “Don’t worry about me. I’m fine, I can look after myself. I don’t need anyone looking out for me.”
He huffed to himself and shook his head. She thought he looked a little sad. “I’m worried anyway. Your grades are slipping,” he told her.
She grabbed her bag and zipped it closed, before throwing it casually over her shoulder and turning to leave. “I’ll look into it.”
“Silver, what’s going on with you?” he asked.
She looked back at him fixedly, her expression unreadable. She said coldly, “I’ll try harder. Can I go?”
He just sighed and nodded since there was nothing else he could do.
Rya had ordered herself a coffee, and a second one for Silver, as usual. The school had a canteen upstairs, a makeshift arrangement of haphazard displays selling food that was to be eaten on various metal tables. People milled about, but their favourite table was free, as usual. Rya had slung her bag over the back of it just to make sure that nobody else stole it while her back was turned.
She peered over to the stairs but there was still no sign of Silver walking up them to join her. The girl behind the counter stared back emptily and handed over two plastic cups, one with a frothy sweet latte for her, and one with a strong, dark, bitter iced coffee with no milk or sugar for Silver.
The girl slammed down the change and looked away, as Rya took the drinks without making any effort to acknowledge her, either. She made her way over to the table, and finally Silver’s head appeared at the top of the stairs. She turned and began making her way over to join her friend.
She picked up Rya’s bag and flung it into a different chair, taking her place at the rear of the table with her back to the wall where she always preferred to sit. She looked around, taking everything in, seeing every detail.
Rya grinned as she made her way across the hall with the coffees in her hand. She was slender with her black hair tied back ferociously, so tightly that it pulled at the edge of her eyes. She always dressed gaudily, with bright, angry colours that told everyone to look at her. In comparison, Silver dressed very conservatively. She was a thing in the shadows, a person that happily went by unnoticed. She was fairly plain, ordinary looking, slightly larger than average in height and build but not enough to be considered overweight. She wore dark colours, blended in, and she never did anything to draw attention to herself—not outside of class, at least.
During the week they wore uniforms, but on Saturday, they were free to wear their own clothes. Silver liked it—it was like each and every student had their personality written on them for her to read. They were sentences that spelled out a story.
“Are you in trouble, Silver?” she said in a sarcastic sing-song voice.
“With Teacher Whitley?” she scoffed, not even taking the idea seriously. “I’m his best student—you lot can barely string a sentence together compared to me.” She thought about that for a moment. “Even compared to a chimpanzee in most cases.”
Rya passed her the coffee, sneering at the dark and bitter thing as she did. She sat herself down opposite. “Well you are American. You’ve been learning English all your life.”
“Half American,” Silver corrected her, smiling thinly. “I learned English from Disney movies.”
Rya tutted at her from behind a grin. “Why you always got to sit with your back to the wall? Are you crazy or something?”
Silver looked at her with a neutral expression. “You think it’s weird that I like to have my own chair? You convinced yourself you’re a lesbian because you’re scared of guys. Compared to you, I’m a picture of mental health!”
Rya fluttered her eyelids and smiled sweetly. “Men only want one thing, you know? Men cheat on you, you know? You have to respect my life choices. You’re meant to be my best friend: you should support me as I make my way through life.”
Silver snatched up the coffee and sipped at it through a cheap and horribly thin plastic straw. “I do support you. I just don’t agree with you. You can’t make yourself a lesbian just because it’s more convenient. It’s like trying to make yourself a racehorse when you’re really a donkey.
“Rya, I worry that you’re really a donkey.”
Rya grinned and ignored the very deliberate and not unreasonable comparison of herself to a smelly, four-legged animal with a reputation for being brainless. “I’m proof that you’re wrong. I have three girlfriends right now. I’m a great lesbian!”
Silver sipped at the brutally strong coffee and winced slightly. It was bitter and harsh, too long brewed by someone who knew nothing about coffee, who saw no art in it. “Three girlfriends?” she said. “Are you sure you’re a lesbian and not just a man?”
Rya made a big show of looking down at her slender body. She looked up suddenly with a beaming smile. “Pretty sure.”
Silver knew this conversation was going nowhere. She shook her head and just smiled back at her thinly. “So long as you’re happy!”
“I bought you a coffee—that’s what kind of a friend I am,” she told her, pretending quite badly to be annoyed by all this. “I’m a great friend. You should be happy for me!”
“Your family is rich – you should buy the coffee. My company is worth paying for.” She made sure that she sounded as if she meant it, and perhaps she did. “If you had to actually pay me for all the help I give you at school, you’d have to buy me a whole coffee shop!”
Rya just grinned at her. She leaned forward and said excitedly, “I have a secret.”
Silver leaned forward too. Sarcastically, she whispered, “If this is about Teacher Whitley being wanted in America for marrying a horse, I know for a fact it isn’t true. A student in Grade 9 started that rumour after he got a D- in his monthly test. Also, I checked, and he used to be married to a really fat woman from Wisconsin who had an unusually hairy upper lip.”
Rya just stared for a moment. She blinked, looked quite surprised and said, “He was married to a horse?”
Silver sighed to herself. “No, a really fat woman from Wisconsin with an unusually hairy upper lip.”
Rya frowned. Behind her eyes something was happening where something rarely ever did, a thought of some kind, but it was quickly dismissed before it could take root in the infertile soil. “I don’t care about Teacher Whitley.”
This was true and Silver knew it. She had got 5% in her last homework after being asked to write a poem and returning one with the title, ‘Why I don’t care about English,’ that was comprised of a single line that read, ‘I hate your class but I’m rich so I’ll pass.’
She rolled her eyes and sipped again at the pretty awful coffee. “What’s your secret then? Who sent you naked pictures this time?”
“Better!” she said excitedly in her loudest singing voice. She leaned even further forward. She lowered her voice respectfully and almost whispered, “Heng has a crush on you.”
Silver sighed and looked away, her expression that of someone who had just tasted something many years past its best.
“Silver!” Rya said with a frown, sitting up suddenly and pointing accusingly. “You should date him. He’s got money and isn’t bad looking, apart from his nose and eyes and face. He dated that girl from 11B who always wears the green band on her wrist. She’s hot! He dumped her because she was obsessed with Justin Bieber. He found a poster under her bed with lipstick marks on it. They weren’t near the face, if you know what I mean.”
Silver stared back blankly for a moment and slowly, loudly, took a sip of coffee, never taking her eyes off her friend. “I always know what you mean. You have the subtlety of a brick to the face.”
“He’s got a car!” she said, as if trying to sweeten the deal.
“Adolph Hitler had a car!” Silver retorted moodily.
“Who’s Adolph Hitler?” Evidently, Rya wasn’t doing much better in history class either.
“He’s not my type,” Silver told her slowly, in words she hoped that even a donkey might be able to understand.
“But he’s got a car!”
Silver flopped back into her chair and wondered if there was actually a way to explain it so that she would actually be able to understand. Perhaps with pictures? “He’s just not mature enough for me.”
“He’s 19!” Rya exclaimed. “He’s older than you, and he’s dated hot girls, even though he lost them to posters of Justin Bieber. How many guys date hot girls, and then want to date you? Not many! Not many who don’t wear glasses.” She smiled very sweetly.
“No!” Silver said firmly.
Rya looked sad. “But it’s so hard for you to find a man because… well, you know.”
Silver narrowed her eyes and glared at her. She asked quite sternly, through gritted teeth, “Because what?”
“You know,” Rya said with a flutter of a sympathetic smile. “You’re a total bitch.”
Silver grumbled to herself and said bluntly and with a sense of finality, “That’s true, but I’m still not interested.”
“Fine,” Rya grunted. “You marry a horse. I don’t care.”
She huffed and shook her head. “Nobody is marrying a horse.”
Rya glared at her. “You might have to. I wouldn’t date you unless you lost a bit of weight and sorted out your hair. It wouldn’t hurt you to dress a bit better either, maybe shave your knuckles a little bit.”
Silver stared at her, just wondering what might be going on in her head. Clearly it wasn’t much. “I don’t want to date you!”
“I know!” she said with a happy smile. “I’m out of your league and it would crush you when I dumped you to go out with your best friend.”
“Rya…” Silver never bothered to finish the sentence.
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