By Soraya Bouazzaoui
It had ended as incidents like these always do, with a rage so indescribable that Amal’s eyes were blinded by it. Burning hot like molten iron, and flowing through her veins as blood would, adrenaline accompanied it much the same. Her strength was unusual for someone of her small stature, barely reaching 5’5”. Luckily for her, the unruly and wild curls she usually left out had been pulled into a do at the top of her head. She had found the heat of University Halls unbearable during the summer, and with the vast amounts of drunk students loitering inside the six bedroom flat in Bethnal Green, she thought she chose wisely by putting it up.
The night had begun as most of the student parties Amal had gone to did, with her pre-drinking in that same flat, home to one of her friends, Ria; if she could call her that. The tall, dark skinned girl had left her braids fan around her shoulders, despite the suffocating humidity of her flat, her black septum ring matching the thick black eyeliner shaping her hazel eyes; Amal had always found it to be incredible that she could create a wing so perfect that it looked professional. She sat at the end of the breakfast table, the rest of Ria’s housemates engaged in loud conversation as they played a card game, of which she was left out. Naturally, she was the outsider, invited mostly due to Ria’s guilt, their one mutual friend no longer around to make the effort to include Amal for them.
“Do you want another drink?” Ria spoke up, coming to stand beside her in the small kitchen.
Her tone lacked warmth or a welcoming stance, Amal sensed. She knew Ria didn’t particularly dislike her, or find her irritating, but felt slightly uncomfortable by her presence. A forced formality to honour their old friend, perhaps.
“No thanks, I haven’t finished this one yet,” Amal replied, attempting to smile, raising her white plastic cup for good measure. Ria nodded, and motioned with her hand to the fridge.
“Well if you want a refill, the fourth shelf is mine. Help yourself.”
Amal nodded in confirmation, but was unable to make eye contact with Ria, who walked away to speak to someone else, leaving her there to ponder on her own thoughts. She continued to do so throughout the evening, as more people began to filter into the small kitchen, leaning against counters. The only two sofas were located on the opposite side of the breakfast bar, separating them from the kitchen in the open room. Watching Ria from the opposite side, she noticed the girl roll her eyes at the young man attempting to make advances at her, Ria’s shoulders relaxed, slouched almost, leaning away from the boy. He was someone Amal had only met in passing, since she wasn’t much of a talker. Merely a bystander, someone who tagged along.
That’s what took place with Clara in the previous two years of University, having lived in the same flat together. Amal had met Ria through Clara; they had gone to school together. Naturally, Amal felt like an invader, unwelcome to the close friendship that Ria and Clara already had, but tolerated nonetheless.
She didn’t question whether it was out of pity or genuine kindness, on Clara’s behalf, that made Ria befriend her. Only grateful that she had made a friend to begin with. She pushed down on the thoughts, reminding herself of where she was and who surrounded her, knowing best not to mull over such things in a place so public. Downing the contents of her cup, she moved towards the fridge, taking Ria up on her offer to refill her cup. She felt guilty, the stench of vodka and beer in the room reminding her all too well of her mother’s repeated chants about going to hell for such a sin.
“The party’s kinda dead, right?”
Amal turned around, the voice unfamiliar to her, though it dawned on her once she took in the features of the young man who stood before her. He smiled widely, revealing full lips. She remembered she had thought it charming, though the last time she’d seen him, it had been directed towards someone else.
“Only if you don’t know anybody,” she said quietly, noticing how his green eyes cast over the bronze skin exposed from her white cold shoulder top.
“Yeah, but you looked pretty underwhelmed, staring into space for that long.” He swayed on the spot, though tried to play off his intoxication with a light chuckle.
“You were watching me?” She asked softly, though she forced a smile, attempting to, at least, seem like she was flirting.
“Someone as pretty as you shouldn’t spend the evening alone,” he said, running his hand through his dirty blonde hair. She remembered him pulling a similar move before; he still hadn’t recognised her.
“Josh,” he said, extending his hand.
She let him lead the conversation, wondering how long she could keep it going until he remembered her. Then again, she hadn’t been the object of his affection a year ago, Clara had. She wasn’t particularly memorable in the first place; Amal was quiet, easily overlooked and inconsequential in a life with a story like his. Perhaps she would’ve forgotten about him as well, had it not been for the way the events of that night transpired.
“What do you study?”
“Psychology, you?” she replied, though she knew already.
“Nice. Studying Marketing. Predictable, I know.”
Forcing a laugh, Amal pictured him years from now; in a nice suit, set up in a nice flat and working for some company in London where he earned great commission. Thriving in life as if he deserved good fortune. She forced herself to unclench one of her fists at her side, noticing how he leaned against the counter beside her now, invading her space.
“Do you live in these halls?” He asked, quietly this time. She knew what he was insinuating.
“No, I live in Unite. The one just down the road.”
“Ohhh, heard that’s a rough one.”
“Not as nice as The Hive, but it’ll do. I’m only there for one more year. You know anyone from there?”
He hesitated before taking another sip of his drink, and this time she could tell he forced a smile of his own. If she hadn’t have been looking for it, she probably wouldn’t have detected the lie.
“No, can’t say I do. All my mates live here, though I’m kicking myself for not going before. Would have met you sooner.”
She remembered he’d dropped the same line to Clara; had a conversation almost identical to this one. He knew exactly what to say, how to charm, and if she’d been anyone else, she would have thought him nice enough. She figured he could’ve easily come across that way, a good-looking boy making the effort to talk to one of the few girls standing alone, clearly an outsider, not as conventionally pretty, and slightly bigger than most. She supposed that she must have seemed like an easy hook up, oozing a lack of self-confidence, especially since she’d been drinking. lIf his back had been turned, she would have curled her lip in disgust.
The fist that came flying between them connected with his chin swiftly, and he fell forward into Amal, who stumbled back from his weight and from being caught off-guard by the blow. She turned, noticing the petite redhead to her right, her freckled face red with rage as she attempted to shake away the pain from her hand.
“What the fuck are you doing?” He yelled, rubbing his chin, as he stood upright, Amal taking a step back. His lip started bleeding.
“Making sure you know you ain’t fucking welcome here, you piece of shit!”
The redhead in question, Chloe, was another familiar member of Clara’s friendship group, though she had been an extension on Ria’s side, and lived in that very same flat. Her floral printed dress was stained with various splotches of red wine.
“Is that so?” Josh laughed out, motioning to two tall dark-haired boys by the door, “because I distinctly remembered Owen and Maz inviting me.”
“You think you’re allowed anywhere near this flat? You’re scum, you’re a fucking piece of shit after what you did to Clara!”
Josh laughed in a way that deliberately seemed patronising, and it made Chloe’s face visibly turn angrier, building up to a darker shade of pink, but that could have just been the alcohol.
“They dropped the case, remember? It’s not my fault she topped herself!”
Chloe raised her fist to go for him again, but she was halted by Ria, who grabbed onto her elbow. Her face was stern, but Amal had known her long enough to notice the conflicting emotions of anger in her dark eyes. She wanted to beat the shit out of him just as much as Chloe did, as they all did.
“He’s not worth it.” She mumbled, barely bothering to look in the boy’s direction, not for lack of interest, but in order to keep her own anger from escalating. “Owen and Maz live here too, we can’t control who they invite.”
Chloe forcefully pulled her grip away from Ria, tearing her snarled glare away from Josh to look at Ria with accusation. She turned away eventually, pushing past her and out of the kitchen; her night was now ruined. Ria followed her as the spectators in the room remained in stunned silence for several moments, Amal among them.
“How about we down the last of our drinks and head for Shoreditch, yeah? I need some fuckin’ bass!” Owen yelled out with forced glee, clapping his hands together, the lilt of his voice betraying his heavy Irish accent.
He received some cheers, and Amal watched as he headed for Josh, patting the boy on the shoulder. His voice was low, but still within earshot of Amal.
“Sorry mate, you know how girls get. The bathroom’s down the hall, yeah? Go clean up.”
They parted then, Owen returning to his group, and Josh heading for the kitchen door out to the hall. She wasn’t sure why, maybe she wanted to see if he genuinely believed his bullshit, but she followed him. She knocked on the wooden door, waiting to hear him say ‘come in’, and entered. She closed the door behind her, the sound of music and loud chatter muted to a low hum.
“You okay?” She asked, watching him hover over the sink.
The bathroom was brightly lit, with the tiles noticeably dirty, and the toilet seat was broken, the lid placed beside it. It was expected in student accommodation, something she realised she’d have to get used to when she left home. There was a bright orange traffic cone situated between him and the small shower.
“Yeah,” he said, a tone of annoyance in his voice, “I’m fine.”
She watched as he dabbed a wet tissue to his lips in the reflection of the mirror, his eyes turning to focus on hers.
“Sorry about that. Not a great first impression is it?”
He seemed genuine then, a hint of tiredness in his voice. It was the kindest he had sounded all night, and if she’d been anyone, she might have felt bad for him.
“So what was that all about then, with that Clara girl?” She inquired, taking a step closer towards him, noticing the drips of water on the floor.
Discarded cups of drinks, some half-empty, were lying around in the bathroom, most likely left throughout the night during girls’ drunken therapy sessions. The last time she had had one was when Clara had admitted, in a drunken haze, what Josh had done. The sound of indescribable pain in her voice still felt as real to Amal on this night as it was a year ago. The mascara that had streaked down her face, how sunken the skin around her eyes had appeared, how skinny she had gotten. To everyone else, she had seemed fine, as if she could handle it. Amal knew differently.
“Some girl I used to know,” he scoffed, and this time Amal noticed the change in demeanour. “We hooked up once, she was drunk as shit, and she came back to mine. Next thing I know the police are at my door saying I raped her. You believe that? Raped her! Me!”
His laugh this time was bitter, and angry, as if an injustice had been done unto him.
“Once they took me in for questioning, they realised I’d done nothing wrong. I mean, look at me! Do I really look like the type to drag a girl away and force myself on her? She had way too much to drink, and regretted it. That was all.”
The rage that began to climb from deep within Amal’s chest was fierce, dialling up a notch with every word that left his lips. With every scoff that escaped him as he continued, and she bit down on her lip to stop herself from interrupting.
“I don’t know what it is with girls like that, you know? Acting like they want it, sending you mixed messages and shit. If you don’t want it, just say, you know? And it’s apparently my fault she killed herself.”
The memories of that night flashed through Amal’s mind, creating a lump in her throat, manifesting the urge to cry and feeling sick. It made it difficult for her to breathe as Josh jabbered on, bringing back the moments that she had chosen to forget. She remembered the devastation on Clara’s face, how her angular features had begun to wither away, how her expression crumpled when she’d been told they were dropping her case. There hadn’t been enough evidence; she’d left it too long. Amal recalled how Clara cried every night, then slapped on a smile during the day, despite continuously being called a liar, and a slut.
Worst of all, she remembered how useless she had felt. For even though she had said she’d be there for her, even though Ria and Chloe had vocally always fought her corner, Amal had failed to do so. That wasn’t her way; she wasn’t confrontational. Clara was the one who defended her, not the other way around. In the end, she’d been a terrible friend, being the weak one when Clara had needed her most.
“Worst part is, if it had been any other guy, they probably would have raped her, you know?” He continued, oblivious to the growing temper he was causing, “Girls like that, who get that drunk and dress like that, they’re fuckin’ asking for it.”
Everything from there on out became a haze for her. She didn’t realise when she picked up the heavy toilet lid, didn’t even notice the weight of it in her hands as she hit him on the back of the head. The scream he may have emitted was ignored. In that moment, her head consumed by images of blood, the time she walked into Clara’s unlocked bedroom, she lost control of herself. The images of Clara’s slit thighs engulfed her, the way her limp body leaned against the foot of her bed, her head bent. Body unmoving, chest no longer rising to indicate that she was still breathing. Blood, so much blood; that was all she could see for so long.
She kept switching from memory to the present, until it splattered onto her face. Until her breath had calmed down, and she let the weight of the toilet lid fall to the floor with a loud clatter. She let out a loud, disbelieving breath, taking in the scene in front of her, blood seeping onto the tiled floor.
The door to the bathroom was pushed open, and Amal barely had time to get her bearings before her confused eyes made contact with Ria’s wide ones, the former taking in the blood on her hands, on her white top, shaking her head in disbelief as she took a step back. Ria stepped into the bathroom, casting one glance back out to the hallway before shutting the door behind her, her voice barely audible as it broke in shock.
“Amal, wh-what the fuck did you d-do?!”
“I”―Amal broke her sentence, shaking her head continuously, voice beginning to take on desperation―“I don’t kno… he was talking about Clara, he was saying all these things and I just… I don’t know why―”
“Okay, okay!” Ria said, hands digging into her braids and pulling on them as she swore profusely, and took a deep breath, “Just shut up and let me think.”
She was silent for a moment, before forcing herself to look at the figure on the floor, bile rising in her throat.
“Is he dead?” She questioned, placing a hand over her mouth for a second, to make sure her drinks throughout the night didn’t come back up.
“I don’t know, he’s not moving,” Amal replied, voice shaken. “I was just thinking about when I found Clara,” she choked up, and as Ria cast her eyes back to Amal, she noticed the usually quiet and harmless girl lean over as if she were about to be sick, “when I found her like that and how I didn’t d―“
“Listen to me,” Ria interrupted, her voice far from the controlled and calm person she usually was, a thousand different scenarios running through her mind. “You were just defending yourself, right? He was coming onto you, he got forceful, it’s not like he doesn’t have a re―”
“Ria we can’t say that, I hit him from the back. I don’t have any bruises or scratches. I attacked him!”
Before she could lose control, and before the remaining members of the party would hear the commotion, Ria told her to shut up once more. She needed to think, knowing that, before anything else, she would have to wait until the people in the kitchen went out, not having a bunch of drunk people discover a might-be-dead body in her flat’s bathroom.
“Of all places, why did this have to be in my fucking flat?”
Amal said nothing, helplessly looking at the body on the floor, her hands wringing and shaking, as she stood there dumbfounded. Ria watched her, the wheels turning in her head, and took a deep breath. She was involved now; she’d made a decision when she closed the bathroom door behind her. She had to help.
“Here’s what we’re gonna do,” she said steadily, placing her hands up with open palms as a calming gesture to Amal. “We’re gonna wait until everyone’s left for Shoreditch. I’m gonna say you felt sick and you’re in the bathroom, and that I’m staying with you. Then we’re gonna get Chloe, and we’re gonna sort this out.”