Of all the Chens at Sydney Girls, it had to be Vivian and Alice. After what happened last week, I do not want to face them. I go straight into the first cubicle and pretend to pee.
By
Janette Chen

2 Jul 2020 - 9:38 AM  UPDATED 23 Apr 2021 - 9:09 AM

Warning: This is a work of autobiographical fiction and it contains mature themes. Reader discretion is recommended. 

There are three Chens in Year 9 at Sydney Girls High School and we’re so not-related that the other two Chens haven’t looked at me since our first roll call at Year 7 Orientation Camp. But on school photo day I walk into the PE toilets and Vivian Chen and Alice Chen are leaning into the speckled mirror with their mouths open. 

Vivian is waving a pink-tipped wand across her lips. Next to her, Alice is squeezing a little silver clamp over her eyeball. It’s 15 minutes into third period and everyone is in the hall lining up for their photos. I had been hoping the toilets would be empty so I could try to fix my face without anyone watching. 

Of all the Chens at Sydney Girls, it had to be Vivian and Alice. After what happened last week, I do not want to face them. I go straight into the first cubicle and pretend to pee. 

Here’s what happened last week. I was on my way to History and saw two seniors shoulder Vivian real hard as they walked past her on either side. I was halfway down the corridor behind Vivian. The Year 11s kept on walking, towards me. 

‘Excuse you,’ Vivian called after them. ‘What did you just call me?’ 

The Year 11s marched down the hall, with their backs to her. One had her hair up in a messy bun like a little bird’s nest on top of her head. It was bleached dry and yellow like a crown of twigs. Her friend’s hair was so long she could have worn it around her neck like a silky, black scarf. 

‘Excuse you,’ Vivian called after them. ‘What did you just call me?’ 

The two of them were coming straight for the stairs behind me like I wasn’t standing right in front of them. I knew I was supposed to get out of the way, but I stayed frozen on the spot. Maybe they should get out of my way. The Year 11s were two paces away. Someone came up the stairs and I grabbed her arm. It was Alice Chen. I locked my elbow around hers in the middle of the corridor, blocking off the Year 11s. 

Bird’s Nest and her silky friend eyeballed us. I tightened my elbow grip on Alice’s twig arm. I looked right through the Year 11s and down the hall where Vivian was striding towards us. 

"I thought I just heard you call me a cheap slut," Vivian said loudly. The Year 11s turned around. All I could see were their backs. "Talk that shit again and I’ll call some guys to come rape your flaccid f*** face." 

I stopped breathing. What the shit. Everyone knows Vivian is a scary bitch but I was not prepared for this. I unhooked my arm from Alice’s and legged it down the stairs. 

Now, Vivian and Alice are standing next to me, doing their faces like they don’t care that I’m watching. I think of Matilda’s evil stepmum with the blue eyelids saying ‘I chose looks and you chose books.’ But everyone at Sydney Girls chose books, even Vivian. We don’t get into nerd school by wearing lots of lip gloss. 

I look at my reflection in the mirror as I wash my hands. I rub my wet finger in the crusty eye snot on my face.

Vivian smacks her lips loudly next to me. They are the colour of the raw pork mince my mum uses to make dumplings. Her eyelashes clump together in bold exclamation marks. Vivian has what my mum would call a big face; her jaw looks like a square bracket lying on its back. Vivian catches me gaping at her through the mirror. My eyes swerve away. 

‘What?’ Vivian snaps. ‘I wear a lot of makeup because I have low self-esteem, okay.’ She flashes a dirty at my reflection. She looks like she has enough self-esteem to grab me by the hair and slam me into the mirror. 

I stop breathing again. Vivian claps her claws on my shoulders. And then she laughs and tells me to relax. 

I stop breathing again. Vivian claps her claws on my shoulders. And then she laughs and tells me to relax. "Thanks for blocking off those bitches in the hall last week," she says. 

The day after I blocked those bitches, Jennifer Yoon told me that Vivian made out with Bird Nest’s boyfriend in the accessible bathroom at the Hungry Jacks on Pitt St. But I shouldn’t say anything about that. Should I say that I had no intention of helping her? I didn’t know what was worse: getting in trouble with the teachers or getting in trouble with Vivian. I open and close my mouth like a fish in the window at Golden Century. 

"Any time," I blurt out. "I’m always here to help block a bitch." 

Vivian stares at me. She was laughing just a second ago but she looks dead serious now. Her pupils shift under her brown circle lenses as she studies my face. The foundation makes her skin look ghostly. I wonder what she’s like when she’s all alone and nobody can see her. 

"Good. I’ll call you when I need you." She smiles at me, dimples showing, and I’m surprised by how sincere she looks. I smile back. I gave the right answer. I passed the test. 

Vivian pockets her lip gloss and steps out of the PE bathrooms. Alice follows Vivian, and I follow Alice. The door swings behind me. All the other girls are in the hall in line for a portrait. But I wonder, if they saw me right now, would it look like I was friends with Vivian and Alice?

This is a work of autobiographical fiction extracted from Sweatshop Women: Volume Two - a contemporary collection of prose and poetry written by women from Indigenous, migrant and refugee backgrounds edited by Winnie Dunn.

Sweatshop is a literacy movement dedicated to empowering culturally and linguistically diverse writers through reading, writing and critical thinking. The book is available here.

I lied about being a Muslim at school
"Even after it was over, I didn’t feel any relief," writes Cindy El Sayed. "I felt like I should run out of the room, do wudu and pray one hundred times even though I hated praying."
Arab mother guilt: 'It was never about me'
The last time I saw Mama, she was standing in our driveway holding grocery bags, soft brown hair matted down on her buttercream face.
As a hijabi, my nudes tend to be from the neck up
Dating apps have given us so much choice and so much power but no rules.