8. Absorbed

Sometimes when it’s quiet in class I wonder if I’m swallowing my spit too loudly.

Perhaps it has to do with the angle of my neck, or the weight of my head, or that I haven’t drunk any orange juice today, but a lump starts to form in my throat 45 minutes into every class and I keep swallowing to make it go away.

Does it irritate people? Does the sound of saliva sliding down my swollen oesophagus repulse them? Am I known as the person who swallows her saliva obnoxiously every 17 seconds and always has foundation collected up around the edges of her glasses? There are a lot of questions I ask myself.

Sometimes when I’m walking across the street I wonder if my shoulders are too slumped. I straighten my back, but slowly enough so that people don’t realise that I’m fixing it. I wonder if the part of my hair is crooked again. The skin on my left elbow is cracked. My nose hairs are getting long. They poke out of my nostrils when I laugh.

There is a man that gets on my bus as it goes past the old peoples’ home. He wears his shirt tucked into his drawstring pants with a belt over the top. Last Tuesday he was missing a shoe. I wonder if he worries about swallowing too loudly or people seeing him leaving sweat on the chair after he stands up on a hot day. He smells like packet mi goreng flavour sachets.

I have had a scab on my shin for the past two months. I do not know how it got there. I do not know why it won’t leave. It won’t go away even if I pick at it in the shower. I wonder if something has burrowed into my skin and that’s why it won’t heal, because it keeps going deeper and deeper soon it will sleep in the marrow of my tibia like a beetle resting in a bed of custard. This is a ridiculous thought.

Sometimes when I’m about to go to sleep I wonder if boys think my toes are too long.

The word anxious is said to mean two different things:

  1. A feeling of unease or stress at the thought of something going wrong.

“He was anxious about his employer receiving his drug test results.”

Synonyms: worried, concerned, apprehensive, ill at ease, overwrought, with one’s stomach in knots.

  1. Very eager to do something or for something to happen.

“He was anxious for his drug test results to catch on fire before his employer could get them.”

Synonyms: keen, longing, yearning, aching, dying to.

There is a boy lying on the grass with dirt on his jeans. I have mandarin juice on my hands. A hill of pips sits between us. I don’t like lying down on the grass because of the time when I was young and I rolled down a hill, and instead of rolling over grass exclusively, I rolled over grass and a bee. It stung me on the arm. I don’t mind lying on the grass right now because it is three in the morning and the bees are asleep. He puts another pip on the pyramid.

I made that up.

On the bus the mi goreng man sits opposite me. He is wearing purple socks underneath his sandals; he has both of them on today. He asks the driver if he can stop outside the bakery so that he can buy a hot chicken. The driver says that he can’t but that there is an IGA within walking distance of the next stop for any baked goods or hot chicken needs. The man says that John Howard is a fuckin’ bullshit artist. The bus driver asks him not to swear. The little girl sitting with her mum nearby tells him that John Howard isn’t prime minister anymore.

There is a boy sitting up the back, eating a mandarin. I adjust my head so that the lump goes away.

In the city there is a dead pigeon next to a bin. The sun is so hot that the ground it’s lying on would be able to cook it within an hour. Kids run inside the water fountain. There is a food tent selling Cajun chicken and rice bowls. I drink my banana smoothie. The corner of my scab is lifting. The smoothie is washing the lump away. My other hand holds a burrito in a foil shock blanket.

The bus station is filled with businessmen eating pastries. There are groups of school kids wearing sports jackets hold bags filled with new clothes and shoes. A young woman is on her phone, pushing her toddler back and forth in a pram. The boy with dirt on his jeans is in front of me in the line, with eight people between us.

The bus pulls up and the commuters shuffle in. Mi goreng man has not returned. I sit up the back, a few seats across from the boy with no washing machine. The bus leaves the station and the sun is shining through my hair. I pull a mandarin out of my bag and look out the window at a house I like. The lady behind me tells me that I shouldn’t be eating in here.

Words by Hannah Cockroft, illustration by Nur-Aisyah Cooper.

‘I Am In Your House’ is a collaborative story by the creative writers of Pelican. It is published in weekly installments, every Sunday. Read more ‘I Am In Your House’ here

If you would like to contribute, either as a writer or illustrator to ‘I Am In Your House’ contact the web editor (pelicanwebeditor@gmail.com).