There was a lens knocked out of Jonathan’s sunglasses. Whether it had fallen out or if it was an intentional fashion statement no one knew, but his left eye was forever obscured. His short black curls and deep-set frown made him look like the sort of kid who would argue back, but when teachers told him to take the glasses off, he would instead take a note from his back pocket and produce it like a cop did his badge. No one saw that note but the teachers, and none of them had given any indication of what it said.
Hari didn’t pay much attention to Jonathan. No more attention than anyone else, anyway. She spent most of her time with her head in her desk, drawing, trying her best to distract herself from the classroom around her.
An octopus’ tentacles curled around the edge of her notebook, and clownfish framed the date at the top of the page. In the centre, Hari was weaving flowers through the braid of an imaginary blonde girl, her loosely sketched smile nestled between two of the lines that littered the page.
“That looks like shit.”
She looked up. Jonathan was standing by her desk. His visible eye squinted down at her. He tossed down his textbook, slung his bag under the desk and sat down in the empty seat beside her. Hari watched him, her pencil hovering over a daisy she’d yet to finish drawing.
“Teach told me to sit here.”
“Why?” Hari said.
“I can’t sit by the window anymore.”
Jonathan nodded towards Hari’s drawing as he opened his textbook to a page they’d studied weeks ago. “Who’s that?”
“No one.” Hari closed her notebook and slid it under her own textbook. “Just something to draw.”
“You ought to give it up, you’re not very good.”
Jonathan hunched over his textbook; Hari assumed he was reading. She watched him take up his pencil and start circling random words dotted about the page. Then Mr Clark tapped his pen on the whiteboard, the lesson began, and all thought of the strange boy beside her drifted away.
“Who can tell me how many fish are in the sea?” Mr Clark began.
Someone’s hand went up. Their answer was wrong. Another hand, and another wrong answer. The room went still, silent but for the light scribble of Jonathan’s pencil at Hari’s side.
“The correct answer was 3.5 trillion,” Mr Clark said. Hari lowered her head so he wouldn’t see her slight smile; she’d been chided for her silence before, so it was better to make out like she didn’t know the answers.
Hari glanced absent-mindedly over at Jonathan. The whole page of his textbook was scribbled on, leaving only the few words he’d circled. “Fish are just floating pebbles”, the words read. Hari didn’t know what it meant, but when Jonathan’s uncovered eye snapped up to catch hers, she knew it wasn’t meant for her to read.
* * *
Hari was drawing sea turtles. Their shells were wonky and misshaped. Their flippers looked more like flyswatters. She scrunched up her brow in concentration, but she couldn’t make the next turtle look any more convincing than the last. Her pencil laid motionless on top of her notebook long before Jonathan took his seat beside her.
“Why aren’t you drawing?” he said after surveying her.
“Nothing to draw.”
Jonathan dragged his textbook from his bag again and opened it on the table. Now that she was looking for it, Hari could tell that the first half of the book’s pages were crimpled, like they’d been scribbled all over. Jonathan opened it to an untouched page, and laid his chin on the book, his one eye darting across the words, his ppencil ready to single them out.
Mr Clark was still setting up his equipment on the teacher’s desk. Hari fiddled with her pencil. She didn’t know what to do if she wasn’t drawing, or answering class questions in her head.
Jonathan rose his head, but kept a hold of his pencil.
“Were you meant to be a boy?” he said.
“No,” Hari said. “Were you meant to be a girl?”
“Your name’s Hari. That’s a boy’s name.”
“That doesn’t make any sense. Names aren’t gendered.”
“Yes they are.”
“My grandpa says all names are genderless. Like sea snails. They can be boys or girls.”
“Your grandpa’s wrong.”
Jonathan turned back to his textbook and circled another word. WRONG. Hari looked away. She didn’t want to read the rest of his words.
* * *
“My mum said I should apologise.”
Hari didn’t want to speak to Jonathan – she’d rather stare at the empty page of her notebook – but he persisted, his textbook left untouched in his bag as he spoke.
“I shouldn’t have said your grandpa was wrong. She said that was mean. And saying your drawing was bad. I thought it looked really bad, but apparently I’m not meant to tell you that.”
Hari said nothing.
“You’re meant to say thank you now.”
“Thank you.” She looked over at him, frowning. “Why am I thanking you?”
“For saying sorry.”
“You didn’t say sorry.”
“Well, I am.”
Jonathan took out his textbook and started on another page of circles and scribbles.
“Why do you do that?” Hari said.
He looked up. He’d just circled the word AMPHIBIAN. Hari knew what the word ‘amphibian’ meant, but she’d thought nobody else in her class knew.
“I like doing it,” Jonathan said, turning the page. “I like to make something interesting out of something boring.”
“It isn’t boring.” Hari pointed at a diagram in the top left of the open page. “That’s a plesiosaur. They don’t exist anymore. I drew a picture of one.”
Without thinking, she flipped open her notebook and pointed out the drawing.
“It’s not very good,” she said sheepishly, seeing the knot in Jonathan’s brow.
“Why do you draw badly?” he said.
“I don’t know how else to draw.”
“Why draw at all?”
Hari paused. She looked down at her notebook, its uniform lines coated in pencil grey.
“I like to make something interesting out of something boring.”
Jonathan smiled a little. Hari hadn’t seen him smile before, but this smile stretched up into his one visible eye and made it squint a little, just like it did when it caught the sun from the classroom window.
Jonathan turned back to his textbook, and Hari turned to Mr Clark at the front of the room.
* * *
Hari’s pencil curled around the smirk on a pirate’s lips. The pirate had short black hair and a patch obscuring his left eye. Waves spun around the base of his ship, which Hari had just started to sculpt when Jonathan slumped into the seat next to her.
“I forgot my book.”
“You can ask Mr Clark for a spare.”
“No, my book.”
Jonathan’s one eye was frowning. He slouched over his desk, half his face buried in his arms. He looked strangely lonely without a pencil in his hand and his eye scouring a textbook for words he could steal.
“You can use mine.”
Jonathan lifted his head as Hari handed him her textbook. His frown was lifting too.
“Just don’t use the aquatics chapter,” Hari said. “That’s my favourite.”
His gaze swept over her drawing, and his smile returned. “I know.”
Hari filled in the side of the pirate’s ship and gave it a sail. She drew fish in the ocean, a lighthouse in the distance, and a first-mate lurking on the deck who seemed to have the same dark curly mane and thick-rimmed glasses as Hari. The waves swirled like cursive letters. Hari didn’t know how to shade properly, but she mimicked Jonathan’s scribbling at the bottom of the ocean, where the crabs and seaweed lurked, casting dark shadows on the sea floor.
By the time class was over, Hari’s page was full. Jonathan smacked her textbook closed and pushed it over to her. She closed her notebook before he could comment on the jagged lines and uneven shading of her drawing.
“Thanks,” Jonathan said, and then he was gone.
Hari flicked through her textbook, looking for where lead was scribbled into paper. She found the wrinkled page in the reptile section, which she had neglected to mention was her second favourite. Her heart sunk as she saw the page on gharial crocodiles coated in grey. Even the title had been scribbled on, a few letters of the word ‘gharial’ snipped off either end.
But then Hari read the message nestled in the textbook page, and smiled.
HARI. IS. COOL.
* * *
Jonathan didn’t come into school the next day, with or without his textbook. The absence of pencil scratching on paper made it hard for Hari to concentrate on Mr Clark’s lesson. Instead she made scribbling sounds of her own, drawing crocodiles across the bottom of a fresh page.
* * *
Jonathan was already sat at their desk before Hari arrived, his head and his pencil already buried in his textbook. He didn’t look up when Hari sat down.
“Where were you yesterday?”
Jonathan screwed up his face and circled a word. “My glasses broke.”
“I can’t leave home without my glasses.”
“Because I can’t.”
Jonathan gripped his pencil tight. His sunglasses were a different colour than before, their frame blue where it had been green. The single lens was a reflective one; when Jonathan looked up at her, Hari could see her own face distorted in the space where his left eye should have been.
“What did you draw yesterday?” he asked her.
“How do you know I drew something?”
“You always draw something. What was it?”
Hari took her notebook from her bag and opened it on the table. The crocodiles were piled up at the bottom of the page, crawling over one another, webbed feet and pale claws scratching at scaled faces, jaws snapping at passing tails. Hari hunched in her seat. She noticed the crooked teeth of one of them, the unshaded belly of another, a tail too long for its body, a leg too short for its huge foot. But Jonathan was smiling.
“I like it,” he said. “Can you give it to me?”
Hari sat up straighter. “You think it’s good?”
“No, it’s terrible. That one looks more like a sausage dog.”
He pointed out the wiggly formation of a crocodile nearer the top of the pile and chuckled. Hari looked at the desk instead.
“But I prefer it like that.”
She thought he was joking again, but the sincerest curve of the mouth rested on his face when she looked up at him. The smile spread to her before she could help herself.
“So, can I have it?”
Hari nodded, and let Jonathan tear the drawing from her notebook.
It was only when class ended that Jonathan turned to her and said, “I forgot to thank you.”
“For what?” she said as she packed up her books.
“For the drawing.”
“Oh, ok. Go ahead.”
“Thank you for the drawing.”
* * *
Hari drew crocodiles every day for weeks. She practiced the same image over and over again, trying to get the proportions right, trying to keep her lines straight and not wiggly, trying to shade the right parts, until the drawings began to resemble the crocodiles in her textbook. She read the reptiles section of the textbook three times over and then ventured online, learning that crocodiles have the strongest bite of any animal in the world, and gharial crocodiles in particular are one of the longest types. She drew crocodile after crocodile after crocodile in every class except biology, where she alternated between sketching boys in sunglasses and books soiled in pencil markings.
When she was ready, Hari drew her final crocodile. It lounged in the centre of its own page on a throne of sand, beside a pool where the water rippled and glistened in sunlight. She folded up the drawing and hid it between the pages of her notebook.
Jonathan had his pencil gripped between his teeth when he sat down beside her. He got out his textbook and didn’t say a word to her. Hari didn’t know what she was meant to say, so instead she took the folded drawing out from her notebook and flung it over to his side of the table.
Jonathan flinched like he’d been attacked. He unfolded the drawing and stared down at it for a moment before turning to Hari. “What’s this?”
“I drew it for you.”
“Because you liked the crocodiles I drew. This one’s better.”
Jonathan considered the drawing for a few more seconds, then refolded the page and tossed it back at her.
Hari sunk into her chair. “What?”
“I said it’s boring. It looks like any other picture of a crocodile.” He snorted. “I bet I could find the same crocodile in my textbook.” He flicked through the book’s pages until he found the part on gharial crocodiles. “See. It’s right there! They’re the same!”
Hari didn’t respond. She slipped the folded drawing back into her notebook and put the notebook in her bag. She watched Mr Clark’s lesson with distant eyes, forgetting every word once it was over.
* * *
Jonathan tapped Hari on the shoulder at the start of class.
“I asked my mum if I should apologise for yesterday,” he said, “and she said yes. I’m sorry for saying your drawing was boring. And mum already told me off for it so you really should forgive me. I’ve already been punished enough.”
Hari stared at the front of the classroom. Her notebook sat shut on her desk.
“So, do you forgive me?”
Hari screwed up her lips, then finally gave in and looked over at him.
“I’ll forgive you
“What’s the condition?”
“Tell me what’s wrong with your eye.”
“My eye?” Jonathan’s hand went up to his face as though expecting something horrible to be there. Then his confusion faded and he laughed. “There’s nothing wrong with my eye.”
He lifted his sunglasses for the first time, and the single reflective lens stared up at the ceiling. Beneath, his left eye was intact, unharmed, and the same hazel brown as the right one.
“You said you needed your sunglasses on all the time,” Hari said.
“I never said that.”
“Yes you did.”
“No, I didn’t.”
“Why do you wear them then?”
Jonathan shrugged, lowering the lens back over his eye.
“I like to make something interesting out of something boring.”
Hari smiled. “You’re not boring.”
“Maybe not, but I look way cooler with my glasses. Right?”
“So does that mean you forgive me?”
Hari opened her notebook, and took out the folded drawing that had been left neglected overnight.
“If you make the crocodile less boring.”
Jonathan huffed. “You can’t add extra conditions.”
“I just did.”
Jonathan took the page and drew a pair of sunglasses on its face, only the left lens shaded in. He curled the crocodile’s rigid mouth into a smile, then pushed the drawing back to Hari.
“See?” he said. “It’s so much more interesting now.”
Hari took the page back, and scribbled out the drawing until only its head remained. Then she slipped it back into her notebook and pressed her pencil to a fresh page, ready to draw something new.
Image via Pixabay