Two days ago a memory crept out of some abandoned back corridor of my brain and planted itself firmly behind my eyes. It is still foggy and there are gaps and non sequitur but I’m going to write it down and see if it makes any more sense on paper.
I was in Year One. I was playing with my friends Jessica and Jessica. To differentiate them we’ll call them Jessica the Quite Beautiful and Jessica the Not So Beautiful. You’ll see why shortly.
Jessica the Quite Beautiful, as our (beautiful) leader, organised a competition on the school oval: the boys would race. First prize? They would ‘get’ her. I remember the wording very well. It wasn’t that they would get to be her boyfriend or get a kiss. They would get Jessica the Quite Beautiful. What does this mean for Year Ones? I was second prize and Jessica the Not So Beautiful was third. The three of us sat on our wooden stumps, arranged in order from most to least beautiful, and eight little boys set out on their epic oval run to prove their masculinity.
I remember sitting very straight and upright on my post. I remember feeling Jessica the Not So Beautiful’s misery hitting my back in waves of resentment. I remember the heat. I remember watching that raggedy race.
Did one drop to the ground spontaneously and the others follow his lead? Or did they talk it through as they ran, discussing the magnitude of their task and the poor quality of the prizes on offer. Whatever the decision making process, the tribe fell to the ground just past the halfway mark. They sprawled across the dry grass in the shade of a tree. All but one.
One figure kept running. He was wearing tracksuit pants despite the heat and his gait was even and (in my memory) almost Terminator-like in its determination; arms swinging back and forwards, eyes focused on some point in the middle distance. In it to win it.
“Oh no! Not Zoran! Please not Zoran.” Breathed Jessica the Quite Beautiful.
Zoran was a Bosnian refugee. I remember so little about him that he is almost a cardboard cutout in my memory rather than a real human being. I remember only this race and the tracksuit pants and the day we found him crying behind a shrub. I remember that well. The teacher told us that one of his family members had died in Sarajevo. She told us to be nice to him and I think we probably were but doubt we ever asked him who it was. An uncle? Aunt? Grandparent? Father? Was it his father? I left that school at the end of Year Two and I remember nothing more about Zoran. He is a silhouette in tracksuit pants tearily running towards an unattainable figure.
I don’t even remember what happened when he reached us but I know he didn’t ‘get’ Jessica the Beautiful. I think she declared that the race didn’t count because three boys had to make it across the line. Or perhaps she set him another task more impossible than a lap around an oval. Perhaps she continued to move the goal posts further and further back like a king in a fairy tale trying to find the bravest of suitors for his favourite daughter. Perhaps it kept going for years, long after I left the school. Climb this fence. Climb that tree. Fist fight a Year Seven. Knife Fight a Teacher. Steal a car. Steal a train. Bring me the head of the Governor General. I don’t know.
What I do know is that my perspective is the least interesting. This story should be Zoran’s. Or Jessica’s or Jessica’s. I’m simply Girl Number Two. Neither overtly beautiful nor overly plain. Not the refugee. Not the overly-sexualised daughter of a struggling single mother who decided to give herself and her friends away as trophy wives at the age of six. I was simply the consolation prize. The one who went along with it. And I must have known it was wrong because I don’t think I told my mother about it. I don’t think I told anyone about it until the memory re-appeared two days ago. If a tree falls in a forest, did it ever really fall? If a refugee runs and is forgotten, did he ever really run? If two little girls, roped in as prizes sit silent and stiff-backed, ready to be given away or rejected, did they ever make it off those posts?