[Prose] An Act of Kindness

It was moments such as this that Rose found herself cursing her own habitual kindness. After all, who else could be to blame? Perhaps if she had complimented her flatmate’s new weave with just a little less enthusiasm, said flatmate wouldn’t have felt it necessary to bury her tear-streaked face in her lap in a possible bid to ensure the two could get further acquainted. She probably thinks most Irish people have never seen a weave before, Rose thought to herself. But to Sonny’s credit, anyone bearing witness to how Rose had bounded up and down the communal area of their flat upon spying her friend’s majestic mane would most likely have surmised the same thing.

And yet as Sonny continued to weep in violent convulsions, Rose reasoned that perhaps she was overthinking things. Maybe her friend was legitimately upset. It certainly wasn’t unheard of for Sonny to get a bit emotional after a few drinks. Indeed, by the time they found their Christmas holidays were approaching, it had been a task for anyone in Rose’s flat to recall a night out that didn’t end in an emotional breakdown for poor Sonny. But Rose had hoped this semester would be different. It was her first night back in Cardiff, and she had high hopes – although these were slowly being dowsed by the flash-flood of tears that lay before her. She hadn’t exactly enjoyed her time back in Ireland. As she began to tear up at the departure gate earlier that day, she hoped her father would interpret it as a sign of regret, that maybe Rose felt she had made a mistake in crossing the Irish sea. Not to the extent that she should be pained by this embryonic patriotism – Mr. O’Shea would never wish such turmoil upon his only daughter – but that maybe in four years time, with her degree wrapped up and thoughts of greener grass fading, she might come back home. She had never given him a particular reason to think this wouldn’t be the case, but the truth was she deplored her homeland. She walked the streets of Cork city like a tourist. When she caught up with her high school friends, it was as if they now spoke a different language. She should have been content knowing that those she cared about were perfectly happy to settle within a half a mile of where they all used to play hopscotch together. But throughout each coffee date, all Rose’s foggy mind could do was wonder how her friends could go each day without catching their reflection in the mirror and resenting both themselves and their brazen lack of ambition. While she walked through the airport’s duty free shops, Rose wiped one last tear from her eye, knowing this fit to be the closest she had ever come to vocalising these thoughts.

Rose decided to re-evaluate the situation. What she found curious was that Sonny’s episodes rarely struck during pre-drinks – she usually waited until they were on a dance floor entrenched with their sweaty, grinding peers to have her soul-crushing epiphanies – so why should tonight be any different? She felt it was worth investigating, so she patted Sonny on the head to get her attention. A few seconds had passed before Rose realised she hadn’t accounted for the newly applied blanket of Russian hair that was cushioning her impact. She tried again.

“Sonny? Babe…?” She attempted to sound as motherly as possible, putting her deep, syrupy timbre to good use. Sonny grunted drowsily. Rose propped her up next to her on the bed like a drunken ventriloquist doll. As she saw Sonny’s eyes wander from her own to the many French film posters that adorned her bedroom wall, she knew this interrogation could take a while. She caught Sonny by the shoulders and looked her straight in the eye.

“Sonny! Please. Tell me what’s wrong.” For a moment, Rose thought she had lost her for good. Her eye contact wavered. She winced her eyes shut and rested them on the heel of her palms. But this digression lasted only a moment. After a few seconds, Sonny had regained eye contact, and began to answer the question at hand.

***

In the impermeable minds of their flat mates and friends at Cardiff University, Dale and Sonny were in a relationship. Many admitted freely to bullying the pair into partaking in social occasions as a bonafide couple. The pair soon discovered that not only was it easier to go along with this charade than against, but that it could be pretty enjoyable, too. After all, even if their time together was as exclusively sex-driven as they made out, they did share some kind of rapport. That they both came from the cosmopolitan streets of London to the slightly more modest Welsh capital meant a bond was unavoidable, but even without this connection the chemistry would have been clear and present. To their delight, interest in this constructed courtship eventually began to wane when it became clear that any external pressure to label whatever it was they were doing was going to waste.

The pair relished the novel freedom of being allowed to go on separate nights out without giving their fellow flat mates a stress-induced aneurysm, only to reconvene at four in the morning for a round of drunken sex – a routine they carried on quite blissfully for a couple of weeks. It was only a few days into November that complications arose, when a seemingly typical Saturday night ended with Sonny waiting in the kitchen until five that morning. She woke up the next day to find that Dale did not come home. Sonny tried not to seem concerned, even as rumours began to circulate that he went home with a classmate named Hilary Evans, and had stayed at hers all morning. One may assume that Sonny was devastated to learn this information, but as the weeks went by, and as Dale and Hilary blossomed into the kind of beaming embodiment of love that her peers had once hoped would include Sonny in place of the more tightly-wound Hilary, she felt genuinely happy for her friend. She liked to think that they had finished the first semester on good terms, but upon her post-holiday arrival to Cardiff, Sonny couldn’t help but wonder if the only Christmas present Dale had received was a temper, as his behaviour was becoming increasingly erratic. In the three days that had been back in the same flat, he had hardly said a word to her.

 ***

 “What did you see, Sonny?” Rose wasn’t prepared for this. She had assumed there would have some glib catalyst for Sonny’s hysteria, and although she hadn’t yet gathered any concrete information, it was clear that whatever the problem was, it had cut deep. She tried to get her friend back on track. “Sonny. You went to Dale’s room. You went to talk to him. What did you see?”

For a long while there was nothing. The words bristled in Sonny’s throat, but the reality of it all had yet form a cohesive whole in her mind. She recited what she could in a flat and detached monotone, hoping it would all come to make sense once it hit the light.

“I… I went to his room. I saw there was light underneath his door, so I knocked. He didn’t answer, but I could hear him in there. He swore and then there was nothing. It was silent for a bit. Then I heard his bedsprings squeak, and I could hear him running towards the door. He was dead quick, but I just pulled down on the handle and forced my way in. I think he was trying to lock it because he kept trying to push me out but I knew he wouldn’t hit a girl so I just kept pushing and begging him to talk to me. And yes, I had a few drinks in me, so I was feeling brave.” She gave Rose a tight, wiry smile. Relieved to see a shade of joy on her friend’s face, Rose’s own blossomed like a garden in spring. Sonny continued. “He was thinking of what to do when I looked at his desk.”

She gasped sharply, almost hiccupping. It was all beginning to take shape.

“What did you see, Sonny? Please. You can tell me.”

Sonny closed her eyes and sighed before speaking in fragments. Her tone was unusually measured, as if each piece was foreign to her.

“Azith… Romy… Cin. Azithromycin. It’s a treatment for chlamydia.” Sonny could feel her blood begin to move again. She soldiered on. “I recognised the label and tablets straight away. He had been pulling the plastic capsules apart and pooling the powder in a glass tumbler.”

Although Sonny had technically remained stoic, it was clear something was percolating inside of her. Rose was lost for words. All she could do was take her friend’s hand as she spat out the story’s conclusion.

“It was for Hilary. He was just going to put it in her drink instead of actually telling her to get checked. He picked it up over Christmas from some slag. Of course, he wasn’t going to tell her that, either. Bastard.”

These words were followed by a brief silence from both parties. Rose gathered her thoughts and tightened her grip on Sonny’s hand.

“Babe. Can I ask… how did you recognise the tablets so quickly?”

Sonny answered with surprising candour.

“I had chlamydia last summer, before I came to Cardiff. I told Dale back when we were… well, you know. So when I saw the pills tonight, he just…” Her glossy veneer was beginning to crack again. The tears that had once felt like a distant memory returned. She soldiered on. “He pushed me into his wall, and said he’d tell everyone it was me who gave it to him. And I was so scared. I know I should have been stronger but I was terrified, Rose! We used to be so close. Now he just scares me…”

Sonny broke down once again, although the nuances seemed a little more genuine. Her teary bellows were richer in sound and economically used. The lines inflicted by her facial contortions were noticeably streamlined, like skin left wrinkled and wise by years of empowering trauma. Sonny looked and felt like a real person again. For the first time in a long time, Rose saw the girl she befriended in Fresher’s Week. She could recall the crippling homesickness that blighted both their first couple of days away from home, and ultimately brought them together.

As much as Rose enjoyed nursing her wounded friends, the idea of actively defending them was an even more exciting prospect. While she may have deplored her homeland, Rose knew that she had left some good things behind when she first boarded that plane to Bristol. But the connection she had experienced with Sonny just now went some way towards making her feel that her decision to leave was not a mistake. Sonny was a friend. Sonny was family. And with this in mind, she marched towards to the kitchen where Dale, Hilary and the rest of her flat were drinking. Slick drops of bloodlust smeared the face of her moral compass.

Although the ferocity with which Rose accosted Dale that night was unprecedented, in her own mind she remained the same habitually kind person. After all, she was standing up for a friend. This was still an act of kindness.

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