Chapter 31: Same On The Inside

The day has been distorted by Ben Chester’s death. I can’t get comfortable. It’s almost as if I don’t fit behind my desk the way I did yesterday. I shuffle around and fidget. I have one lesson with Lia and we spend the whole time looking at each other with sad eyes from opposite sides of the classroom. I sit next to Amber in Art and we paint the Faint December logo together. By break, the news of the singer’s death has spread around school. The band are famous enough for it to be a big deal, but there are very few pupils who, like us, feel affected by what’s happened. I notice a sixth-former in the corridor in a Faint December tour t-shirt – maybe he feels the same on the inside as I do? – and at lunch I sit within earshot of a group of Year 10 girls who are clearly in shock. I make eye contact with them and we pass looks of sympathy back and forth. We recognise each other as fans of the band but we don’t suddenly start talking.

Once the food situation has been addressed and the gap where a breakfast should have been has been filled, Amber, Lia, Chloe and I head over to the music department, not because we play instruments but because we’ll be allowed to watch Faint December videos on the computers there. In one of the practice rooms, a cool Year 8 kid is strumming out the chords to Faint December’s Count To Ten.

“Great song,” I say through the open door but he doesn’t even look up because cool Year 8s are like that – they think they’ve got everything sussed out.

“Burned,” Chloe says quietly enough that the Year 8 won’t hear and the ridiculousness of the moment lightens the mood in a way that helps me to take a deep breath.

Throughout the afternoon, I see more evidence of Faint December’s influence. Mr Corzone talks to the class about Ben Chester and I think to myself for the first time that maybe I’ve misunderstood our drama teacher.

But then one of Mos Fischer’s friends says, “He killed himself because he was a homo,” and Corzone lets it go.

Pathetic.

Later, I’m left in a better – if ‘better’ can possibly be the right word – mood by a couple of Year 9 boys listening to Faint December’s What I Am at the bus stop. The lyrics –I have done what I can, I have worked, I have planned, but my life is made of water, not of bricks and mortar; I walk this way for the last time, as I watch the sun rise, leaving here is not as hard as I thought it would be, the things we know dissolve so easily’ – cut right through me.

I’m glad the girls are coming home with me and that they’ll spend the night at mine as planned. Today’s events mean I don’t want to let them out of my sight and I’m sure they feel the same way. On the bus, we look at our phones. Social media is awash with messages. Notes of sadness and grief come like rain, pouring into our lives and it only strikes me then how much of an impact Ben Chester made on so many. I’ve never closely considered his relationship with the millions of other fans in the world. I’ve thought about how much difference he made to my life but I’ve never more than passingly thought about the impact he might have been having elsewhere. Now, I imagine children in war-torn towns, climbing over rubble; farmers on top of high hills, a huge blue sky behind them; women washing clothes in a river – okay, I get that they’re all the kind of images you’d see on adverts that want to present the world as both terrible and beautiful, and they’ve probably got nothing to do with actual reality – but still I imagine all those people listening to Faint December. I picture Ben Chester’s words floating through each setting and despite my airbrushed vision of the world, I know there’s a truth to what I’m seeing in my mind’s eye. If I could create some kind of heat map to show where Faint December songs are playing, I’m sure I’d see the band’s music being played in the most unlikely places. It’s an overwhelming thought.

“Wow,” Lia says, as if she’s been thinking the same as me. “Look at this.”

We huddle in and although I don’t know what I’m looking at straight away, I quickly realise it’s Brixton Academy. There are flowers everywhere. They cover the Academy steps and the pavement running around the building. It’s a flood of colour. There are people in the picture, bending over and placing a fistful of what look like enormous daisies down. I’m not a flower person. I could tell you the difference between a rose and a dandelion but that’s about my limit. But I’m amazed at the sight of so many of them being laid out in memory of Ben Chester. I lift my head and the others do too. Because we’ve all been looking at Lia’s screen, our faces are only centimetres from each other’s.

“We need to go down there,” I say.

“We definitely do,” Amber agrees.

I look at Lia and she nods seriously. I turn to Chloe.

“What? Like I’m going to say no? This is my kind of mission. Let’s do it.”

We smile at each other and I feel a rush of excitement. The emotions in me swirl together and make me feel light-headed. The thought of doing something, anything, to fill an evening I’ve been looking forward to for so long makes me feel better.

“I’ll drive you there,” Mum says when we tell her our plan.

“There’s no need,” I say, “we’ll get the train.”

Mum shakes her head and I know we’ve got the best deal we’re going to get.

“I’m not leaving you to wander around the streets of Brixton on your own.”

I want to argue that she was fine with the idea yesterday but I recognise that the situation has changed. We’re not going to be actually going into the venue now. In there, we’d have been monitored. We’d have been safe.

Right now, it’s difficult to imagine ever feeling completely safe again.

If the demons can get to Dad and to Ben Chester then they can definitely get to me.

Go back to chapter 1 of Faint December.

Chapter image by Liz Cahillane.