This week’s short story comes from China by way of Japan. Or maybe it’s the other way around. Obviously the title makes it perfect for Raw.
Sushi | Simon Paul Wilson
The other children call her Sushi.
Her real name is too hard for them to either remember or pronounce, so they renamed her after a food from her country.
Sushi doesn’t mind so much. After all, it’s better than ‘that Japanese girl’ or worse names.
Sushi sits at the back of the class and hardly ever says a word. She never speaks to her classmates. When she first came to the school, the other children were very excited to see her and asked her question after question after question.
“What’s your name?”
“What’s Japan like?”
“How do you say ‘hello’ in Japanese?”
Sushi mumbled her answers to her feet, her face turning redder and redder and redder.
It wasn’t long before the children got bored of asking questions and not much longer before they gave up on wanting to know her altogether.
This didn’t bother Sushi. She was happy to be left alone.
The teachers tell her parents that she is an excellent student, top of the class in most subjects.
“She’s a very clever girl,” they say. “But we’re a little concerned about how shy she is.”
Her parents ask if their daughter is being bullied. The school replies that this is not so.
“From what we have seen, she prefers to isolate herself from her classmates. She has little to no interaction with them.”
Later that day, her parents ask her if everything is OK at school, if she is settling in well. Sushi nods.
“It’s your fifteenth birthday next Saturday,” they say. “Would you like to have a party? You could invite all of your new classmates for dinner. Would you like that?”
Sushi shakes her head.
“Why not?” her parents ask. “It would be good for you to have friends. You had lots in Tokyo. Isn’t there someone you would like to be friends with?”
“I only like Summer,” says Sushi. “Just Summer.”
Summer sits at the front of the class.
Everyone likes Summer. They all say how bright she is, how beautiful her long blonde hair is, how well she can sing, how good at art she is. The list goes on and on and on.
Sometimes, when Sushi walks into class, Summer will smile at her. She is the only one who does. When this happens, Sushi feels her cheeks burning like a forest fire and quickly turns her gaze down towards her well-polished shoes.
Sushi thinks that Summer blazes like the sun, while she just burns to ashes.
Sushi sits quietly in the girls’ toilets, locked inside a cubicle.
Her stomach doesn’t feel so good. She blames the school canteen and the terrible food it serves. Between pangs of pain, she wonders how English people can eat such awful food and why they love potatoes so much. Sushi misses her old school. The food was much better there.
The bathroom door opens and Sushi hears some girls spill into the room in an explosion of laughter. They turn the taps on to their fullest and the water hits the sinks with the force of a tsunami.
The scowl on her face disappears when she hears Summer’s voice.
“Did you do your Maths homework?”
“Yeah,” says a girl who Sushi thinks might be called Ruth. “God, it was so hard!”
“That’s because you’re stupid!” says another girl. Sushi recognises the voice – it belongs to a girl called Faith.
Sushi hates Faith.
Faith is a cruel girl who mocks others as a means to hide her own stupidity.
Why Summer likes Faith is a mystery to Sushi.
“Did you bring your swimming costume?”
Sushi smiles at the return of Summer’s voice. She has such delicate tones, spoken with warmth and intelligence, unlike Faith whose voice grates like fingernails dragged slowly across a blackboard.
The girls leave the bathroom as they discuss the colours and styles of their swimwear. The bathroom is silent once more.
Sushi’s stomach ache has passed.
Sushi likes to swim.
Back home, she would go swimming every weekend, if possible.
Sushi likes to dive into the pool and swim along the bottom until her lungs start to scream. Then she will swim some more, pushing herself to the limits of endurance, before finally coming up for air.
At the end of class, the teacher asks her to stay behind as the students file towards the changing rooms.
Sushi feels a familiar heat spread across her cheeks.
She notices Summer looking back at her while Faith whispers something into her ear. Sushi wants to jump into the deep end of the pool, sink to the bottom and stay there.
“You are a very good swimmer,” says the teacher. “Would you be interested in joining the school swimming team?”
“It’s just one hour of practice a week,” he says. “After classes on Wednesdays. I really think you would be a great asset to the team. Just let me know if you would like to join, OK?”
Sushi nods and shuffles away towards the changing rooms.
She pushes open the door to find all of the other girls are out of the showers and are getting dressed to go home. Sushi doesn’t understand how they can have finished so quickly. She thinks they must like the smell of chlorine on their skins. She, however, does not. She takes her time, washing her skin thoroughly so she will carry the aroma of nothing but soap.
When she is done, she dries herself carefully, wraps her towel around herself and walks into the changing area.
She finds it empty.
Where her bag and clothes should be, now hangs a note.
‘FISH DON’T NEED CLOTHES.’
Sushi doesn’t recognise the writing, but knows who is responsible.
Wearing only her towel, she runs around the changing room, desperately searching for her hidden clothes. All she finds are empty lockers and vacant clothes pegs.
Her tears cannot soothe the fires that burn on both sides of her face.
The swimming teacher finds her twenty minutes later.
He doesn’t ask what is wrong.
He already knows.
He returns her bag, the one he found sitting on a bench in the sports hall.
“Do you know who did this?” he asks.
Sushi doesn’t answer.
“Was it Faith?”
“I want to go home,” she says. “I just want to go home.”
Sushi doesn’t go to school the next day.
She tells her parents she has bad stomach pains and feels nauseous. They don’t believe her lie, she can tell, but accept it without question. She is pleasantly surprised.
She spends the rest of the day tucked up in bed with her diary. She flicks through recent entries, smiling as she rereads them.
When she has finished, she puts pen to paper and writes just seven words.
Faith is evil.
I hope she dies.
Summer smiles as Sushi enters the class.
Just for a split second, she considers smiling back but then notices Faith sitting next to her.
Faith is not smiling. The expression upon her face is one of pure hatred.
Sushi hurries to the back of the classroom, takes her seat and thinks about the last four words she wrote the day before.
“Did you tell the teachers I stole your clothes?”
Faith’s face is millimeters from Sushi’s.
Her words are whispered, but delivered with such vitriol, that they might as well be broadcast over the PA system.
“Did you fucking grass me up?”
Sushi grips her knife and fork tightly in her fists and looks down at her macaroni cheese.
“I had detention because of you,” she hisses. “Fucking fish.”
Sushi stares at the congealing mass of yellow pasta on her plate.
“If I find out you told, I swear I’ll kill you.”
Sushi sits motionless, long after Faith has left her.
Her tears add salt to the food she finds so bland.
Sushi wakes from a dream.
She reaches for her diary, but then notices the clock. She has no time to record the events that took place in her sleep. She has to get ready for school or she will be late.
She resolves to take the diary with her and write down the details during lunch.
Such happiness should not be forgotten.
Sushi is almost home when Faith appears in an alleyway and pins her against the wall.
“What were you writing at lunchtime?”
Sushi clutches her schoolbag against her chest.
“Show me, little Sushi-fish,” says Faith. “Show me what you were writing at lunchtime.”
Sushi’s eyes are wide and filled with terror. She feels like the skin on her face has been rubbed with raw chilies.
Sushi tries her best to cling on to her bag, but she is no match for Faith. Faith has far more strength.
She reminds her of an animal.
Sushi falls to her knees as her bag is torn out of her feeble grip, and watches in horror as the zip is opened and the contents emptied out across the floor.
Sushi wants to die when Faith finds the diary.
“Is this what you were doing? Is little Sushi-fish writing a diary?”
“Please,” begs Sushi. “Please don’t read it. I will do anything you say. Please. Don’t read it.”
Faith smiles and opens the diary.
“You’ve written it in English!”
Faith laughs. It is a sound that makes Sushi sick to her stomach.
“Now that was a stupid thing to do, wasn’t it? Should’ve written it in your own fucking language, shouldn’t you?”
Sushi has heard of a phenomenon where people suddenly burst into flames, leaving behind only ash and sometimes, an arm or a leg.
She wishes that this would happen to her right now.
“Let’s see what you’ve got to say …”
Faith starts to turn the pages.
“Please …” says Sushi.
Faith smiles and starts to read Sushi’s words out loud.
Sushi hugs her knees to her chest as her innermost thoughts echo along the alleyway.
“What I like most about Summer is her smile. She has a wonderful smile. So warm and honest. Sometimes, when I arrive in class, Summer will smile at me. I always feel happy when I see her. I wish one day that we could be friends …”
Faith stops and grins at the girl cowering at her feet.
“Aw, little Sushi-fish has the hots for Summer.”
Sushi wants to scream at Faith to stop, but fear has snipped off her tongue and filled her mouth with chalk. She can only listen as Faith continues to read.
“Summer is such a beautiful girl. I sometimes think, if I were a boy, I could quite easily fall in love with her …”
Sushi closes her eyes and hugs her knees even tighter.
“Please …” she whimpers.
There is a pause for a few seconds. She can almost hear the pages being turned.
“Fucking hell …”
Sushi knows what Faith has found.
“I dreamt of Summer last night. It was the most beautiful dream I have ever had. In my dream, Summer and I were in love. We were girlfriends. We were lying in my bed, completely naked, holding and kissing each other. It felt so wonderful when she kissed me. I imagine that in real life, it would be even more so …”
Tears stream down Sushi’s face in rivers.
“You dirty fucking lesbo.”
She hears Faith spit and feels something wet hit her head.
Then comes an explosion of rage.
Sushi is pulled violently to her feet by her hair. She screams in both fear and pain.
Faith screams with anger.
“YOU WISH I WOULD DIE?”
Sushi screws her eyes shut. She dare not look.
Sushi feels Faith’s face come close to her left ear. The words she whispers tickle their way into her brain and freeze her heart.
“After tomorrow, you’ll wish you’d stayed in your own fucking country.”
Sushi collapses to the ground the second Faith releases her grip.
Thirty minutes pass before she gets to her feet, picks up her scattered belongings and slowly walks to a place she doesn’t want to call home.
The word is scrawled in black marker across the locker door.
This comes as no big shock to Sushi; she expected something like this to happen. She pays the graffiti no attention. After all, it is merely a word.
Words can’t hurt her.
When Sushi enters class, everyone turns to look at her.
Everyone except Summer, that is.
Again, she expected as much.
She walks to the back of the class with her head held high, making eye contact with her classmates as they snigger and whisper. She takes her seat, looks towards the front desk and waits.
Faith turns to look back at her, wearing the smile of a snake.
Sushi mouths two words:
Faith’s jaw drops.
Sushi smiles as the snake turns into a fish.
The lunchtime bell is ringing.
Sushi picks up her bag and leaves the art room.
She knows that Faith and one other student follow her.
She walks straight through the school canteen, past the lines of students who wait for their daily serving of bland food and out towards the science block.
Faith and the other girl are still behind her.
Sushi is sure of this.
She makes her way through the science block towards her destination. She chooses the route with care. She doesn’t want to be stopped and questioned by teachers.
A few minutes of walking and she reaches her destination.
Sushi ignores the sign that says the toilets are out of order, pushes open the door and walks inside. She walks past the cubicles to the far end of the room. There she stops and closes her eyes.
It is only a matter of seconds before she hears the door open behind her.
“Wanna repeat what you said at registration?”
The snake is back, dripping with venom.
Sushi does not turn to face her.
Neither does she open her eyes.
Sushi just smiles and does as requested.
“Say it again,” says Faith, her voice trembling with rage. “I fucking dare you.”
Sushi’s eyes snap open.
She slowly turns around and pulls the scissors she took from art class out of her pocket.
A girl called Heather stands outside the girls’ toilets.
Faith has told her to knock three times on the door should she see any sign of teachers.
She is not sure what to do when the screaming starts.
Faith never mentioned anything about screaming.
She opens the door a fraction and peers inside.
She forgets to knock three times when the teachers arrive.
News of Faith’s expulsion travels quickly through the school.
Students say the teachers found her as she was about to stab that shy Japanese girl with a pair of scissors.
Apparently, Faith followed the girl into the toilets, grabbed her by the ponytail and cut it clean off.
Several students say they saw the teachers walking Faith to the headmaster’s office and heard her shouting about how she was innocent, claiming the Japanese girl had cut her ponytail off herself and then started screaming and ran at her with the scissors.
Of course, no one believed her.
As if that shy Japanese girl would cut off her own ponytail and attack Faith.
Who in their right mind would believe such a story?
Sushi looks up to see Summer smiling at her.
“Do you want to sit here?” she asks, pointing towards the desk where Faith used to sit.
Sushi thinks for a moment and then nods.
“Sure,” she says. “That would be nice.”
She takes her new position at the front of the class. The fire she now feels is confidence.
“Did I say your name right?” Summer asks.
“Yes,” she replies. “You said it perfectly.”
The room falls quiet as the teacher enters and class begins.
“Your hair looks cool,” Summer whispers. “Short really suits you.”
The girl called Shizuyo smiles.
She has never been happier.
Heavily influenced by his time in China, Singapore, Cambodia and Thailand, Simon’s stories often feature kooky Asian girls and ghosts with very long hair.
When not writing, Simon listens to post and prog rock at a very loud volume. He also likes to play air-guitar.
‘Sushi’ first appeared in the Pankhearst YA collection, Heathers. Simon’s first novel, Yuko Zen is Somewhere Else, was published on Halloween 2014. You can learn more about Simon at his website Quirky Fiction.