The Y-files [GL]
In my notes i will tell you some trivia about Belgian and Brussels' culture because this is where this story takes place. These are my own personal impressions and by no means law. They are meant to give people that are not from there a bit of a foothold with stuff that might otherwise seem weird. The are not by any means necessary to read to follow the story. So you could just skip the italic parts at the start if you want. If you have questions do post them and I will try to answer them in the next release. I will try to keep this up as the story unfolds:
Brussels is bilingual. Meaning that there are both French speaking and Dutch speaking people living there. In reality most people speak French in Brussels. Schools are separated for the language groups. The school I present uses the Flemish (Dutch) system, because that is what I had to suffer and I did not feel like doing a bunch of research into something that I could not care less about. I gave my MC a French name to insinuate she is bilingual.
On a first name basis:
It is normal for everyone that already knows each other to talk using given names. Underage people do not even always know each other surnames. You would be aware of surnames of the people in your class due to roll call though. Teachers are referred to by there surnames. The distance created by this act is meant to give the teacher more authority as they are clearly above the pupils. They can refer to the pupils casually while they must be referred to with the proper respect. Referring to someone with there surname like “Mr Bond” would create a social distance and is done when you want to place the other one “above” you (like with a customer, we have an expression saying the customer is always king ) or want to empathize the fact that you are not close. Sometimes this is used with sarcasm for a comedic effect or as a personal attack.
Belgian High School:
High school in Belgium starts September 1st of the year that you become 12 and lasts 6 year till June 30th of the year you become 18. There are a zillion directions you can go divided into 4 main types ASO (this is the most common preparation for university or college), TSO (a more technical direction. You can become an accountant or Secretary or even an Electrician directly out of high school), BSO (This is a direct preparation for mostly more physical jobs like a baker, a steel braider, a welder) or KSO (This is the arts department) There are no entry exams for university. If you pass any of the above high school final exams you can go to any university in Belgium. For simplicity's sake everyone in my story is in ASO .
Everyone to the courtyard!
It is not allowed to be inside school buildings/class during recess in most Belgian schools. Everyone must go to the courtyard. After the bell rings every class assembles in lines at there class' assembly point. The teacher will pick them up The library and lunch hall are kept open only during the long lunch break.
No school uniforms in Belgian schools. Those haven't been around since the '80s. At the same time there are regulations to how high your skirt can be. I remember a teacher running around with a ruler to measure how high our skirts were. You were also send back home to go and dress appropriately if you dared to come to school with something like a bad religion t-shirt. They aren't to strict about the Catholicism in catholic schools here, but as a student you are not allowed to openly mock it either...
Chapter 1 Louisa’s suicide
When I arrived at the Immaculate institute, the catholic all-girl school where my education was being taken care of, there were police cars parked all over the school yard.
“Hey Claire did you hear?”
I looked up, it was Eline, a classmate and one of the schools biggest gossips. She caught herself the nickname “Gazette” which is French for newspaper. We called her Gazette amongst ourselves. I am sure with her information gathering skills she knew, but it was best not be too rude to her face. You do not want the gossip master to be against you.
After hearing her tearful explanation ( I could still feel excitement behind those tears.. the tears were clearly for dramatic effect) I learned that , Louisa, one of my classmates, had committed suicide. The why and how was unknown, but having the police at school, this was sure gonna be a pain as you can imagine how those pesky parents and school officials will be wanting to make sure the other children are emotionally safe. I hated when adults want to get in to our living world. It was always accompanied with needless complications, because it was mostly to appease their conscience, not ours.
I do not want to sound insensitive here. I know I should care more about Louisa. But to be honest except for her name, I did not really know her. She was a bit of a loner in the class, and I felt something was troubling her, and as the class representative I tried to talk to her, but each time she ran away. Last time I tried, she even started crying, so I concluded she must have really hated me, and I stopped trying to talk to her.
I had the curse and blessing to always be in the center of everything around me. I was considered a beauty, even by girls, and I got a lot of compliments for my fiery red hair. With my looks, it was apparently impossible to stay invisible , believe me I tried. I was always one of the first names called by a teacher to answer questions and most years I was forced to be the class representative. I learned over the years that by actually volunteering and taking initiative, you could keep people further away, than by trying to exclude yourself. I had a comfortable barrier where no-one entered. I put a lot of effort in being everyone's friend, but all of my relationships were quite shallow, and I wanted to keep it that way. You can say that I put a lot of effort in relationships, so that I would not have to get close to anyone, and never would have to put any real effort in. My image was important to me, and I learned not to let my inner thoughts slip out. Because as you might have very well noticed there is a big difference between my thoughts and how people perceive me.
My real priority and passion is of course cooking. Although my image would suggest the cute housewife and baking sweets type, and that is how most people that get to eat it imagine it (and I make sure to keep it that way), in reality I was a demon in the kitchen and my hack blade skills would make my classmates shiver in fear if they saw me bone a chicken in under 3 minutes. Cooking was serious business for me not something to fawn about because it was cute. Nothing else could take priority over my cooking or a chance to cook. One day I want to become a Michelin level cook and I worked hard toward that every day.
Three Girls from 5B came to me, and interrupted me out of my thoughts. I talked to them from time to time on Fridays after school in a local bar, where everyone went after school, but I felt embarrassed that I could not remember their names.
“Hey Claire have you heard about Louisa?”
They were in search for gossip and wanted to know what happened in the next classroom. I repeated to them what I learned from Gazette.
“Thanks we can always count on you, you're a real friend.”
They scurried off to spread the gossip.
Yeah whatever. I made a note next time someone dropped their names to remember them. It was important for my reputation after all. It would be troublesome if they were offended and word got out that I was arrogant and could not even remember my “friends” names.
I was bad with names because I was not part of any group and at the same time I was part of almost every group. I made sure not to get too deeply involved, but on the other hand, I also made sure to volunteer to make lunches and cook, whenever there was a club which had an activity that would allow me to. Because of that, people that did extra scholar activities, always thought I was kind and hard working, even though they were working much harder than me all year round. I just helped a few times a year. Minimum effort, a chance for cooking, and maximum social pay-off the golden combination.
The bell sounded and all classes assembled waiting for the teachers to pick them up and go to class. When I saw Miss Debusier, a light graying woman in her forties and our math teacher, I felt relieved, I was afraid we would get some social guidance to help us cope. But those fears came true almost at the same moment as I thought them when we arrived at our classroom. The headmistress, miss Lourdes and another woman that I had never seen before were waiting for us at the entrance of the classroom.
This was clearly going to be a pain in the neck...
After we entered the class, everyone immediately went quiet. With a teacher, the headmistress and a third party present nobody dared to utter a word, and in view of what had happened, everyone just sat down quietly at their desks. Ms. Lourdes was a robust and intense but still classy looking brown haired lady. Although here and there you could spot some grey hairs coming through, she still would be considered an attractive lady by most. My mom had told me some stories about her from the time that they went to school together, back in the day, and I knew she had always stayed single, giving the job priority.
She started her speech while looking very intense around the classroom. We could all feel this was no time to be messing around.
“... as most of you probably already know tragedy has befallen your dear friend and classmate Louisa”
Apparently Louisa had committed suicide because she could not cope being attracted to girls and had felt ostracized. Several girls burst out in tears. Elsa's group... I was astonished as I knew very well they had never talked to Louise and only said bad stuff behind her back when she wasn't around.
Ms Lourdes waited for the sobbing to quite down and continued.
“.. in order to get a clearer view as to what happened and to give everyone the chance to talk to a professional. Ms. Anna Lyst here is a freelance professional that works for both the school and the police. But no need to be afraid of her, she is here to help you.”
The stylish dark haired woman in business suit with glasses on stepped forward. She was still young, I would say she was in her early twenties. Not the appearance of someone with lots of experience, but we were on school budget here so that was to be expected. If Ms. Lourdes had an intimidating presence, Ms. Lyst had a calming and serious aura around her. I guess at least that fits with the image of a counselor. Knowing she was a counselor I wondered how long it would take before we heard the word facilitate coming out of those voluminous red lips, and indeed I did not have to wait long. There it was, several times in a row:
“We are not here to look for someone to blame, we are here to facilitate you all in the process of coming to terms with what happened and at the same time facilitate the police department without putting pressure on each and every one of you. Exams are near and we want to facilitate you all in having the best chances on getting good scores..”
Counselors seem to love the word facilitate. I have no idea why, but once you realize it, it is hard to look past it.
I thought it was all bland standard mumbo jumbo.. the fact that she said they were not looking for someone to blame probably meant they were exactly doing that. In the end we all got an appointment for today or the day after to go and talk to her. I thought we were finally rid of the unwanted attention and saw that Ms. Lourdes and Ms. Lyst were making way toward the door and whispering something among themselves when I suddenly heard the words out of Ms. Lourdes' mouth
“Claire, can you come to my office at noon? There are some people that want to talk to you.”
Everyone turned to look at me to ask what was going on. I did not have the faintest clue what it could be about and looked as astonished as the rest of the class. I got myself back together and figured it probably had something to do with being the class representative so I answered as confidently as I could “Of course Ms.Lourdes.”
They walked out of the room and the class started.
Ms. Debusier was rushing her lesson because she had to give the same lesson in other classes and as a math teacher she hated when unexpected stuff happened and her lessons would no longer be parallel.
I kept up with the lesson but my thoughts kept wondering on why they had specifically called out to me. Well whatever, I would learn soon enough.
At the end of the lesson Ms. Debusier loaded the stuff she did not manage to cover on us as homework and added “I might do a test on the matter tomorrow.”
The bell rang to mark the end of the hour. Time for a teacher switch, as class representative I went to clean the blackboard.
I felt people stare at me as if wanting an explanation. The first to talk to me was of course Gazette, on the hunt for a new scoop.
“I did not know you were close to Louisa.”
She stated, trying to trick me into saying something.
“I wasn't, I only tried to talk to her a few ti..” I began to answer when suddenly Elsa shouted at me “Don't lie I saw you saying something to her after which she ran from the classroom crying”
“I am not lyi.” I tried to answer but Elsa kept throwing a fit blaming me for all that happened. I know she had always been jealous at the fact that I seemingly get along with everyone and she saw her chance to get rid of me and she was doing it by making a scene in front of the entire class using Louisa's death as her murder weapon. Gazette's eyes were shining at the scoop she was being fed. I knew this was going to be around school in no time.
“Look, she isn't even affected by Louisa's death.” Elsa continued
Yes I was more flabbergasted with what was happening right now that I had a hard time answering.
Eve and Therese, Elsa's faithful sidekicks were starting to support Elsa, as Elsa saw her chance to try and topple me from my, in her imagination, most popular girl in class position.
Ms Lexi Conne, our French teacher arrived just at that moment and saved me from the witch hunt. But I knew this was not over, and the exaggerated gossip would spread like wildfire. After our French class Ms Conne came to me sending me to the headmistress' office. She had contacted her and had explained the situation and because of that I was called in earlier. She thought she had protected me, but in reality, seeing Elsa's self-righteous smirk in the background, I knew being sent to the headmistress immediately would help her case. The gossip would spread even faster and I would not be there to stop it.
This day had just become very problematic...