The witch sat across from me today and carved pagan symbols into her desk with a blue ballpoint pen. She screeched like a furious bird as she worked, making the metal desk legs rattle. The other students kept their heads bowed over their tests, but I stared. I got lost in her hair, tracing curly silver wires through the rest of the ash-coloured tangle. The gold hoop in her upper lip distracted me, shining bright under her hooked nose.
Did it get in the way when she ate? I’d never seen her eat. Maybe she didn’t; maybe she just lived off sacrifices like old gods, the smell of fat frying on the bone.
‘Focus on your work,’ the teacher said as he walked by, hands folded behind his back.
I looked at the equations, meaningless black lines and frustrating white spaces. I glanced at the witch again. She curled her lips back and hissed through sharp, yellow teeth.
The teacher turned and crossed his arms, his gesture forcing my head down. But the witch hissed again, she shook her leaking pen at him. Ink drops splashed his blue button-up shirt and dotted the fixed wrinkles around his chin. I bit my bottom lip, stopped the laughter bubbling in my throat.
‘That’s it. Time to go.’ He glared down at the witch’s defiant face through rectangular spectacles before herding her into the hallway. She shuffled out ahead of his stern gaze, hunched over, hands clasped and plotting, whispering and giggling. I raised my head along with the rest of the class as he banged the door closed. He dabbed his shirt and wiped his chin with a crinkled tissue, staining his skin with a pale blue beard.
‘It’s rude to stare.’ He said to me; my classmates were quicker to look away.
I erased my smile and returned to my test, filled in the name and date. The room was suddenly too quiet with only scratching pencils and the teacher’s muffled footsteps.
Who was watching the witch now? What did she do outside of class? Was she cursing the hallway? Had she cursed the desk?
When the teacher had his back to me, staring out the window through diamond wire mesh, I leaned over to examine her work: jagged lines and heathen shapes, ink smeared across wood veneer, but still something answering the blank surface of the uniform desk.
Her chewed pen was lying on her empty plastic chair. I stretched further, reached out and seized it before retreating, huddling over my own test. It felt like a prize in my hand, a wand that could translate her secrets. I touched it to my page and scribbled unbroken lines through the tight black symbols set out to evaluate me.