Daniel sits still on his desk, holding the paper that was handed by Miss Emilia just before the school bell rang. The colourful paper with an F written with a red pen at the back. Feeling embarrassed as he looks at it, Daniel shoves the paper into his bag.
“Hey, the worst artist of the class!” the short-haired boy, Bill, called out to him as Daniel opens the classroom door, about to leave.
“No, Miss Emilia said he is the worst painter of Year 2!” the brown-haired boy sitting beside Bill shouted. The other boys around him immediately laugh.
“The little Daniel who can’t even draw properly!” the blond-haired boy added. Again, the other boys laugh out loud.
Unable to withstand the mocking any longer, Daniel chooses to slam the door and run through the hallway. Daniel quickly reaches the side of the grass field, but he does not drop his pace. His feet are moving quickly, bringing him out of the school gate in no time. Yet, his feet are still busy, trying to fulfil his wish to be as far away from the school.
Five minutes on the road, Daniel can feel that he is getting out of breath. He turns to his back, making sure that the brick building looks small to his eyes. Then, Daniel crouches down at the corner side of the road. With his back leaning on the wall, Daniel rests his forehead on top of his arms that hug the knees.
As darkness envelops his vision, a picture comes into Daniel’s mind. A picture of the night sky with stars and planets, or at least that was what he saw. A picture that Miss Emilia could not comprehend, leaving him with failing grade. A picture that made him the target of the class bully. A picture which is inside his bag, that he wishes to rip apart.
Daniel lifts his head, removes one handle of his backpack, quickly opening the zip and pulling out the paper. He puts the paper right in front of his face, filling up his vision.
“Is that your painting?” startled, Daniel can hear a voice asked. A voice that sounds close.
Daniel immediately shifts his paper away, clearing his vision, only to see a girl stands in front of him. A girl that is about his age, with brown bob hair, wearing red checkered dress and beret.
Taking advantage of Daniel who is surprised, the girl quickly takes over the paper from his hands. The girl takes a look at the picture for a few seconds as she tilts her head.
“Don’t look at it!” Daniel regains his right mind and snatches the paper away.
“Too bad, I already did! Is that your painting?” the girl asked again.
“Yeah, why?! It is so bad that you don’t know what it is, right?!” Daniel yelled out. Fuelled by embarrassment and shameful emotion, he quickly rips the paper into small pieces, letting them fall like a flower petal onto the concrete road.
She crouches down in front of Daniel and her hands move to collect the paper, then puts the small pieces of paper side by side. “Isn’t it like planets? Like it is colourful in the night sky?” The girl throws a guess.
Daniel is taken aback by her answer. “You can tell?”
The girl nods her head as she continues to revive the painting. “I couldn’t at first, but when I look closer, it is really clear that you are drawing planets, just with various shapes.”
Daniel turned his face away from the girl, hiding the joy that warms his heart. “Thanks. But there is no point if my teacher and my classmates can’t understand it.”
The girl lifts her head. Seeing Daniel pouting, she opens up, “I also have the same experience as you. Failing, since the teacher could not understand my drawing.”
The girl takes a pause, stares at Daniel, waiting for him to give a response. Daniel simply glances at the girl from the corner of his eyes, waiting for the continuation of the story.
“But that is weird, isn’t it? Drawing is not supposed to be marked by grades. Drawing has no right or wrong. Drawing is where you do things freely! Or that was how my father used to say.”
Daniel nods, agreeing to the bob-haired girl in front of him. Wanting to know what to be expected when he arrives at school tomorrow, Daniel asked, “Then, what happened to you after that?”
"What do you mean?" the girl replied. She tilts her head in confusion.
"As in..., were you bullied by your classmates because of the drawing, or anything like that?" Daniel gets reminded of the hurtful comments that Bill and the gang threw at him.
The girl averts her eyes from Daniel, looking down at the concrete, moving her hands to place the last two pieces of paper, no longer smiling. “There was nothing after that. I had to stop drawing. And I wish I could draw again,” she answered in a soft voice.
“What did you just say?” Daniel asked, clarifying what he barely hears.
Before Daniel receives the answer, the girl hands him the picture, pieced together as the original. Reluctantly, Daniel stretches his hands to take the paper, brushes into her cold hands.
The girl stands up, putting her arms on her waist, looking at him from the top. “My advice to you is to take your pencil again. Get your paper again. Draw it again. Colour it again. Try it again, you will surely improve as you practice!”
The girl then walks, takes a sharp left turn, and disappears from Daniel’s vision as she blends in with the crowds.
Daniel reaches home when the sun starts to set. With the picture on his hand, feeling better than when he first ran out of school, Daniel walks to the kitchen to get a glass of water. His mom waves her hand as she sits at the couch on the right-hand side of the fridge, watching her favourite drama.
As he pours out the cold water from the jug, he notices the screen on the TV gets changed.
“Breaking News of today: Vincent Russell, the famous abstract painter has been arrested,” a video shows a man in his 30s handcuffed and dragged into the police car.
Daniel puts his attention on the screen as he gulps down the water.
“Neighbours have previously complained about the stinky smell that originated from his house, and upon police inspection, the body of a little girl is found…,” the screen changes to show the bathroom of the luxury mansion being barged in by the police.
“... who has been identified as Ella Russell, the daughter of the painter, left inside the bathtub to her last breath,” the video continues playing in the background while a photo is displayed.
A photo of the girl about Daniel’s age.
A photo of a brown, bob-haired girl, flashing a smile.
A photo showing the familiar red dress and beret.
“...some scars suggest that she had been abused by Mr Russell, however, the motive is still unknown,” the newscaster continued the report. But Daniel no longer looks at the TV.
Daniel looks at the picture in his hands as shivers run down his spine. He then realizes how weird that the picture has no ripping mark as the girl put them back. Daniel slowly turns the paper, and the handwriting beside the F grade makes him rip the paper once again.
Not because he is sad for the ugly picture he drew. Not because the comment is demotivating. This time, because he is scared.
Now, don’t be discouraged and start drawing again, will you?
- Your New Friend, Ella Russell.