The playground that break time was abuzz with news of the ‘new kid’. Dudu hadn’t seen him yet, but the hearsay around school was juicy. Dudu sat with her best friend, Sive, on the benches overlooking the soccer fields.

“So get this,” said Sive, popping a Simba chip between his lips and crunching it. “He was sitting next to me, in art. We’re supposed to paint an outline of our arm and wrist and hand, and then fill it in with words and images and stuff, you know, like stuff that has meaning to us…”

“Get to the point of the story,” ordered Dudu, taking a sip of her Steri Stumpie. Sive was such a drama queen. It could be Christmas before he got to the good stuff, and break was finishing in ten minutes.

Then she was distracted when a boy on the soccer field scored a goal and did a celebration handstand, and everyone cheered.

“So anyway – hey! now you are not listening – I look over to what he’s doing. Cos you know me, I’m curious…”

“Nosy, you mean,” said Dudu with a smirk.

Sive raised an eyebrow. “You wanna hear the story or not?”

“Sorry,” said Dudu.

“Anyway,” her friend continued, “he’s doing this weird drawing of an arm. Except it looks like a hospital diagram … what do you call those things?” He waved his hand around as if trying to catch the answer in the air.

“Anatomical drawings.”

“Right, like in that famous old medical textbook, um, Grey’s Anatomy. My mom has a copy.”

“That’s the name of a textbook? So that’s why that medical drama on TV is called that!”

Dudu laughed. They were at school, and yet Sive’s entire education could have been sucked from the television.

Dudu picked a piece of lint off her stocking. “So what’s wrong with that anyway? Sometimes I draw other stuff in art class. Hey, I even draw other stuff in classes which are not art.”

“But that’s just doodling,” argued Sive. “This wasn’t like that. They were highly detailed. And labelled. He labelled everything. The bones, the tissues. The blood vessels. It was weird. It was gross!”

“Hmm,” said Dudu, sipping on her milkshake once more, and scanning the playground for the person in question. “What does he look like?”

“You should know. He just moved in next door to you.”

Dudu looked at him, her mouth forming a surprised ‘O’.

Sive chuckled. “You should see your face right now. Didn’t you know?”

* * * * *

“That’s a funny t-shirt, darling,” said Dudu’s father as she sat down at the dinner table the evening meal. “Where’s the rest of it?”

Dudu was wearing an asymmetrical top with only one shoulder strap. She’d planned the purchase for more than a week with Sive and took her father’s joke as an insult.

“It’s fashion,” she muttered, putting her phone on silent and placing it next to her plate.

“O-oh!” said her father mischievously, cutting into a potato. He smiled cheekily at his wife. “It’s fashion, darling.”

“So I see,” said her mother, raising her eyebrow and helping herself to some salad.

“Anyway,” said Dudu, announcing a new topic, “how do you not know your new neighbours have a son? You’re grown-ups. You’re supposed to know everything.”

“Ha very ha,” said her father, with a dry smile.

“I guess it’s because they seemed rather older, didn’t they, Charles?” Dudu’s mother looked over to her husband, who was dabbing his chin with a napkin.

“They did, now that I think of it. Father in his late sixties it seemed. Quite a strange, aloof sort of guy.”

“And they didn’t mention him at all? Why not? That’s weird.”

“Dudu, when you’re you, everything seems weird, darling. Now be a honey and help me wash up, OK?”

Dudu obeyed without the usual struggle. Her mind couldn’t rest, thinking about the curious new family across the street.

That evening, she tried her absolute best, but she couldn’t stop herself from spying. She set up her laptop and headphones on the side of the desk, more to the left than usual, so that she could keep an eye on the windows in the house opposite. She’d only be able to see anyone if they came right up to the window, she figured, but it would have to do. Both windows visible to her were dark now though, so she opened her email, plus the Macbeth study guide she had downloaded last week, and started jotting notes for an essay she was working on.

As soon as she had logged into her email, a chat message from Sive bubbled up in a fresh window.

Seen him yet?!

Dudu typed back: Shh. I can’t study, spy AND chat at the same time.

Lol. You’re right. Chat to me and spy. Cut the studying.

Double lol! was her reply. She didn’t actually laugh out loud. She was smiling though. ‘Foul is fair and fair is foul’, she continued, quoting the play they were doing in English.

But as she was typing she noticed one of the lights flick on. She paused.

brb, she typed, and watched.

As she had anticipated, a figure appeared in the window. It was him. It had to be. He looked about her height, she guessed. She noted his features with interest. A foxy looking face, she reckoned. Dark, angular eyebrows. Nose slightly turned up at the end. Most astonishing was the hair – orange as a naked flame.

A fox in the night who doesn’t know he’s being watched, she thought to herself.

He disappeared from view suddenly. Dudu exhaled. She had been holding her breath. She hadn’t realised.

Then he was there again. Closer to the window this time. Higher too. He must be standing on a chair, she thought. What for? He had a screwdriver in his hand.

A string, a strand of beaded curtain, was being hung. Then another. Then a third. He’s putting up a curtain, thought Dudu with relief, then giggled. Just a curtain.

And yet looking again, she could see that it wasn’t just a curtain. The strings were hung with objects she couldn’t recognise. As she looked, at first they seemed like leaves, then bits of wood. Could it be a beaded curtain he had made with natural objects? A nice idea…

It wasn’t that though. Her breath caught in her throat, causing a second of choking pain, when she realised that they were.

They were little bones.

* * *

Tell us: Have you ever been ‘the new kid’ at school? Did people treat you differently because you were new?