The Great Gatsby is ultimately a story about an outsider observing the world of the very wealthy, charting their destructive lives. We can relate to Nick because he isn’t like the people he associates with. I wanted to reimagine The Great Gatsby because firstly it’s a book many students study at school, so I felt it would be familiar. I also wanted to show how a lauded novel like this novel could still be changed to suit modern times. For me there’s nothing more current than diversity, which is why my Nic is Indian and a girl entering the wilds of a private boarding school in Sydney’s North shore. The judgement she faces from the students there is striking and puts her on the back foot before she’s even had her first lesson. At the same time she starts to realise through Jay that there’s a way of breaking into this world, but it comes at a price.
On my first day of Year 10, standing in a starched blazer and a brand new pinafore that went well below my knees my father stood in front of me and said, don’t ever undervalue the advantages you’re getting by going to this school.
This school. Undervalue. My dad talks so abstract sometimes I wonder if he’s quoting a newspaper. Maybe he is. We don’t really chat much, my dad and I. But ever since I got this scholarship he’s suddenly all interested. Suddenly I wonder, if he’s realised he’s been undervaluing me all this time.
Daisy stands appraising me, unnervingly quiet. She blows a strand of hair out of her eyes. I’m immediately jealous of her hair. A billowing mass of auburn curls, I could only ever dream of hair like that. Mine is jet black, straight, boring. I’d rather hide my hair under a hat for the rest of my life.
“There’s the library, there’s the canteen, there’s where you go for roll call,” she suddenly fires off. And I can tell she’s bored already.
“Uh, ah,” I say stammering. “Where do I go first?”
She sighs. Two perfect red curls gently stroke the side of her face.
“Roll call,” she says drily. “How’d you end up here anyway? Your parents rich or something?”
“What?” I’m caught off guard.
“It’s expensive here, right? Like mega expensive. It’s why you know, we don’t have many who…” She looks me in the eyes. My face feels hot. I didn’t expect this question straight off the bat like this.
“Wait, scholarship. You’re a scholarship kid. OK, that makes sense now.”
And just like that she’s pigeonholed me. People of my kind didn’t end up in areas like this. But now she knew why, it all made sense.
I shake my head.
“So how long it take you to get here? You’re coming from out west I’m guessing.”
I feel my face getting hot again but this time for a different reason. I hated the way she was deciding who I was without so much as a word from me.
“You should meet Jay. He’s a scholarship kid too. Though looking at him, you can’t tell.”
What did she mean by that? Did I look like a scholarship kid?
“Your dress is too long, your blazer too stiff. You look too keen,” she says as if reading my mind. And with that she waves at a group of girls walking past and runs off to join them. They all turn around to look at me and break into peals of laughter before walking away.
Just then I decided I didn’t want to be in this stupid school after all. I don’t know what sort of advantages dad thought I’d be getting by going to a school where I’d feel like a worthless piece of…
“Hey, you lost?” His smile shines at me like the beam from a lighthouse in the darkness of the ocean.
“Yeah, kind of…” I say.
“It’s a big school. It takes a while to get used to. I’m Jay,” he says. “You are?”
“I’m Nicika… But most people just call me Nic.”
“Cool. Hey Nic. So, you want me to have a look at your timetable? Maybe we could map out a route for you.”
I hand him my timetable, and as I do I notice my hand shaking a little. He politely ignores it. As he tells me where to go his arms stretch out in a way that seem to cover the entire school, as if somehow he owned it. He had a ease about himself that showed he very much belonged here, even though he looked much like me, with his black hair, his brown skin, and dark eyes. How long, I wondered did it take to develop this kind of ease? How long before everyone stopped looking at you as a trespasser?
“You’re in the same maths class as me,” he says, handing me back my timetable. “At least there’ll be a familiar face you can look out for there.”
As he walks off he leaves a path of sunshine in his wake. And I know, that sounds so cheesy. But I’m not the only one who sees it. Even the teachers see it. They flock to him, making lame jokes about TV shows, talking about seeing him in class later and all that. Someone lobs a rugby ball at him, and he catches it effortlessly, like he’s been playing rugby all his life like some kind of golden haired, freckle faced kid. Where’d he learn to do that?
Later that day, he runs up to me as I’m walking down the corridor towards what I hope was my classroom for maths, having been lost at least three times already. My nose is buried deep in my timetable when he comes up and casually touches me on the shoulder, like we were buddies already. I look up and see that smile and exhale. At least the next hour will be OK.
As we walk towards our class I see Daisy with her group in tow walking in the other direction. She spots us and gives me a look, almost one of curiosity. Jay sees her too and that smile he always wore on his face changes imperceptibly. It widens, his eyes crinkle, for once it’s him who seems eager to please.
Daisy stops us on her way.
“So you met the other scholarship kid, hey Jay?” And for a moment I see that smile drop completely. And then she touches him on the arm, just gently and they gaze at each other for a moment so intensely I almost hold my breath. And just like that she lets go and keeps walking. I look at the floor, blushing. As if I’d seen something I wasn’t meant to.
“She’s dating Tom, right, so…” he says, trailing off and I nod like I understood completely.