The following is an exclusive extract for R29 from Empress & Aniya by Candice Carty-Williams, published on 7th October 2021. Signed copies are available to pre-order from Round Table Books.
‘Aniya, please can you actually move over and let Empress sit down please, thank you?’ Miss Tribble shouted across the classroom. She watched as Empress shuffled through the rows of desks and dropped her rucksack on the floor by the empty chair next to Aniya.
Without looking at Empress, Aniya, dark skinned with black hair slicked back into a neat bun, slightly chubby and with a dimpled face that was often described as ‘cute’, sighed and scooped her pens, hairbands, glasses and headphones over to her side of the double desk with her arm.
Satisfied that Aniya, who was one of the smartest in the class but could often be quite challenging, was going to let Empress actually have at least fifty percent of the desk space, Miss Tribble turned back to the board and carried on explaining the exam schedule for the coming weeks.
Empress, brown skinned and slim, with a face that was often described as ‘older than its years’, pulled the chair out and threw herself down on it. Her long black braids almost hit Aniya as she sat down. Slowly, she reached down to her bag and pulled out a pen she’d stolen from the newsagent and a battered notepad she’d found in a cupboard at home.
‘Is that your actual notebook?’ Aniya asked Empress.
Miss Tribble turned back to the girls. ‘Actually, Aniya, if you could spend the first couple of days with Empress, that would be good. Thanks.’
‘But Miss!’ Aniya shouted. ‘I don’t know her!’
‘But you will by the end of the week,’ Miss Tribble replied. ‘That’s the point. Thanks again, Aniya.’
Aniya rolled her eyes before she could stop herself.
‘You don’t even know me,’ Empress said quietly, still facing the board. ‘Why are you being so rude?’
Aniya turned to look at the side of Empress’s head and blinked slowly. She actually wasn’t sure why she’d said that. Her mum always encouraged her to ‘say a bit less’. Maybe this was one of these times, she thought.
‘Well. I don’t know you. I guess. So maybe I…I don’t know, really,’ Aniya spluttered. She wasn’t used to being called out.
‘I won’t get in your way or anything,’ Empress said. ‘I can walk behind you for a bit just to figure out where everything is. I just need to know where I’m going. I don’t need any friends.’
Aniya felt a bit embarrassed by the way she was being. She’d been feeling this way for a while, though. All these weird feelings, mainly confusion that came out as anger, jumping out without her realising. It had been going on for a few weeks. At first, she’d wanted to talk to her parents about it, but, when she went to say something to them, she got really angry at something small her mum had said in response instead and ended up storming off to her room. After that, she didn’t bother bringing it up again.
‘Everyone needs friends,’ Aniya said.
‘Not me. Just need to know where I’m going,’ Empress repeated.