It has been three hours since Yasmin Khan said goodbye to her parents. She spent the first hour trying to figure out how to connect her phone and laptop to the internet, the second hour dressing up her room and making it feel like home. Pictures of her friends and some from her travels from her gap year littered the pinboard above her bed alongside the free student union poster she was given by a rep. In this, the third hour, Yasmin Khan was strolling a little bit aimlessly around campus.
It was a nice, sunny day to be out and about. Lots of trees and grass were on all sides of the paths and buildings along with colourful flower beds and benches. Yaz had chosen a university slap bang in the countryside but only a ten minute train journey from the nearest city. That way it felt like home, despite being on the other side of the country, far away from everyone and everything she considered standard. Everyone seemed to be out today. Staff, students, new move ins, Residential Advisors, student ambassadors, they were all here. But, still, Yaz couldn’t help but feel alone in the crowd.
She found herself standing in the middle of library square, not knowing where to go next. There was a tent, a massive event tent sitting on the patch of grass in front of a building Yaz hadn’t explored yet. She looks at the boards at either sides of the entrances where there were posters advertising all sorts of different events run by either societies or local clubs. None looked completely appealing to Yaz. They looked boozy, very boozy. Yaz liked a drink but she knew her limits and liked to stick to them, for the sake of both her body and her mind. The list next to it had non alcoholic events for the underage students but they looked just as unappealing. They were two ends of the extreme.
Yaz decides none of them were worth her time and moves on. The next task on her agenda to keep her busy was finding all of her lecture halls and seminar rooms. If she found them now, she wouldn’t get lost and be late in a weeks time when freshers was over, and Yaz hated being late. Her mum brought her up to find it rude and disorganized and Yaz found pride in being neither of those. One of her buildings was up the biggest hill Yaz had ever had to walk up in her life but it was worth finding for the view once she was there. She was higher than all the other buildings and trees and could see everything in the distance until they simply became specs of colours and shapes.
She walks back to her room, picking up a flyers about student discount bus passes and how to register with the GP on the way. She changed her mind on the way back past the event tent when she heard the two boys in front of her talking about how legendary a certain club was for their student introductory night in a few days time. Her dads voice was also echoing around her skull telling her to get stuck in and try everything out and she’ll regret it if she hides away in her room. But today was only day one and Yaz wanted to lay down and let all of her emotions calm down with her.
As she approached the front door of her building she realised how strange it was. This building was going to become her home, her life, her place to retreat but right now it was still foreign to her. Everything was foreign and nothing was home. Yaz fondled with her keys and wasn’t looking where she was going when she bumped into him and he drops a load of cable ties.
“Shit! I’m so sorry I wasn’t-”
“Yasmin?” The man says. Yaz looks up from collecting what she had caused him to drop and recognises the face but can’t find a name. He wore a navy blue polo t-shirt and trousers and somehow Yaz felt safe around him. “Yasmin Khan?”
“Yeah that’s me.”
“It’s Ryan. Ryan Sinclair from primary school.”
“Oh my God!” Yaz beams at finally finding a familiar face. “How are you? What are you doing here? How’s your gran? What’s been going on?”
“Are you busy?” Ryan asks.
“No, not really.”
“Come and have a drink with me in the cafe, we can catch up.”
Yaz hesitates. She really wanted a nap but having an ally or even a friend nearby could come in handy in the future. She agrees and follows him to the closest student cafe, making polite conversation as they walk so that there isn’t any form of awkward silence. They get their teas and Ryan offers to pay for the both of them. Yaz protests but Ryan insists that she needs to save her money since she’s a student now.
“If I’m a student then what are you?” Yaz asks as the two of them take their places at a communal table.
“I’m the handyman for your building.”
“Ah, the good old maintenance guy.”
“Yeah don’t take the piss, I like doing it.” Ryan giggles, bringing his cup to his lips.
“But why here? Why so far away from home?”
“I could ask you the same.”
“So you came for a change of scenery too?”
“Pretty much. Gran’s here too, still working for the NHS though. Her new fella is down here too. He drives the number 25 from campus into town.”
Yaz pauses and takes a drink to give her a chance to organise her thoughts. If she had left to work it would be completely different. Her family wouldn’t move down here and she wouldn’t be able to go without her mum or her dad or her sister with no guaranteed time off to go and visit them.
“What’s your subject? Do you have to take a foundation year because you took a year out?” Ryan asks.
“Ooof." Ryan winces. "Which one?”
“Social sciences. I want to do law.”
“Well, don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” Ryan squints.
“What, what is it?” Yaz says, knowing that her old friend had an opinion about her choice.
“Most law students find it way harder than they think and want to not do it by the end of first year. About thirty percent either switch or drop out.” He explains.
“I’ll keep my options open then. Besides, I could always just join the police.”
“Could do.” Ryan sips his tea again. He was never fond of the police but Yaz believes she could truly make a change if she joined. At least with how she enforced the law. “Are you going to the welcome party tonight?”
“The what now?”
“Down at the student union bar. It’s a good way to make friends.”
“How do you know so much about this place.”
“Maintenance overhear everything mate.” He grins cheekily. He still has the same bright teethed grin. “Starts at nine tonight but no one turns up until at least half past, please say you’ll come.”
“I don’t know…”
“Come on, it’ll be good fun and if not they serve chips until, like, eleven and they’re really fucking good.”
Yaz hated that she’d agreed to it. She had forgotten that Ryan had always had a way with charm that got you into all sorts of trouble. After her quick catch up with him, Yaz spent the rest of the afternoon mingling with her flatmates and trying to ignore that the more they talked the more she realised she didn’t really like them. Even so, she would be turning up at the union bar with them tonight so that she didn’t look like a complete loner. There were five of them there in total with three more supposedly arriving tomorrow. Yaz forgets their names after five minutes of not being around them.
She was staring at herself in the mirror attached to the inside of her wardrobe. Yaz didn’t like skirts or dresses and only wore them when she either really had to or was around someone she trusted enough. Tonight she wore her go to look. Simple black jeans, plain button up shirt and a jacket with boots. She didn’t like putting a massive effort into looking good when she knew she was going to be meeting someone for the first time, because that just set unnecessary standards for future interactions. Yaz would meet everyone in her pyjamas if she could.
“Yaz, are you ready?” One of the girls shouts. She had told them to call her Yaz not Yasmin, just as she had with Ryan despite Ryan being an actual friend. Only friends could call her Yaz.
“Coming.” She calls back, fitting in one last glance at herself to make sure there weren’t any labels sticking out.
The problem with the number five is that it means two pairs can be made but one will always be left behind. Yaz had to walk behind two pairs of girls that barely new each other but were busy cozying up. There was something very fake about it, Yaz thought. This whole week would be full of people desperate to cling on to whoever they could so that they weren’t left alone in their classes despite not having anything in common. Yaz was trying to avoid that as much as possible, so she stayed quiet for the entire walk down to the student union building as a way of protecting herself.
This building had a very different feel to the others that Yaz visited today. Each small room they passed through felt like a mishmash of common rooms very much designed by students. There wasn’t any security at the door of the room that the music was thumping out of but a rather large queue was forming around the bar as everyone without fail was being asked for ID.
It was horribly lit and smelt. That’s all Yaz could think when she was finally free from the gaggle of her flatmates. She had turned up at ten, later than the start time like Ryan had suggested, but Yaz figures that that just meant that everyone else had their beer goggles on while she was stone cold sober. She was probably meant to go to pre-drinks or something, but if her flat had had them she wasn’t invited. If she was intoxicated too, it might have actually looked alright, but the music was decent and people were drinking and dancing and Yaz supposes that this is what it was meant to be like. That’s when she realises she’s just standing there.
A drink. If she went and got a drink she might fit in more.
Yaz joins the queue at the bar, still hoping that she was undetectable from any unwanted gazes. She’s convinced she is, until a hand lands on her shoulder.
“Hey Yaz, you came!” It was Ryan. An evidently much drunker Ryan than earlier in the day but still Ryan.
“Maintenance guys get invited to student parties too, huh?” Yaz jokes.
“Very funny. You might find there are some professors here too.”
“God yeah. Even the professors need to get their freak on.”
Ryan bends his knees and does a strange shimmy twist thing which was meant to be a dance move. The indescribable nature of his movements made Yaz laugh anyway, but the fact that he was accidentally pushing up against someone trying not to get their drinks spilt made it funnier. Just from that moment Yaz started to feel more relaxed again.
Yaz had a couple of drinks and was able to maintain her open minded mood for about two and a half hours. She wasn’t completely pissed, but she was drunk. The second her mood changed was when a boy that reeked of body odor tried to start dancing up against her. Yaz wasn’t about that. Not at all. So, she moved away to lean against the a wall on other side of the room. Observing the room like that made her realise where she was and what she was doing. All of these people seemed so unphased by the fact that they had moved out of the homes they grew up in and would be living somewhere new and embarking on something that would shape their careers and subsequently their lives. Did Yaz really want that? Did she want her nights out to be like this all the time instead of a nice quiet night in with her mum, not matter how much she wound her up? Her mum.
“I want my mum.” Yaz says out loud. She quickly checks her surroundings to make sure that no one heard, as if they could over the music. No one was paying her any special attention so she recons she got away with the slip of the tongue.
Yaz could feel her heat start to quicken with every second that passed and her breathing became ragged. She tried to look for people she knew. Ryan, someone from her flat, anyone. Nothing. Maybe if you actually moved the voice inside her head started shouting at her.
She needed to get out. Before the room started to collapse in on her.
With each step she took the more her emotions started to rise to the surface. Adrenaline, excitement, fear, dread, doubt, regret, hate, all mixed together to make her feel one thing. Panic.
The mix was clawing at her throat, strangling her, making it hard to breathe. Get out her brain was screaming at her now. Screaming orders for her body to obey. She reached outside and the cold air hit her like a pin hitting a balloon. Was it really this cold or was she just boiling? She didn’t know but her palms were sweating. Yaz receives the order to keep moving when she goes to lean against the cold brick wall. She doesn’t allow herself to. She had to get back to her room but where was her room? Her brain was going into overload and she couldn’t picture her building so she just kept walking- stumbling- in the direction she came from.
“Are you alright?” A new voice brings her senses back to reality, purely because it sounded like someone from home. From Sheffield.
Yaz looks behind her to see who it belonged to. Her vision was blurred, not because of the alcohol, but she could see that whoever had called after her was skinny with short blonde hair.
“I’m fine.” Yaz says, trying to put up a fake smile. It wasn’t very convincing, even to her.
“Are you sure?” The woman’s hand touches her shoulder and out of instinct Yaz bats it away with quite a bit of force. “Alright, I was only looking out for you.”
Yaz had to lean against a nearby tree to steady herself. The grip around her throat had been weakened, letting whatever remnants were in her stomach be pushed up and out of her mouth by what Yaz could only guess was adrenaline. She felt vile.
“Just another first year unable to handle their drink. Should’ve known.” The blonde mutters.
“Fuck off.” Yaz shouts, suddenly very defensive of her vulnerable state. She knew what throwing up due to alcohol was like and this wasn’t it, this was something else. Yaz had had panic attacks before, but none this bad since she left sixth form college and she had never thrown up because of it before.
Yaz, who now felt like she was witnessing herself from outside her own body, wipes her lips clean on her jacket sleeve and forces herself onwards. It helped when she focused on something in the distance to ground herself. Once she got to that landmark she picked out a new one and did that until she recognised where she was. Yaz was convinced she was being followed but she blamed it on paranoia.
The frustration of not being able to fit her key into its hole brought tears to her eyes that she was only able to hold back for so long. Today had been emotional and Yaz was an emotional person anyway. Going out, even if it was only to the union bar, was a bad idea on the first night. Yaz knows she should have stayed in when she was staring at herself in that mirror and she knows she should have ignored Ryan. There is a whole week put aside for socialising, why didn’t she just wait?
The key finally fits and the door opens, as well as the floodgates for her tears. Yaz drags her shaking body the few steps in before letting herself fall and curl up on the mattress, pulling the covers around her until she feels warm again. She realises how rude she must have been to that girl who asked if she was okay. She was looking out for her and all Yaz did was throw away her help that she sure could do with right now.
Millions of thoughts run through her head as she lays there. The rest of the day had been fine really, only daunting, and tonight was only an overload of the senses. Or at least that was what Yaz was telling herself while she thought of her parents, the campus, Ryan, her flatmates, that girl, how she should have got the chips Ryan suggested, and that girl again right up until she fell asleep.