Translated by Manon Steffan Ros
Everything's been mental at school, of course. That's to be expected. The school was shut on Monday, and most of our class didn't come n for the rest of the week. I wondered if it made them feel better, or safer, being at home with all that time.
The teachers have already started to panic and are going on about what an important year it is for us, and how we have to be strong even though it's all really difficult. Everyone knows that they're talking about exams, but they're not brave enough to say it because Jesus, who'd be thinking about exams at a time like this?
In the special assembly we had on Tuesday morning, Mr Lloyd said, 'Greta would want us to be strong. We have to carry on. For her.' And then a strangled sort of sound escaped from his mouth, and it felt ironic really because it sounded a bit like the noise a person might make when they were dying. It was halfway between a cry and a gasp, and then his breath became all swallows and gulps. He stood in front of us and he wept like a baby, his shoulders quaking as if he was laughing.
You wouldn't think a bloke like Mr Lloyd could cry like that. He's a huge thick slab of a man, nuts about rugby. He's not what you'd expect from a headteacher. He swears sometimes, and has a hell of a temper.
The difficult moments were the ones you weren't expecting. Stuff like walking from one classroom to another between lessons, and passing everyone in the corridors. When Greta was here, no-one really took any notice of her- but now, everyone was kind of looking in the spaces where she might have been. And people spoke quietly, half-whispering, as if we were already at the funeral.
Everyone cried that week. Maybe the school should have shut all week, because we didn't learn anything. I think they only kept us open because school's better than home for some kids Everyone was in shock, especially in our class. We all stared at Greta's empty chair in whichever classroom we were in, and we all cried. Even the hard kids.
I was okay. Honestly, I felt fine. It was a bit like living in a film, as if I'd gone to bed one day and woke up the next morning and everything was slightly skewed, like we were all following a script and everyone knew that they had to play a role. And I played my role well, I think- cried a bit, but not too much, as was expected of the boys. When Mam sat me down on the sofa and told me about what had happened to Greta, the palm of her hand on my cheek and her face shining with tears, I played the role of someone who was shocked. I was silent and bowed my head during the minute's silence in the assembly. I tried to look as if I was always holding back tears. I became who they wanted me to be.
I pretended to feel terrible, but I didn't. Not back then. Shocked, maybe, but my mind and my heart and my guts were completely still. Even when I saw photos of Greta on the telly or the web, even when I though about her bloody body in the quarry, I didn't feel like crying.
Is that weird?
'Who'd do such a thing?' asked Keira in our English class, running the tips of her fingers along the back of the chair that Greta had been sitting in last week. Her mascara ran in crooked black paths down her face. Nobody had an answer, of course. Nobody knew why someone had killed Greta Davies and left her body in the quarry, soaked cold with rain and blood.
Most of the newspapers used a school photo of Greta, a picture that was taken about three months earlier. In the picture, Greta smiled kindly, her blonde hair a fold of satin over one shoulder. She wasn't wearing much makeup, and the only jewellery she had on was a small pair of stud earrings- diamonds, I think, tiny and sparkling, the sort of earrings a little girl gets when she's just had her ears pierced. She looked sweet and kind and sort of child-like.
The weird thing was that no-one at school talked about the day that photo was taken. Maybe they'd forgotten, but I couldn't look at that picture without remembering the tiny details of that day like film scenes in my head. The girls all sitting in our registration class, balancing compact mirrors or cameras showing their own reflections on the desk in front of them. The thick, cloying scent of nail polish, and Keira and Ela swapping their school-approved stud earrings for longer, dangly ones, and then pushing a few bracelets onto their wrists, looping necklaces around their necks to rest against the pale skin of their collarbones, crucifixes and lovehearts.
But that's not what Greta did.
She removed the mascara and eyeliner and lipstick from her face with a wet wipe, and swapped the huge gold rings in her ears for those tiny glittering diamonds. She closed the top few buttons of her shirt, although they were usually always left open, showing a hot pink or rose-coloured bra. She pulled her hair from the high ponytail, and shook it loose.
The other girls were trying to look older, sexier. But not Greta. She was attempting to look younger, more innocent.
'Look at you,' said Keira, and Greta stared at her own reflection on her phone screen. 'You look about twelve!' And Greta grinned, proud of herself. She had achieved her aim.
That's what Greta was like. It's just that in the aftershock of her death, no-one seemed to remember that.
Mam was waiting for me when I came home from school, still in her pyjamas since the night before, an empty mug on the floor beside her. She was watching a news channel on telly, and I turned to the screen to see the same school I'd left fifteen minutes before. A woman in a black suit was standing by the bus stop, clutching a microphone, her face straight and serious.
‘...Greta Evans was a model student, popular and kind…
‘You okay?' asked Mam, and she put her arm around me. I pulled away. We weren't that kind of family. Mam and I didn't kiss or hug, and I didn't want to start now.
'Yeah. Why are you in your pyjamas? Didn't you go to work?'
'They cancelled. I was meant to be with Ffion Davies this morning. She's best mates with Greta's mam isn't she. Poor thing.' Mam was a cleaner. It irritated me, the way she spoke about the people that she worked for as if they were friends. They didn't care about her. It's just that she charged less than anyone else, and did a good job. She was paid a pittance to make their already leisurely lives easier, and that was not friendship.
'Was it awful?' It's been on telly all day. There was a class photo- you were in it.'
Shit. I'd bleached my hair a whitish blonde last year. I looked awful in that photo, pale and pathetic and too long for my body, and now it was being seen by everybody in the world. Typical.
'Is there anything to eat?'
Mam turned to look at me properly. It wasn't a nice feeling- Mam barely looked at me at all usually, and she stared for a while, as if she couldn't quite remember who I was.
'You sure you're okay?'
'Of course I bloody am.'
That night, Mam put a couple of frozen pizzas in the oven, and we binged on the grotesque misery of news channels. All they showed was news about Greta. It was a weird feeling, especially when they showed places that we knew. Sometimes, Mam would call out- Hey look, it's Ogwen Bank! or That's Parc Meurig! And then the people on the news would talk about this awful thing that had happened, and Mam went back to crying.
I watched in silence. It was all so odd. This was happening here, now.
It's a funny thing, watching your home, suddenly exposed, listening to strangers trying to describe your village. Of course, most of the people watching would have never heard of Bethesda, so the reporters had to sum up a whole community in a few words. Stuff like, This is a sleepy village whose main industry, slate quarrying, has long past seen its heyday, or Unemployment has reached a record high in north west Wales- and Bethesda, near Bangor, is suffering the effects.
‘Who the hell do they think they are?' Mam asked when she heard that. And even though it was all true, what they were saying, even though I knew how my village must look to outsiders, I knew what Mam meant. The only things the reporters could see were a few boarded-up shops on the high street, or the rubbish that raised in brightly-coloured drifts in the car park on Cae Star. They didn't see all the warm, friendly, brilliant things about Bethesda. They didn't want to see. They thought that the fact that our town isn't full of BMWs and Range Rovers went a long way towards explaining that someone here had brutally murdered a sixteen year old girl.
They were desperate to believe that something like that could never happen to them.
'Bastards,' I said, and for once, Mam didn't tell me off swearing.
Later on, I got a message from Dion.
Don't say a word. Remember.
I didn't reply.
‘Bloody hell,' Gwyn said as we walked to school the next day. 'The cops are like dogshit around here. They're everywhere.'
It was true. Round every corner, on every street, there were police watching everyone coming and going, as if they expected the murderer to strike again outside Brenda's Cafe or outside the school gates. It was broad daylight. It was a bit bloody late for all this- I couldn't remember the last time I saw a policeman out on the streets. Usually, they only came out if there was fighting, or if one of the parties in the park got particularly loud.
It got worse as we neared the school. There were cops by the gates, cops by the bus stops, cops in a ring around the photographers and reporters that were huddled like a mob on the pavement opposite the school. In the days after Greta's death, cameras followed each and every one of us as we walked into school.
It was like being famous.
Of course, there were cops at school.But they were mostly in their own clothes, the men in square suits and the women in sombre colours- black, gray, brown. It was obvious which one was the boss. It was the woman who had spoken to us at the very beginning, in a short assembly at the end of that first day back, and she'd told us that it was extremely important that we shared any information we had about Greta.
'Even if you don't think it's relevant,' said D.I. Karen Davies. 'We need to know everything about Greta in order to understand what happened to her.'
To be honest, I didn't get that. What was it any of us could say that would make anyone understand the fact that she'd had her brains bashed in? If someone piped up and said she was an absolute psycho bitch drugdealer, would that have explained it all? How would anyone- especially the cops, with their robotic, insincere emotions, understand this?
DI Davies was a small woman, and even though she'd told us all to call her Karen, she looked like the type of person whose own parents called her Ms Davies. Everything about her was neat- her suit, her short dark hair, even the small, solid steps she took when she walked through the school corridors. I wondered who she'd be at home, how a person who was that stiff could ever relax. I couldn't imagine going up to her to talk about Greta. Did you know that..? or I don't know if you know this, but... She had that whole TV detective vibe nailed. It felt like a low budget, bad crime drama was being filmed in our school, and Greta was the tragic and absent star of it all.
There's something you should know about people like me.
You probably wouldn't understand. I imagine that you're one of the others, one of the people that count. You live in a nice big house, a house your mother or father or perhaps even both have bought. Your home is not the property of someone else, rented out to you. You have your own room, and there is no mould on the walls. Maybe your parents are in a relationship with one another, but if not, they're with someone. They have someone to love, or they choose to flit between lovers, and that is their choice because they know that they will always, no matter what, be desirable to someone. They work. You go on holiday sometimes.
You excel at one thing at the very least. You might struggle with maths or fitness, but there one thing, maybe more, that you're very good at. You have a talent. You have barbecues in summer, and you're ensconced in the type of family that have new pyjamas on Christmas eve so that your mother can post a photo on facebook. Your mates fancy your mum- she's pretty because she has the money to be.
Gwyn and Ela are those types of people. Greta was like that too.
Not Dion and me. Not Keira, really.
You don't see people like us; we exist simply to make up the numbers in your classes or football teams. We're very like you in some ways: We speak to you, and go out with you, and sometimes we all convince ourselves that we're similar, that everyone on earth is created equal. But if we disappeared, no-one would notice, not for a long time. Shane who? they'd say, and then, Omygod yes, SHANE! I forgot about him! I haven't seen him for ages! After a few months, they would have forgotten my face completely.
Depressing? Yes, sometimes. But it isn't all bad. Because as I said, we're invisible.
We tend to be together most of the time, Dion and I, and we're nothing but a couple of lads in joggers and hoodies. We stand at the bottom of your road, sit in the corner of the park, walk between the little Tesco and the chippy and the park.
Maybe I've got it wrong- maybe it isn't quite invisiblity. You see us, don't you? But you don't realize. We're not significant enough for your brains to take note of our presence.
When you pass us in the car, you don't notice that we see you and your direction of travel and the exact time at which you're travelling.
When your mam buys one bottle of wine in Spar, another in Tesco and another in the corner shop, we notice.
When your Dad's parked in a layby for a long time after he's told you that he's working late again, we're the ones that hears him saying to whoever's at the other end of the phone that she's sexy and gorgeous and that he can't wait to put his mouth on her body.
As I said. People don't think. If DI Davies was a better detective, she would have come looking for people like me. People who know far more than they ought to.
It was raining at break time, but we were still meant to go outside. It was only spitting rain, the kind that would have been fine to play football in it. But the last lesson before break was English, and when the bell rung, Miss Einion said, 'You can stay here for break time if you don't want to go out.' Miss Einion isn't usually that kind of teacher- She always gives the vibe that she doesn't like people, especially young people.
Some of our classmates went out anyway- one or two needed a smoke, and a few were meeting their mates from other classes. But our group all stayed.
'She'll have a breakdown before half term. Guaranteed,' said Ela, nodding at the door after Miss Einion went off to the staffroom to get herself a coffee.
'As if,' replied Gwyn.
'She was nearly crying all lesson! Didn't you notice?'
'Everyone's nearly crying in all the lessons. She's no different. It's just the shock.'
Dion reached into his bag for an enormous bag of crisps, and he opened it before plonking it in the centre of the table. We didn't usually share, but everyone was trying to find tiny, unfussy ways of being kind to one another. I helped myself. Sweet chilli flavour. My favourite.
'Where is she now?' asked Ela suddenly. I hated the way she ate her crisps. She'd lick all the taste off them, all the salt and tiny flecks of chilli powder, then she'd put the crisp on her tongue and she'd suck it. All the other boys fancied her, because she was curvy and had jet black straight hair and looked a bit like someone you'd see in a music video. I wasn't so sure about her. She was plastered in makeup, which always made me think of all that gunk that would rub off on my face if I ever kissed her. I wasn't sure what she actually looked like. And anyway, I suspected that a girl like her would never go anywhere near someone like me. There's no point wasting time fancying people that you'll never be good enough for. She was a bit of a snob.
'Who do you think?! Greta!"
Everywhere went quiet. I think Ela knew straight away that she'd put her foot in it, because she looked around at everyone in a bit of a panic.
'I mean, is she in hospital? Or with the fineral director? Or the cops? I don't know!'
'She's probably in one of those massive cold drawers you see on CSI,' Dion replied quietly, his eyes wide. 'In a bag with a zip.'
You could almost hear the silent whirr of people's minds as they imagined that. I could see it on all our faces, and I looked down at the floor, like when I was in assembly and I was pretending to pray. They were all thinking of Greta as was I, motionless and cold in a dark drawer in the hospital in Bangor. Perhaps her skin had turned blue, like the dead bodies on telly. Maybe her face was all caved in. Her head open and bloody. Red congealing darkly in her blonde hair, shining and sticky.
When I looked up, Dion was staring at me. His face was empty, as if he felt nothing at all.
Keira moved her hand over to the chair beside her. Greta's chair. She wasn't crying, but I could tell by the look on her face that it was because she was too sad. She probably had it the worst of all . I hadn't known before then that there was a sorrow that was bad enough to stop you from crying, but I saw it then, and recognised it. I tried to remember the last time I'd cried, I mean really cried properly, not just to prove that I had feelings. But it was far, far too long ago.
That night, when I was meant to be asleep, I looked online on my phone to see what people were saying about Greta. It was exactly the type of thing you'd expect- most people were kind, and a few said that she was too young to be out so late on her own, and that Bethesda was a rough place and that this kind of thing happened here all the time.
I lay in bed, the screen of my phone lighting up my face. I could hear Mam watching TV in her bed. She'd finally switched over from the news channels and had gone back to watching The Real Housewives.
I looked at the website for one of the most popular newspapers, and read the story about Greta even though I'd read it twice before. There were hundreds of comments left by people from all over the world.
Sleep tight beautiful angel xxxx - Margaret, Milton Keynes.
And this is why the UK need guns. Her killer needs finding and taken out.- Kevin M, Kansas City
RIP to Greta, and sympathy to her devastated family. So sad to see such a beautiful young woman taken too early. - Michelle, Perth, Australia.
I read each and every one of the comments. All of them. It was half past one by the time I laid down my phone to charge on the bedside table, and shut my eyes. Even then, I didn't sleep straight away. I couldn't stop thinking about the weird way those strangers online were talking about Greta.
The darkness in my room was suffocating around the bright, harsh light of my phone screen.
Almost every one of them had referred to the way she looked.
Beautiful. Angelic. Blonde. Blue-eyed. Stunning. Pretty. A stunning young woman. An innocent beauty. Somewhere in my head, this all meant something- the fact that everyone seemed to think that this tragedy was more poignant, the loss of this life more wasteful because Greta had been beautiful, because her eyes had been blue and her hair blonde.
There was some sharp, ugly truth about that, but I was too tired to see it. It was too soon to think too much- just keeping my head down, living from day to day- that was enough.
Shortlisted in the Tír na nÓg Awards 2021
Gwenno is dead: perfect, clever, beautiful Gwenno, popular with the swots and cool kids alike. But was she really the angel that everyone thought she was – blonde-haired and blue-eyed, living a privileged life in that grand farmhouse with a successful father and popular mother?
From the bestselling and award-winning author of Llyfr Glas Nebo (The Blue Book of Nebo), comes Manon Steffan Ros’ latest novel, Llechi (Slate). When sixteen-year-old Gwenno is found murdered, we are guided through the aftermath – and, in time, the lead-up – by her friend Shane, through whose eyes we see the impact of the death on his friends, on their parents, and on the community at large. A dark, compelling murder mystery, Llechi is set in and around Bethesda, a town built on the back of the slate industry and whose community continues to live in the shadow of Penrhyn Quarry. Infused by the sensitivity and generosity that defines all her writing, Ros successfully centres her narrative on the experiences and pressures of young adulthood whilst simultaneously defying straightforward categorisation, capturing both a wide readership and a zetgesist. Through consummate plotting and authorial commitment to character, Llechi offers a unique perspective on places and people so often overlooked – until it’s too late. This raw, emotional story from one of Wales’ most popular writers that unearths the darkness beneath those warm, smooth slates.
"Llechi is a masterclass of exposition written by an author at the peak of her powers"
Alun Davies, nation.cymru
"Llechi certainly doesn’t disappoint, and her ability to draw us into the lives of her characters until we are fully engrossed is as strong as ever in this novel."
Llio Mai Hughes, Sôn am Lyfra
"The murder mystery story line of this novel is very similar to some contemporary popular television series, and so this story will certainly appeal greatly to a wide range of readers."
Adjudicator, Tir na n-Og Awards 2021