by Jack Frayne-Reid
Viv was getting on pretty well before she started caring about stuff. She was one of the brightest kids at St Cuthbert’s school and whilst there had always felt happy, and cared about by those around her. But when, all of a sudden, she began to develop an acute social conscience, she found that not everybody’s sympathies seemed to extend as far as hers.
“But you don’t understand!” she’d say. “They’ve banned children in Guatemala!”
“Stop being so militant, Militant Viv,” sneered her classmate Alex, who considered himself the coolest kid in school for his extensive knowledge of autotuned hip-hop.
“Don’t call me that!” said Viv, who considered herself quite moderate. “How can you not be fazed by the destruction of an entire culture?”
“You can’t claim to know anything about culture when you haven’t heard Future’s Dirty Sprite 2 album.”
“I don’t care about Future! I care about the future! The future of the oppressed youth of Guatemala!”
Alex was affronted by the idea that Future’s dope jams were less worth caring about than some Third World pipsqueaks who wouldn’t know their way around a trap beat if their lives depended on it.
“Oh go and do your hair or…iron your fingernails or something. You’d never be able to help the Guatemalans anyway. It’s too dangerous out there. Would need to send a guy.”
“Are you serious?”
“Yeah, guess it’s for me not to give a crap about,” he smirked.
“No one gives a crap about you, you dick. You think because I’m a girl I can’t change anything?”
“Well, basically, yeah.”
“Oh, whatever, ars-”
“VIV!” the teacher barked over her. “Stop being so militant or I’ll report you to the government.”
“But me no buts! Another peep out of you and I’ll have you packed off onto the Prevent program. Now, Alex,” he softened his tone, “any of that dank ass, fire ass, bomb ass trap shit you can hook me up with?”
The headteacher drank deep from her mug of coffee and smiled across the desk.
“Please, call me Viv.”
“No, no, Viv. Like the first syllable of Vivienne.”
“Yes, Vov, now, I imagine you might have some idea why I asked you to come and see me?”
“Yes, I think so, and I’m sorry I used that kind of language in class, but he was being extremely misogynistic, and I’m sure as a woman you can appreciate…”
“What?” snapped the headteacher.
“It’s just that, y’know, he was saying we should know our place and…”
“I’ve had quite enough of this loony left nonsense! I have no idea what you’re talking about and no interest whatsoever in your petty personal pissing matches and playground politics. Just listen to yourself. ‘Ooh, miss!’” she taunted. “‘Nyer-nyer-nyer! He said, she said, she sells sea shells on the sea shore…’ Don’t give me that tripe, I’m sick of it.”
“It’s just bilge! Bilge and tripe!”
“But, miss, if this isn’t about yesterday then I don’t understand why you called me here.”
“Well, Vuv, maybe it is.”
“But you just s-”
“It’s it’s come to our attention that in recent times you’ve become prone to expressing views that could be seen as somewhat radical. Somewhat outré. Do you know what they call you out there?” she asked, indicating to the playground.
“Militant Viv? I know. It’s unfair.”
“It’s worse than that, I’m afraid. Ho Chi Viv is the one doing the rounds at the moment.”
“What?! He wasn’t a feminist, was he? Or is this about Guatemala?”
“I don’t know, Vev, I don’t know, but it’s extremely worrying to me to see one of my students associated with a character like Mr Minh. Here at St Cuthbert’s we’re pretty serious about anti-radicalisation. Prettaaaay, prettaaaaay, preeeetty serious. I mean, look, we’re trying our goddamned best, ok?! Do you realise how hard it is to teach history in a way that constantly depicts Britain and America as the good guys?! Do you, Vav?!”
“Miss, I’m sorry, but I have less of an idea of what you’re talking about now than I did when you called me in.”
“And sorry you should be, the Verve! This is a place of learning, I will have you know. I want you to answer one question for me, and I want you to answer it sincerely.”
“Prettaaaay, prettaaaaay, preeeetty seriously.”
“Then tell it to me straight…are you or are you not a member of ISIS?”
“Spill the beans, or I’ll waterboard you to Timbuktu!”
“Why would I join ISIS? They don’t exactly have an impressive record on women’s rights.”
“Who can say?!” screamed the headteacher. “I don’t know what you devious, shifty-eyed extremists are up to! We’re on the lookout for radicalisation of all kinds, and one thing’s for sure; there’s no one more radical than Militant Viv.”
“Why are you only able to pronounce my name in the context of offensive nicknames? I mean, seriously?”
“When do you travel out to Syria?!”
“WHAT ARE THE CODES FOR THE MISSILES?!”
“What missiles?!” Viv yelled back.
“If I do say so, Veeeeuuuuurrrrrrggghhv, you’re being extremely unhelpful.”
“Honestly, I’m not quite sure why you’ve got me painted as an ISIS recruit.”
The headteacher had come to the end of her tether, and threw her mug of coffee out of the window. A young child yelped.
“Look what you’ve gone and made me do now!” she bellowed. “They could start calling me a bloody militant! You bloody…bloody…bloody…goddamn bloody militant with your bloody goddamn bloody opinions. Where in the Christ do you get them from?”
“Well, I like to…read a lot…”
“Reading! Don’t give me that Corbynite pish! I’m sick of it.”
“It’s all pish! Tish…and pish!”
“And I can live with a bit of tish now and then but I’ve just about had it up to here with pish! It’s time we think about preventing your next act of terror. I’ve let it be known among the other students that you’re a deranged lunatic and I’ve asked the police to monitor all your technological communications.”
“And they said yes. The police, I mean. Although the other students did say ‘yes, that’s a great point about how Militant Viv is a deranged lunatic and totally sucks.’”
Viv slept uneasily that night. Nobody would talk to her anymore and whenever she made a phone call she heard the click of the wire tap, although phone calls weren’t exactly a regular occurrence as she no longer had any friends. Eventually she drifted into a deep slumber, but no sooner had she floated into unconsciousness than she felt a tap on her shoulder. She jolted upright and screamed as a gangly, bearded Asian man sat at the foot of her bed.
“Who are you and what are you doing here?” her teeth chattered from the nerves.
“I am Ho Chi Minh, former prime minister and, subsequently, president of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, Chairman of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Vietnam, and sworn-in member of the Politburo of the Communist Party…”
“How did you guess? I come, comrade Viv, to reassure you that radical thought is the path to progress. I have heard much about your militancy, and…”
“Hang on; this is a dream, right?”
“So does it have to be you?”
“I mean, it’s just that, contrary to popular belief, I don’t really know where I stand one way or another on the Viet Cong and all that. Does it have to be you reassuring me that radical thought is the path to progress?”
Ho Chi Minh stood up and scratched his head.
“Fine. I can’t say this usually happens…generally the angsty young radicals whose subconscious I visit are pretty chuffed to be treated to a nice insurrectionary pep talk. I guess there’s always one, isn’t there? Well, whatever. I know when I’m not wanted.”
He dematerialised in a wisp of smoke and was replaced by a black guy with dyed-blond dreads, sipping what appeared to be Ribena.
“What up, shorty?”
“And which revolutionary leader are you?”
“You trippin’? It’s me, Future. Ain’t revolutionising nothin’ but the rap game.”
“Okay,” said Viv, choosing to go along with it. “What’s that you’re drinking?”
“Oh, you don’t want nothin’ to do with this shit,” he took a big glug of it, “’s’that purple drank shit. Dirty sprite keeps the demons at bay.”
“But Future,” Viv gasped, “you’re one of the biggest musical stars in the world. You had two number one albums last year. Why do you need to get messed up on purple drank all day?”
“I get…sad, na’mean? We all of us fighting something, Militant Viv,” he smiled, “dope name; ever get into spitting bars? Better you be fightin’ the Man than just beatin’ up on yourself like my wavy ass. Anyway, I’m’a go do this blunt, so I’m’a let my main woman Syl set yo’ shit straight…”
Future vanished, and this time the wisp of smoke that hung in his place was rather pungent. He was replaced in an instant by Sylvia Pankhurst, a figure Viv actually knew and respected.
“I just bumped into Future in the ether and he told me all about the issues you’ve been having.”
“Yeah, we hang. Oh Viv, Viv, Viv, I’m afraid there’s always going to be people who just don’t get it; who wanna shut you up because seeing you care about things makes them feel like the empty husks of human beings they are. Well, the good news is there’s no such thing as ‘the way it is’. Things can change, and they will, but first power must be transferred from the few to the many. Because the few? Fuck ’em. Back in my day all the right-wingers told me I was too radical too. I soon shut that fucker Lenin up. And eventually I found a society that got it right. It’s called Ethiopia, and it’s awesome. ”
“Wow, Mrs. Pankhurst,” said a reassured Viv. “Can I ask you one more thing?”
“This is still a dream, right?”
“Of course! I’ve been dead for fifty-five years!”
“Oh, good. I just wanted to make sure the police weren’t listening in.”
After the visitations, Viv slept soundly and woke up the next morning feeling breezy. She even located and disabled a bug that had been planted in the corner of her room. At breakfast she ate Cornflakes and read the newspaper.
“Mum?” she asked.
“You know how it says here that they’re ripping down the forest by school in order to build a new property development? Are they planning to build low-income housing in order to combat the growing homelessness epidemic of the last five years?”
Viv’s mum thought about it for a second.
“No, darling, I don’t think so. If you read further down the article it says it’ll be a bunch of luxury condos for the super-rich. It’s all paid for by that nice Mr Lebnev, who owns the paper you’re reading.”
“And have they thought of the environmental ramifications?” Viv whipped back.
“Ooh,” she pondered, “you know, I’m not really sure they have.”
Viv slammed the paper down on the headteacher’s desk.
“Who let you in?!” blustered the headteacher. “Where’s my police escort? I thought I told them to shoot to kill? I trust you don’t mind shoot to kill, although you never know with you terrorist sympathis-”
“Yeah, yeah, whatever,” said Viv, “what do you have to say about this, then?”
“This?!” the headteacher waved the paper around, crumpling its pages in her flailing hands. “There’s too many words on it! That one, that one, that one there; what does that even mean? It’s all junk! It’s all superfluous! Can you pass an exam with it? That’s what I want to know! Can you? Eh?!”
“No, but this new luxury housing development must’ve come at a pretty price. The school owned the land, right? Has that cash all gone into building up the school, I wonder, or is there,” she looked her dead in the eyes, “a vested interest at play?”
“GODDAMN YOU, MILITANT VIV, AND GODDAMN YOUR MILITANT WAYS!” screamed the headteacher, emptying her drawers of cash and throwing it about the room. “Curses, foiled again! And I would’ve gotten away with it if it weren’t for you meddling extremists! Not even plural! You’re just one extremist! A super lame one! Take me away, officers!” she instructed the baffled-looking cops who poked their heads through the door. They did.
“Wow, that was easy,” Viv said to herself outside the office.
“Militant Viv?” a man approached her. “I represent the grand armies of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. We heard of your militant ways and hoped to enlist your servi-”
“Dude, no! Screw you!” she said, and stayed true.