a lonely girl

I waited for Nana outside the school gates for fifteen minutes after the first bell and the mad rush of students escaped like the demons of education were on their heels. The chilly mid-October air soothed my neck better than any of Manoy's compresses, so I didn't really mind waiting. I sat on the rotting bench just outside the gates and knocked my heels together from boredness.

A gaggle of middle school girls moseyed by, giggling shrilly. A couple of whiny scooters careened down the street, sending leaves scattering. I picked a scab on my wrist and watched the scrape well up with tiny pin-points of blood.

Where the heck was that girl?

It wasn't like she had a lot of friends that would stop her in the halls, wanting to chat. We often joked about it, but the reality was that I was Nana's only friend and she was mine. We did everything together, and I think that scared others away. How could you wedge your way into a friendship almost a decade in length? It just didn't happen. Nana and I were stuck together for eternity, and that was that.

Could a teacher have stopped her? I almost laughed. Nana prided herself on being an unnoticeable student. She wasn't at the top of the class, but neither was she at the bottom. She didn't sit in the front, where the teacher could see everyone of your pore on your skin, nor did she crash in the back where all the troublemakers slept. She stayed in the middle ground, never over or under achieving at anything. Your typical, un-exemplary student. No way had a teacher stopped her, unless she was doing something absolutely insane, like jump roping down the halls.

Which, I thought with a grin, I could totally see her doing.

I stood up and glanced at my digital watch. 3:57. She should've been out almost half an hour ago.

Maybe she forgot I was waiting, I reasoned as I walked away from the ivy covered gates and into the street. Maybe I somehow missed her in the mad frenzy of escaping kids. It could happen.

Never the less, I had a hungry goldfish at home, waiting for me. And an empty house. And an empty fridge.

My stomach growled.

I'd counted on going to Nana's house for supper, unfortunately. Guess I would have to settle for cheese and stale crackers now, unless I could come up with anything more appetizing than that. As I walked, I kicked loose chunks of streets out of my way. Potholes the size of Asia pocked the street like malignant cancer, and the sidewalk looked more or less just as hazardous. I'd heard of kids turning or even breaking their ankles while running to school. One kid in particular had a permanent concussion after the stone wall lining the school grounds lost its battle with the ivy and collapsed, right on top of him. The demons of education still forced him to attend school, though, but I don't think he ever talked after that--even the teachers stopped calling on him in class. He just sat there, like a blank and broken slate.

And the wall remained a pile of rubble.

I wondered if the authorities even knew that places like this existed. Poverty wasn't the right word to describe it, but there was a terrible sense of devastation and emptiness filling the air here. And this was hardly the worst it could get. In our bustling metropolis, there were dark alleys and cesspools of 'life' that even the brave steered clear of. Surely the government had only one blind eye to turn--couldn't they see the destruction taking place here?

Maybe Nana and her parents were right. Civil servants were a waste of space.

Speaking of Nana...a pair of tooth-pick like arms wrapped their way around my neck and I rocked backwards under the sudden weight, almost falling into a pothole.

"So you're better?" Nana chirped. "Your neck isn't red and puffy any more."

I looked at her over my shoulder, glaring without meaning it. "Did you notice that before or after you vaulted onto my back and put me in a choke hold?"

She slid off with a laugh. "Don't be silly, Felyn. I never would've done that if you were hurt."

"Right." I still hadn't forgotten the time she punched me in the arm minutes after we donated our required amount of blood for the year. Or when she decided to play the bongos with my head that one time I had a skull-splitting migraine.

"So are you coming over for supper?" She grinned mischievously. "You can see for yourself how much Mom's belly has grown, then."

My stomach dropped into a nearby pothole. That hadn't occurred to me. Dinner with Nana and her parents meant seeing a secret taking place right in before my eyes, and that meant I wouldn't be able to consume a single thing. Vomiting all over your hosts and their dinner wasn't on par with today's table manners, it seemed.

I rubbed my neck nervously. "Umm... I actually think I need to head home." I gave her a fragile smile. "I forgot to feed my goldfish this morning, and you know how he gets."

3 delicate wrinkles marred her normally smooth forehead. "Oh, yes. The poor thing might hold his breath and pass out or something."

I never said the girl was intelligent, okay? Not even close.

I smiled again. "I should hurry. See you tomorrow?"

"Totally. Tell your parents I said hi."

We waved goodbye and then separated. Nana lived about 20 minutes from school; she always took the subway. I, on the other hand, lived within spitting distance from the school. I reached my apartment door long before Nan would even arrive at the station.

"There's still time change your mind, Felyn," I told myself, but as the door chimed mechanically and I stepped in, I knew I couldn't and wouldn't go back.

I kicked off my shoes and tossed them into the small mountain of shoes, coats, and miscellanea that used to resemble a closet, and then made my way into the living room.

Collapsing on the couch, I grabbed the remote and flicked on the TV. I didn't tune in to whatever was taking place upon the screen, however. Instead, I reached over and gingerly removed a picture frame from that annoying end table I always managed to knock knees with.

With a knot in my throat, I said, "Nana says hi, Mom, Dad."

They stared back at me, unsmiling, as they always do.

I blinked away errant tears and forced a smile onto my trembling lips. "Just thought you might want to know."

Then I put the picture away.

{to be continued...}


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