She sat on the bench, uncertain. The recess area was just a sectioned off portion of the faculty parking lot. It was directly in front of the school’s main entrance. There was a sort of cozy and spacious alley way to the right of the entrance. There, kids, mostly boys, played wall ball. The alley way ended at a corner where the school’s wall met the outside of the entrance. There, kids, mostly boys, played with frayed Yu-Gi-Oh! cards. The right side of the entire set up was mostly male, actually. Here, there was wall ball and Yu-Gi-Oh! and basketball. The gray area was in the center, where integrated groups—boys and girls—tagged and chased each other. The left side was thus occupied by girls, mostly standing around, playing small games. The popular thing to do was jump double dutch. She sat on the left side, withdrawn, and so, overlooked. Her dark brown hair was straight and weak, assailed by hair relaxer whose packaging promised to make her beautiful. Her glasses seemed too small for her head, and her teeth were slightly spaced out. Her jeans stopped just above her ankles, and you could see her socks. A group of boys will tease her next school year about this phenomenon, whose culprit—the jeans—will be called “high-waters.” That’s a funny name. They will ask her, maliciously, “Why don’t you just buy jeans that fit? Can’t you afford them?” A group of girls will giggle in the background, their sounds fuel for further mocking. They’re funny. They’re just as low-income as she is. She will wonder how they get their parents to buy them such expensive clothes.
The girl doesn’t know how to make friends. Usually, during recess, she would stay inside and wander the hallways. You’re not supposed to wander. It annoys teachers and administrators. You’re supposed to be with the other kids so that everyone can be watched in one place. You’re less of a liability if you’re with everyone else. She usually wandered anyway, trying not to get caught. Eventually it became a game. In it, she was the sleuth, and any adult the enemy. If she didn’t wander, she would read, or she would help her teachers. When she read, she tried to do so in a private place. Reading was sacred to her, but the only private places were the stalls in the girls’ bathroom. Girls wouldn’t stay for long, and their arrivals were intermittent. She would sit on the toilet seat and read. When girls entered the bathroom, she would put the book down and wait for their departure. This was another game. You pretended like you were just another person using the bathroom. It was funny because they couldn’t possibly know she was reading. One day, a group of girls will come in, and recognize her sneakers. They’re easy to pinpoint because she wears the same pair every day and they’re Sketchers. If you want to be cool, you don’t wear the same pair of shoes every day and you don’t wear Sketchers. The girls will get quiet and the girl will get impatient. She’ll find it strange that they’d be quiet, but they will be—she will decide to keep reading. The turn of a page will be audible. It will be like the crackle of an autumn leaf. The girls will start laughing. “Wait, are you reading?!” one of them will shriek, standing in front of the girl’s stall. The girl’s face will instantly warm up. The blood that will rush to her cheeks will be accompanied by embarrassment. The girl usually doesn’t lose in her games.
Her third option for recess—helping her teachers—always made her feel guilty. She wasn’t helping them because she wanted to help them. She was helping them to feel less alone. She would help one particular teacher quite a lot. Ms. Fletcher would let her grade papers or take care of the class pets. She taught Life Science and Language Arts. Her hair had the texture of cotton candy. It was the color of caramel, as were her freckles. She had a warm voice, and wore a lot of high-wasted pants with belts. Ms. Fletcher would advise everyone in class to pick a book. This was once a month. You would pick a book and write a book report. On one of the months, the girl wrote about Philip Pullman’s The Amber Spyglass. The graded report came back with a sticker, and a comment that really stuck with the girl. Ms. Fletcher had written, “I could really tell you loved this book.” This made the girl feel happy; she really had loved that book. She was glad her love had been evident through her writing. The girl really liked this teacher. One day, Ms. Fletcher will tell her to play outside with everyone else. The girl will be forced to leave. Next school year, when the girl will stop by to say hello, Ms. Fletcher will have forgotten her name.
Right now, the girl just sat on the bench. It was splendidly sunny outside—one of those May days that belonged in June. Her arms were at her side, hands on the bench’s warm plastic. The bench was granite gray. She squinted her eyes, looking at the ground in front of her. All around her there was a whirlwind of activity. Jump ropes struck the parking lot’s asphalt. Under a nearby tree, growing on the strip of dirt lining the area, a boy made the girl he likes cry. She was relatively still and it seemed time couldn’t touch her. But, time did. The girl will grow up.
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