It was another year at beloved public school, another year at Valley Falls High – home of brand new desks and bats in the ceiling. Lockers slammed and kids laughed as I walked through the halls, bumping shoulders and finding pathways in the crowd. I sighed. Summer had flown by in a midst of summer reading and relaxing, but it was too late to run out of school now. Walking into chemistry, my first class on my first day of junior year, I noted the nonexistent “Welcome Back” vibe the halls were giving off. The empty, depressing room seemed to cloud my morale even further, and the lack of anyone familiar in the classroom only made it worse. My eyes anxiously searched for friends – any? Of course not, there weren’t ever any. Staring at the clean blackboard, I sat in the front row, my blue flats nervously tapping on the floor, my fingers twisting the tassels of my gray hijab. Students piled into the classroom as the bell screeched. It was going to be a long day.
Aya. How I despised her. I watched as she sat down, the room instantly brighter, her designer blue shoes obnoxiously clicking on the dusty tile floor. A year had gone by, and we were now juniors, but she hadn’t changed. Aya was little-Miss-Perfect, praises flying around her every move. Perfect grades, perfect style, perfect life. Her long, slouchy shirt complimented her fashioned gray hijab – I glanced down and yanked at my black shirt, covering the cheap quality beneath it. I didn’t care about clothes; I had other things to worry about. I could care less about Aya and her stuck up materialism. I straightened my black hijab, glaring at those who stared. Other students began pouring in as the new chemistry teacher cleared his throat. Mr. Brown, he said his name was. I was tired of school already.
My feet unconsciously tapping on the floor, I glanced around the room, searching for familiar faces – any familiar face, anyone with a flicker of recognition as my eyes met theirs, just anyone with a smile. None. I recognized Kalia from the masjid, but she sneered as I waved, her black hijab flying as she quickly turned her head. She hated me.
Mr. Brown, our chemistry teacher, began calling out names and I swiveled forward in my seat, tired. I had been getting very exhausted, too easily, dangerously quickly. The doctor worried.
I shook my head, mentally changing subjects. Mr. Brown passed out little slips of paper as he explained that we would pick names out of a hat, and that person would be our permanent lab partner for the year. I pulled out a bright, blue pen from my purse, and wrote my name down in large, flowing letters. My fingers were shaky.
“Of course,” I thought, as I strode out of school after a long day. Of course my locker would have gum all over the lock, of course I would trip in the lunch line, and my hijab would get caught on some jock’s binder. But in chemistry, out of a class of thirty, out of all those useless laws of probability, of course I’d get stuck with Aya to be my “permanent lab partner for the year, no switching or crying,” as Mr. Brown put it.
Walking down the street, dodging falling leaves and still rainwater, I reached the front steps of my house. It seemed empty. Green moss grew over the windows and cracks in the sidewalk mirrored the bleak and gloom that surrounded my house. The screen door creaked open as I gently placed my backpack on the linoleum floor, tentatively stepping over broken toys and unfinished food.
Half-empty bottles of beer littered the counter, a liquid form of escape for the woes of a foster mother. I heard her yelling my name from within the living room, twenty feet away. Mary Long, her name was, and I was in her care until I turned 18. I had a year to go, a year going by too slowly. She was drunk, as she always was, and nothing but the checks issued to her ever mattered. I was out of the house for as long as I possibly could, and the other kids were too young to do much than sit around. I was only with her because the system had thrown me here.
Ignoring her yells for more drinks, I tiptoed down the hallway, towards the stairs. I thought about my parents. I missed my mother so badly, and my dad, who would’ve told me that everything would be alright, that everything happened for a reason. Everything did happen for a reason, but it was always the wrong reason for me. It was my belief that all good things, any good thing in my life, ceased.
I grabbed my backpack and ran up the stairs, two at a time. I was Kalia, I was strong, and I was an orphan – but hey, I was still a kid.
“Aya Rashid?” The nurse called out my name, loudly and incorrectly. It was expected. My mother held my hand as I grabbed my cardigan and walked across the yellow and green tile, my heart sinking with every step. Dr. Gordon, my doctor and confidante, greeted me at the door with a wheelchair and a box of tissues – “Ready?” he asked, his mouth smiling, but his eyes sad.
He knew I hated needles, he knew I hated uncertainty, he knew I hated my life. Everything about me was terribly fake. There was a façade in front of my face, a pretense that everyone thought I was perfect, that I had a perfect life. It was quite the contrary, if only others knew. I lived a life of solitary pain, but no soul would ever know.
I grimaced as I sat in the wheelchair, rolling up my sleeves. I fell back, my chin dropping to my chest, Dr. Gordon carefully piercing my skin with the needle. The chemicals began seeping into my body as I concentrated on the anesthesia. If everything went well, if nothing else failed, then this would be my last chemo for a long, long time.
Or, it would just be my last. I closed my eyes, tears silently rolling down, the world around me falling into darkness.
A couple weeks later, after an agonizingly long first month of school, I sat with Aya at a table attempting to finish our chemistry lab. We had gotten to be closer, although many things kept us apart – her money, my lack of it, her beauty, my lack of it. I told her about my parents, and she told me how her life wasn’t as great as it seemed. I didn’t believe her, but then again, she always seemed sad.
“Pop!” Our mixture of hydrochloric and sulfuric acid blew up as Aya dropped a test tube. A thin wisp of smoke arose from a small hole in the ground as people from our chemistry class gathered around to view the accident.
“I’m sorry,” Aya stuttered, her face calm and her gloved fingers quickly picking up shards of glass. Mr. Brown brought out his tub of sand and helped clean up the mess, and went to the back rooms to deposit the waste. I stood at the edge of our lab table, shuffling my feet as I reassured Aya that it was okay – we weren’t close friends, but if it was me, I would want anyone to make me feel better.
“Hey, it’s whatever, it’s not like he doesn’t have more,” I smirked, pointing to a rack overflowing with clean test tubes. Aya smiled, her face red, and looked at the rest of the class, who were still staring at the little hole on the floor.
“So they send their terrorists to school, too? Hey, Kalia, didn’t you used to say your dad’s name is Osama?” This came from a kid named Jamie, the ignorant Jamie, the one who purposefully made himself look like an idiot for attention. He laughed loudly and slapped high-fives with a few of his friends, placing the hood of his jacket around his head like a makeshift hijab.
I saw red.
“Well, then,” I said, rushing towards him. Aya grabbed me before I could carry out my punishment to him, two black eyes and a tooth to remember his words. I pulled her cashmere arm off mine in disgust and stared meanly into her widened eyes, my heart pounding. I could barely breathe, I was so angry.
Aya winced at where I had touched her arm, and I was a little startled – what a weakling, I barely touched her. I turned and walked to the corner of the room, and Aya stumbled after me, her heels clicking slightly on the linoleum. Her face flushed red as I stared at the wall, trying to calm down. It was a chemistry accident, that’s all it was. Terrorist? My dad?
“Kalia, don’t even listen to him. Honestly, just turn the other cheek, learn to ignore it and it won’t hurt. He doesn’t know about your parents, he doesn’t know anything…” Aya’s eyes were cool, bright, and unaffected – I couldn’t stand how she could let anyone, stupid or not, insult her so deeply.
Mr. Brown walked back into the classroom, oblivious to the events of the past two minutes. The class disseminated back to their respective lab tables as the bell rang for 2nd period. I ran out the door.
…Will their friendship work out, or will there only be rising enmity between the two?
Find out in ‘A Friend to Remember: Part II!’