These girls were my friends. We were sitting in a circle on the ground. It’s early. The grass was cold. I didn’t mind. I liked to be outside. It’s recess. I liked recess too. And I had five new friends. I counted them in my head. And that day was my fifth day there. Five is a good number. My new favorite number. Half of ten, which used to be my favorite number. My friends were standing, so I stood too. They all started to run. I’m not a fast runner, but I tried to keep up with them. They sat on the other side of the playground in a circle. The circle is smaller this time. I tried to fit, and I almost do. I sat next to the girl with blue eyes. Blue was my favorite color. Her hair is black and in two pigtails, just like mine, but much longer, almost to her waist. She was my favorite. But I won’t say that out loud, just in my head, because I didn’t want to be rude. She and the other girls were talking in quiet voices. She looked at me and whispers again. My mom said whispering was rude, it makes other people feel left out. I wanted to know what they are saying, so I tried scooting closer. She turned and looks at me. She spoke louder now, so I can hear. She’s wasn’t being rude any more. She told me they are going to play a game, hide and seek. I smiled.
I watched the other kids out of my window at my house play that all the time. They were always smiling and laughing and running. Once a girl was hiding behind a tall bush in our backyard. I saw her run behind our house. I watched her hide. No one found her for a long, long time. I saw her smile. She was happy that no one could find her. She knew that meant she was good at the game. A boy came looking for her. He walked around and around our yard, looking and looking. She jumped out and yelled “boo!” He jumped and yelped, then they both laughed and laughed. It looked so fun. I wanted to play too. But mom said I couldn’t go outside. I get up and run to hide. I’d find the best hiding spot. There’s a big empty box on the side of the school. It’s big enough to cover me. I pulled it over my head and squat down. When she comes looking, I’d jump up and yell “boo!” She’d scream and laugh and so would I, and we’d run back inside together. It’s dark inside the box but I didn’t mind. I like the dark. It’s best for hiding.
I sat and sat and sat. I felt tiny insects crawling along the skin on my ankles, underneath my pale blue pants. My shirt was the same shade of blue and was covered in white fluffy clouds. I know my clothes will be dirty when I’m finally found. Mom will be angry. She put the outfit on my bed after breakfast today. The pants had so much starch in them they nearly stood up on their own when I accidentally knocked them to the floor. My shirt smelled like our lavender detergent.
Mom made blueberry pancakes with happy face banana slices, my favorite. After I ate I sat for another hour as she straightened and curled my short hair and arranged it into two small, bouncy, curly ponytails on either side of my head, twisting and turning my neck so hard until I was so sore I thought I couldn’t take it anymore. But I never whined. Mom says it’s important to be pretty. That’s another way to get people to like you. I decided I wouldn’t think about mom, or the way her arms shook when she hugged me before I got on the bus this morning, or about the long talk she would give me when I got home and she saw the red dirt caked all over my ankles and the seat of my brand new pants. I’d just think about being found.
The bell rang. I knew that meant it’s time to go back. To Miss Beakman and the confusing words and numbers written on the board that I didn’t quite understand. They swirled around and around in front of my eyes like they’re making fun of me. I don’t want to go back. I missed when Mom taught me. She taught me the alphabet and how to count to 10. How to add and subtract. But then, we learned other things. We watched movies about dolphins and whales, I would sit close to the screen and watch the mysterious creatures ripple through the blue, heavy water like it was air. I learned about a tribe of gorgeous women in a place called Namibia who grow their hair into long locs and dye it red, they don’t wear shirts and let their children run all over the village, wild and free. I envied the children, but mom called them crazy. I wonder if Miss Beakman will ever teach us about Namibia. I doubt it.
A herd of footsteps galloping toward the side door of the school after the bell made me sit up straight. It reminds me of the herds of elephants I watched in a movie once, running across the African desert. I got more excited. A lonely pair of footsteps separated from the pack. I heard them approach the box. My heart pounded so hard I can hear it between my ears. This was it. I took a deep breath. My legs started to shake and my stomach flipped over as the box is suddenly jerked above my body. I looked up, preparing to scream “boo!” just as I’d planned, but the word gpt stuck. This girl standing there was not my new friend. I’d never seen her before. Or maybe I did catch a glimpse of her. Sitting in the front of the classroom, writing down everything Miss Beakman said in her yellow tablet. Now I remembered. She seemed really smart. That’s why I was afraid to ask to be friends. But now she didn’t seem so scary. Her skin looked smooth and soft and was the color of mom’s morning coffee after she added a dollop of cream, her hair dark brown and what some of the old ladies from the neighborhood who had coffee with my mom in the mornings would call “nappy.” They would look out of the window at a child with her hair passing on the street and tut tut tut to themselves. “Look at that child’s head,” they would say, as though the mom could somehow hear them through the walls. Mom always pursed her lips and took a sip of coffee when they talked that way. She spent as much time straightening and curling her own hair as she did mine, but for some reason, I didn’t think she agreed with them.
I liked this new girl’s hair. Her kinky curls looked soft and wild and twisty, tied back with a bright scarf that matched her apple green t-shirt and the pattern of green and yellow flowers and paisleys on the patches on her jeans. My smile disappeared. I was confused.
“Where’s…?” I began.
“They aren’t coming,” she said, not smiling, holding out her hand.
I took it, then dusted off my pants, shook the dirt out of my sandals. “But…?”
“They’re already inside. We have to rush if we’re going to make it before the bell. Race ya!”
And with that she took off with a giggle. My smile returned and I hurried behind her, still confused, but happier than I’d been that entire day. I’d asked my mom many times why she chose to marry daddy, since she showed me pictures before of her ex-boyfriends she kept in a secret box hidden under a floorboard in her closet. It smelled sickly sweet of old flowers and stale perfume and always made me gag. Each time she’d shrugged and said, “When you know, you know.” Now I knew too. This girl, whose name I hadn’t even learned yet, who had been the only one to search for me, or to even know I was hiding, was going to be my best friend. I just knew.
And my new favorite color was now apple green.