Safiahs smile, p.1
Safiah's Smile, p.1Leora Friedman
Copyright 2010 Leora Friedman
This book is dedicated to the men and women in uniform who risk their lives every day to keep our country safe and to anyone who has ever had courage in the face of discrimination and fear.
– Chapter 1 –
“No one can tell me the integral of this simple equation?” Mr. Foreman
glanced at the multivariable formula scratched on the chalkboard and stared at his students expectantly. “Who would think,” he fell to his chair and sighed, “that you all would be taking the Advanced Placement exam in just a few months? This is an outrage.”
4x + 5, Malia quickly scribbled in her notebook, placed her pencil lightly
on her desk, and counted the pleats in her plaid skirt.
“Malia, why don’t you tell us the answer?” he asked almost desperately.
Her eyes shot up and her arm mechanically swiped the bangs from her
face. “Oh, well…” she glanced at her empty spiral notebook and the drawings embroidering its edges. She could sense Mr. Forman’s impatience and feared her pulsating heart would betray her. “Mr. Foreman, I really don’t know the answer. I’m sorry.” Her cheeks turning light shade of pink, she shrugged apologetically.
“I see, Ms. Sanders. I’m very disappointed in you.” Mr. Foreman turned to the chalkboard and jotted next week’s homework assignment.
As the bell rang, Malia breathed a sigh of relief and scurried towards the aroma of moldy cheese and burnt potatoes. The cafeteria menu consisted of a hamburger, super-sized fries, and a diet Pepsi. Malia grimaced, reached for her set of car keys, and trekked towards the double glass doors at the front of the school. A set of about twenty stone steps led to the sidewalk and parking lot that framed her eighty year old, nearly antiquated high school. She noticed that her fellow seniors had already adopted the front-row VIP area of the school’s parking lot. Most of her classmates had already spray-painted Senior Class of 2001 on the windshields of their cars in vibrant greens, pinks, and yellows, though graduation remained an eerie ten months away.
A crew of construction workers arrived at dawn each morning in the fall and spring seasons to try to preserve and renovate the precious bricks of the historic school. She heard their engines blazing now as she walked to her car. A new sign bearing the school’s name in gold radiated blindingly in the eyes of every innocent driver who happened to cruise by.
Over four-hundred classrooms – that was what the principal had boasted to every interested parent and on every school advertisement and pamphlet, Malia recalled the various admissions programs she had attended in agony. James Madison High promised success, almost perfection, or a seemingly unbreakable bubble, of which nothing from the distant outside world could penetrate.
Malia wrapped her messenger bag across her shoulders and turned towards her 1996 Toyota Corolla with two friends who obediently followed from two feet behind. Awkwardly sensing her reign over them, she momentarily envisioned a ruby-encrusted crown on her head and a golden scepter in her palm as her two compliant servants meekly followed.
“Ms. Sanders!” she was thrown from her daydreams.
“Oh, Mr. Matthews. I was just heading out for lunch… is something wrong?” her brows furrowed in concern.
“Malia, have you really forgotten? We have a meeting scheduled for today. In fact, it began five minutes ago.”
She felt a fresh layer of sweat plaster her forehead. “Oh no, I’m so sorry. I’ll be there in two minutes!” she flew past Mr. Matthews, nearly knocking him to the ground, and left her two companions behind, who, without her commanding presence, wandered aimlessly around campus for the remainder of the lunch hour.
How could I have forgotten my meeting with Mr. Matthews? she pondered, though she recalled her mother sticking a hot pink post-it note reminding her of the occasion onto the refrigerator that very morning.
“Ms. Sanders,” Mr. Matthews entered his office, “I apologize for being tardy. You see, I was having some trouble locating a student of mine.” Malia smiled and revealed a set of dimples on her lightly flushed cheeks.
“Now, I think it’s time that we begin to discuss your future. Malia, you only have a few more months here at James Madison, and you really need to start considering your options after high school.” Malia stared as a loose piece of Mr. Matthew’s red curly hair drooped onto his forehead. “Malia? Malia, did you hear what I said?”
“Oh, yes, I did, Mr. Matthews.”
“Well, what do you say? What do you want to do with your life? How do you see yourself five years from now?” he stared desperately into her emerald eyes, looking for some glimmer of hope that for once his position as guidance councilor would lead to some sort of gratification. He hopelessly imagined that she would shout in exuberance, “Oh, Mr. Matthews, I realize now what I want to do with my life. Somehow, I have found my purpose!” But Mr. Matthews could only dream.
“Five years from now? Well, you see, that is a very, very long time from now. I don’t even know what I’m doing tonight, Mr. Matthews, so how do you expect me to know what I want to do in five years?” she exclaimed. She bit her lip.
“But, Malia, what have you been working so hard for in high school? All of your excellent grades and scores, what is the purpose of them? You must have been working for something?” Malia suddenly felt a stroke of shock shimmer up her spine. What had she been working for? Her 4.3 GPA, her 2300 SAT score, her participation in far too many student activities. What had been the goal when she had hired a chemistry tutor last year to get the A she had so longed for? Well, she thought, that had been the goal. To get an A. But why?
She felt tears well up in her eyes. Ever since Beth and her family moved away last year, Malia began searching wildly for a new identity. She painfully recalled their plans to share a memorable senior year and college experience. Now those plans seemed rather dim. “Mr. Matthews, I’m sorry, but I have to go.” She grabbed her bag and ran from his office.
“Was it something I said?” he called after her, perplexed.
She slowed her pace and lightly wiped her eyes before crowds of curious underclassmen – girls in Marc Jacobs heels and Louis Vuitton wallets matching her own. Probably a coincidence, she thought. She felt something soft fall onto her head and wipe her bangs onto her lashes. “What the….”
Danny appeared from behind, “Now we’re all ready for the game tonight.” He glanced appreciatedly at the backwards baseball cap he casually planted onto her head. “You excited to watch prince charming kick a ball across a wet, muddy field?”
She glanced up at him. His face appeared blotchy, almost blurred through her tears.
“Hey,” he suddenly softened. “What’s the matter?”
“I just, I’m just… I don’t know, I’m confused, alright.” She crunched the Red Sox hat with her fist and shoved it into Danny’s hand. He placed it back on his head with a smirk.
“Not a Red Sox fan, are we?”
“Oh, no I love the Red Sox. It’s you I’m not such a fan of,” she laughed, wiping her cheeks. “Where’s my brother, anyway?”
“What, I can’t walk around campus without your brother?”
“He’s talking to a teacher. We’re gonna go scavenge for some edible food downtown. You know, as opposed to the cardboard this school expects us to eat. Join us?”
“That’s okay,” she began to walk away while flattening her hair from the hat’s damage.
“What, not a fan of burgers and fries?” he called after her.
“Oh, no, I love bu
“At least come to the football game tonight. It’s the first game of the season, and you haven’t been to a school-sponsored event in awhile,” he urged.
She eyed him curiously. “I didn’t think anyone noticed,” she whispered. With that, she withdrew towards her locker to retrieve her splash goggles for chemistry lab.
Before rounding the corner, Malia turned and rolled her eyes as a flock of sophomore girls with beach blonde highlights and Burberry scarves swarmed Danny Sawyer, who for seventeen years had been her brother’s best friend.
James Madison High School boasted the largest football team in the entire state of Indiana. The principal thought it best to give every student an equal opportunity, rather than to cut freshman and sophomores after only two days of try-outs. Corey Simon nonetheless held the position of star quarterback since freshman year. Malia saw signs and posters telling Corey Simon and the James Madison Jaguars to defeat the Truman High Tigers in slabs of red and yellow paint – traditional James Madison High colors.
She saw rows of freshman girls in pigtails and mock cheerleader uniforms and even boys with red and yellow lines of paint under their eyes screaming his name, and she felt a sudden pang of disbelief and confusion in her classmates’ obsession with the sport. She seated herself in a vacant seat on the bleachers and cringed at the unexpected coldness the metal emanated onto her bare legs. She sported a black tee shirt, a pair of faded denim jeans, and a red baseball cap with the slogan James Madison Jaguars printed on its front – a gift from her father, a sports enthusiast.
“Hey, Malia, is that you?” Chelsea, a fellow senior, approached. “I’ve never seen you at a football game before! What gives?” She flashed Malia a friendly grin.
“Oh, you know, I’ve always been a football fan in secret, Chelsea. I just didn’t want anyone else to know.”
“Well, don’t look now, but Danny Sawyer is staring at you.” Malia rolled her eyes and buried her face in the palm of her hand.
“He’s probably just wondering where my brother is.” She unveiled her face and glanced at Danny who was accompanied by her brother, of course. Why is he never with a girl? she thought. Always with my brother. Like glue.
She heard sudden cheers from the sidelines, as the cheerleading squad pounced in their poses and bounced their pompoms. She saw number 18 kick the ball, number 5 pass the ball, and number 12 run with the ball until number 24 tackled him and the cycle was repeated. Endlessly. Almost minutes later, she felt Chelsea shaking her arm and telling her the game had ended and that the Jaguars had lost.
“Some football fan you are,” Chelsea popped down from the bleachers. Malia watched the fans exit the stadium with glum faces.
Corey was chatting with his fellow athletes on the field, she saw, seemingly unmoved by his team’s defeat. Suddenly, just as Corey began staring at her, she realized that she had been staring at him. She quickly switched her gaze to the dimming sun. What’s Danny doing down there? she thought, laughing as Danny attempted uselessly to console the team. “Hey look, you guys,” Corey exclaimed, still staring at her. “It’s that hermit girl. Haven’t seen her around for awhile.”
Danny’s cheerful expression turned acidic. “Hey, man. Watch it,” he commanded bitterly.
Corey was a good three inches taller than Danny, which deeply amused Malia as she watched him attempt to defend her. But when Corey gave Danny a threatening shove, she was no longer entertained. “Why don’t you go back to your Mathletes buddies, Sawyer. There’s a reason you didn’t make the football team,” Corey scowled. Oh no, Malia thought. With that, Danny thrust Corey Simon five feet backwards. The star quarterback toppled to the floor.
“You did not want to do that,” Corey growled, as Malia sprinted to the field.
Danny smiled. “Actually, I’ve wanted to do that for awhile now.” As Danny’s fist extended towards Corey, Malia grabbed his arm.
“Danny, no! Please. He’s not worth it.” Malia’s baseball cap fell to the floor and brown splotches of mud quickly infested it. She felt rain droplets embellish her hair like small, cold crystals as she reached for Danny’s arm to prevent him from fracturing the face of the beloved James Madison sports star. She felt Danny’s arm automatically soften. In the corner of her eye she saw Corey’s clammy shape sprint towards the exit.
Her head fell and the blood rushed to her cheeks. Her fingers swiped her face, trying to distinguish her tears from the rain. A soft jacket wrapped lightly around her arms and shielded her from further wetness. A blast of thunder rang and a spark of lightning that brightened her features momentarily flashed. A thick wave of darkness enfolded them as they stood silent in the center of the James Madison High School football field.
“You really didn’t have to do that,” she barely managed to whisper. He shook his head, his face donning a tired smile. He reached in his pocket for his Red Sox cap and placed it lightly in her fingers. She stared at it shortly and then put it on without a word, her lashes finally free from the blinding downpour. They headed to the nearest shelter – the football equipment shed – and quietly waited for the unexpected wrath of nature to pass as they both clinged desperately to the promise of tomorrow.
A repetitive buzz reverberated in Malia’s ears from under her quilted paisley bedcovers the following morning. She restlessly wiped her groggy eyes and reached for her cell phone. Its screen flashed “10:00 AM, September 11, 2001” on its front. She moaned as she realized she had overslept. A lot happened yesterday, she told herself, Mr. Matthews will understand. Somehow, however, she knew that he would not overlook this simple misdemeanor. She slowly flipped it open, and mumbled an inaudible hello.
“Malia? Malia, is that you?”
After coughing wearily, she responded, “Yes. Who is this?”
“It’s Danny.” He sounded confused. “After everything that’s been going on this morning, I just got worried. Because you weren’t in homeroom.”
“What has been going on? Danny, you don’t sound so good.”
“You don’t know? Malia….” his voice trialed off. He paused, but Malia dared not question him. “Look, Malia, just turn on the news, alright?” She hung up and flipped on her mini thirteen-inch black and white television set. After propping its antennas, she watched in awe as piles of asphalt crumbled to the ground thousands of feet below. The shouts of frantic bystanders and victims soaring to their deaths caused her to cringe.
She suddenly felt Danny by her side, holding her steady as her legs heavied and she felt her body go feeble.
“What’s happened, Danny?” she whispered.
She eventually regained her stability but still felt Danny firmly grasping her arms, as if grasping the edge of a building to prevent falling to his demise.
“Nothing can ever be the same now,” he whispered. He looked into her eyes, but somehow reached far deeper than her pupils. They stood in silence as both wordlessly accepted the untimely end to their short-lived youth. The outside world had finally penetrated their bubble.
Safiah's Smile by Leora Friedman / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on16 votes