Monday, 24 June 2013

Shiloh and me

by Wai Chim.

Disclaimer: I don't know about the others, but I found this month's prompt to be extra challenging. But as an author, sometimes you just have to trust the story to lead you, sometimes you're just flying blind.

So let's strap on those crash helmets.

--

Ma kept no mirrors in our home, only painted pictures strung up in thick, lacquered frames, shielded by glass. In fact, I had never seen a mirror until the day Ma sent me to school.

Ma gave me a little metal lunch box, the cartoon faces that had once smiled up at another child had long been worn away. But when I traced the polished surface with the tips of my fingers, I could feel the curves of the lips, googliness of the big round eyes.

I peered into its metallic sheen and saw blobs and shapes and skin tones. But when I got in super, super close, I could see an eye.

“Ma. Look. There’s a girl in my lunchbox!” I held the lid just millimetres from my face and blinked. The funny looking eye was still there. “I can see her.”

Ma had sighed loudly, not looking up from her mending. “Miya, don’t be ridiculous. You can’t go to school saying such nonsense.”

“What’s your name?” I whispered. The girl said nothing, but her watchful eye blinked. I put my other eye up to the box. The girl had shifted and was peering at me through a different eye. I pulled back and the girl was gone. This made me frown. “I think she’s shy. She must be lonely.”

Ma just clucked her tongue and sighed again.

The girl was definitely a shy one. “Well if you won’t tell me, I’ll call you Shiloh,” I said matter-of-factly. Shiloh was the name of a dog I saw on TV last week. It was a boy dog, but I didn’t think the girl in the lunchbox would mind.

I was happy to be taking the shy girl in the lunchbox with me to my first day at school. I was making faces as Shiloh’s staring eye while Ma was slathering tuna fish onto a piece of bread for me.

 “Miya, stop goofing around,” Ma scolded as she took the lunchbox from me. She plopped the sandwich in, slapped together in Glad wrap and I could tell that the tuna was already making the bread soggy. I made a face.

“Miya, stop that. You’re going to be late, come on. Put your shoes on,” Ma barked.

She clutched me by the hand when we got outside. She had on a light pink scarf, pulled close across her leathery skin, covering the veins that ran along her cheeks. Her thick heavy hair fell in a straight line just above her perfectly sculpted eyebrows, like the edge of a sleeve. She didn’t glance down at me as we weaved through the crowds and crossed the streets towards the big stone building that I knew was the school.

Ma left me by the front of the school gates, lunch box in one hand, a plastic bag holding my school supplies in the other. She scurried away, peering over her shoulder not to check on me, but as if she was being followed.

I saw another little girl standing by the front gate. Her mum was giving her a fierce hug and a kiss. She had a pink backpack and a matching plastic lunchbox in her hand. I went over to her and held up my little tin chest.

“Is there a girl in your lunchbox too?” She just stared.

I had to put Shiloh away in a cubby hole when I got into the classroom, along with my coat. Miss frowned when I showed her the plastic bag that had a few short pencils and a ratty old notebook that Ma used to write down the week’s lottery numbers. Miss was young and very pretty, and her soft auburn hair flopped around her ears as she shook her head.

“Why don’t you take a seat, Miya?” Her voice was kind and gentle.

I sat down next to the girl with the pink lunchbox. I could see that her pink jumpsuit was the same colour as well. She pulled out a pink pencil case that held a row of pink pencils, all new and shiny. They were already perfectly sharpened but the girl took one out and ran it through her (pink!) sharpener, turning and turning. I thought the lead would surely break but when she pulled it out, the tip was still there, long and thin like a needle. The girl beamed with pride and started on the next one.

I stared down at the little orange and brown bits of wood in front of me, their ends all round and stubby. Ma got them when she filled out the forms at the TAB. I felt funny in my stomach, and my mouth a little dry. I wanted to ask the little girl for a pencil, I wanted one really bad, but my lips felt pasted together. I had to make myself really small on my side of the desk.

The squeak squeak squeak of the sharpener rang in my ears, like someone rubbing a balloon. I shuddered, goose pimples running up and down my neck and along my arms. I turned away, casting my eyes to the colourful posters along the walls and closet doors where Miss had made us stash our lunches and coats.

And I gasped.

I knew it was Shiloh, she had the same brown eyes and I could see that her hair was big and brown and curly. Her clothes were grey with giant purple and brown stains on them. They were much too big for her. But she had a big goofy grin on her face and huge freckles on her cheeks. She was waving her arms at me, to say hi. I guess she wasn’t so shy after all.

“Miss, miss!” I waved my arms excitedly. “There’s a girl in the closet waving at me. She must have gotten out of my lunchbox.”

And the whole class burst out laughing. My cheeks flushed red hot.

Miss held up her hand. “That’s enough children.” But the whole class continued to whoop and hollder. Miss cleared her throat and crossed her arms, glaring. She looked so mean, almost as mean as Ma did when she caught me doing something I wasn’t supposed to be doing. The laughing finally died down and everyone stared up at her quietly.

My face burned with embarrassment. I stole a quick peek at Shiloh, her eyes were red and her lower lip was quivering. She looked so sad and alone. It made me feel a tiny bit better, even if my classmates’ cackles still echoed in my ears.

Miss turned to me. Her face was no longer angry and her voice was soft as she explained. “Miya, that’s a mirror. It shows you what you look like.” She came over and held out her hand to me. We walked to closet door. Shiloh was walking towards us, her little hand clasped in her own teacher’s hand. She had stopped crying but she was snivelling a little.

“See,” Miss said, pointing to Shiloh in the ‘mirror.’ “That’s you. That’s what you look like.”

I frowned. Shiloh frowned back. I pouted and Shiloh pouted too. I squished my eyebrows together and went right up to the little girl. Her brown eyes stared back at me, bold and daring. I stuck out my tongue.

The little girl’s tongue tasted cold and smooth, like the frost that I licked off the window in the winter time. I ran my tongue all across the surface, smearing my saliva around like icing on a cake.

I could hear the whole class gagging and retching behind me, even Miss let out a small gasp. “Miya, that’s quite enough,” she exclaimed.

I pulled away and peered at the little girl’s face. She was blurry now through the film of spit but I could tell she was giving me a big toothy grin.

Behind her, I saw the girl in pink making a face.

I went back to my seat as Miss returned to the lesson. Throughout the day, I kept stealing glances at Shiloh in the mirror. She was always there, waiting, ready to give me a wink or a smile. She even stuck out her tongue a couple of times which made me laugh.

It was good to know that on my first day, I had already made my first friend.

4 comments:

  1. Love this story Wai! I could really imagine it turning into another story like Chook Chook - such a gorgeous main character. Very surprised to hear you found the topic challenging when you wrote such a beautiful story - well done!

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  2. Thanks Sarah. In the end, I fell back into what I was comfortable with - that whole thing of write what you know. :)

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  3. Hi Wai. I loved your story. And, like you, I found myself also being lead by my story, not quite sure where it heading as I wrote it. I really enjoyed being challenged by this topic :)

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  4. Thanks Hannah! I really liked yours too...I loved how the kettle was also a kind of mirror as well.

    The overall theme I'm drawing from this month's stories is - mirrors are depressing!!!

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