She and He

January 8, 2011
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They called her Dorka, in part due to the way she dressed, in part due to the way she acted. Every day, she walked to school in mud brown tennis shoes and plaid skirts and tights, paired with skinned-up knees. She sat alone in the back table during lunch, other than the accompaniment of a worn paperback book. The book she read changed every few days.

At school, she mostly stayed invisible to the public, never speaking to anyone, never appearing to various fundraisers or sporting events. Although she possessed that hideous nickname since middle school into the beginning of her high school career, it gradually faded until she was just a discarded flyer in the school recycling bin.

It was then that he recognized her, standing silently by herself out in the halls next to the bulletin board, staring at the ground with melancholy eyes. He debated for what appeared to be an eternity, wondering if he should march up to her and start a conversation. His frivolous friends noticed his sudden preoccupation, and followed his gaze. “Have you lost your mind?” one of them inquired, eyebrows furrowed. “You do not seriously pity her, do you? She brought this on herself.”

Their words did not make any sense to him. All he knew regarding her was that she had been one of the best soccer players at his elementary school, so many years ago. She had quit in sixth grade, as the teasing comments and pointing fingers regarding her accrued. However, she had tried out for the soccer team again this year, but her frequent absences suggested that she would likely quit again. Although she loved soccer passionately, she might have decided that the jeering and stabbing remarks that would most likely have ensued would have crossed the line. Perhaps his friends were commenting on her vulnerability; her stability compared to a bridge with only one pier.

Brushing aside his friends as they tried to restrain him, he numbly pushed his way through the crowd of students to where she stood next to the bulletin board, doodling on a piece of graph paper. Sneaking a peek at her drawing, he perceived that it was a tidy pattern of soccer balls. He peered over his shoulder, catching sight of his friends in the back corner of the cafeteria, eyeing him acrimoniously. Instead of acknowledging them, he concentrated on her curly brown braids.

“Hi,” he greeted her, smiling warmly.

“Hi,” she replied, startled, her voice wavering a bit. She glanced behind her, as if trying to figure out whom he was actually addressing.

“So are you playing in our first soccer game next week?”

She stared morosely down at the slate-gray tiles. “Maybe.”

“You should. You are practically the most skilled player on our team!” She responded with a shrug.
He wasn’t sure if he was proceeding with this right; he wanted to give her some reassurance that she wasn’t repulsive at all, that everyone else was just blind to her and only noticed her flaws. However, he slowly stepped away, but was pleased to see her eyeing the flyers tacked up to the bulletin board behind her stating the dates of the soccer games.

On the day of the first annual soccer tournament, he sat with the same crowd of friends that had given him the significant look when he recognized her standing by the bulletin board.
It was their first championship, and it was lightly sprinkling, the soccer field damp and slick.
Perhaps she had decided to give the deliberate comments another chance, for she was standing in the sidelines, wearing her team jersey, fingering a soccer ball in her hands.

Towards the end of the game, she was aiming the ball toward the goal, ready to make the kick that would tie them with the other team, when she suddenly slipped in the grass and the other team’s defense hurriedly kicked the ball out of the way.

At first glance, she did not look willing to stand up, instead looking like she wished she could melt into the ground, amid her team shouting at her with animosity.

Perhaps right now he could give her some consolation.

Stepping out of the crowd, he held his hand out toward her. “It’s all right. Come on. Everyone makes mistakes. We’re a team, right?”

Amazingly, she lifted up her face, hope blazing in her eyes like flames. It was as if the feeling of someone supporting her through thin ice was all she needed.

“We are.”

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