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As Laden Montgomery sat on the curb at the basketball courts, she thought about her day and what a mess it had been. She looked and felt a mess. Her dark skin looked bruised and was moist with sweat. Yea, it had been a hard day. Her once pretty curls looked a tangled mess. She searched around the basketball courts hoping no one she knew was there, but as she searched with her dark brown eyes she realized not a soul was out. She was on the basketball courts all by herself. Then as if anything couldn’t get any worse, the court lights went out. It’s ten already? she thought. She knew she would be in serious trouble when she got home, but then again she didn’t care. She needed time away from home.
She looked down at her shoes and noticed her shoes were untied. It was like the straw that broke the camel’s back. She burst into tears. Then as if on cue the rain came down. Hard. She sat there sobbing on the curb at the basketball courts in the dark and in the rain, with untied shoes. She was sobbing and sniffling so bad that she didn’t even have the strength to re-tie them.
Laden heard the sound of a bus and looked up to see one of the neighborhood buses pull up and come to a stop at the end of the street by a different curb. She looked hard trying to see who it was. An old lady wrapped in an old, torn coat got off the bus. The lady walked towards her and Laden realized that what she had thought was the lady’s hair was really and old black hat.
When she got up to Laden, the lady held out her hand. Laden’s sobbing stopped and she looked at the woman puzzled. Not knowing if she should or not, Laden took the lady’s hand anyway and was pulled up. Still holding Laden’s hand but not saying a word, the lady led Laden to the corner gas station. Laden followed both hesitantly yet curious. She gripped the lady’s pale hand and followed her in.
Once in the gas station the lady walked to the candy aisle, turning to Laden she asked, “You allergic to nuts?” Laden shook her head. “No ma’am,” she said. “Good,” the lady replied. She picked up a big Hershey’s bar with nuts and led Laden to the soda aisle and picked up a small bottle of sprite.
At the register the lady let go of Laden’s hand and unzipped her torn coat. Underneath the coat was a small black satchel around the lady’s waste. She opened it and pulled out scraps of change and paid the foreign man behind the register. Gathering her receipt and bag of chocolate and sprite, she took hold of Laden’s hand again and led her back to the curb at the basketball courts. They both sat down and the lady opened the bag. She pulled out the chocolate and broke it in half while it was still in the wrapper. Then she opened it up and gave half of the bar to Laden. Laden took her half, “Thanks,” she said. The woman eyes were fixed on the street ahead of her but she nodded her head. Then she turned to Laden and asked, “What happened?”
Now it was Laden’s turn to face the street. As she did, she opened her mouth to speak and when she did her voice crack. She cleared her throat and said, “It’s been a hard day.” She paused and continued, “I’m Laden, by the way.” The lady nodded her head and Laden continued, “Today, I watched my best friend stab me in the back; I made an ‘F’ on my 100 point project in Social Studies which brought my grade down to a 60; I ran laps my entire gym class period for my basketball coach for getting detention because of tardiness, which is why I am so sweaty and I smell funny. Then today when I got home, my mom told me we’re moving to Wyoming to ‘start over,’” she said using her fingers as quotation marks. “So I left and been here ever since. Then before you came I realized my shoes were untied,” she said and began crying again.
While tears flowed from her eyes, she looked up at the lady who looked down at her leg. The lady pointed to Laden’s leg. “Blood,” she said looking back up at Laden.
“Oh great!” shouted Laden. “That must have happened when I fell while was running. How could I not notice it?”
The lady reached in her bag looking for something. Laden just watched her as she pulled out some tape, bandages, and Neosporin. Then as if she was missing something, she opened other parts of her satchel searching. Then she got up off the curb, looked at Laden, and said, “One minute.” She turned and walked back in the gas station.
When not 2 minutes had gone by, the lady came back out of the store. As she walked toward Laden she opened some plastic and pulled out a set of disposable gloves. When she got to Laden, she said, “Gloves,” and sat down beside Laden and put the gloves on. Then she took the Neosporin and put it on Laden’s leg and rubbed all along the scar. She turned and picked up the bandages and wrapped it around Laden’s leg covering the scar. When she thought it was covered well enough, she took a piece of tape and taped the bandage down so it would stay.
Laden thanked her again and the lady stood up and nodded her head. She started packing up her stuff and putting it back in her satchel. With the satchel hid under her torn jacket, she zipped the jacket up just as a bus was pulling up to the same spot the lady had gotten off at. She stared at the bus then turned back to Laden and said, “Stay strong and never surrender to what the world throws at you.”
What? Laden thought. Never surrender? What is she talking about and why is the neighborhood bus running so late in the night? I thought they stopped running at ten and you had to walk if you wanted to get anywhere else around the neighborhood? The woman noticed Laden’s puzzled look and took in the fact that Laden was thinking all of this through. Then the woman turned around and began walking towards the bus. Laden picked up the unopened sprite bottle and candy wrapper. She stood up and ran to a trashcan at the gas station and put the wrapper in it. Then she opened the bottle of sprite and started trying to catch up with the woman while taking a sip.
When Laden had finally gotten to the bus, the lady was already up two steps of the bus. She turned around to Laden and waved. Laden waved back and the lady turned around, continue the rest of the way up the steps and sat down in the second seat facing forward. The bus started up and rolled down the street and turned the corner. Laden didn’t remember seeing a bus driver.