Today was a Friday. To most people, Friday is just another day of the week, except for the fact that the weekend follows directly afterward. I was usually counted in that census. But not today. Because today - Friday, November 4, 2011 - my little brother, Neil, was due to be born.
My stomach lurched in unison with the squeaks from my ratty, old tennis shoes when they made contact with the pavement, not from literal sickness but with anticipation and fear. My palms were coated with a light layer of sweat, growing increasingly warmer every second. Even as the cool November air beat against my shivering body, I could feel the tips of my ears grow hot, soon followed by my neck, and then my round, chubby, 7-year-old face. Squeak, squeak, squeak. Each time the shoes squeaked, I pictured my face turning a little redder, and I walked a little faster. Squeak, squeak, squeak.
“I shouldn’t be doing this. I shouldn’t be doing this. I shouldn’t be doing this,” I chanted breathily to myself, losing a little resolve each time, “No. No, no, no.”
It was too late now to turn back. Two more steps and I would be there. Just two more. One more. None. The dusty, blue door creaked as I slowly pushed on the handle. I shuffled inside the building, watching silently as the door closed behind me with a thud.
Here goes nothing.
I turned around to face the office secretary. Bad idea. Mrs. Santorelli, the office attendant, stood there watching my every move like a beady-eyed, money hungry, hawk. It always felt like she only took this job for the money it provided. She had a don’t care-ish attitude and not in a good way. But when she wanted to, she noticed every little detail about someone, whether it was a guilty expression or well-hidden symptoms of the flu and other sicknesses. I instantaneously felt like I had visibly shrunk. Everything suddenly seemed ten times bigger than it had before. The blue and white office smelled like an odd combination of baby powder and hospital fumes, which reminded me of what I had come here to achieve. I felt my steady heartbeat stray. La-bump, la-bump. I glanced back at the door one more time. No. You are not going to give up. You are going to put on your "sick" act and you are going to see your baby brother if it’s the last thing you do.
“Excuse me?” I said in a quiet and timid voice, unrecognizable to me, as my normal voice was much louder and steadier.
“Hi, Sweetie,” Mrs. Santorelli chirped in a voice smooth like maple syrup and dripping with fake, sugary sweetness, “What can I do for you?”
I stood there blankly for a moment, staring holes onto the cabinets behind her, completely disregarding her question.
“Huh?” I said unintelligently, “Oh, I, uh, don’t feel too good.”
Mrs. Santorelli raised an eyebrow as her skeptical gaze brushed over me for a minute. Her cheerful smile had flattened and turned into a thin, hard line. Her eyes once warm and brown, were clouded with distrust. I stood there, rubbing a rough patch of skin on my elbow when she finally spoke up.
“Okay. Come on back and I’ll check you out.”
I trudged across the office hallway, tailing Mrs. Santorelli as she walked toward the sick room in the back. As I walked, I passed by a giant mirror and quickly stopped to observe my reflection. My round and frowning face glanced back at me, a pink blush dispersed across my cheekbones. My once-immaculate braids were now sprawled across my broad shoulders. A thick, black streak of blacktop dirt was swiped across my tanned forehead, partially covered by small tufts of hair protruding from my hairline. I looked just as a young, healthy child who’d just been outside in the bright, fall sun should. Hmm… It’s going to be hard to ACT sick if I look completely fine. Well, we’ve gotta fix that. Messing up my braids, even more, I let little strands of hair fall over my face, and pinch my cheeks to redden them, going from a salmon-colored blush to fire-engine red. I slapped some spit onto my forehead to make myself look drained and sweaty, and hoped that it was enough. Not noticing I was directly outside the sick room, I banged my head on the doorway and moaned loudly, stumbling into the room and plopped down on the hard, uncomfortable, blue leather daybed. I could practically feel Mrs. Santorelli’s “concerned” scrutiny burning tiny holes in my neck. Then heels clacked and I let out a breath I hadn’t realized I was holding. I covertly turned and stared at Mrs. Santorelli as she yanked open the wooden cabinet above the sink and pulled out a thermometer.
“Oh no,” I whimpered to myself, in my head. If she took my temperature … Crud.
Sure enough, when the thermometer beeped, my temperature came out as … a perfect 98.7 ?. My eyes dropped to the “gorgeous” tile floors that resembled the school’s bathroom wall.
“Your temperature’s fine,” she said sternly, “Are you sure you don’t feel well?”
My heart began to beat faster. And faster. I swear if someone had sat down next to me at that exact moment, they’d hear the thundering beat of my heart. Spit gathered in my mouth, filling it like a well. I swallowed dryly, opened my mouth and then closed it again, gaping like a fish out of water. The air around me condensed from the amount of tension in the room. My head was spinning with uncertainty. Lying was something my parents had raised me in opposition of. So far I hadn’t said anything that wasn’t true, I just hadn’t said the whole truth either. But I was running out of options. And the consequence of doing nothing was unthinkable.
“I threw up this morning,” I blurted out, without thinking.
Mrs. Santorelli turned on her heel and gave me a reproachful stare. I swallowed hard and licked my chapped lips.
“What was that?” she snapped.
“I said, ‘I threw up this morning.’” I uttered, demurely.
She frowned at me for a minute, before deciding to believe me. Mrs. Santorelli then glided out the door, toward the secretary desk she had originally greeted me from.
“Dev, Ayanna, Dev, Ayanna,” I heard her mutter, as she went through the big manila folder of personal records, “Ah-ha!”
My ears perked up as I heard digits being punched into the old cord phone that sat on the shelf of the desk. The dial tone rang out loud and clear.
“Hello?” I heard a tired voice murmur on the other end of the line. My dad.
“Hi Mr. Ramakrishnan, this is Mrs. Santorelli. I’m calling about your daughter, Ayanna … ” she stated in a crisp voice that grown-ups used when talking about important stuff.
After that, I only heard snippets of their conversation. Something along the lines of, ‘ She said she threw up this morning? No? Should I send her back down? Oh … Okay … I’ll let her know!’ That last one left me with a disheartened expression on my face. Was he not coming? I heard the clicking of heels and instantaneously perked up from my slouchy position.
“Your dad is on his way, sweetheart,” she said through smiles.
Huh. What caused THAT polar mood change? Whatever.
A few minutes later, the office door jangled as it was shoved open by my father. He looked like he had just woken up. His salt-and-pepper hair was messy, flying in every direction possible, and his once stain free, carmine red sweater looked like it had consumed more coffee than he had. My dad’s face looked like it had just been doused in cold water, making me wonder whether his pink, bloodshot eyes were from lack of sleep or crying. He only uttered two words - let’s go.
A few minutes later, I was in our brand new Toyota, headed straight for El Camino Hospital. My thoroughly exhausted father was chewing me for lying, but I couldn’t stop smiling. It was totally worth it because right now - at 1:25 p.m. in the afternoon, on Friday, November 4, 2011 - I was on my way to see my newborn baby brother.