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One Word Away
I sit eating my lunch on the rooftop’s small wooden bench, just as always. I love this bench, and personally, I think it's a treasure for someone like me - small, quiet, and reserved. I remember how outspoken I was when I was younger, but now, I keep my mouth shut. And always eat alone. I used to eat lunch in bathroom stalls and dark school corners, and lunchtime was the bane of my existence. But, then I found this bench, and it all changed. I just want to sit here on the rooftop, watching the horizon, and live in a permanent lunch period. Never go to class. Never go home.
It's a good dream, but a permanent lunch will never happen.
I pull out my cold taco, ignoring the measly bean filling. All in all, it’s a miracle for mom to pull this taco -my favourite food - out of her pocketbook, and dad doesn't help at all. Still, I want more food. I’m hungry- thin, small, and hungry. I could definitely use more food than a half-full taco, but that'll never happen either. I bite into my taco, tasting cold tortilla and plain bean. At least it's food….
I freeze when I hear footsteps to my right. I automatically shrink down, knowing that if I hunker low and stay quiet, they won't see me, and I won't have to deal with conversation. And the girl doesn't seem to notice me at all. I recognize her and, despite my dissatisfaction with Masia’s presence, I can't help but wonder what a girl like her is doing on the rooftop alone. She’s still sporting the white button up shirt and purple cardigan she always wears, but her hair isn't in a ponytail like usual. Honestly, I think Masia’s long black hair is beautiful like this, but it makes her look so… sad. Maybe it's that melancholy look in her eyes.
I see her do something strange - she takes her shoes off. I tighten my grip on my taco a little, and a glop of bean slips out the side, falling to the floor. Oh well. Masia bends over, her hair falling in a way that blocks my view of her face, but I can still clearly see her slip a piece of paper in her right shoe, a little brown dress shoe that fit her loud, charming, and straightforward disposition perfectly. She seems like everything I could have been, if I'd not shut myself away from everyone.
Me and Masia were pretty close once- when people saw her, they assumed her “good friend Tei” was around as well. But I could never be as popular as her - I was too small, always looking like a scared bunny in my cheap, oversized clothes. The people who didn't laugh at me loved me, and seemed to want to hear me talk. But once I shut up, it was like I never even existed at all.
Masia never bothered to chase me down when I disappeared from the usual lunch table, too. Nobody did.
I'm yanked from my memories as I see her begin to pull herself up over the railing. Everything seems to stop as I realize exactly what she’s doing. Suicide. Masia. Masia committing suicide. Stupid, perfect Masia is committing suicide. Masia is about to kill herself, and I'm not doing a thing.
“Wait!!” The words fall out of my mouth, so perfectly timed, yet so strange. I haven't heard my voice really come out in a while, and now I'm trying to use it to stop a girl from killing herself. How?
Masia winces as she hears me. I stand up, dropping my precious taco to the floor and stepping out into the light.
“Please, Masia… Don't.” I choke the words out, looking her in the eyes like I'm supposed to when talking to people - which I don't usually do. Here, sitting on the railing, though, her long hair down, blowing in the light wind, her face pale and her eyes wide, I can see something I never saw in Masia before. I can see her pain, and that pain is moving.
“I- I know I don't talk much.” I start off stammering. Maybe I should just give up- “A-and you probably don't even remember me,” -Just quit and let her die happy- “But….” But what? But I'm just going to watch you die now? No. I can't do that. Something in me ignites, and I can't let her go. Maybe it's because of the years of watching dad neglect the family and run off with other women, or a lifetime of watching mom fight for scraps. Maybe it's the life of loneliness I brought upon myself- the scarred wrists, the nights of crying, the seat at the back of the class. The lunches alone.
If Masia dies, her friends will eat their lunches alone too.
“Masia…. I'm not you. I don't know what kind of pain you're going through, the things you're dealing with. I only know my own issues. But I could try to help you of you got down from there and talked to me.” I squeak out, my voice growing less sure with every sentence. But I have to keep going.
She stares at me, not moving from the railing. “I don't want help.” Masia replies sternly.
I’m not sure what to say at first. I don’t get in debates, and frankly, I feel like she’s already won. Masia is too far gone, and I don’t even know why. I start to turn away, to forget about it and let her go, just stare at my lunch on floor and ignore her dead body three floors below. But that would be abandoning Masia, like father abandoned me and mom I. Like I abandoned myself to a world of loneliness the day dad officially left.
“I’m not going to abandon you, Masia.” I say, turning back her. My voice is stronger now, but not commanding. It’s unlike I’ve ever heard it before. “I know you think you’re too far gone, I know you think you don’t want help. But guess what. It’s not about what you think, or what you want. It’s about what you need.”
Masia seemed caught off guard. “I- I don’t need anything from you. You can’t help me; no one can. I’m going to die now… We both know it’s for the best, girl-”
I cut her off, a weird fury burning up inside me. “Girl? Girl?! You don’t remember me at all, do you?! I have no name, no voice, and that’s my fault!” I shriek, tears dripping down my cheeks. “I might as well be dead! I’m a ghost, and I bet that none of you care! But you have people who care about you, and your… departure will leave them broken. I can assure that. If you die, Masia, I’ll be heartbroken. I admired you, and I still do. If I let the chance to save you slip by- without even knowing why you’re doing this- I’d be devastated. Please, Masia, don’t.”
Masia’s face is streaming with tears by the time I finish. Still sitting on the railing, she says quietly: “I didn’t forget about you, Tei.”
I blink. “You didn’t?”
“No.” She looked away from me, shivering. “Of all the people I’ve blocked from my mind, my life, I never chose to ignore you. More like… you ignored me.” The words sunk into me like a knife, cold, cruel, and true. Masia turned her head back to me, her tears not yet completely dry. In my shaken silence, she flashed me a sorrowful smile and continued on. “It’s okay though, because everyone ignores me. Nobody’s seen the real me. Maybe it would be better if I disappeared.”
I shake my head. “The… Real you?”
“Did you know I like to run?”
I shake my head again.
Masia laughs. “Nobody does, because my parents have decided I have to do violin. ‘They won’t have a flunk-out athlete in this house!’” She wipes at her eyes with a corner of her cardigan. “I hate the violin. I’m not a musician- That’s my parents’ dream, not mine. But I have to do as they say… otherwise they beat me for being disobedient.” She pulls up the left sleeve of her cardigan, revealing a huge array of bruises down her arm. I gasp.
“M-my god… Masia…” I stutter. I step forward, reaching out to her. “I’m so sorry… I wish I knew…”
“It’s better that you didn’t.” She says. “But… I’m.. actually glad I could talk to you.”
I reach out my hand again, offering it to her without a thought. Masia stares at it, her eyes wide, and I speak softly surely.
“Masia, come down from there. Come talk with me.”
She looks back over the rooftop at the ground three floors below, then at me. Stepping away from the wrong side of the railing, Masia takes my hand.