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The Reminder This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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     It was a deserted gray room with a low ceiling and a small draft. Boxes rested in various places on the floor. I folded my arms and took a small step back.

“Good morning,” a woman said as she approached us. Her smile lit up the room. “You can put your boxes in that corner, then follow me.”

She led us down the hallway into a large room with a high ceiling. Tables lined one wall and chairs another. We set up the tables and chairs, then wrapped plastic cutlery in napkins, putting them in a basket. A few of us would serve the food from behind the counter and others would greet the people. I definitely didn’t want to work with the food.

The woman gathered us and explained, “Most of the people are very kind and grateful for what you are doing. However, some do have illnesses and others carry ‘protection.’”

Melissa and I looked at each other, our eyes growing bigger, our jaws dropping. I looked down at her clenched hands.

“Stick to asking them if they would like help carrying their food. Tell them nothing more than your first name. Don’t mention your school or where you live,” the woman warned.

“Can you believe that?” Melissa exclaimed.

“What are we gonna do?” I whispered.

“I don’t know. What if we get hurt?” Melissa squeaked. It almost looked as if she were about to cry.

“Don’t worry,” I said calmly. “I’m sure it won’t be as bad as we think.”

We both turned at the same time, staring at the entrance. Just then the first person came through the doors. I was taken aback by her appearance and took a deep breath. Black dirt was smeared on her cheeks and covered her hands. The way she bent over when she walked, she looked weak. Her hands looked so fragile. I was a skinny girl, but compared to me she had no meat on her bones. She carried a small bag, probably with all her belongings. It was dirty, and stuffed full. I could see she was wearing at least four shirts. Tangled hair sagged onto her face, and there were dark circles under her drooping eyes. She looked as if she hadn’t slept in days.

I had never seen anyone who looked like this and it frightened me. She lifted her leg as if it were a struggle and limped past me. I said, “Good morning,” and watched her move through the line.

During the next hour I saw senior citizens, middle-aged people, teens and children as young as two. It was all a blur. I don’t remember when they came or when they left. So many things rushed through my head, my body felt numb.

Then he entered.

He walked in as if he owned the place. His shoulders were stiff and bold and his head was held high. His shoes stomped as he walked past us, saying nothing. He grabbed his food and kept walking. I couldn’t stop watching him. He took large bites and was soon finished eating. Then he got up, shoved his chair over and started walking toward me.

My hands began to tremble. He stopped right in front of us and looked me directly in the eye, then turned and looked at Melissa the same way. Sweat started to trickle down my neck. His feet were spread, his knees bending as he inched closer. His eyes squinted as if staring right through me. My body tensed like I was backing away from a ferocious dog. His hand lifted slowly, fingers stretching toward me.

I watched as they got closer. They were almost touching me when I moved my arm back to avoid his hands. Then I felt a strong grip as my shoulder dropped. He squeezed my shoulder as if he wouldn’t release it anytime soon. I dared look over at Melissa and saw his other hand on her shoulder. Then he slowly leaned between us. My heart was beating faster. I could feel his breath on my neck. A harsh, rather sneaky sound came out of his mouth.

“Sisters, sisters,” his face backed away, but his voice grew louder and his grip tighter. “Sisters, sisters!”

I froze, no words came from my mouth. The woman had warned us that the guests sometimes get violent. Then, when we were totally scared out of our minds, tears forming in our eyes, the nice woman appeared with a few strong men to escort him away. His grip loosened and I watched him go, fearful he might return. Melissa and I looked at each other, stunned. Our friend led us into the back of the kitchen. When I finally gathered enough courage to return, everyone was leaving. Only a mother and her daughter remained. As they walked out, the little girl stopped. She turned toward me, her face glowing.

“Thank you,” she whispered. I smiled and watched as she walked out the door. I went back to the kitchen to clean up. I looked at the food they had eaten and remembered how I had complained about my dinner the previous night. I remembered the man who had frightened me, and wondered if he had anywhere to go.

After we cleaned up, we walked back down the hallway. As we got to the door, I turned, looking at that dull room I had despised earlier, and finding myself unable to take my eyes off it, I smiled.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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