The girl named Cherri has a thin, slight figure with a high ponytail was known around the class for being a bona-fide bookworm. And my very best friend. She is a girl of good upbringing in middle-class society with long straight black hair I was always jealous of, skinny as the spine of a first-grader level book, and as flexible as a swan. I went to her to rant or to cry or simply just to talk about a fun experience and giggle together.
I take a lock of my own straight black hair in my fingers and twirl it around playfully as the daily nostalgia hits me with the force of a bullet train.
Both at the tender age of 4 years, our lives collided together in the small stuffy classroom of the Japanese institute where our parents decided to enroll us. The teacher had a strange Japanese name that to this day I cannot pronounce nor remember, and there were less than 10 students. Back then, I wasn’t as much of an introvert as I am today, so when I walked into the room about 5 minutes early one day, I saw a girl hunched over a piece of paper sitting at the table closest to the door. My seat. I couldn’t believe that this girl had the nerve to take my seat and I stalked up to her in all my little-girl glory.
“This seat, this seat. Is mine,” I enunciated, stomping my foot on the carpet and pointing an accusing finger at her.
“We don’t have seats. Sit here then,” the girl with the paper pointed at the chair to the right of her and glared at me. “You’re so stupid.”
I stuttered in indignation before deciding to ignore her and plopped down in the other seat. After a while, my resolve for the silent treatment broke and I turned around again, staring at her piece of paper. Now that I was closer, it was a just a regular sheet of copy paper, but printed so that it was had blue stripes. There were lines of words going up and down the page, all in English, which was still a foreign language to my 4 year-old self. The girl and I got to talking about this odd sheet of paper, and I was intrigued by the many different combinations of the strokes she called ‘letters.’ She too didn’t understand what they meant, but looking at them satisfied the hungry curiosity of the two of us. When she talked about the words, her coffee bean eyes got as wide as a lamppost and she started gesturing with her miniscule hands. She grinned with all her teeth showing and I smiled back.
Ever since that day, I have devoutly followed the diverse path of literature. The image of the two tiny children sitting in an otherwise empty classroom was burned into my brain.
We couldn’t even understand the language, but what brought the two of us together was the beauty of the fantastical spirit of words. We both managed to find solace in reading stories about others, relating them to ourselves, and attempting to bring other characters to life. Cherri has read far more than I have, far faster; she plows through stories the same way as a growing child feeds on food. She rarely spoke to anyone, was more often than not alone in class, and always, always carried a novel around with her. Also sweet to an extent where it’s slightly annoying and always able to ace the tests and quizzes in class, she’ll seem to become alive when she’s talking about the things she loves most: books.