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

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The air is stale and cold, the surrounding conversations hushed and anxious. Automatic doors scrape open and another family joins our crowd by the gate. Children sit playing cards while foreign languages blur together. Travelers trudge through nearby gates, dragging overstuffed luggage and heavy-eyed children. I pull a sweatshirt over my head, covering the white words stamped across my chest, “American Belarusian Relief Organization.” My thin, cerulean T-shirt matches those of the 10 restless families around me.

The azure ocean swells as we all turn – they’re finally here. The weeks of planning are not enough to prepare me for the drum thumping inside my chest. Anxiety stiffens the dry air as the Chernobyl children follow the translator across the white tiled hallway. Glowing smiles, kind­hearted embraces and tears of joy are exchanged sloppily as the veteran children scamper into the arms of their second families. I scan the crowd for Maria.

I don’t know what to think. Her emotionless blue eyes look icily ahead. Fair, Eastern European cheekbones are framed by tight spirals of gold, and her lips are pursed firmly and fearlessly. Her thin figure is flaunted by low-rise jeans, a cream-colored belly shirt, and an undersized denim jacket with a faux fur collar. Shades of cobalt and violet perfectly accent her eyes – surprisingly not overdone. A wave of insecurity slams me from all directions: my messy ponytail, worn sweatshirt, dirty running shoes. Reluctantly, I plod to her side and touch her shoulder.

“Maria?” I ask hesitantly. She vacantly glances at me – no response. She speaks no English. Frustrated, I snatch her hand and lead her through the seemingly endless blue.

We obviously have nothing in common – it will be a long six weeks.

***

The smell of acetone fills my nose, rays of morning sun dance on the carpet. I sit cross-legged on the floor – legs cramping and feet tingling. Maria slicks scarlet onto my fingers, adorning the red with snow-white starbursts and sparkling rhinestones. The shimmering stars are too extravagant for my taste, but I smile and nod as she searches my face for approval.

I shift to reposition my body, accidentally knocking over the bottle of nail polish remover. Maria yelps and we both clumsily clamber to sop up the puddle. The beige disappears from the carpet; Maria looks up at me, her brilliant eyes wide in shock. I quickly snatch a stuffed animal and place it on top of the bleached spot. I’ll mention it to my mom when she’s in a really good mood.

“Yes, Sam,” Maria giggles in her thick, resonant accent. “Is good. Is good.”

“Ah, yes!” I exclaim exaggeratedly. I laugh, shake my head and say, “Is very good! Very, very good!” We howl hysterically as we reposition stuffed cats and monkeys around the blemish.

Maria and I did not exchange many words that summer, but we did trade mailing addresses, cheap jewelry, and stories in broken tongues. We didn’t share a culture, a language, or even the same taste in music, but there were colorful beach umbrellas, useless pop culture magazines, and sweet watermelons. Early morning runs, terrible sunburns, and the stained carpet united our spirits. We shared summertime, a family, and six weeks of our lives.

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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This article has 2 comments. Post your own now!

DaniR said...
Nov. 2, 2009 at 6:46 pm
Woooh i Know the girls in that pic!!! i graduated w/ them...yay
 
Cleo12 said...
Mar. 15, 2009 at 6:42 pm
dang girl, that's good!
 
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