The Book

December 24, 2011
By Skyness, Nashville, Indiana
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Skyness, Nashville, Indiana
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Favorite Quote:
Even the biggest orchestra uses only seven notes.


Author's note: My experience in USA has been amazing so far. It inspired me to write short stories. I expect people who read it to entertain themselves and have fun reading. Also it would be good if they looked at the USA from the eyes of Julia.

“So, Julia, how long have you stayed in USA?” asked a girl with big glasses and pleasant face. She was about seventeen years old. Thin dark hair was hanging upon her shoulder.

“Um, it’s about two month, “ answered Julia. She was used to such kind of questions.

Girls were walking down the hallway at the conference for the exchange students and this girl – Sam, was helping Julia to find a cafeteria.

“Do you have any favorite restaurants so far?” asked Sam.

“Oh, yes. I really like the Cold Stone. Ice cream there is magnificent! I would spend all my life in that place!”

“Oh, it’s funny! But anyway…I bet it’s hard to be an exchange student, ha? Everything is so different here, isn’t it?” Sam started smiling for an unknown reason.

“Oh yes, it is,” answered Julia. Why do they all ask the same questions? she thought.

“So, what is the best and the most important thing that you’ve learned while staying here?”

For a moment Julia thought that Sam somehow read her mind and asked a totally new kind of question.

“Well… I cannot think of anything specific…Um…”

That was a confusing question. Julia thought for about ten seconds and that was a very time to finally say something. The pause became awkward.

Suddenly one thing came to her mind. Julia turned her head to the window and started remembering the story.

***


It was about seven p.m. Julia was making her morning things trying to get ready to school. It wasn’t a big deal: she could get ready in 15 minutes if necessary. But it took her about 40 minutes on the school bus to get there.

“I live in the middle of nowhere,” thought Julia remembering her long and boring way to school. Even though that day her new girlfriend Hunter was supposed to give her a ride and therefore to give her extra half an hour of sleep Julia wasn’t happy at all.

This was her first month in USA and everything, literally everything was brand new to Julia. Back home, in Ukraine, she usually was up by 7 and it took her about 20 minutes on bus to get to school. Julia couldn’t get why in the country which is considered the most developed in the world there was no public transportation in towns. It complicated her life so much. Being stuck in the woods wasn’t what she expected.

Julia was ready to go when the car arrived.

“Hi, Hunter! Oh, thank you so much for picking me up. I slept for half an hour more today. It’s such a good feeling!”
Hunter smiled at her.

“It’s so easy to make you happy, Ukrainian! Haha….”
Suddenly she switched on the music as if she didn’t want to hear Julia talking.

“Ok…whatever” thought Julia deciding to keep silence. During all the way to school they were listening to the music and didn’t share a word.

That was OK for Julia. She liked looking in the window while driving somewhere. All the same panoramas were outside. Stone motionless trees. Haybales waiting calmly for their destiny. They were there every morning when Julia was riding the bus. And they were there when she was coming back to the house. Every time you glance at nature from the window…why does it have such a tranquil effect?

Suddenly Julia’s idyllic thoughts were interrupted. She heard a song she really liked. Julia’s already heard it before but she didn’t know its name.

“Hey, Hunter, how is this song called?” she was curious.

“I don’t know the name of the song but as far as I remember the singer is Taylor Swift. She’s really popular country singer here.”

“I really love this song. Interesting sounding,” said Julia.

“Oh, are you in the choir class?”

“Yes, I am.”

“Are you ready to those auditions they will have today?”

“Auditions? I haven’t heard about it. No one told me!” Julia was confused.

“Well, today they will decide which song our choir is going to sing on the high school spring choir concert. Everyone is supposed to bring one song, and during the class they will listen to all of them and then decide which one is the best. Mister Carpenter said that he wanted something completely new this time. New sounding, you know.”

I didn’t know a thing about that! I’m not ready at all!, thought Julia feeling desperate. It was usual situation for her. She missed some words of the teachers and sometimes it caused problems.

“Don’t worry, Julia! That’s fine! You’ve got an excuse, you are foreign exchange student! And besides, you said you liked this song. I have it on my iPhone so I can send it to you.”

“Really? That would be so good!”

“OK, that means you already have it.”

“Thank you, Hunter! Thank you so much!”

That song was stuck in Julia’s head. She was really curious about its name and the singer but when she received it the title in her cell phone said Unknown. Whatever.

By getting to the campus, Julia traditionally said a couple of nice words to Hunter and went to the building. She went to her locker to grab books she needed.

As for lockers. In Ukraine Julia saw them in American movies and always dreamed about one, because in Ukraine there were no lockers at schools.

From Julia’s diary (dated 16th October 2011):

“It is so flattering to realize that this narrow steel box, this little part of the whole establishment belongs to me. It’s like a soul: only you know the combination and only you can get inside. And also some people you trust, but not too much. Touching.”

According to Julia’s calculations her school day lasted for 6 hours and 50 minutes. Sounds like routine, doesn’t it? Yes, it does. But this word can have a positive meaning as well. Since Julia was an exchange student, a lot of words happened to have some positive meaning which she didn’t know about.

Soon the classes started. After the third class Julia had her lunch. In cafeteria she found her friends with whom she usually stayed and went up to them.
“Hi, Arianna! Hi, Corey! How are you, guys, today?” Julia learnt the way of American behavior pretty soon.
“We are fine” said Arianna. “What about you?”
“I’m fine too, thanks. I’m really excited about that choir competition today. I’ve got one good song.” Julia still had that song stuck in her head.
“Oh, really?” said Corey. “That’s sweet. But anyway, I unlike you am not that excited. Believe me, there will be a lot of really crappy pop music.”
“Oh, yeah,” said Arianna. “Very true! I have no idea why do people love that kind of music, cause it’s really crappy. Like, Taylor Swift and a lot of others. It just drives me nuts.” Julia surprisingly looked at her. Taylor Swift? Is that the one she was going to bring to the competition?

“So, what about that Taylor Swift?” asked Julia curiously. She was a kind of afraid to hear the answer.

“It’s just not too good music’ Arianna answered. “Last year one girl brought her song to the auditions and my friend Sabrina said in front of audience that that song was crappy. Can you believe that? She just stood up and told what she thought. Teacher wasn’t really satisfied, but all the kids started screaming and clapping. Like I said, Taylor Swift doesn’t make good music. No one else dared to say the truth except Sabrina so all the kids were screaming something like “Sabrina is right!” or “Good job, Sabrina!” Oh, that was so funny! Well, not for that girl who brought the song, but…Anyway, after that Sabrina became really popular and she’s got so many new friends. It’s weird, isn’t it?”

“Oh, yes, it is.” Corey took over the conversation. “You know, one day I…”
Julia didn’t listen to the conversation after that story. She was upset.

That song is really good and nice sounding, she thought, how can people don’t like it? Well, if my friends say that it’s not good, probably they are right. I don’t know much about American views on music, so…Anyway, now I need to find another one…That sounds impossible, because choir is my fifth class.

In the English classroom Julia tried to think about someone she knows there who could give her some music. Sabra? she thought, No. I bet she doesn’t have good musical taste. Who else? Think, Julia, think! Anna? No. Not at all. May be, Chrissi? She seems to be really popular one. People tend to like her. Yeah, it seems like a good idea. Julia already was in the classroom, when the bell rang. Thankfully, Chrissi was present. That was a good sign.

Julia liked English classes a lot because the teacher usually finished a lesson about ten minutes before its actual end. And he also let students listen to the music on their iPhones afterwards. Julia didn’t really care about the music, because she usually used that time to finish her homework. But anyway Chrissi was a person who usually switched on the music. Her friends were always making a circle around her and they all listened to the music and even sang sometimes. That was another reason why Julia decided to ask Chrissi who seemed to have good musical taste. By the end of the lesson everything happened as usually. Chrissi switched on her music and straight away people surrounded her. Well…people seem to like her music, thought Julia. She didn’t really feel comfortable that she was going to bring a random song, but not the one she picked up. Something squashed inside of her. Pride or whatever that was made her feel upset. But there was no time and Julia decided to not pay attention to her feelings.

So Julia went up to Chrissi and started talking to her. She was short of time because the bell was about to ring. That’s why she left all nice American questions and words behind.

“Hi, Chrissi! I really like the song playing right now. It sounds really good. Can you please send it to me by Bluetooth?”

“Oh, you like it? That’s sweet. Sure, I can send it to you. Just hold on for a moment.”

“Ok.”

Julia didn’t care about the song she was going to receive. She forgot about that competition and her main goal was just to turn something in.

“Thank you, Chrissi. That’s so nice of you!” said Julia putting fake smile upon her face.

“You are so welcome! See ya!”

“See ya!”

Without even checking what song she received Julia headed to her locker. For some reason she wanted to lock herself in there so that no one could see her.

There were about thirty students in the choir classroom. Everyone bubbled with excitement, unlike Julia.

“Hello!” said teacher cheerfully. “Hope, you remember that today we have auditions for the song our choir is going to sing on the choir spring concert. Do you all have your music with you? Ok, seems like yes. So, let’s start!”

And the mini concert began. Students went up to the front of the classroom presenting their sons. Julia was really bored. No one brought really good songs. Well, maybe they were good, but Julia didn’t really enjoy them.

Everyone brought either sweet love song or opera, or a rock song. There were also lots of pop music. Just like Julia’s friends said. She was disappointed, bored, and sleepy.

Julia suddenly heard a familiar melody. That was a song she heard in Hunter’s car! Did someone really bring that one in? She straight away started remembering the words her friends told her in cafeteria. “Crappy music like Taylor Swift and others”…”It’s not too good music”…Those words changed Julia’s opinion about it a lot.

For an unknown reason, Julia felt self-confident and she was ready even to laugh at that girl. How could she bring that lame song? Julia would probably make some comments about it to her neighbors but thankfully it was her turn to present a song. She went up to a laptop, switched on her song and just waited till it was finished. No big emotions or worries. Julia didn’t even look at people’s faces to see if they liked it. She didn’t care.

One minute left, she counted. Thirty seconds…Come on!

By the end of her song, the teacher Mr. Cooper started talking to her:

“So, Julia, are there any auditions like this in Ukraine or it was a completely new experience for you?”

“Well, it was quite new, because we don’t really have choirs in the schools. They are usually in specialized schools.”

“Oh, I see. As you see, today we listened to all kinds of music. The previous one was a kind of different than the others. Its name is ‘If I die young.’ Very unusual sounding! Do you understand which song I am talking about? The one before you. What do you think of it?”

Julia was confused. Mr. Cooper was talking about the song she heard in the car. Did teacher also think and make hints at that pop song being crappy? Or he really liked that song? What the hell was that?

Oh my gosh, thought Julia, what should I answer?

Julia hated questions like this because she didn’t have enough time to think about her answer. She needed just to say something and then become a winner or to regret for the rest of your life about the stupid things she’s said.

A huge struggle was taking place in her mind. What should she say?

Suddenly, Julia remembered Arianna’s words about her friend who decided to tell her point of view about the pop music. ” No one else dared to say the truth except her so they were screaming something like Sabrina is right! or Good job, Sabrina!” Her example encouraged her:

“Well, I don’t think that was too good song,” started Julia. “You know, to be honest, it sounded really bad. Pop music is not for me. It’s just doesn’t make any sense. That song she presented us didn’t really impress me. It’s Taylor Swift, isn’t it? I don’t her at all. But I understand people who like such music, yet it’s definitely not for me.”

The second after Julia stopped talking was crucial. She was really sure that people would appreciate her words. Come on, people, she thought, what’s wrong with you? Come on… But nothing happened. No one said a word. Even Mr. Cooper was looking at her with his big blue eyes. It seemed like the awkwardness of the situation could be felt in the air. Why it didn’t work out? Why?! Though Julia kept complete silence a huge thunderstorm was in her mind.

That was fail. Complete fail. Julia wanted just to disappear. Just to not be in front of those people staring at her. Thankfully, Mr. Cooper broke that silence which seemed to push with its hardness upon Julia’s mind.

“That’s an interesting opinion. But you probably missed something. The song we heard before is not Taylor Swift’s song. That’s funny, but who told you it’s one by Taylor Swift?”

Hunter, thought Julia as if it was an excuse.

“But, anyway…”, he continued. “That’s why I said it was completely new and interesting. I asked you because a lot of people here loved that song a lot and it was interesting to know your opinion. But now that we know that you don’t like it…”.

What? It’s not Taylor Swift’s song? How? How could that happen? Fail! Complete fail…She didn’t know what to say. It felt…terribly? Ten times worse than terribly.

And…did he really say that people loved that song? So, everything was fine with her musical taste?

“So…” she finally started, “so who is Taylor Swift then?”

“Um,” Mr. Cooper looked down saying, “actually the song you presented is the one by Taylor Swift. Didn’t you know that?”

No, that’s impossible. He couldn’t say that. Did it literally mean that Julia said all that crap about the song she had? She remembered that she didn’t check the singer and the name of the song which Chrissi sent her. She should’ve done that.

Disappear…Just disappear…, she thought.

“I didn’t know that,” the most obvious thing she could say.

In that moment she started to understand what the word ‘awkward’ really meant.

“Thank you for your song. That was nice listening to you. You can take your seat, Julia,” the teacher was smiling. Julia felt a kind of relieved when she saw his smile. It seemed like a sign of ‘forgiving.’ But then she remembered that she was in America.



When Julia took her seat she felt like she was the dumbest person ever... Why did she say so harshly about that song? The irony of situation was that she actually liked that song a lot, but somehow she decided to say that she didn’t. Disappear…Just disappear, the same thoughts visited her.

In some minutes the voting started. Julia felt terrible. She was really willing to apologize every single person in that class. To soften her fault she decided to vote for that song – “If I die young”.

“Ok, guys,” started Mr. Cooper, “We are ready to give the results. But you probably know which song we are going to choose. So, 23 voices and the first place comes to the song “If I die young.” Congratulations, Shelby! We are going to sing that song at the spring concert. Oh, and we have a little surprise for you. You get a certificate for a free ice cream in the ‘Cold Stone.’ Hope, you’ll like that place. Congratulations to Shelby!”

***

“Hey, Julia! Are you all right?” asked Sam suddenly distracting Julia from her thoughts.

She kept her silence looking directly out the window and Sam started worrying. Her thoughts swirled.

“Sorry, Sam, it’s just my thoughts. It’s so easy to distract me.”

“That’s fine. So, I asked you what is the most important lesson you were given here?”
Julia smiled with a slight irony in her eyes.

“To be yourself. Always be yourself no matter what”

Julia entered a small one-story building with a signage stating ‘Pages to Prisoners.’ The tiny room was full of books not just in the bookshelves but literally everywhere: tables, floor, chairs. That explained why there were only few people there; four if to be exact. The girl with colorful scarf, short hair and big green eyes was writing something. Probably a letter. Two other men looking like immigrants from India were taping packs with books.

“Hi, are you for the first time here?” suddenly asked a tall clumsy man with oily curly brown hair. He was the fourth person there. This man’s voice was unpleasant. It was unnaturally high-pitched. That’s why his general appearance was negative even though he had beautiful big brown eyes.

If he had to hear his own voice all day he would’ve been deaf, thought Julia.

“Hi! Yes, I’m here for the first time” she answered. Now she was going to play her ace. ”I’m the exchange student from Ukraine and I’m really excited to be in “Pages to prisoners” project. My name is Julia.”

“Oh, that’s nice. Nice to meet you, Julia. I’m Jake.” The man smiled fakely. He probably met something more interesting before than just an exchange student. Julia didn’t like him.

“So, Julia, do you know what you are going to do here?”

“Um…I have the general idea, but I don’t know the details.”

“Ok, so here are letters from prisoners all over the USA. In the letter, the prisoners mention the books they’d like to get. We don’t usually have exactly what they want so it’s your option to find something like it or completely substitute it. Then you write a letter to the prisoner where you’re describing your choice. Also, on the envelope there might be some restrictions like no hard-cover or no chemistry books. If you don’t know how to find a book, go ahead and ask me. But generally our volunteers don’t have troubles with that because all of the books are placed by the genre. See, here is fiction, historical fiction, religion…And so on. Um… Well, that’s it. If you have any questions, just let me know.”

Every American seems to finish his replica with those words, Julia thought.

“Ok, thanks” she said. And straight away Julia started working.

A huge pack of letters in front confused Julia. “Well, it’s obvious. They have so many free time there…” She tried to think how boring it was to be a prisoner. And that thought made her realize how much prisoners relied on those books. It scared Julia a little bit. Responsibility scares at times.

Julia took a look at the people in that little building once more. There is a specific kind of atmosphere in buildings full of books. In library, for example, or in buildings like this. All of the books seem to be silent and quiet. Till you open one of them. And till you realize how much new information and wisdom was hidden beyond the cover. Suddenly you start to understand they aren’t silent at all. Books desperately scream. And that’s what makes the atmosphere special.

Those people in the building were deeply in their work not letting anything to distract them. Their faces were determined and calm. It was hard to understand what were they thinking: their work or may be something personal? Or may be their work was personal for them… And they weren’t talking to each other for some reason. By the way, it’s the other reason for this establishment to be special. All of these reminded Julia of a factory of miracles with their hard-working magic leprechauns and fairies.
“My thoughts are bizarre…” admitted Julia and smiled to herself.

Suddenly she caught the surprised look of Jake at her. His eyes expressed something like “Why are you standing there staring at people and smiling? Go and work!” That was awkward. Indeed, she didn’t like that guy.

Julia went up to the box with numerous letters, moved her fingers around the surfaces of envelopes imagining that that was a lottery, picked up one letter and opened the envelope. It read:

‘Hi,

If you read this letter, know that you make me happy even though I wouldn’t know that. I’m really grateful for all the work you and your organization do for us, prisoners. We all appreciate that.

I was wondering if you had some books of Ernest Hemingway in your library. I don’t have anything specific on my mind just the one by Hemingway.

Thanks a lot for your efforts. Waiting for your letter, Keith.’

The very first letter. Julia felt proud of herself as a part of ‘Pages to Prisoners’, even though she joined it some minutes ago.

Not wasting a minute, she went up to bookshelves and immediately started looking for a book she needed. Hemingway was on the third raw right in front of her.
“So… ‘The Old Man and the Sea’ or ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’…”
It was too hard decision.

“Hey, Jake!” said turning to the Jake. “How do you think, what is better ‘The Old Man and the Sea’ or ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls?”

“Um…I guess…’The Old Man and the Sea’ is good enough’”, he said.

“Ok”, said Julia. She was a little disappointed. It seemed like for Jake it wasn’t too important.

Whatever.

But Julia was still excited. She suddenly felt a very strong emotional contact with those calm hard-working leprechauns.

Anyway, it was time to write a letter response. What should she write? Should she be personal and informal? Should she forget that the person she’s writing to committed something bad?

“Hey, Jake! I have a question.” she said. “What should I write in the letter? How personal should it be?”

“Um, it depends how confident you feel to write anything personal. So, it’s up to you,” answered Jake.

When Julia grabbed the pen she started trembling. No, she wasn’t worried. She was…touched by the moment. By its warmth. She had special feelings to that pen. She had special feeling to that cheap paper she was going to write on. And she also treated that prisoner specially even though she had no idea who he was.

Julia decided to mention that she was an exchange student. She liked realizing how much that would change the perception of her letter.

She wrote:

“Dear Keith,

I’m very excited to write you this letter. It’s so unusual to write a real paper letter. But before I start I want you to know that I’m an exchange student and I might have some mistakes in my writing.

Thankfully, we had the book you wanted. I sent you “The Old Man and the Sea.” As far as I know, Hemingway received the Noble Prize for this book. Hope, you enjoy your reading.

Best,

Volunteer.”

It looked like an episode from some kind of a touching movie. Julia liked that feeling a lot. Indeed, that small building was a factory of miracles.

She felt proud of herself when she gave her first letter to the guys who were taping and packing it. Julia even looked at Jake to make sure that he knew she already wrote a letter but he didn’t pay attention to her at all. Julia definitely didn’t like him.

The thing which Julia wondered about was why would all these people do this? Why would they join the project? Are they really that kind and caring? Do they receive money? She never had an experience like this in Ukraine and looking at America through Ukrainian prospective complicated things at times.

The next letter she picked had a restriction “no medicine books.” Why did it have such a weird restriction? In fact, restrictions were random overall. Some of them said “no hard covers,” others “no religious books.” How did it matter? That question remained a mystery.

Julia opened her second letter. It stated:

‘Hi, dear volunteer!

I was looking for some kind of books like “Speech for Dummies” or “Learn how to draw” or

anything like this. I want to teach myself something while I’m here.

Thank you for all the incredible work you do for us and for the entire world.

Best, Kevin’

That’s confusing, Julia thought. Imagining how the book she chooses will influence someone’s life made her worried.
She went up to bookshelves with those kinds of books and started browsing.

“Ok…what do we have here? Um… ‘How to Improve Your Memory’…’How to Draw Faces’…Oh, ‘How to Become a Millionaire’? Well, it’s definitely not suitable for prisoner.”

There were all kinds of books like that. “How to Become a Singer”, “How to Write Poems”, “Creative Thinking” and so on. She had no idea which book was the best.

“It must be something useful and interesting. May be a foreign language? Wow, a language sounds good. But which one? They have Russian, Italian and Chinese here.”

Julia would definitely pick a language book if there were some Ukrainian ones. Patriotism, you know. Suddenly another idea fell upon her mind.

“Jake!” called him Julia. “Do you have any piano teaching books?” she asked.

Julia adored piano. It wasn’t just her favorite instrument, but something more. Much more. When she listened to the piano playing she could understand what it was saying. That music was so expressive.

But what was funny was that she couldn’t play piano herself. Julia never had an opportunity to learn it in her country, because it was too expensive. And she felt so good to give someone an opportunity to learn how to play it. So, the choice of book was done.

Jake went up to the bookshelf behind Julia and started browsing.

“Yeah...there was one,” he said. “Here it is.”

He grabbed really huge book. It took Jake some efforts to lift it up. “Learn how to play piano and compose music. From the very beginning to the advanced level.”

“That’s more like it,” admitted Julia observing the majesty of the edition in her hands. “Thanks, Jake.”

“Julia, hope you realize that this book is so unique…I mean, we don’t have that many books this size and quality. So, it’s up to you to decide if it’s really the best one you can send.”

“Ok,” answered Julia. She was insulted.

There was no doubt she was going to send that piano book. Julia didn’t care about what Jake told her. The good thing about being a foreign exchange student is that you don’t usually have long term relations with people which means that you’re not supposed to care what they will think about you. That helped a lot.

Right after Julia made up her mind, she started writing a letter. The one to Kevin was the longest one among all the letters Julia wrote that day. And that one also brought her the most pleasure.

“Dear Kevin,

I’m very excited to write you this letter because I felt a great responsibility while making up my mind. But before I start explaining anything I just want to let you know that I’m an exchange student so be prepared for some mistakes in my writing (isn’t it too proud?).

So, the book I’m sending you is “Learn How to Play Piano.” You know, personally for me piano is something more than just an instrument which makes music. It has so much to do with the real life. Didn’t you ever notice that piano just like a life has black and white parts in it. But regardless of color, all of them make music….

I hope you’ll enjoy reading this book and learning how to play piano. I visited a lot of concerts already and I enjoy my every moment there. It warms my heart up when I realize that one more person in the world will know the language to speak with piano. So, I wish you to be patient and determined enough to study.
Best,
Volunteer.”

Julia petted that letter with her hand, as if it were a kitten. She was smiling for some reason. Now she understood why all these people did that.


Julia’s time was over. Two hours went fast. Normally Julia would be upset about it but not then. That day she was going to the piano concert in the auditorium. Her first one in America. But definitely not last one. Her friend Sabra was supposed to pick her up and go there with her.

After Julia took her purse she said ‘bye’ to the man with oily hair and fake smile and left without waiting till he answered.

Sabra was already waiting for Julia outside.

‘”Hey, Ukraine! How are you doing?” Sabra asked.

“I’m fine. I’m so glad to see you! And I’m so excited about the concert tonight!” indeed Julia was glad to see Sabra. The way she looked made her feel quiet and calm, unlike Jake who made Julia feel anxious.

“Yeah, dude, it’s gonna be awesome! So, what did you do in that ‘Pages to Prisoners?’ Anything interesting?”

“Yeah, it was definitely interesting experience. Well there was one part about the whole thing which totally enchanted me. I sent a huge and bright book about how to learn to play piano to one guy. You know, I’m so excited about that. I feel like I’ve just changed his life.”

“Wait…what? You sent a piano book to prisoner?” Sabra asked surprisingly.

“Yes…what’s wrong about that?” Julia still couldn’t get it.

“You sent it to prison…Where there’s no piano…” she seemed like a teacher who is explaining really easy rule to a really stupid student.

Julia just now realized what she meant. “Oh my gosh,” she thought, “So that was in vain? He’s not going to teach himself piano? Oh, why am I such a jerk? How couldn’t I forget that he was in prison not in the estate?”

She was disappointed.

“You’re right, Sabra. I’m jerk, I know.”

‘Hey, hey, you! Stop it! You just didn’t realize that! That’s it. Forget about that! We’re going to a freaking awesome piano concert right now, remember?’

That made her feel better.

“You’re right, Sabra. One more time!”

It didn’t take Julia too much time to forget that mistake she’s committed. An amazing evening was facing her. Why did she care about some minor things like that?

“Whatever…”, she thought.

That was her only experience in “Pages to prisoners”. She never came back to that unusual establishment. Even when she was back to USA in some years she didn’t even remember about that place.
Thankfully, the concert indeed was amazing. One more concert to Julia’s already endless list.



***

That was Julia’s second day in her American vacation. After ten years she decided to visit her friends and just to see the place where she had the most unusual experience ever. Ten years had passed. Julia thought of her year in USA with warmth and nostalgia. She couldn’t believe she’s done it. All those events were somewhere deep inside in her memory under thousands of layers of newer memories. But they still were there.


Julia was in the bar in the town she used to live in. That was the place she never happened to attend while staying in USA, because she was only 16. But now that she is 21…Just like ten years ago, Julia invited Sabra. Oh, they visited so many events together! Concerts, festivals, parties. Where did it all go? They didn’t feel the necessity to talk. So many things were already told and all they wanted to do is to enjoy each other’s company. Yes, it’s possible without words.

Sabra had changed a lot. Her appearance, voice. Thankfully her views and believes didn’t change completely.

Suddenly Julia heard the music in the bar. Piano. She looked around the building and noticed a pianist. He was playing “For Elise”. Sabra noticed Julia’s dedicated face and that’s why she didn’t ask her any random questions during his performance. But afterwards she asked Julia if she wanted her to go and have a postcard signed by pianist. Julia didn’t mind. After pianist’s performance was over Sabra went up to him and was talking to him for approximately 15 minutes.

Julia was surprised by that long conversation and normally she would be annoyed already. But now she was enjoying her drink and enjoying every minute just because.

Sabra finally arrived. She had some event with her family going on so she was supposed to go.

“Ok, Ukraine, I need to leave. Are you going here one more time some day?” asked Sabra.

Julia liked the way Sabra still called her: Ukraine. Nothing changed in ten years.

“You are talking about visiting America as if it’s visiting a neighbor city. See, it’s not that easy. I wish I had a property and work here. But nothing shows up for now,” complained Julia.

For some reason Sabra ironically smiled and paused. In few moments she said, “You never know what can happen in life, Julia. Never ever. And by the way miracles happen.”

“No, they don’t, Sabra. How old are you? I don’t believe any more that Santa can give me a well-paid job here. Or at least job,” said Julia.

Sabra smiled. Again with huge irony in her eyes.

“Whatever, Ukraine. Now, take your postcard. Pianist signed it for you. And…” Sabra grabbed a napkin, took out the pencil from her purse and wrote some words right on the napkin. Then she made a little envelope out of it so that the words couldn’t be seen. Then she gave it to Julia.

“Take this envelope, dude. And open it whenever a miracle happens. But don’t dare to open it before, deal?”

Julia smiled at her as if Sabra was a child.

“Deal,” she said.

After some more minutes of farewell ceremony Julia left. Thankfully it wasn’t too hard.

She soon caught a cab. It was nice black Buick. The driver was a pleasant looking old man with moustache. He was Hispanic as far as Julia understood. Julia was looking forward catching the taxi. It was such a pleasure to hear all these long time ago forgotten phrases as “Hi! How are you doing today?” or “Can I help you?”.

“Hi, how are you doing today?” asked the driver. He was widely smiling. Even though his smile was professional it seemed very sincere for Julia.

“Fine, thanks. Could you get me to Holiday Inn?” asked Julia.

“Sure! Get in! It’s sprinkling!”

As soon as Julia got in, the car took off. Outside there was a town which gave Julia so many happy days. It was hard to believe that all these time after Julia’s departure to home, the town had its own life going on. New building were being built, new people arrived…Now Julia felt like she was a veteran there, an ancient citizen who would tell exciting stories with a wise look.

In some minutes car was stuck on the traffic. Sunday night, students come back to their apartments and dormitories. To entertain herself Julia decided to read a postcard about that pianist in the bar. Julia went over her purse and took the postcard out. There was a brief bio of pianist. Well, it was a nice way to kill time.

Julia started to read that small bright postcard. She suddenly set up straight in her seat. She grasped the paper tightly and pulled it closer to her face. Her eyes opened widely. In a moment she dropped the paper off.

For anyone else the words in that little postcard wouldn’t say anything interesting.

The paper said:

“Kevin Bent is a self-taught pianist from Kentucky. He was born in 1961 and spent quarter of his life in the prison. Kevin never told how exactly he started to play piano and compose music, but the only thing he said was that he was very grateful for a person who helped him by chance. Hours of hard work and practice made him now one of the modern American pianists and composers who give performances in the bars and parties. Kevin’s favorite quotation is one by an unknown author: “Piano just like a life has black and white parts in it. But regardless of color, all of them make music”.


Julia was smiling. Sincerely. As never before. With eyes sparkling and face fixed with wrinkles.

Suddenly she remembered about that envelope Sabra gave her. It was the perfect time to open it. As soon as she found it in her purse she read the following:

“See, Julia, I was right!”

Julia had an awful habit of being late for everything. Now she was in a hurry. She should have been at airport 15 minutes ago. Yet she wasn’t.

Julia’s was going to New York. She had her dream come true. Her essay about America won the competition of the New York’s prestigious Power of the Word publishing house and Julia was scheduled to visit the conference there and to read her work to the academic audience. Julia’s essay would be published in a book of young authors. Certainly, for free.

At the first glance, everything seemed wonderful: Julia won the competition, her essay was likely to be published by NY The power of the Word Press (!), she’s got her trip there fully paid. But… (that word Julia hated so much) since she was a foreigner, it complicated the situation. The essay itself was all right, but what about talking to the audience and reading it? How was she going to do that with an accent, which people couldn’t understand at times?

***

“Dear friends and visitors of New York city, welcome!” the soft voice of woman-announcer proved to Julia that it wasn’t dream. That woman knew all her lines by heart and her ‘speech’ was definitely not sincere, but imagine how much those words meant for the person who happened to be there by a happy chance, literally by a miracle.

“I think now I really understand what American dream is,” admitted Julia. Being extremely happy she even decided to record the voice of that woman. In moments like this she felt like screaming. But these busy people in the airport would definitely misunderstand that.

Julia grabbed her luggage and headed to the exit. Just after leaving the terminal of airport she saw the table which said Julia Ivanova. A middle aged man was looking out the window watching the traffic. He didn’t say a word to Julia yet, but she could already say a lot about him. His eyes were peaceful and full of wisdom which could be seen through their calmness and absence of any strong emotions in them. Looking at them Julia refused any idea about hugging him and showing how excited she was. His hair was almost white, but still nicely made. And he wasn’t too tall. Even a little bit shorter than Julia. Unlike her, the man had an official look: black suit with grey tie, dark leather shoes.
This man’s look made her take her hands out of the pockets and straighten her back. She suddenly felt uncomfortable about her bright blue coat.



“Good morning, I’m Julia Ivanova!” she said after reaching the man.

“Hello, Julia! It’s complete delight to meet you.”

What? What is delight? thought Julia.

The representative was mildly smiling looking at her with his wise eyes as if he knew her for ages. He didn’t look like an average American who in a case like this would smile like a happy child giving free hugs.

“I’m James Johnson and I work for The Power of the Word. We’re very excited to work with you. Your essay was very impressive. Your views on America and life here are engagingly fresh.”

Mr. Johnson seemed like a very polite man who knows much about cultured life. He definitely could keep any intelligent world conversation and fell very confident, but he’d probably blush with embarrassment if hearing some curse words.

“Thank you so much! I can’t believe in the moment that it’s real. I just wanted to thank you for giving me an opportunity to be here.”

“Um, sorry, Ms Ivanova?”

“Thank you for giving me the opportunity to be here. I’m very excited.” Julia repeated.

“Oh, that’s what you were saying! You are so welcome! We’re glad to do this for you. “The power of the word” provides some good opportunities for the writers like you. And I have one question. From your views I could assume that you were not from here. And you’ve got such an unusual accent. Where are you from?”

Julia was confused. She hated when someone emphasized that she had an accent. Julia would just forget in most cases, but not in this one. Every word by that weird sophisticated man counted.

“I’m from Ukraine.”

“From where?” asked James one more time.

“From Ukraine. U-k-r-a-i-n-e!” Julia spelled. “It’s in Europe.”

She had a hope that James didn’t know this country, but it was too hard to except that he really didn’t get her accent.

“Oh, I’ve got it! That’s incredible!” he answered.

Oh my gosh, thought Julia, is my accent really that bad? How am I going to read my essay?

While they were walking to the cab, James had hard times with understanding Julia’s words. He asked her some questions about her country, and she tried to articulate very clearly. But he still couldn’t get what she was saying.

Julia was anxious. On the way to the hotel she barely once looked out of the window. Even though she was in the New York City. It was beside her, constantly busy and moving somewhere. Wasn’t it a miracle? Definitely yes. But the thing about miracles is that when they occur the reality still remains. And it’s hard to deal with them both.

After asking Julia some questions and failing to understand the answers James quit. Julia’s self-confidence had just vanished.

When they finally arrived to the hotel, it happened to be quite expensive looking. A huge building about fifty story, had lots of windows with balconies and flowers on the window sills. Golden colons were in front of the entry. While Julia was looking at the building, James gave her some directions:

“So, tomorrow at about 3p.m. you’ll be leaving for the main building of the publishing house. You should be there by 5 p.m. We already ordered a limousine for you. Today if you are not tired you have an opportunity to go to a little excursion. It’s up to you. We need you full of energy tomorrow, Julia. Well, it was a delight to meet you. I have a big hope that judges will like your manuscript. See you tomorrow.”

Julia didn’t care about what word ‘delight’ meant any more. She didn’t care about the excursion and her first limousine. She wasn’t excited. Not any more. Julia was extremely afraid of what was going to happen the next day.

“Thanks. See you” answered Julia.

Not that nice.

In tomorrow meeting her speech and ability to express thoughts clearly was crucial. But what could she do if her accent was too bad for people to understand it?

The design of her hotel room and the city outside didn’t move Julia emotionally at all. She sat on her sofa and tiredly sighed. Nobody said it was easy, she thought, remembering The Coldplay song.

The rest of the day and a half of the night Julia was trying to help herself. She watched videos about American accent and was trying to get it. By the end of her studying Julia felt terribly tired and unconfident. She definitely forgot that outside, just behind the windows of her hotel-room was a vast city with an abundant life in it. The curtains did their job.

“Help me, God…” whispered Julia and went to bed.

***

New York city didn’t seem to sleep at all. The clichés were true. All night and morning long Julia could hear all the noises of this eternal engine.

“Good morning, Big Apple. Good morning, the city of noise” said Julia looking in the window. It seemed for a moment that the city was smiling to her.

The majestic buildings outside seem to be so independent. They don’t need people. That’s why it’s sometimes complicated to feel comfortable in that big cities. And Julia didn’t.

She spent all the morning and the afternoon trying to decide what is appropriate to wear and hoping that she would have good luck.

At 3 p.m. Julia received a call about her limo. Time to take off. She looked at the mirror one more time quickly and went down to lobby. All the staff had a smile on their faces. “That’s why it’s hard to deal with Americans, thought Julia, they all are so nice. You never understand what they really feel.”

A limo outside was huge. Riding it cheered Julia up for a bit.

Her trip to the publishing house lied through lots of sights in NY. She saw Empire State Building, Rockefeller Trade Center, Ground Zero, Central Park. She also could see the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. Unbelievable.

It’s such a strange feeling when one’s dreams come true. In her mind Julia tried to find appropriate words to describe that feeling. Was it amazing, wonderful, awesome, incredible, magnificent?...

No, we don’t have the words to describe really important feelings, she thought. What is the point of creating lots of positive words if they cannot describe anything except a pair of pretty shoes or a funny picture?’

“Mam” suddenly asked driver, “are there any other places you’d like to see? We’ve already had the main part of excursion for tourists.”

“Oh, so that was an excursion? I didn’t know that!”

“Oh, I’m sorry, my bad. Mister Johnson told me that were here for the first time and you didn’t go to the excursion yesterday so he asked me to show you the sights. So, do you want to see something else?’

Julia looked at her clock. It was 4:30 already.

“Well, I’d like to, but I don’t have enough time. I need to be at publishing house soon. But thank you.”

“Oh, it’s ok. You are welcome to continue the excursion at any time you want.”

“Thanks.”

Julia suddenly felt much better. It was partly due to staying in NY. Yet she was surprised that the driver could understand her words. Did it actually mean that her efforts last night weren’t spent in vain?


After arriving to the destination, Julia was extremely grateful to that driver. Yes, people could understand her! And they probably didn’t even notice that she was foreigner!

With a confident manner of walking, Julia entered the main building. A tall bald man was approaching to her.

“Hello! Are you Julia Ivanova?” he asked.

“Yes, I am Julia.”

“Oh, it’s nice to meet you. My name is William Miller. I’m in the group of people who will decide if to publish your book. So, be nice with me!” said William and started laughing.

Stupid joke, thought Julia and as well started smiling.

His big mouth seemed to be so awkward. It seemed like he was trying to swallow a bottle for a long time. His eyelashes were really long as if he were a pretty girl. The appearance of William didn’t exude that he was a smart man. And not nice. At least Julia thought so.

Other than William’s face he looked good. He had a stylish black suit and white shirt. But his cologne was really annoying. That little detail changed a whole impression about him.

“Follow me, Julia. We’ll begin in at least five minutes. You have some time to get prepared.”

“Oh, that’s what I wanted. You know, I’m so worried.”

“Um, you are what?” asked William.

Did he just?.. No, that’s impossible.

“I said I’m worried” repeated Julia.

“Oh, of course you are! This is probably very important for you, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is.”

Julia started feeling bad. Her stomach hurt. That’s what she usually felt when worrying.

“Julia, are you all right? Do you feel bad?” asked William.

“Um, can I have some water, please?” asked Julia.

“Sorry?”

That was too much. She couldn’t stand it any more. In one second she made a decision to leave. That was the only thing she was capable of doing. Yes, it was definitely the simplest one, but…who cared?

I cannot do that!, thought Julia looking for the exit, they don’t understand me! They don’t freaking understand me!!! Her eyes were full of tears.
She wasn’t conscious of what she was doing in the moment. That was just an impulse. But how could she stay there if people couldn’t get what she was saying? Being worried, furious, afraid and unconfident…Everything was mixed up.

Julia couldn’t imagine talking to the audience any more. She just escaped from it.
Hopefully, that limo was still near the building.

“Please, drive me back to the hotel!” she said after getting in the car.

“Mam, what happened? Can I help you?” the driver was definitely worried.

“Just drive me to the hotel, please! Don’t ask me any questions!”

The car immediately took off. The city outside the car didn’t worry Julia at all. As if it just disappeared.

In 50 minutes Julia was in the hotel. How much thoughts went through her mind during those 50…minutes? They seemed to be hours.

She gave some tip to the driver and left without saying a word. What she was going to do was to take her luggage and to leave that place.

Suddenly her cell phone called. “Unknown” it said. This is probably someone from the publishing house, she thought, I don’t want to talk. And Julia switched off the cell phone.

In the hotel she felt extremely bad and decided just to have rest. She strongly decided to just forget about that damn publishing house, the book, those weird people in official clothing who knew every thing in the world but couldn’t understand her accent.

Julia went to the bed and felt asleep straight away.

It’s hard to explain what was going on in Julia’s mind. The people who saw the tornado would probably imagine.

Hours by hours. Slowly and steadily…How long did she sleep?

When Julia suddenly woke up, she felt like she slept for the whole night. Such a strange feeling. She didn’t even realize what day was that. For the moment Julia even forgot what happened that day.

Trying to figure out a time she switched on her cell. “15 missed calls” it said. “Oh my gosh, not now…Later, please later.”

Suddenly the phone called again. The terribly loud ringtone seemed like a thunder to Julia. Stop, she thought, please stop… “I have no choice. I need to explain them everything.”

“Hello.” said Julia.

“Hi, is that Julia Ivanova?”

“Yes.”

“Hi, my name is Randy and I work in The Power of the Word’. We all were wondering, why did you left? Is everything alright?”

What should she answer?

Think! Think! Think!, talked Julia to her mind.

“Um, you know…Um…It’s not really alright. Right before I arrived I had a call from my friend, who told me that my mother got to hospital. And I’m in the airport right now. I want to apologize. I’m sorry for causing problems to you.”

“No, no, don’t worry. Hope, everything’s all right with your mother. It’s such a pity.”

“Yeah…” answered Julia. She was proud of herself for such a wonderful lie.

“William and James, whom you’ve already met, were really upset. They are brothers by the way. They read your essay and would have published it. They really liked it. And they really liked you. You know, they are such a good people. If you need anything, or maybe your mother does, they would be really glad to help you.”

“That’s nice. Thank you.”

“Though they also have got some problems with health. Their mother is completely deaf , you know, and with age they are becoming deaf too. You probably noticed that they don’t hear well.”

Julia realized…No. No! That was impossible! No…

“What did you just say?” asked Julia refusing to believe Randy’s words. Her heart beat really fast and she was on the edge of passing out. Julia dropped the cell phone not waiting for the answer and slowly went to chair.

The woman in the receiver continued to talk as Julia’s heart continued to beat rapidly. Did Julia continue to live? Doubtfully.

How? Why? Why did she?...

Too much. That was too much.

For some time she sat there looking at the floor and not moving at all. It’s hard to explain what she felt in that moment. Even people who saw the tornado wouldn’t be able to understand her…

She wanted to laugh. To hysterically laugh at this weird story. And she would if it ended up happily. Like in American movies.

Julia couldn’t cry either.

Suddenly she stood up and went to the window. The city continued to live, unlike her. It didn’t care. Nothing changed in New York’s life. Cars still drove, shops were still full of people. Not even a single light disappeared. How? How could that happen that the city doesn’t know about that what just happened? The failure of her entire life just occurred! How could city not pay attention to it? Why did it continue to move?

Julia was still looking out of the window.

“It’s a pity…” she whispered while looking at the city.

Julia’s diary for 10.16.11, Sunday:

“Today I went to the Plato’s Closet with my host mom. It’s a second hand store with teen and youth kind of clothing in Bloomington. There were several reasons to go there. First, recently I realized that I cannot express my style through buying clothing from all these American stores where everybody else buys stuff. It’s so annoying when someone tells that he is stylish and has unique style because he buys cloth in fancy stores. But all the items here have thousands of twins! How can he be unique?

This desperate desire to express myself would be more satisfied if I bought my stuff in places like Plato’s closet. Of course, it’s not completely unique, because it was bought in the malls previously. But those clothes is used to have history and definitely some interesting stories connected with them. While clothes from the mall has nothing to tell you. It was made on the factory as thousands of others and has no history.

Indeed, Plato’s Closet is unusual place. There are no plain items there. Everything is somehow unique. T-shirts with quotations printed on them or unusual drawings like colorful birds or the trees. There were some hoodies with Abbey Road theme and Beatles pictures. Another hoodie had treble and bass clefs all over it. Some of the items had curses on them. Oh, I would buy some to wear in Ukraine. No one knows what it means anyway…

Another thing about Plato’s closet was music played there. It’s not an important characteristic of any cloth store, but it made time spent there so much better. It wasn’t just pop music or country as usually. They switched on some unknown bands and singers. I even wrote down some words of the songs so that I could find them in Internet.

Second big reason to go to that store was price. Since my monthly allowance is only $ 125, I decided that I should be more thoughtful about my money. Oh, this store helped me a lot. It was like $ 5 for a stunning blouse of my dream! And by the way on Monday we have T-shirt contest in my school so I decided to buy a T-shirt. It was extremely hard to decide what was better, cause everything was the best!!! When I went to the fitting room my hands were full of clothes to try on. I bet that looked hilarious.
And by the way people can sell their stuff there, too. I sold my watercolor T-shirt I brought from Ukraine, a purse, a shirt and cardigan. They gave me $ 10. Yes, I know it’s not too much, but still. I spent that money to buy a T-shirt and a hoodie. The T-shirt has three converse shoes designed on it. One is purple, another is green and the last one is blue. Now it’s my favorite T-shirt and I’m sure I will get a reward tomorrow on the contest.”

Monday morning. Julia’s usual morning rituals: shower, clothes, breakfast, school bus. The feeling that morning was a bit different than others. First, Julia put on her new clothes: the T-shirt and the hoodie. Even though she realized no one would admit it, she felt that specific kind of happiness when wearing the new goods for the first time. In fact, no one ever shares it. Have you ever been happy for the person who put on a new pants or shirt? Obviously, not.

Secondly, there is a T-shirt competition that day. Julia adored her T-shirt. She found it unusual and unique. And definitely creative. She put her new hoodie on so that no one could see her treasure before the actual competition.

By the time Julia’s morning trip was over, she headed to the school’s front door.

“T-shirt contest! Participate and show us your style!” stated the poster in front of the enter.

“Hi, Julia!” suddenly said Josie, Julia’s friend. They had lockers nearby each other.

“Hi, Josie! How are you doing?” asked Julia.

“Fine, thanks. How are you?”

“Oh, I’m very excited about that T-shirt contest today! I can’t wait till it starts!” smiled Julia, her eyes widely open and shiny.

“Oh, that contest…Honestly, I’m not even going to participate. But I wish you luck! I hears they’ve got some nice award, though I don’t remember what is that.”

“Thanks, Josie. I’m curious what is that,” said Julia.

“I have no idea. Well, I’ve got to go. See you later!”

“See you.”

As classes passed Julia realized that the day was usual. People weren’t as excited as she was. It was opposite to what she imagined. T-shirts seemed to be a big deal in USA.

The note in Julia’s diary on the 08.25.11 (her first days in America):

“Americans are crazy about T-shirts. So many people here wear them! They put on them the places where they study, work, travel, do groceries. Also the activities they do and when. It’s so interesting. We don’t have this attitude towards T-shirts in Ukraine. Their task is just cover the body and sometimes to express style, but not too express the personality. I don’t know why Americans are so excited about the T-shirts. Maybe, this is the way they tell others about their life? Interesting…

The style is different here overall. Hoodies are very popular. People like to get comfy and mostly they don’t care about the style. In Ukraine, girls dress up all the time and try to look cute.. When I told my American friends that some Ukrainian girls wear high hills daily, they were surprised. Yeap, it’s different.”


As usually by the end of her third class Julia had lunch. This time she sat with Sara (the exchange student from Australia) , Sam, Ashley and Sabrina, - her friends from the English class.

“Hey, guys! What’s up? How are you doing?” asked Julia cheerfully. The questions like these never came off Julia’s mouth in Ukraine. No, it doesn’t mean that she wasn’t a nice person. It’s different over there. But nevertheless Julia learnt quickly.

“Hey, Ukrainian!” said Sara. “Nothing special.”

“Except for that T-shirt thing today right after classes,” added Ashley.

“So, do you, guys, have your T-shirts ready?” asked Julia. She was very curious about other people T-shirts.

“Sure,” answered Sara. “Do you?”

“Yes,” said Julia, ”even though we have nothing like this in Ukraine I decided to take part. And it was a kind of hard…My style is different from what American malls sell.”

Sara seemed to take Julia too seriously.

“So, do you mean to say that the cloth is better over there?” she asked.

No, no, no, thought Julia. God, I don’t want any debates with my friends in America!

“No, of course not,” Julia started. “It’s just different. You know, we have all that traditional clothing. The style of it is really old, but I really think it’s nice looking. I wish I could find it here. In America there’s no traditional cloth. Yes, there are national clothes of all the cultures living here, but other than that…”

What? Isn’t it true?

“But what about the modern cloth?” asked Sara. The conversation all of the sudden became a battle. Julia didn’t plan on that. “I mean the cloth for young people. Is it also better in Ukraine? I thought Ukraine was a kind of poor country…”

Did she really say that?, asked Julia herself. How dare she!

Julia couldn’t let that question without the answer. She just couldn’t.

Julia never considered herself a patriot. To be honest, sometimes she even judged her own country very harshly. But how gradually her feelings changed when someone else did it.

“Sara, I didn’t say that the cloth is better in Ukraine. I just wanted to say that the style is different. This is it. As for Ukraine, it’s not a poor country. It just has hard times now but soon it will overcome all the obstacles. Oh, and by the way, if you want to see how Ukrainian clothing for young people looks like I can show you right now.”

Julia took off her hoodie and showed everybody her T-shirt with converse shoes on it. Yes, she lied. Yes, it’s not good. But it was the only thing Julia could think of in the moment.


Sara looked at the T-shirt with a very surprised look. It seemed like she saw an alien or UFO, not just a T-shirt.

She definitely likes it, thought Julia. Oh, Julia even forgot that she lied. Imagine, how much better it made her feel.

“It looks pretty good, Julia,” said Sam. She smiled ironically.

“Yeah, that’s nice,” admitted Ashley.

“Well, I hope the contest today will prove you, Julia, that a good clothing is not just an Ukrainian thing,” said Sara with a mysterious smile on her face. “I’m sure you will meet something you like.”

“No doubt”, said Julia.

“Oh, and by the way, I can show you my T-shirt too. May be this one will change your opinion about American style.”

Sara took off her hoodie and showed her T-shirt. Julia couldn’t believe her eyes. That was the one she sold to Plato’s closet yesterday! Obviously, Sara went there later and bought it. God, that is the T-shirt with watercolor she brought from Ukraine! That is unbelievable!

It was hard for Julia to not burst out laughing. She could hardly possess herself.

“That is really beautiful one,” finally said Julia smiling, in fact, almost laughing. “I like it a lot.”

“Thanks,” said Sara. She was definitely pleased. But she wouldn’t if she knew the reason of Julia’s unnaturally big and sincere smile.

“And..,” started Julia, “where did you buy it?”

Yes, it was definitely very mean. Yes, it was not good. But who wouldn’t use such a good opportunity to humiliate someone?

Apparently Sara became a bit nervous.

“Um…I bought it…in the mall. Unfortunately I don’t remember the name of the store.”

You look pretty confident, thought Julia. Good job, Sara.

“Sweet”, said Julia.

The rest of the lunch she couldn’t talk to her friends at all. Julia didn’t fully realize what an hilarious thing happened.

As a matter of fact, Julia didn’t feel good after that conversation. She didn’t want to lose her friends and to have enemies. No, not in America. But there was a Sara’s fault in it too. And she was not really an American…but that doesn’t change anything. May be, being nice wasn’t about Sara. That assumption satisfied Julia.

The classes passed slowly. Julia didn’t care that much any more about the contest. Her thoughts were occupied with that interesting situation which took place during lunch. Too bad that T-shirt with watercolor belongs to Sara now. Well, Julia wouldn’t feel bad if Sara won with her T-shirt.

“Those who want to participate in T-shirt contest should go immediately to the auditorium!” said the soft woman voice of the announcer.

It’s time. Who knows, may be judges will like Julia’s T-shirt more than Sara’s, which basically is Julia’s. Whatever.

There were about thirty students in the auditorium. Less, that Julia expected. It seemed to her after looking at their T-shirts that her only serious opponent is Sara. Lots of people had a tye-dye style T-shirts. Some of them had some kind of note on them. Quotations possibly.

While Julia was estimating the chances of her antagonists the opening ceremony began.

“Hello, everybody!” said the teacher of acting class Ms. Thomas. “Today we have a wonderful event! You have a wonderful chance to show your style! As far as I know, the T-shirt contest is the first contest like this within all the history of our school. So, let’s make it amazing so that we have some more of those the following years! Here are the rules: since we have only about thirty contestants, all of you will go up on the stage and say a couple of words about your choice.

It was unacceptable for Julia! There was no way she would lie one more time. Even mnore, in front of dozens of people! No! Totally unacceptable.

“Then we’ll have a 15-minutes break so that judges can come up with the winner,”
continued Ms. Thomas. “And to encourage you we decided to give a winner a little award. Let it be a surprise. Well, I wish you luck! Let’s start!”

There were volunteers who decided to go first. Julia was disappointed. Even though she had a nice chance to win that contest, there was a huge obstacle she couldn’t overcome. She couldn’t lie publically about her T-shirt. Why did she tell girls that that was the one from Ukraine? If she wouldn’t she could easily win!

Here’s the payment for that lie, thought Julia. Well, there was no one to blame so she decided to forget about this infortune and let it be. There will be lots of other contests.

All the contestants, except for few of them, didn’t seem passionate about the results of the contest. It was such a torment for Julia to see all those students with their T-shirts not using their chance. If Julia were on the stage she would use her imagination and creativity. She would deliver the shortest and the brightest speech about the T-shirt ever!

Unfortunately.

Julia couldn’t find a point of staying there anymore. She left.

It was a nice weather outside. Still not cold, though in Ukraine it was.

Near the school’s front door Julia saw…Sara! Sara wasn’t in the auditorium. Why?

“Hey, Sara!” said Julia pretending that nothing happened during the lunch. “Why aren’t you in the auditorium? I thought you were participating!”

Sara sighed.

“Ah, forget it…I just…I couldn’t lie.” When she said that she looked deeply into Julia’s eyes. Quite sadly.

Julia couldn’t understand what that meant. And why did she repeated what Julia was thinking about some minutes ago.

“What do you mean?” she asked.

Sara sighed once more. She sat closer to Julia.

“Ok.” She started. “I think there’s no point of lying to you one more time. Remember today I told you that I bought this T-shirt in the mall. It’s not true. I bought in the second-hand store. That’s why I didn’t want to tell about it on public. Cause I couldn’t lie in front of all those people! So, yeah…This is my wistful story.”

Julia slightly smiled.

“Plato’s closet?” she asked.

“Wait…How do you know? How…”

“Look in the back of the T-shirt. Right where your hand is right now. Tell me what it says.”

Sara turned her T-shirt in the area of belly-button and found a note. Written by marker probably.

“I can’t read it. There are some letters I don’t know. Wait, explain..”

“Of course you don’t know them,” interrupted her Julia. “Because this is Ukrainian. Sara, I sold this T-shirt to Plato’s closet just yesterday.”

Now the best moment. It’s such a pleasure to say something shocking to someone and watch the reaction. That’s why people like to gossip.

But Sara’s reaction was unexpected. She suddenly burst out laughing. She stood up and started moving forward and backwards laughing out loudly.

“Are you freaking kidding me?” she screamed. “Julia, that is unbelievable! Totally unbelievable! You know what? Find the tag on the inside of your T-shirt and tell me what it says.”

What? What is she talking about?

Whatever. Julia did so. She found a little tag with information on the backwards of her T-shirt and read.

“What does it say, Julia?” asked Julia making a pause between laughing.

Julia couldn’t believe her eyes. And she couldn’t believe Sara. She didn’t want too.

“It says…” she started. “It says Made in Australia…”

No way. No way!

“So…this is your T-shirt?” asked Julia with widely open eyes. No way.

“Of course it’s mine! Can you imagine that? You have mine and I have yours! God, that is hilarious!”

Finally Julia started laughing. Indeed, that was hilarious.

“Someone told me that their award was…” said Sara, “guess what…A gift certificate to Plato’s Closet! Haha…it’s definitely not for us!”

After that Julia and Sara became friends. It’s a usual happy end. Like in American movies.

One day they even went to Plato’s closet together.

From Julia’s diary on July 26th (before the departure to America):

“What I’m looking forward to have in America is that my every single day will be exciting and unforgettable. It will be a new world and to explore its every tiny part I will have 10 months! Here, in Ukraine, I know everything about everything, but there…Oh, I’m sure I will forget about what the word ‘routine’ means.

Days before departure: 24. “


November. Another day in America. How many of these have Julia had already? Hundred? Hundred and twenty? Hundred and twenty one? The saying “Make every day count” drove Julia crazy. How? How is it possible to make every day count? Why didn’t the author of this sophisticated saying explain the using of it?

It was November 17th. Julia was home after school and she was writing her diary:

“I want to make every day unforgettable. But when I go to school and spend hours just sitting there and knocking the table with my pen waiting for hours to come by. And when I go home eager to do something and to actually make my day unforgettable my host mom just sits there and watches TV. I want to jump, I want to scream, because I’m in America!!!!! But she doesn’t understand what I mean. She is American and she cannot get how cool this is to live in America. She doesn’t understand that the things which are usual for her are a complete new experience for me! I want to scream when she tells me “Let’s watch TV, Julia!” I hate the phrase “Let’s watch TV!” It sounds like “Forget that you are in America and you have a limited time – just come here and do nothing.”

From the completely new unexplored piece of planet America all of the sudden turned into something familiar. I know all the people already, I’ve had tacos and burgers and milkshakes; I know how to put gas on the gas station and how to pay for it with credit-card…How could I let this happen? I want something else! I want some more America! I want people to give me time to do different things!

Tomorrow will be another day…All the same.”


“Hey, Julia!” she suddenly heard the voice of her host mom.

“Yes, Susie!” said Julia out loudly.

“Let’s watch some TV!”


***

Another day. Julia was riding a school bus to get to school.

The first days of riding it Julia was learning everything around her: the people, the places where everyone sat, the panoramas, the possible variants of bus driver’s little speech when he picks up the speaker, that little boy with extremely red head and extremely blue eyes who sits next to her, the house with turtles’ shells on it, two gossip girls discussing people Julia unfortunately didn’t know …Starting approximately from the third week of riding a school bus all she did there was sleeping. Nothing more. At least it made her mind forget that she was wasting forty minutes of her day there.

Nothing changed that day. On the school bus Julia was taking a nap and at times looking out of the window. She always looked at the trees. Today they were a bit shaky dancing their strange tree dance. The wind was their music. The branches were whispering about something unknown to each other. They were probably wondering about their future trying to guess whose destiny will it be to become a paper and who will turn into bench or fence. So may be they were not dancing but trembling thinking about that?...

Julia felt asleep. On the background noise two gossip girls were discussing someone. Julia did hear them but she didn’t listen to them. Though her mind seemed to record everything they said. And when in school someone mentions the person those girls discussed Julia was surprised because she could suddenly realize that she knew a bunch of stuff about them.

“She annoyed me so bad last year…” heard Julia. “She was in my English class and she always knocked the table with her fingers or the floor with her feet. She freaking did it all the time! I was willing to kill her because I just couldn’t concentrate! Gosh…she was weird.”

“And then…,” Julia heard the voice of another girl, “after that event, you know what I mean, someone told me she behaved really weirdly. One day she all of the sudden clapped her hands right in the classroom. It was quiet, you know, students were writing something, and she just clapped her hands. It scared people! That was really random…”

Girls continued to talk. Julia continued to sleep.

As the bus arrived to school, the classes started.

Julia knew exactly whom and when she will meet in the hallway. In her school the break between classes was only 4 minutes, so students came up with some convenient and fast ways to their lockers and to the classrooms. Julia knew that after the first break she would meet Toby, her friend from choir class. He would normally be talking to a tall guy who was in basketball team. Five more steps towards her locker and she would meet Dan, Sierra and Ashley (her theatre friends) who always did something crazy when meeting Julia. Dan, for example, could scream “Ukraine is the worst country in the world!” as a sign of love and they all would laugh. Right near her locker Julia’s Math teacher would pass by her and say “What’s up, Julia?” Every single day it was the same. Julia wanted new people, new activities, new events. New America.

It was fourth period already. English class.

“Guys, we are going to do something completely new today!” said Mr. Wright, English teacher. “Each one of you will work with a partner and basically you will talk about each other. What I want you to do is to look at each other from psychological point of view and come up with some kind of advice to make each other better. Today you will just talk and discuss things, but for tomorrow I would like you to bring a little essay with your advice to your comrade, of course, with some metaphors and stuff so that it sounds beautiful. Ok, any questions?”

No. No questions.

“Then go ahead and start! I’ll be here to help you.”

Julia looked around looking for a partner.

“Hey, Julia!” said Vicki who was sitting next to her. “We can work together if you don’t mind!”

“Sure,” said Julia without any excitement.

“Ok, than let’s go ahead. Will you go first?”

“Sure,” said Julia without any excitement.

She looked at Vicki for a little bit trying to come up with an advice but she realized that she didn’t know hardly anything about her. Vicki was quiet all the time and no one ever knew what was going in her mind whether a thunderstorm or a peaceful sunny weather. She seemed satisfied with everything. A quiz? Sure, no problem. Her eyes still blue and calm as a sky in summer. A huge homework? Anytime. Just let her write it down.

“You know, Vicki,” started Julia; she wasn’t in a mood of a nice lie with a coward smile on her face and she didn’t really care about what Vicki thinks about her (and that is dangerous combination). “I don’t think you value life enough. You don’t seem to love it. You just accept everything the routine gives you. I don’t know you enough but as a matter of fact I can state that you just don’t care. Whatever happens – it seems to be fine for you. You sit on this boring class which has no point at all and it doesn’t bother you even though, I’m sure, you would be happy to do some other things beyond the school instead. But you just give up and do what you are supposed to do. And so you don’t care. When I’m on some of the classes I feel like I’m wasting my time. I just value every minute of my life too much to waste it. Especially, since I’m in America. So, my advice is that you should love your life more.”

Vicki’s facial expression changed. Julia felt like she accused Vicki in a deadly sin, because never ever before saw Julia such a gradual change in her face.

Silence. Julia’s nerves burning. The fire spread all over her face and came out as a blush on her chicks.

Silence.

Something absolutely unexplainable was happening. Vicki’s face was kind and peaceful even with that extremely big change, she even seemed to smile slightly. But Julia experienced all kinds of emotions during those seconds. She felt like an executor. Why?

Silence. Seconds climbing by as like snails.

“I’m glad you brought up this issue, Julia.”

Relieving sigh of Julia’s mind. She didn’t care what Vicki just said. The main thing was that she said it! She said it! The sound of her voice was like a cure. Like a water to that spreading fire of awkwardness in Julia’s mind. Thanks, Vicki.

“It’s funny, but I wanted to give absolutely the same advice to you. To love your life more.”

What? It doesn’t make any sense, but anyway continue, Vicki.

“I constantly see you tapping your leg upon the floor and turning around to check what time it is and probably how much time is left towards the end of the class. I want to help you. Just so you know the story I am going to tell you is…um…it’s just hard for me to remember all that…and to tell, so don’t…”

“Hey, Vicki Smith!” interrupted Mr. Wright. “They want you to go to the office right now. Take your stuff with you!”

Vicki took all her belongings very quickly as if she knew and expected that. Then she left without saying anything else.

Julia was sitting there trying to figure out what her words could mean. When Vicki left, it felt like advertisement break right in the most intriguing part of the movie. Dang!

The rest of the class Julia was trying to understand Vicki’s words. How could she think Julia didn’t love her life? What did she mean? Those were the questions of the day. All the rest of the classes Julia was thinking about that. And on the way home riding a school bus. And in the house while her host mom Susie was watching TV.

***


No, Julia was too curious to just forget what Vicki told her. She tried to do her homework, but couldn’t concentrate. She tried reading a book, but got distracted.

Last year Susie hosted another exchange student. When Julia remembered that she decided to talk to her.

Julia went downstairs.

“Susie, did Ivan last year talk about his classmates at school?” asked Julia.

“Oh, sure,” answered Susie. “He told me a lot about that.”

“Do you know anything about Vicky Smith? Did he tell you anything?”

“Vicky Smith…I’m trying to remember…Oh, that weird girl with always braded brown hair?”

“I guess…Yes, she does brad her hair.”

“There are all kinds of stories about her. Ivan told me that one day they were taking test and she just clapped her hands right in the middle of the class. It’s not really a big deal but it just was very random. No one got it. And she also won some kind of writing contest and her essay was published in the newspaper…”

While Susie kept on talking Julia was being confused. Vicki clapped her hands in the middle of the class? Wait…Julia heard that already. Right! The school bus! Those two girls on the school bus! So they were talking about Vicki….But they also said that she was knocking the pen upon her desk all the time. And that is exactly what she accused Julia with!

I’m totally lost, thought Julia.

“Hey, Julia!” said Susie. “Are you listening?”

“Yes, continue.”

“So, I have a newspaper somewhere in the pack on the bookshelf. I saved that one. You can read about it. It’s a kind of sad story. I feel sorry for this girl. And her essay is also in the newspaper. I never happened to read it though. So read it and tell me what you think.”

Julia went to look for that newspaper straight away.

“How is it called, Susie?” screamed Julia.

“Um…It’s something like ‘Democrat’!” replied Susie.

“’Democrat’…’Democrat’…where are you?” talked Julia to herself. “Here you are!”

Julia opened the newspaper and started browsing. She had no idea what article was about Vicki.

One of the titles said “A terrible car accident involved high school student”. No, it’s definitely not it. Well, Julia decided to check. The first paragraph said:

“On December 8th early in the morning a terrible car accident took place on the Road 35. Red Mercedes crashed a tree because of ice and was completely destroyed. The driver , 40-years-old woman, died immediately. So did her 18-years-old son. The passenger on the back seat survived and almost didn’t get injured. Vicki Smith, 15-year-old high school student saw her mother and brother die right in front her eyes.”

Not necessary to continue reading.

Silence. Heavy, heavy silence.

It all reminded Julia an episode from some kind of sad movie. They use such a story line a lot. And you never believe, do you? It’s primitive and not interesting. It’s cliché. But the clichés like this are made by life not by people.

Julia suddenly remembered all the movies she watched with deaths in them and her feelings increased by hundreds times since she realized it was actually real. It actually did happen in the life behind the curtain.

Everything suddenly started making sense. Vicki was just like Julia hating school and passionately waiting for the rest of the classes. But after that… She changed.

Right under the article Julia found an essay. That very essay by Vicki that Susie was talking about.

Julia started reading it to keep her eyes busy with words. That is better than tears.

“Some people told me they loved their lives too much to waste them. But when I saw some of them standing in line they were tapping their feet as if beating time upon the floor. May be that’s where the phrase ‘to kill time’ derives from.

Standing in line is a test. You and your life are alone. It’s staring at you waiting for your next actions. The test turns out as the battle. You are unarmed. Your iPod is left at home. The service is suddenly cut off and your friends’ texts are stuck somewhere in the air on the halfway to your cell phone. You could win the battle if you’d really loved your life. If you loved it overall but not by parts.

You lost.

When I lost two of my dearest people in one second I realized that my tears would be a proof that I didn’t value them while they were with me. I took them for granted. I didn’t know that any kind of supreme power would take them from me. But the life did. I begged for a single moment with them. But where did the 15 years go? The 15 years I spent with them. Why would I cry persuading the God or whoever is in the sky that one moment as apart of fifteen years would make me happy? This is how I realized the value of the moment. The value of the every second moment of life.

Now I’m happy every day. I go to school and I see my classmates. Alive. I see my friends and my ‘enemies’. I’m equally glad to see both of them. And during the classes when they do what teacher tells them I just look at them. Look at them being unaware how life slowly pass by. It’s such a pleasure to look at them breathing and blinking. They never notice they blink. But I do notice everything about them. Once I even clapped my hands during the classes so that they all blink simultaneously. It made me happy but they still didn’t notice anything.

Only God knows how much would I sacrifice to make everybody now the value of the moment. Life is not just a nice weather, good mood and delicious meal. Life is standing in the line and waiting for the slow Internet to load a page. Both of the sides are equally valuable.

Love your life. Be aware of it. Pay attention to people around you, because you never know when will be the last time you see them. Don’t try to fulfill your life with events. It’s merely an illusion of happiness. Even the biggest orchestra uses only seven notes to perform the greatest piece of music.

Love your life without make-up. In the way it appears the most times. “

Silence. Julia’s heavy thoughts rushing through her mind.

Everything suddenly started to make sense…



Julia dropped the newspaper and looked around. The walls had such a beautiful paint on them. Warm orange. Why didn’t she ever notice that?

Julia went up to the room where the TV was talking all this time. For some reason everything around Julia seemed so new. And so beloved.

Julia saw Susie sitting on the couch watching TV. Alive.

Everything suddenly started to make sense.

“Susie,” said Julia in a very low voice.

“Yes.”

“Let’s watch TV.”


P.S. That night Susie was indeed confused about Julia’s behavior. Like Julia she was keeping a diary and that day she wrote down this:
“Today Julia behaved very strangely. First, she volunteered to watch TV with me. It was the very first time she did that. And I don’t quite understand the reason. Secondly she was staring at me for a long time. I pretended like I didn’t notice it. I wonder, what was going on. And finally she suddenly clapped her hands which was unexpected and scared me a lot. I think that girl Vicki has a bad influence on her. “

The hardest part of staying in USA is dealing with people.

“I feel like I’m in someone’s soul,” said once Julia during the lunch.

“What do you mean by that?” they asked her.

“Being in foreign country, specifically in America, isn’t just about language barrier or differences in system of education. It’s dealing with people. People from one country share one soul. Beyond their own personalities they have something in common. Something what people from other countries don’t have. Dealing with it is what makes staying in any foreign culture difficult.”

When Julia said all of these to her host mother, Susie, she asked her, “Isn’t there anything in common among all the cultures? Like mutually shared values or anything like that?”

“I don’t know,” answered Julia. “At this point of my staying in USA I’ve faced only differences. Let’s see what the rest of the year will bring me.”

“I am sure you understand what I’m talking about pretty soon,” confidently replied Susie.

“I guess…”




Tuesday. Another day in school. It’s winter already.

Right now Julia has her Psychology class. She is one of the best students there even though she doesn’t do her homework.

“There certain types of personalities,” teacher was preaching, “who try to…”

“Whatever,” Julia thought. Her favorite thing to do during classes was people-watching.

People in Julia’s school were very important to her. Even those she didn’t know. They all became her environment, her society, her America. They became her substitute of Ukrainian life. None of them realized how much they meant to that girl who always gave them a look in the hallway mysteriously smiling. Julia loved all of them.

Yet, talking to people who have different prospectives on life was challenging. No emotions exposed, no true opinions, no curses aloud. Just smile and keep conversation. Thankfully, there are such common phrases in American English that can keep any conversation going. “Sounds good,” “That’s so cool,” “That’s so cute,” “Whatever,” and of course “How are you doing?” or “How is it going?” or “What’s up?” And definitely smile. No silence and no awkward pauses.

Julia felt bad about herself. She wanted to be nice and friendly to everyone, but she just couldn’t. Though people didn’t suffer from it, Julia did. All her feelings remaining inside were like a disease eating her out. Exchange students are not allowed to have enemies.

There were some people in her classes Julia couldn’t stand. They were divided into two types: those, who are too talkative and those who are too quiet.

Julia glanced at the guy, who was silent all the time. Even when the teacher asked him something he talked really quietly as if it was expensive to speak up. For some reason he was getting on Julia’s nerves. It’s her thing: she hated quiet people. Thankfully, that guy didn’t talk to her, because otherwise she wouldn’t be able to be nice to him.

“Stop it, Julia,” she said to herself. “This person didn’t do anything bad for you but you despise him for some reason. It’s so mean of you.” As soon as she looked at his bored face again she realized her little speech to herself was not persuasive at all.

Julia tried to think what would she reply if he asked her for help. She hated to acknowledge it but she would probably say no. I’m going to hell after I die, thought Julia.

When class was over, Julia headed to her locker. The walk from the classroom to the locker is probably the most social part of school (apparently, not including extracurricular activities). This is a time of constant smile and mouth on ‘cruise control’ of the word ‘hello’. It was different in Julia’s Ukrainian school where breaks are not less than ten minutes and you have much more time to do things.

During the break you don’t have time to talk to anyone. Yet, thankfully, lockers are located close to each other which means you can talk to the person whose locker is next to yours. Julia had such person too. In fact, she had two of them, girl and boy, but the boy was very shy and never talked, and always had unsatisfied facial expression. Also he always opened his locker door all the way to the right which didn’t let Julia open her locker. What she did was without saying a word move his door so that she could actually open it. Even then he didn’t say anything like ‘Sorry’ or ‘Excuse me.’

The girl was nice though. She always talked to Julia and laughed at her jokes. But the thing about her, just like about a lot of other Americans, was that she and Julia didn’t talk every break, but sometimes ignored each other pretending that they didn’t notice each other. In Ukraine, whenever Julia saw a person for the first time in day and they were in one room or somewhat close to each other they were supposed to say ‘hi’ to show that you are aware of them. So Julia was surprised at first that some of her friends she had classes with ignored at her even though they were near her.

The same thing was when someone was late to class. Without saying a word and without any emotions a student just gave a pass to the teacher and took his seat. When Julia first saw someone do it she thought that it was extremely rude, because in Ukraine she would normally say ‘hi’ and explain the reason of being late. But not here.

As Julia’s year was going through her year she didn’t even notice that eventually whenever she was late she entered the classroom without saying a word. And without any emotions.

After break Julia had her US History class which was right after Psychology. There was a girl who bothered Julia as well. And the thing was that she was talking to Julia all the time. Only God and Julia’s diary know how hard it is for her to stay calm during that class.

“Hey, Julia!” said Keili (that very girl) happily as she approached her in the hallway. “How have you been doing? What’s wrong with you? You seem tense.”

Crap.

“I’m fine, thanks. How are you?” said Julia.

“Oh, I am just amazing! Yesterday I went to that big sale in the mall. Gosh, I bought so much stuff! So, I bought this necklace, this skirt, this lip stick…You should’ve come with me, Julia! We would have so much fun! SO MUCH FUN! Oh, and then I went to the pet’s store and bought some cookies for my doggy! You should meet him! He is so cute! Do you like little dogs, Julia?”

I despise them, thought Julia.

“Yes, I do,” she said.

“Well, then you should…” Keili started her reply.

Julia was absorbed with her thoughts. Which were not that sweet as Keili’s words.

Oh, exchange student’s life is challenging. Where should they put their personalities and emotions willing to be free when people around either keep silence all the time or talk as if it’s expensive to shut up? At least, it teaches you to put up with things.

“Julia! Are you listening?” asked Keili.

“Yes, of course, I am listening.”

Bell, thought Julia, please ring!

And it did. Thanks God. Thanks the person who made it ring. Keili stopped her exciting story and looked at the teacher coming in.

“Hey, guys,” said teacher entering the classroom. He looked like a savior for Julia. “Today we are going to go to the computer lab and do some research. I’ll give you worksheet and you need to write a paper based on tips written there. That’s pretty much it. So, why don’t we go ahead and head toward lab? If you have any questions I’ll be more than happy to help you.”

OK, said students mentally and rushed to the lab. Keili’s voice still wandered in Julia’s mind.

Anyway. It was another big difference between educational system in Ukraine and USA: technology. Every classroom in American school has projector and at least one computer. To say nothing of the computer lab. Everyone has its own computer. In Julia’s school in Ukraine on I.T. class she was supposed to share it with two more people. Can Americans imagine that?

Sometimes, when the lab is occupied, the students stay in classroom and the librarian brings a laptop for every student! And students who take Chemistry class receive their own iPad for one semester. This is unbelievable. At least, for Julia.

The paper for US History didn’t take long to be filled. As soon as it was completed, Julia started browsing in Internet.

Boredom. Even though Julia said that she liked that school was so easy in USA, sometimes she wanted it to be more challenging.

In order to entertain herself Julia went to the Documents to browse through student’s stuff if there was any there. She discovered the folder ‘Creative writing projects.’ Interesting, assumed Julia. She liked writing. Since she took creative writing class too she knew what those projects were about. Her own one was supposed to be somewhere in that folder too.

When Julia opened the folder, she observed Word documents named with different students’ names. Julia realized, that she wasn’t really supposed to browse through that folder in terms of privacy, but…who cared? She started reading through them.

“Alice Thomas, essay,” “John Rose, poem,” “Hannah Johnson, poem”. Julia went through all of these titles and stopped her choice at the short story by Trevor Mills even though she had no idea who was that guy.

The story was five pages long, just like Julia’s. As she read it she realized that that guy was talented. His story was flowing and it kept Julia on the edge of the chair. It took her about five minutes to read it though she didn’t notice time flowing at all. That was a good short story. To say in few words, it was about a guy who traveled around the world and took pictures and then sold them. The writing was so much like Julia’s own.

That guy, thought Julia, is interesting, I want to meet him.

Julia reread the story one more time. It was about ten minutes till the end of the class. This time as she read it more carefully she noticed some mistakes in the words.

What should I do, Julia asked herself, just leave it like that or correct them? Those projects were due that day so that guy probably didn’t get a chance to edit his story. If she just left it she would feel bad. Yet, if she corrected it she would still bad, because it seemed totally against school rules.

Well, thought Julia, if I’m going to feel bad anyway, why don’t I do a good thing instead of doing nothing? “You are right, Julia,” answered to herself.

Thankfully, all the mistakes were highlighted with the red line (thank you, Microsoft Word), so to edit the whole thing didn’t take long. It were some minor mistakes such as the word ‘their’ instead of ‘there’, or accidently put two letters ‘s’ in the word ‘school’. Nothing too serious.

Julia confessed to herself, that it felt good to do things like that.

As soon as the bell rang Julia’s little commitment was forgotten. The day swam in its stream as usually.

The following day events were quite predictable. Classes started and the arrow on the clock was making its dance. This is how school goes for Julia: 55 minutes of sitting and four minutes long life in between.

Now Julia had her Physics class.

“Julia!” said teacher suddenly interrupting her from her thoughts. “Everyone is taking notes, you should too.”

“Oh,” said Julia as if he woke her up, “ Sure”.

All right, notes then.

Few minutes later she was distracted looking at people. Two seats away from Julia was sitting that quiet guy.

God, thought Julia, it must be hard to be such an empty person. He stares at world but world doesn’t even notice him. Speak up, man! You are too quiet!

Suddenly the door opened and the counselor came in. She was a woman about 50 years old with really childish face features. She was blond and reminded of fairy.

“May I see Trevor Mills please?” she asked.

“Yes, of course,” answered teacher.

The silent guy stood up and left the classroom along with counselor.

Julia tried to remember where she heard that name, Trevor Mills…Was it on TV? No, it was definitely in school. Wait…was that the one who wrote the short story about travelling?

Yes, it was him! Definitely!


Hard to believe.

Of course, Julia knew that making judgments of people not knowing anything about them was a bad idea because you might be mistaken, but when she actually saw this statement proven in life it was a different feeling.

But…why was he quiet all the time if he was talented? Nonsense. For Julia those two characteristics were contradictory. She didn’t know what to think of that guy any more, he confused her. But even though confused Julia was happy because she realized that she helped him. It feels good anyway, but when you do it to the person you don’t like the feeling is that you are at least hero.

It made Julia’s day.

Unbelievable, she thought, this is what happens when people share the technology. In her school there were probably quite a bit of those folders with students’ art works and basically everyone could access them. It’s like a social network.

In a few minutes, when Trevor returned, he took his seat and became the same person he seemed to be primarily: quiet and indifferent. Nothing changed, but Julia’s prospective did.

When the class was over Julia traditionally went to her locker. Streams of students were rushing into hallway hurrying to satisfy their needs in four minutes. In front and behind Julia there was a bunch of people talking. Unexpectedly, one of them happened to be Trevor. That very Trevor who seemed to never open his mouth at all and who wrote good short stories.

“So, how are you doing, Trevor?” asked one guy next to him.

“I’m fine, thanks,” answered Trevor bewildering Julia with his voice. Honestly, she didn’t realize that he had one. It was subtly manly voice.

“I feel a kind of nice because I helped one person who will probably never figure that out,” continued Trevor. Julia still listening.

“What do you mean?” asked his friend. Julia felt grateful for him, because he asked the question she was curious about.

“In my creative writing class we were supposed to write some kind of art work and turn it in to teacher today. And on my English class we were in lab, so I decided to browse through the folder which had those art works in it. And I happened to read the one by that Ukrainian girl, Julia. She had so many mistakes there so I decided to correct them. That’s pretty much it. It feels good to do things like that, you know.”

I know, thought Julia. She couldn’t believe her ears. So, he did that too? It felt like he stole something from her.

She suddenly became curious if Trevor liked her story.

“So, did you like her story?” asked the guy.

Thank you, thought Julia.

“Yes, actually it was pretty good,” Trevor started.

Seriously? Julia was smiling widely, as a child. To hear that from such a talented young writer was an achievement for her.

“It was pretty cool written I’d say. All those metaphors, explanations. It wasn’t just a narration of the story.”

“Really? I didn’t happen to talk to her but now I’m curious what kind of person she is.”

“Are you?” asked Trevor. “Well, I think she is too talkative. It’s just getting on my nerves sometimes.”

What an unexpected reply. No way! Julia is too talkative? No! It’s Trevor who is too quiet!

Julia couldn’t fully acknowledge all the irony of the case. He thinks she is too talkative, she’s convinced he’s too quiet. Julia suddenly started laughing at all this absurd.

Meanwhile, the four minutes were running down. Julia’s locker was waiting for her. She was slowly proceeding through the stream of students analyzing everything she’s heard. Unbelievable.

That specific four minutes long life in between classes happened to be very full.

Julia couldn’t stop thinking about that event. It was her Creative Writing class already.

Everyone was curious about whose art work was the best. Honestly, Julia didn’t care. Her mood was good anyway.

“I know you are all curious, so I will not loiter,” said Ms. Miller, the teacher. “So, the best short story is the one by Trevor Mills! Congratulations to him! He’s not in this class, but it doesn’t really matter. I bet, he’ll be happy.”

Of course, he will, thought Julia. She realized that there was her part of help in that victory. Who knows, maybe he wouldn’t win if she didn’t edit some of his mistakes.

“But our second place goes to Julia, our dear Ukrainian. Congratulations, Julia! Your story was amazing!”

Julia couldn’t help smiling. She was happy and she suddenly realized that she was extremely grateful to Trevor.

“Thanks, Ms. Miller. I am very happy right now!” she replied.

“Oh, you are welcome. Keep writing!”

It actually does feel good to do good things, thought Julia.

All the rest of the class Julia kept smiling.

So maybe that is what Susie meant by ‘something that all the cultures have in common’. Now Julia understood it.

Kindness and being a good person is an international rule. And international key to feel better.



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JOIN THE DISCUSSION

This book has 16 comments.


Skyness said...
on Jan. 2 2012 at 5:27 pm
Skyness, Nashville, Indiana
0 articles 0 photos 7 comments

Favorite Quote:
Even the biggest orchestra uses only seven notes.

Thank you for your attention and your time, Rachel. I'm glad that you had a nice time reading my stories. That was my aim: to entertain, but not to make some brainwashing with important questions of being. Well, at least not in these stories. Thanks a lot!!!!

on Jan. 2 2012 at 2:26 pm
Your writing is truly incredible. There is something beautiful and captivating about the way one expresses themself in a language that is not their own. Your stories are emotional, engaging the reader and making them believe in a perspective that challenges their own. You have also learned the greatest trick of the short story: the circle. By the end, everything is united. The story about the piano player was my favorite; what a pretty thought. Keep writing, my girl. You have immense talent!

on Jan. 2 2012 at 10:45 am
I'm a friend of Andrea Zimmermann's, and I also work for Peace Corps Ukraine.

Skyness said...
on Jan. 2 2012 at 9:53 am
Skyness, Nashville, Indiana
0 articles 0 photos 7 comments

Favorite Quote:
Even the biggest orchestra uses only seven notes.

Dear Andrea! I'm extremely grateful for all your efforts! I know that I reply the same way to every comment, but unfortunately there are no synonyms to the phrase 'thank you'. So, thank you, Andrea!!!

Skyness said...
on Jan. 2 2012 at 9:51 am
Skyness, Nashville, Indiana
0 articles 0 photos 7 comments

Favorite Quote:
Even the biggest orchestra uses only seven notes.

I'm very grateful for your comment, even though I have no idea who you are. It was my aim to make a reader to feel specific way. And it makes me happy when in comments like this I read that I succeeded. Thank you!!!!

on Jan. 2 2012 at 3:49 am
I liked this story immensely. The issues of language and of understanding individual words are clearly communicated, and although the grammar isn't completely "standard," that actually makes the story more effective at points, and I wouldn't "correct" it. It makes the narrative voice feel more like Julia's thoughts. Your descriptions are short, but extremely powerful, and make the reader imagine the truth of what you say. Sentences like "The city continued to live, unlike her." make me feel like curling up into a ball when I think about the difference between a person with their feelings and anguish, and the impersonality of New York City.

on Jan. 2 2012 at 3:03 am
I love the way your stories have a little twist at the end and then come full circle. Your insights into such everyday problems have a real ability to connect with your readers, regardless of their age. I'm going to share this with all of my friends. I can't wait to read your next story! :)

auliere said...
on Jan. 1 2012 at 9:41 pm
I don't think that my nickname means something, I made it up. 'Hard' may be the wrong word. I mean that sometimes it is tricky to understand other people because of the culture, language etc. It is fun though. I like the way you show the feelings of an exchange student in your stories.

Skyness said...
on Jan. 1 2012 at 8:30 pm
Skyness, Nashville, Indiana
0 articles 0 photos 7 comments

Favorite Quote:
Even the biggest orchestra uses only seven notes.

Thank you, Auliere (I wonder what your nickname means). It depends. For me it's not hard for some reason. Are you homesick?

auliere said...
on Jan. 1 2012 at 8:07 pm
These stories are so interesting! Being an exchange student is not easy at all...

Skyness said...
on Jan. 1 2012 at 7:31 pm
Skyness, Nashville, Indiana
0 articles 0 photos 7 comments

Favorite Quote:
Even the biggest orchestra uses only seven notes.

Thank you!

Skyness said...
on Jan. 1 2012 at 7:31 pm
Skyness, Nashville, Indiana
0 articles 0 photos 7 comments

Favorite Quote:
Even the biggest orchestra uses only seven notes.

Thaaaaaank you! You can't imagine how all these coments and words are making me happy! thank you. Yes, I do write. Hopefully, I will all my life!

Skyness said...
on Jan. 1 2012 at 7:29 pm
Skyness, Nashville, Indiana
0 articles 0 photos 7 comments

Favorite Quote:
Even the biggest orchestra uses only seven notes.

I was there once and it was unforgettable. It was definitely inspiring for me and I'm going to write another short story about it. I strongly recommend you to to volunteer there! The feeling is touching...especially the part about writing letters.

sophia33 said...
on Jan. 1 2012 at 5:21 pm
Hey again, I just read the part about pages to prisoners. I feel like I can relate to it so much! It has so much feeling. At my college we can volunteer at pages to prisoners and I think I'm going to now. It's sounds really awesome. I love how you describe it as a mystical experience. Those are the best experiences where they feel like they are touching something holy!

sophia33 said...
on Jan. 1 2012 at 4:52 pm
Hey! I don''t know if you remember me, but we met once at church and I saw on facebook that you wanted feedback! This story is so awesome. It has such a good plot and turnaround at the end! I didn't know you could write!

drkittywills said...
on Jan. 1 2012 at 2:45 pm
WOW! What a great short short story. I like the perspective of an exchange student. This is cool!




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