“One sec, I forgot something,” I declared, trying to hide my rising panic.
I didn’t turn to look at her, but I could feel my best friend Tia’s irritation. I understood. School started in twenty minutes and we were already cutting it close. Every morning we’d walk together. Taking strides just short of a brisk walk, Tia and I would first make a quick stop at the corner store to buy sugary snacks or chips to add to our lunch bags. Afterward, we’d happily chat and giggle as we picked up the pace to get back en route to school.
We had our commute time down to a science and Tia wasn’t trying to mess that up today.
To be late for Ms. Tonnelli’s class was not an option we were willing to risk. The mere thought of creeping up the creaking stairs of our portable classroom minutes after the bell had rung made me shudder with fear.
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But I couldn’t ignore my other reality. The hours I still had ahead of me would be unbearable if I didn’t find a solution. Just the idea of making it through English class, math, history, lunch, and two recesses without what I had forgotten tightened the knots in my stomach.
“I’ll be two minutes. I promise,” I plead with Tia.
I glance up at the towering brick building. My apartment, just four floors up, situated right on the corner of the structure, didn’t feel far but it would cost us at least five minutes.
Before Tia can respond, I fling my backpack down beside her legs and dart toward my home.
Inside my apartment, I find it flung over the side of the couch. A faded black sweatshirt with a Club Monaco crest emblazoned on the front.
I snatch it up and tie the sweatshirt’s arms into a knot around my waist. I pause as I catch a reflection of myself in the mirror.
The frills of the top I’d bought over the weekend from Winners, don’t exactly match the sporty vibe of the sweatshirt.
But I’m relieved. The violent churning in my tummy begins to settle.
It’s just a cover-up. An attempt to distract others from what I’m uncomfortable with them seeing.
I developed the body of a young woman by the time I was a pre-teen. It was a truth I couldn’t hide from because I lost count of how many times I’d get mistaken for the same age as my sister and her friends who were eight years my senior. I’d cringe with embarrassment at the confusion. My sister was settling into her first year of university. Meanwhile, I was still years away from high school.
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Protruding breasts, curved hips and a round behind that made older men, like the one who’d drop his kids off to school in a black Benz every morning, slow down to look. Boys my age were even more forward. Not just with me but with any girl they found even a little bit desirable. Smacking and grabbing bums was the norm.
In those days, I rarely left the house without a hoodie, jacket or longer shirt I could use to camouflage my behind from onlookers.
On the days I’d forget to wear something, my mom would remind me.
“You look nice pookie, but just bring a sweater with you to put around your waist,” she’d encourage when I wore something that would hug my curves just a little too close.
It took a conscious effort to ensure the parts of my body that I didn’t feel comfortable with others noticing were carefully tucked away from anyone’s appraisal or judgement.
As the elevator doors pinged open, it was hard to push down the frustration and disappointment I felt with myself. Betrayed by my developing body, I resented that I couldn’t wear the cropped tops paired with hip-hugger jeans my friends adorned with ease and freedom.
“Hurry up!” Tia’s voice startles me. “We got 15 minutes. We’re gonna have to skip Stop n’ Go today.”
Steps away from the building entrance, she paces back and forth with our backpacks flung over her shoulder.
Just as I catch up to her, she bolts forward into a brisk walk.
Beads of sweat tickle my upper lip and forehead from the heat of the warm morning sun.
Moments later, without breaking her stride, Tia glances over her shoulder and asks,
“You made us late for a sweater?”
This post is written by Safia Bartholomew — writer and co-creator of CRY. Her debut web series, Wallflower, will be out in Spring 2023. Watch the teaser video here.
Wonderful piece Safia! Can't wait to read the rest of this series.