The soccer ball caught her right in the face knocking her glasses askew. That didn’t bother her though. The fact that they laughed didn’t bother her. She didn’t even mind not getting an apology. They never gave one so why should now be any different? No, what bothered her was the fact that she had lost her place. Picking up the book from the field, she gently brushed away the grass blades that had gotten caught between the pages and sighed. She glanced over at the other kids returning to their game. They didn’t look back. She was a brief amusement to them, quickly forgotten.
Lily wasn’t sure why she was always picked on. Her teachers told her to ignore the bullies and try to make friends. Her mother told her that it wouldn’t matter because they’d be moving again in a year or two anyway. Her sister was too young to have an opinion. Lily stopped by the kindergarten room on her way back from the field, peeking in at the four and five year olds settled in for their lunch time nap. Sometimes the kindergarten teachers would let her stay, not hide, there with her sister. It was awkward to do so when she wasn’t even awake though. Lily kept moving, wandering in the direction of the library.
She would eat in the library if they let her, but Mrs. Scheffield was very strict about not letting food or drink near the books when in her care.
“It’s bad enough you snips spill things all over them when you check them out. I don’t want you destroying them in here!”
Instead she ate near a flowery bush she affectionately called the licorice bush. She liked how it smelled. The choice usually led to an unfortunate number of accidents with various types of balls if she did not finish eating before the other kids abandoned the cafeteria. Today was the third time they’d hit her in the face. At least this time she hadn’t been eating. She never saw them tease anyone else. Why? She hated them.
Lily liked Mrs. Scheffield. The cranky elder had nearly lost her false teeth when she had asked to check out The Hound of the Baskervilles, but the rule was you could check out any book as long as you could read the first five pages and explain them to her. It was on the same shelf as the Nancy Drew books she liked. She didn’t care that it was meant for the older kids. Ever since then, Mrs. Scheffield would let her come in to read during lunch when she would normally send kids back out to “enjoy the sunshine.”
The heavy door swung towards her and she dodged backwards as an angry looking woman came charging out carrying several dictionaries. “A student who can’t understand a single word. Of all the chatter-brained nonsense I have had to deal with in all—” She stopped as she noticed Lily, sparing some of her withering scowl for her. “Lunch is almost over. You should start heading back to class,” she snapped. Lily gave a small nod of her head and watched her go.
Inside, Mrs. Scheffield was setting a stack of language books and dictionaries on the returns cart.
“Screeching at me as if I brought her here personally. Like I have any say in the school’s administrative decisions.”
“What happened, Mrs. Scheffield?”
“Lily!” Her gruff manner dissipated. “Did you finish that book already? You just checked it out yesterday.”
“Oh, no. I’m only about halfway through. Lost my place again though.”
“And your bookmark I suppose. Need another?” She started digging around in the drawer beside her before Lily could tell her no.
“Thank you. Mrs. Scheffield, what was that lady so mad about?”
“Nothing dear. She’s just a little unhappy about having some extra work to do. Why don’t you go relax and read? Your favorite spot is open and you still have about ten minutes before the bell.”
Sent to sit in the corner like a little kid. Well, she was one, but that didn’t mean she liked it. There was a mystery right there! A question to be answered. A puzzle to be solved. Well, a curiosity at least. Lily liked knowing why. She plunked herself down in her favorite purple plush chair to think about it before time ran out.
She still had no answers by the end of the day. Picking up her little sister from the kindergarten room, she had to dodge the angry lady again. The woman yelled at the kindergarten teacher, waving one of the dictionaries from earlier in her face. “I want you to take care of it! I don’t know the first thing on the subject and you at least have a little practice. Just teach her like you do the others. It will be fine!”
Teach who? Lily tried to think about it, but her little sister tugged hard on her arm, dragging her towards the buses and stumbling over everything she learned in class that day. “Today I learned to count all of my fingers! OO! Oh, and my toes! I have the same number of fingers and toes! You do too, right?”
“Of course. Most people do.”
“Mr. George doesn’t.”
“Mommy says Mr. George likes sharp things too much and wasn’t careful like he should have been. You remember what mommy said about running with scissors.”
“I could fall and hurt myself, like when I poked my eye and had to be a pirate.” She paused, frowning at the ground. “Being a pirate wasn’t as fun as I thought it would be. It made it hard to watch ponies.”
“Exactly.” Lily stopped listening as they climbed on the bus.
The next day started very much the same as all the others, and lunch brought the usual round of targeted attacks on her limbs. She picked up a few rocks from the ground to hurl back at the kids when her attempt to return fire with the balls failed. The rocks fell harmlessly to the ground. They laughed even harder than when they had at hitting her. She didn’t care. She shouldn’t care. Holding her book tight in one hand and the last rock in the other, she turned and marched towards the kindergarten. She chucked the brown stone as hard as she could at the wall and missed it as well.
“Merda! Una pietra? Chi?” A voice snapped angrily from inside the dark room. Little kids murmured in their sleep and the teacher moved to hush the speaker. Lily ducked quickly against the wall. She didn’t want detention. She hadn’t meant to hit anyone, at least not that time.
“Sshh. You’ll wake the kids.” A pause and a sigh of frustration. “Umm… svegliare… bambini!”
“Signora, mi dispiace.”
“Uh… Yes. Right.” Another pause and ruffling of pages. “Oh why don’t they just assign a translator! This is ridiculous. This isn’t my job. I know it’s not Sharon’s either, but still.”
Lily blinked, creeping closer to the window and popping her head up. The kindergarten teacher was standing behind her desk, several words written in one language on the board with English beside them. A few dictionaries sat open on the table and a girl about Lily’s age stood on the other side, her short curly black hair mussed. The girl’s hand ran up to the snarl and gently massaged the area. That must have been where Lily’s rock landed. She grimaced. She should apologize. She should. The bell rang and she nodded, taking a breath and bolting for her classroom. She didn’t want detention. She could apologize another time.
It was hard to focus in class. When she went to meet with her little sister at the end of the day, the other girl was still in the kindergarten room. Several of Lily’s classmates ringed around her. “Hey, look guys! A new retard to play with!” Chuckles rose from the throats around the speaker, a boy named Christian. He was usually the ring leader behind using Lily as target practice. Apparently he wanted to try expanding his victims. “Hey, idiot! What’s the matter? Too stupid to understand what I’m saying? Look at me, dummy. How long you been stuck in kindergarten?”
The girl didn’t respond. She tried to push her way out of the circle a few times, but they pushed her back. Lily looked around for the teacher, but she couldn’t see her anywhere. “Walk,” the girl said curtly.
“What was that? You need a walk? I think my mom has a leash we could use. Wanna go for walkies, girl? Huh?” The other kids blocking her laughed harder.
The girl reddened. She appeared to understand some at least. She jabbed a finger at Christian’s chest and then away from her. “Walk!”
“Oh, okay. You wanna walk with me? Well, can’t say I’ll turn down the offer of a date normally, but I need my girls to have a certain amount of smarts and I’m afraid you don’t make the cut.” He sneered, looking at the other kids around him. Not as many laughed this time. Lily wasn’t surprised. Most probably wouldn’t get that joke. They laughed anyway. The girl looked almost like a radish now, a very strange shade of red and purple.
Still no teachers nearby, but Lily couldn’t take it anymore. She owed the girl after hitting her, even if it was an accident. She hated Christian anyway. He needed to learn that being mean had consequences. Lily dropped her bag on the ground and dug around at the edge of the sidewalk until she found a few choice rocks. The laughter continued as she grabbed her ammunition. Hopefully this time she would have better aim. She moved a little closer and waved to get the girl’s attention. Some of the kids facing Lily looked confused. Christian began to turn to see what was stealing his audience. The girl looked a little relieved and confused as well. Lily made a downward gesture with her hand and the girl caught on quickly and ducked down. Lily let everything she had fly. “Let her alone!”
Rocks bounced off the kids, one of the large ones giving a solid smack against Christian’s eyebrow, leaving a thin slice trickling blood into his eye. He bellowed and at that moment, the kindergarten teacher came back. “What on earth is going on here? Christian! What happened?” Lily let the last rock drop from her hand and turned to run like the other kids, but Christian was already pointing in her direction. “Lily! Don’t you move a muscle, missy!” Yes, she getting detention.
It was almost an hour before Lily’s mother was able to come to the school. Lily sat outside the counselor’s office, kicking her heels and wondering how bad it was going to be. Christian had been sent to the nurse and then home. No one could understand the other girl and had just ended up shushing her when she shouted, pointing between Lily and Christian. She guessed the girl tried to defend her in exchange for her own attempted rescue. Neither went well. She sat beside her on the bench now, looking up at the ceiling, then at Lily and back. “Perché?”
“Perché… eh… why?”
“Oh, umm… I don’t like bullies. He’s mean to me too and likes to use me as a soccer goal.”
She shook her head. She didn’t understand. Lily thought back to one of her Nancy Drew books and then remembered how Nancy had solved a case using charades to figure out parts of sign language. Why not? She hoped her mother would be in there for a long time yet. Lily mimed an evil look and laughter, then drew her hand across her brow where the rock had hit Christian. “Christian.” The girl nodded. Lily continued, drawing a circle and then mimed kicking a ball around with her feet, kicked it hard and then mimed the circle hitting her in the face. The girl nodded again, scowling. Lily held up her hand with three fingers.
“Now that word I know! Cretin!” Lily said excitedly, nodding. She had been proud when she found that one in the dictionary. The girl blinked and smiled, then looked sad.
She made a face like she was in pain. “Male.” She repeated, making the face again.
“Oh, hurt? Yeah… A bit.” Lily nodded. She rubbed the side of her face. The girl nodded, rubbing the back of her head a bit too. Lily realized it was the same spot where she had clocked her. “Hey… um…” Lily pointed at her head. The girl pulled her hand away.
“Qualcuno ha gettato una pietra contro di me,” she said simply, then realized Lily wouldn’t understand and looked like she was about to mime her own story. Lily held up a hand.
“Pietra?” Lily made a show of throwing rocks like she had earlier. The girl nodded. “Umm.. It was me. An accident!” She said quickly as she pointed at herself, mimed the throwing motion with an angry face, and then pointed at her and winced, rubbing her head. “Merda!” Lily then made a panicked face and shrunk in a little. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hit you with it. I was mad at him.”
The girl tilted her head a minute and for a second Lily thought she didn’t understand. She seemed surprised when she said the word the girl had. She didn’t know what it meant. The girl blinked and then burst out laughing. That was unexpected. She wiped a hand over her face and took a deep breath.
“Karila,” she pointed at herself.
“Lily,” she held out her hand to shake Karila’s. Karila reach forward and then brought her hand around and gave a light slap to the back of Lily’s head instead. Lily blinked and shrunk back, frowning. Karila just smiled.
“Siamo anche,” Karila motioned one hand, then the other and ex-ed them out.
Lily blinked and then laughed herself. “Okay.”
Karila held out her hand this time. “Amica. Friend.” Lily smiled and grabbed her hand tightly and then pulled her into a hug.
“Friends, but we’re going to need a dictionary. Do you like libraries?”