Three lines of cars circling the chapel, picking up kids and taking them home. Helping them with homework and cooking their dinners.
One little girl is sitting on the sidewalk waiting. Every engine noise that goes by making her look up. This isn’t her first time waiting, it isn’t her first time being the last one here. She wants to hide.
The impatient teacher is pacing behind her; going back into the school to call, again. She wants to hide, to find a dark hole and climb in. Maybe she can. Maybe the teacher will think she was picked up if she comes out and the girl is gone. The girl could hide. She could watch the teacher leave.
But she wouldn’t have food to eat and she is hungry, she didn’t have much for lunch and she didn’t eat breakfast.
She wants to hide, to sleep, to just not be here when her mom shows up. She doesn’t want to go home with her mother but she doesn’t want to stay here. She can’t stay here. She can’t wear these clothes again tomorrow.
It’s too late; the impatient teacher is back and looking angrier. The girl can tell that the teacher didn’t reach her mom. Maybe she’s on her way; maybe she’ll be here soon. She looks at the teacher and says sorry. The teacher sees her for the first time, the tiny underweight waif with unkempt blonde hair and great big eyes. The teacher sits down beside her on the concrete and rests her hand on the girl’s shoulder. She says it’ll be okay and that her mom will be here soon, that she was probably stuck in traffic.
But traffic has been gone for a long time; the school is dark and quiet. Everyone else has gotten home by now, the world feels cold. There hasn’t been the sound of a car going by in a while and as the teacher leans closer the girl hopes she’ll say that she will take her home with her. The big blue car comes around the corner with a squeal of brakes and tires and pulls in coming the wrong way into the parking lot. The door opens and out gets her mother, cigarette in her mouth and shorts riding up her thick thighs. She is yelling for the girl to get in the car, she hasn’t got all day.
Tired and weary, the little girl feels old beyond her years as she lifts herself off the sidewalk, feeling the skin of her legs holding the pattern. She feels the warm hand slide from her shoulder and down her back as she stands and walks to the car. When she climbs in she looks back at the impatient teacher but she is still sitting there, she doesn’t look cross anymore she looks sad and young.
The teacher continues to sit and watch the car as the doors close and it squeals away. The girl knows she’ll be back tomorrow but she isn’t sure what she’ll say to the teacher. She should bring her a flower for waiting with her but she can’t get it from home, her mom would be mad. Maybe she can pick some wild flowers from the hillside next to the school at drop-off in the morning before the morning monitor notices her.
The ride home is unbearably loud. Her mom doesn’t talk and all of her anger comes screaming out through her silence. The girl knows not to say anything about her being late or to ask anything about dinner. She listens to the sound of the road under the tires and the engine of the car and the anger seething from her mother.
She’ll wait until they are home and she’ll find some chore to do and hope that the mood passes. It is a long drive home, through mountain passes and on tight country roads. Half way there the silence is broken.
Her mom has started to hum and she’s tapping her hands on the steering wheel like music is playing. The girl is instantly very still. This is the point when things turn. She has to watch for the right signals and do what her mom is wanting or she’ll make the night so much worse. She may want her to smile and hum along and tap her feet, but not always. Sometimes she wants her to be invisible, to disappear into the car door and not make any sounds or movements. It isn’t always easy to know which.
Her mom’s head turns to the side like she’s looking to the girl to see what she’s doing. She is looking to see if the girl is joining in so the little girl smiles and hums along and taps her fingers with the beat on her scab covered knees. This was the wrong choice. The mom was tricky today and the girl didn’t catch it.
The little girl didn’t go back to school the rest of the week and by the time she did she had forgotten the sweet sad teacher should get flowers.