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Click to hear a story spoken in "Geechie" language.

Follow Hope


            Laughter from the students at Mayfield Elementary rushed through the playground, broadcasting the channels of independence. A joyous twenty minutes when all the students calmed their minds from the burdens of school work and rode through the moment of interest, satisfying their individual needs to be kids. In the corner, all alone, there sat a little girl, wearing a soiled white shirt, a pair of cut off blue jeans with quite a few strings running down her legs, and broken down shoes that had a story to tell. The little girl who wore the shoes, Hope was her name, cuffed her ears tightly to block out the chanting sounds from a group of girls known as Preps-R-Us. Saving her mind between the clutches of her hand, Hope held herself securely together. It did not matter how her body felt, it was her mind she had to protect.

            Standing arrogantly in their matching red tennis skirts, white blouses with ruffles around the neckline and lace around the sleeves, and black diamond printed tights with matching black church shoes, the Preps-R-Us girls chanted,

“Spring has sprung, and the sun do shine

I’m so glad, you’re a friend of mine.

We are the friends of ‘82

Bein’ friends, but not with you.”

            The girls laughed and pointed at Hope. Standing in the middle of the group was Sally Duvall, the richest girl in the school. As the school’s bell announced the end of recess, Sally stylishly flung her lovely, light-colored hair to the side. “Come on ladies,” she called to Marlene, Julie, and Nancy. “Let’s go inside.”

            Hope sat near the doorway, so she could be the first one in the class. She lived in a small house where everyone’s clothes were packed on top of each other, releasing a smell of mildew. As if she had nothing else to worry about, the kerosene heater produced an odor that trapped itself in the linen no matter how many times the clothes were washed. 

Prancing in came Sally with her three side kicks. The girls marched past Hope and stuck their noses in the air. They took a seat and all four smiled a million dollar smile at Mrs. Amy Ernest. She was the new fifth grade teacher, and the Preps-R-Us were sure to win her over.

            Hope sat, quietly, as still as the night. Her eyes narrowed, and her ponytail on both sides fixed straight out from her head. Asleep, not Hope Vangoat. Her eyes were wide like the sea, and her mind was sailing elsewhere. The April sun led to joyful faces; yet, Hope had nothing to smile about. No one wanted to be around her, no one wanted to talk to her, and no one probably even knew she existed. Except for when Sally and her friends came around.

Sally playfully turned around, fixed her eyes on Hope, and whispered, “Ink pink, you stink.” Marlene and Julie chuckled hard and held their noses, but Nancy sat with a plain face. Slowly, she turned in Hope’s direction, not speaking a word. Her eyes saw Hope’s pain.

Watching Nancy’s apathetic mood, Sally stopped and asked, “Now where do you want to be?”

Nancy quickly turned around, asking, “What are you talking about?”

Sally threw her hair out of her face. “I said ‘where do you want to be.’ Over here with us, or over there with …?”

“Right here,” Nancy said calmly. “You know this is where I want to be.”

“Well, act like it,” Sally ordered. “You were staring too hard.”

Mrs. Ernest started the class, and soon it was time for lunch. Just like in the class, Hope sat alone in the cafeteria. She faced the wall as she ate, so no one could see her. Food was scarce at home, so she indulged in every crumb on her plate.

After lunch, Mrs. Ernest started class with a math problem. She gave a warm, big smile and asked, “How much is 7 nickels, 3 quarters, 5 dimes, and 2 pennies?"

No one answered. Hope gritted her teeth and twisted her ponytail.

“Can anyone tell me the answer?” Mrs. Ernest continued to ask. She then delivered a warm smile at Sally. “How about you, dear?”

Sally began to count on her fingers. “Five, ten… Hold up Mrs. Ernest, I need some more time.”

Hope twisted her ponytails, ringing them tighter and tighter. Soon her hand popped up.

“Yes, Hope,” Mrs. Ernest pointed.

“It is one dollar and sixty-two cents,” Hope said proudly.

Mrs. Ernest smiled, “You’re absolutely right, Hope.”

Smiling within, Hope refused to let her one moment of fame illustrate the parade inside of her. She did not want to draw attention from Sally.

            At the end of class, Nancy walked next to Hope. “You did a good job in Math,” she said.

Hope’s head declined. She rested her senses on the floor, afraid Nancy’s eyes would whip away her one moment of pleasure.

“Hey ― did you hear me?” Nancy asked as she slightly tapped Hope on the shoulder.

With her head plunged low, Hope finally looked up. “Yes, I heard you,” she replied. “Thanks for …”

Nancy saw the fear written on Hope’s face. In a subtle, soft voice, she said, “Don't be scared of me.”

Hope smiled, and Nancy returned a warm, inviting grin. Whispering through her teeth, Nancy said, “By the way, you are so welcome.” She began to walk away, then quickly turned. “Can I hang out with you?” she asked.

With widely spread lips, Hope replied, “Yea, sure you can.”

John, a short blond haired, stocky boy saw the two girls standing together. He always dipped his nose in other people’s busy. Paid more attention to news than he did to himself. Giggling wildly, he made his way to Sally, who stood next to the pop machine on the other side of Hope and Nancy.

“Guess what?” he began, still giggling through his teeth.

“What?” Sally asked sassily, throwing her hair out of her face.

Nancy over there making friends with that girl.”

“What girl?” Sally looked sideways and stood attentively.

Holding his nose, he replied, “You know who. Inky Pinky Stinky.”

Turning forcefully, Sally observed Hope and Nancy, smiling blissfully together. She snapped her fingers, and in a flash Marlene and Julie appeared. “Ladies,” she began, “we have a mission.” She pointed in the direction of Nancy and Hope. “Look over there. Is that not a sore sight for the eyes?”

“Oh, yes,” squirmed Marlene. “My eyes are almost blind.”

            Watching the girls point at them, Hope and Nancy began to laugh, hysterically, like two hyenas before a prey. They really enjoyed each other’s company, Hope probably a little more. It was the first time anyone ever took the time to even talk to her. The first time anyone ever took the notion to follow Hope.

            The two girls walked to the bus stop. Sally, Marlene, Julie, and John followed.

            "Hey, let's sit together tomorrow," Nancy insisted.

            "I'd love to." Hope smiled. Stopping for a split second, she then asked, "Why do you want to be my friend?"

            "No reason," Nancy replied. "I just want to."

            Sally walked in between the two girls. "Well, well, well," she began. "Look a here."

            "Put a lid on it, Sally," Nancy calmly said. "You always starting stuff."

            "Because she can," Julie then snapped.

            "Yea, she can," Marlene agreed.

            Nancy threw up her hand to stop the three girls. "See you tomorrow, Hope. Go on and catch your bus."

            Hope gracefully walked to the bus, and Nancy turned in the opposite direction.

            "Pick up your lips, ladies." John giggled. "You just got canned." He ran towards his bus, calling for the other children.

            Hope sat near the window and just watched.           

The next day, Nancy waited for Hope near the entrance of school. The two girls smiled at each other and walked into the building, heading straight to a new beginning in a new world with their brand new friendship. The tables turned for Hope when she decided to step outside of her little world to meet the world that has always surrounded her.

            Julie and Marlene made their way to the girls. "Can we hang with y'all?" Marlene asked.

            Nancy looked at Hope, who quickly replied, "I don't mind."

            Standing all alone, Sally dropped her head.

            "Hold up," Hope called to the girls. "I got to do something first." She walked over to Sally and extended her hand. "You care to join us?"

            "Are you sure," Sally asked. "After all I did to you."

            "Yea, I'm sure."

Hope put her arms around Sally, and the two of them met up with the other girls. Mrs. Ernest nodded her head with a smile. Softly, she said, "The berries on the veins are ripened, just in time to harvest." A human chain walked down the hallways, laughing and smiling the way kids are supposed to.

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 Deborah Grate Bennett
April 14, 2011