It was time to leave the middle school. Large yellow buses were waiting for the seats to fill up and teachers were collecting the papers they would take home to read and grade. Masses of children and adults swarmed the front, either entering buses or talking with friends until the last moment, adults supervising their charges or looking for their children.
One girl swerved away from the mass to the back of the school. The girl had tan skin, neglected blond hair that fell to her shoulders and grey eyes behind wire glasses. It was obvious that she was not one of those girls who took pride in her appearance. Her clothes were simple, jeans old and worn, and her socks mismatched. Tied around her waist was an overly large grey jacket she used as a shield. She smelled faintly of urine and sweat. On her back was a large black backpack full of books and papers.
She kept her eyes mostly to the ground, only darting out occcasionally to survey her surroundings. She rounded the corner to the back side of the school that opened to an asphalt play area with foursquare and tetherball set up. Beyond was a large field, part of which had been converted to a loose gravel track. The rest was open field of wild grass, clover, and various weeds.
Her eyes skipped over the playground area and the track and settled on the field she crossed every day to go home. Her eyes widened in surprise. There they were: the geese. Every day, she left school behind an older boy who always ran through the geese. It was a large flock and they made quite a bit of noise that she could always hear even from the back of the school. A smile formed when she noticed that no one was around. She was the first person to leave this way! A plan formed.
She walked toward the flock, moving stealthily. Through her head flitted a memory of feeding ducks at a lake. She remembered going to Wendy’s and afterward, she had gone to the lake with some pieces of bread, excited to feed the expectant ducks. It was fun and cute to see the birds fighting over the food. All was well until one of the birds, a white swan, came out of the water. She swore it was bigger than her. And it wanted bread. As it spread its wings and went toward her, she threw the bread at it and she had started crying as arms hugged her and took her back to the safety of the car.
A glimmer of that fear stayed with her, but these birds were fat and lazy. She got within a few feet of the animals without their changing their behavior in the slightest. They continued pecking at the ground, happily mulling around. She took a loud step toward them, but instead of charging, they fluffed their wings getting away from her. Her smile widened and a gleam entered her eyes.
She charged. Wings flapped. Geese took flight, honking. They kept trying to land. Lazy creatures, she thought. She kept chasing, hands waving. Most of the flock abandoned the field. Their indignant honks filled the air like the complaints in a classroom when a teacher produces Easter break homework.
The girl grinned as she watched them leave. This was the most fun she’d had all day.
She turned, startled. It was the boy, the one who always shooed the birds. His clothes were loose in the style of the stoners of the time, his pants cinched below his waist, with a flat-billed baseball cap. He was hurrying toward the girl, who started walking quicker to the path on the far side of the field.
“That’s my thing!”
Watching him approach, her brain mapped her exit strategy. She started toward the bridge that separated the school’s field with the path home. She knew that he always went right to go home (or, more likely, to the park two neighborhoods down where all the stoners hang out, it suddenly occurred to the girl), so she planned to turn to the left, grateful for the almost immediate turn behind a tall fence. There was a small alley leading to a residential street. She made it to the bridge when she heard more geese honking.
She turned long enough to see that he had run, not at her, but at the rest of the flock. She spared him a long, curious glance. He watched the geese fly away, triumphant. What a weird kid, she thought. Then, she tightened the knot on her waist that had loosened in the excitement, then turned quickly to execute her exit. She stood there for a while, waiting to hear if, for some inexplicable reason, he chose to follow her. She gave it a few minutes, then she relaxed her shoulders. Slowly, she made her way back to the bridge.
The bridge spanned a ditch with barely a trickle of water during most months. There was, however, by the bridge a bunch of trees and enough shade for her purposes. The girl checked under the bridge for people. Satisfied that she was alone, she pulled off her backpack and leaned it against the side of the bridge. She unzipped the big part, took out a library book, then turned around to lean her back against the backpack. She settled in for the 10-20 minutes it would take her sister to make it to her from the high school down the path.
Before finding her page, she laid her head back and looked at the sky, considering a moment before breaking into a grin. I did it!