I am posting chapters 1 and 2 again after making the corrections suggested by Infovore and fixing a couple of other mistakes. I’m adding chapter 3 too in the hope I’ll keep getting reactions.
My name is Helen and I’m a good girl even though I often get in trouble at school.
“Be good, Helen.” My dad kisses me good-bye whenever he goes on a trip.
I seldom see my dad because he’s a truck driver and there’s constantly an urgent shipment he has to deliver. Usually he’s away for a couple of weeks. When he arrives home I’m always asleep and by the time I wake up, he’s gone again.
“Why are you on the road all the time?” I ask my dad when I finally get to see him.
“Because we need to pay for the house, Helen.” He shrugs. “For your mom’s car too. And for your toys and clothes. All these things cost money.”
I’d like to see my dad more often, but I don’t think I’m ready to give up my clothes and toys. Then I wonder if mom really needs her car. I quickly realize she does because she has two jobs – a morning job at the asylum for old people, and a night job as a babysitter for the rich children downtown.
I used to have a babysitter too, Ms. Mendez, an old woman who lives in the neighborhood. I hated her and she hated me too. Once she locked me up in the garage and kept me there in the dark until mom came home.
“Why don’t you listen to Ms. Mendez?” Mom scolded me when the old woman had left. “Why are you a bad girl?”
“Ms. Mendez is the bad one, not me,” I protested. “She never babysits me. She only smokes and watches TV.”
I haven’t seen Ms. Mendez since my grandpa, Antiman, moved with us. The man who was supposed to manage grandpa’s pension fund stole all the old people’s money and ran away with it. The police are still looking for him.
“Your aunt is here to pick you up,” Owen teases me every day because I call grandpa Anti and his gray hair is as long as a woman’s hair.
“Are you an Indian, Anti?” I ask him as we leave school.
Grandpa is a man of strong makeup. He carries my two-year-old baby brother, Luke, in one arm and holds my hand with the other all the way home. And he’s more patient with Luke than anybody else in our family.
“My grandma was a real Indian lady.” Anti shakes his head. “I’m just an apple. Red on the outside and white on the inside.”
We’re going around a construction site. When I first went to school four years ago, we walked through the park that used to stand here and I would spend ten or twenty minutes in the large playground, but the mayor gave the land to the rich people and they’re building a shopping mall now.
“I shoved Owen hard today because he keeps calling you Chief,’ I confess. “The teacher said I got in trouble again.”
“How come she didn’t tell me anything?” Anti raises his bushy eyebrows.
“The teacher wants to talk to mom, not to you,” I say. Then I ask the question that really bothers me: “Why can’t everybody be as nice as you are, Anti? Why are people so bad?”
“I’m just old, not particularly nice.” Anti laughs. “What makes you think people are bad?”
“I try to be good and I always get in trouble,” I explain. “Own and his friends make fun of me every day and if I answer back, the teacher punishes me, not them. And she doesn’t want to talk to you on account of your long hair, or Indian background. She’s pretty much the same as the police who can’t find the man who ran away with your pension money. My old babysitter, Ms. Mendez, smoked and watched TV, and when I told her to look after Luke she locked me up in the garage, with the lights off. Plus, the mayor pulled down the park and we can’t play there anymore because they’re building a shopping mall. And if dad and mom stop working long hours, the bank will take our house and car away. Why is everybody so mean, Anti? Why are they so bad?”
“Now there’s a story.” Anti smiles.
Every time something happens grandpa has a story to tell.
“People were really nice in the past,” he begins. “Good lived among us and gave everybody a hand when they were in need. But Evil lived among people too and he grew stronger by the day until he drove Good away. To keep away from Evil, Good had to fly high up in the sky where he talked to the Sun, the king of heavens. The Sun told Good that he and Evil should meet people in turns, not at the same time. The problem is Evil lives with us on the earth, which is why we meet him all the time, while Good has to come a long way from the sky to reach here, and that’s why we barely get to see him.”
I wish people lived in the sky so we could meet Good every day and come across Evil only once in a while, or even never if possible.
“What did your mom pack for your lunch today, Helen?” Terry, Owen’s friend, asks. “Apples again?”
Terry is so fat that Owen only looks a little chubby when they stand side by side, but Owen is really overweight too. They think I prefer to eat the food in my lunchbox instead of the hamburgers and chips they sell at the cafeteria because I can’t afford it.
“I can buy anything I want.” I show them my pocket money. “But I’d rather have my tomatoes and turkey than the junk you, guys, eat.”
“Who do you think you’re fooling, apple-pie?” Owen sneers. “We all know you’re saving to buy your own trailer when you grow up.”
I don’t even bother to reply anymore. The only time I complained to the lunchroom supervisor about their attitude I ended up being sent to see Mr. Redford, the principal.
“I don’t think you realize how serious it is to call your friend fat,” Mr. Redford said after inviting me to sit on the chair in front of his desk. The chair was so tall and wide I couldn’t find a comfortable position even if I lay down on it, like a sofa.
“Owen is not my friend, sir.” I had to stiffen my spine lest I should roll on my back. “And I only said he’s going to get fat if he keeps eating junk food.”
“Just stop using the word already,” the principal burst out. “It’s really rude.”
“What if he was short and I called him that?” I retorted. “Would it be rude to describe a fact?”
Actually, Owen is short – shorter than me anyway. And because he’s overweight too, he looks like an annoying orange making fun of everyone who’s afraid of standing up to him. Well, I’m not, and he’d better get used to it because apples and oranges will never mix.
Eventually Mr. Redford rang my mom up and invited us both to discuss the matter in his office again.
“This is a serious situation, Mrs. Destero,” the principal said. “If your daughter’s behavior persists, Owen’s parents will be perfectly entitled to report a hate crime.”
I had to give a public apology to Owen and promise I would never make comments on his size again.
How come it’s wrong for me to tell Owen and Terry to stop eating junk food or else they’ll get fat when they’re visibly overweight, but it’s not wrong for them to make fun of grandpa on account of his Indian origin or to call me trailer girl every day? I bet our house is bigger than Owen’s and nobody in our family looks like an Indian anyway.
“It all started with the gold.” Grandpa shook his head. “If it hadn’t been for the gold, we would still rule this land.”
“What are you talking about, Anti?” I chuckled. “When did we rule the land?”
“Back in the day our people only looked for the game they could hunt and the stone they could build temples with,” Anti explained. “They didn’t even use money. Gold appealed to children who gaped at shiny things and ugly women who craved to become attractive. Our decline started when kings began to love gold too and priests used it to adorn our temples.”
“Oh.” I remembered. “You mean when they sacrificed humans and stuff?”
“Europeans and Asians were way crueler than our people, if that’s what you’re getting at.” Grandpa frowned. “Genghis Khan and Hitler each killed 40 million people, and that’s only the tip of the iceberg.”
The next weekend Anti took me to the Native American market. Grandpa pointed at a huge Indian casino that stood at the back of the market place.
“Our people were already going downhill,” he said. “But the final blow came when the Europeans planted the love for money in their hearts. That’s when we became American as apple-pie.”
Anti gave me a dollar to spend on anything I wanted, but most of the souvenirs in the Native American market were expensive and I didn’t want to waste my pocket money.
“How about some candy?” Grandpa suggested.
“I don’t eat junk food.” I shook my head.
Just as we were leaving, an old man selling Indian art offered me a tiny wooden statue for my dollar. The little thing looked so common and simple even I could carve it if I put my mind to it.
“What’s this?” I asked. “What shall I do with it?”
“It’s an ancient Indian god,” the old man said. “If you tuck it under your pillow before you go to bed, you’ll wake up with a dollar bill in your hand every morning.”
“Seriously?” I laughed. “Then why are you selling it? You will have a dollar when you wake up tomorrow morning anyway.
The man explained he needed a dollar urgently and couldn’t wait until the next day, but I still had by doubts about the little statue. I think people shouldn’t be allowed to sell or buy gods anyway.
They call me Apple, but they should name me Tomato because I eat so many of them I must be red on both the inside and the outside. I’m neither, actually.
If it wasn’t for his long hair, nobody would guess grandpa is of Indian origin. Anti is mom’s father and they look the same as dad’s family, who come from Europe. Except for pasta and pizza, we eat Italian food, which I didn’t even know it was Italian until my best friend, Kara Mayo, began to attend our barbecue parties that we throw every weekend after returning from church. On these Sunday parties, dad has a lot of cheese snacks and prefers wine to beer, while mom offers everyone her favorite coffee. I mean real coffee, like espresso, not the tasteless slop most people take for coffee.
“I’ve noticed your recipes include a lot of tomatoes, bell-peppers and corn,” Mrs. Mayo remarked.
“Our cuisine is simple,” mom said. “We use the stuff everybody else does, but each food is based on few things. I focus on the quality of the ingredients, rather than fancy cooking.”
That’s why I eat so many tomatoes. If I’m hungry when I come home from school, I’ll just wolf down a couple of tomatoes and I can easily wait until mom returns from her second job and we have dinner together. And if I feel dehydrated after playing with Billy and Mark, I’ll eat a tomato too because it can quench my thirst better than any soda invented.
I made friends with Kara because she was the best student in our class. I didn’t care she was black, like Terry, and it didn’t bother me she seemed almost as overweight as he was. Soon after we became close, Kara quitted buying the hamburgers and chips they sell at the cafeteria and ate the food her mom packed for lunch, just like I did.
And since grandpa is at home all the time, Mrs. Mayo allowed Kara to come over to my place after school almost every night. At first she was shocked to see I barely watched TV or played computer games. I didn’t need to, because there were a lot of boys and girls in our neighborhood who enjoyed baseball. My friends, Billy and Mark, were reluctant to allow her in our team at first, but Kara is an ambitious girl. She lost tons of weight last summer and even though she still looks a little plump, she can now play as well as I can.
Terry Hall has been mean to Kara ever since she became my best friend and this morning he called her Radish, saying she was black on the outside and stark white on the inside. I told Kara to ignore him but it hurt her because, despite Terry’s constant teasing, she’s always been nice to him. Mrs. Mayo and Mrs. Hall go to the same church and Terry’s mom asked Kara if she could help her son improve his math skills because he’s terrible at math. Kara would rather come to my place and play after school, but she still tutors Terry every other day. And what does Terry do in return? He bullies her.
“Now there’s a story,” grandpa says on the way back home.
Anti is carrying my baby brother Luke in his right arm and holding Kara’s hand with the other. I’m holding Kara’s left hand.
“Why don’t you let Luke walk?” Kara points at my brother. “He can walk, can’t he?”
“He can walk all right.” Grandpa laughs. “But it would take us twice as long to reach home and you’d have less time to play.”
Plus, we’d probably get bored of listening to Anti’s many legends. Yet, I can see Kara is all ears and she enjoys paying attention to him.
“Back in the day, Eagle thought it was better if she made friends with Fox,” grandpa begins his tale. “Eagle’s chicks were little and she was afraid Fox might want to devour them. But then Eagle realized she didn’t need to be faithful to Fox because Fox couldn’t eat her chicks, which were perched high up on the cliff, and she decided to swallow up Fox’s little cubs instead. Yet, Eagle needed to take some food to her chicks too. So, she stole a piece of meat from the food the church gave out to the poor and carried it to her nest. But because Eagle failed to notice a lit candle that was stuck to the meat, the nest caught fire and her chicks burned to death.”
“Wow.” Kara shudders. “Why do your legends have such extreme endings?”
“It makes them harder to forget, I guess.” Anti smiles.
They don’t sound extreme to me though, and I wonder how many people, besides grandpa, still remember these old stories.