Creative Essays

Creative nonfiction and personal essays

Just Mere Chance Decides?

I was returning from school, blowing big bubbles out of the Big Babol bubble gum in my mouth, trying to decide how I would spend the evening, when I felt a light tug at my knees from behind.

I turned around. It was a little boy of five or six: brown skin burnt in the sun, tattered shorts faded but dark with dirt. Black hair turning reddish; lack of protein, I remembered from biology. Swelled belly. Yep, lack of protein. He produced a small, cupped hand. “Baia, ekta taha than na!”* Dry broken voice. Parched throat: extremely thirsty. I brought out my wallet and fished for all the change; it totaled around five or six taka, I guess. Put them down into the little hand. The sheer magnitude of the offer was a glow in his eyes. Maybe his first earning of the day. Without second thought, I turned back on my way.

On second thought, a few seconds later, I turned around again. He was counting his income. A little, undernourished child: not at school, but in the streets. Not enough clothes to dress properly. No one to take care. I looked up. There was another boy, also five to six. Neatly pressed grey shorts and white shirt. A young lady, the mother perhaps, takes the school bag from the child and gives him a small chocolate bar. He throws it away. I looked to the other side of the street. Yep, ice-cream; that’s what he wants. The mother gets him a big one from the vendor. And then the chauffeur descends from the car and opens the door for the two of them. The car speeds away. A newly washed Honda: polished dazzling deep green.

I looked down on this other boy. He was staring at me. Wondering. About what, I don’t know. I took out my wallet, again. A fresh, twenty-taka note. I gave it to him. He was more confused and amazed than ever.

I turned back and returned home.

Being a citizen of this Third World country, where a majority of the population lives in abject poverty, in conditions worse than that of the boy mentioned above, I could never justify the differences between the rich and the poor. Why is life so fair to some people that they have enough money to spend on lavish ice cream and candies, while so unfair to others who can hardly eat even once a day? Why is it that some people have to sleep in the open air, on the footpaths, while others at luxurious Home Sweet Homes find it hard to decide which side of the huge, soft, bed they’ll sleep on?

I never found the answer.

A dirty little child, or an old hobbling beggar is something I never wanted to face when I go out into the streets of the city. It sets off thoughts in me. I start calculating. If the 120 million people of the country were to give one taka each, we’d have 120 million taka. That’s a lot. No, maybe only 60 million people can afford to give just a taka each. Sixty million bucks. That’s still a lot. No, why not just 5 million people give ten bucks each. 50 million taka. We could use that to feed a lot of the poor. Save some lives.

Nah, won’t work. People don’t care.

Is it just mere chance that decides whether the boy I mentioned above is not the one that goes to school and that the rich kid is not the one that begs? Is it just by a mere game of chance that some are born in marbled palaces while others are doomed to slum-life? The persistent, irritating beggar who asks you for a little money or food, do you think it is his fault that he was born to do this job?

Do we just let it go like this?

Don’t you think we could do something?


* – “Just a taka, please?” (The author is a citizen of Bangladesh, a country of the Indian subcontinent with a population of 120 million. Taka: Unit of Bangladesh currency, equivalent to approximately $0.018 at the time of writing.)

You’re All You’ve Got

In middle school I’ve learned many things, but the two most basic are you have no friends, and life’s not fair. Don’t even try to say I’m wrong, because I know. You may think that you have a friend, maybe one you’ve known since kindergarten, but eventually you split up and never talk to one another again. Of course no one will admit this but it’s true. When I say that life’s not fair, that’s because it’s not! In middle school you get dealt a bad hand, and there’s no way out.

Being in middle school is like being a lemming in a cage. The lemmings follow each other, and are trapped; there’s no way to get away from it. No matter how hard you try to get away from the other lemmings it never works. Friends are like lemmings, who follow the head lemming. As soon as they find someone better, a faster better-looking lemming they totally forget about you. Many times you think this person, or people, will be there to confide in forever and would always have a shoulder for you to cry on. Then one day your best friend finds a more perfect lemming and slowly begins to drift away from you. Slowly at first, then faster and faster until one day you look up and you’re alone. Then you begin to think, and you realize, they weren’t really my friends in the first place. You’re alone, alone, alone, and there’s no one to pick you up when you fall.

This is because life’s not fair. In a way you’ve always known that because you didn’t always get the color Popsicle you wanted, but now its because of real things. Life’s not fair because you don’t get along with your family, and they cut you down and insult you all the time. Life’s not fair because your so-called friends betray you and there’s no one to turn to, and whenever you have a bad day there’s really no one to turn to. Life’s not fair because after missing the bus, failing a test, getting a referral and pulling a muscle you still have to go home, do three hours of homework, take out the trash and listen to a lecture from your parents. Life’s not fair because many times you feel like no one loves you and feel as if you can’t go on.

I may sound like I’m whining and complaining, but that’s because I am. I’ve learned that sometimes, well a lot of times, whining and complaining make you feel better. Most of the time you get yourself nothing except people sick of and mad at you but you feel better. Since you have no friends and life’s not fair you might as well do things that make you feel better because you’re the only one you’ve got. I don’t know if it will stay that way forever, I sure hope it doesn’t, but if it does then at least I learned two important things in middle school, and I know I will remember them always, true or not.


I got off the train, not knowing where I had to travel in the cold night. I had a rough idea, but I’ve been having terrible luck trusting my rough ideas lately. I thought I’d ask someone for details. The passengers that had gotten off the train with me obviously knew where they were going, because their strides were purposeful and quick. Looking for someone to help, I turned to a middle-aged lady in smart business clothes and voiced my question. She looked at me strangely for a second, as though I was speaking a foreign language, then just as quickly she snapped out of it and told me the direction I had to walk. Then she added “But I have to go that way. I can give you a ride if you’d like.”

When she said that my mind traveled years back to primary school, when they would sit us all down on the floor and try to convince us not to do stupid things. Don’t light fires. Don’t play with guns. Don’t trust anyone wearing a trench coat. Don’t accept rides from strangers.

I’ve broken most of these, except the trench coat one, so I decided that I should accept her offer. The situation, statistically speaking, was more dangerous for her than for me. Newspapers are hardly littered with stories about middle-aged women kidnapping and torturing innocent teenage boys.


We walked to her car. She pointed it out to me, and I wasn’t surprised to see that it was a little red two-door BMW. She opened the door for me first and I slipped into the leather seats, running my hands along the wood dashboard that contained an elaborate stereo system. I pictured her zipping along the road, humming happily along to a Brahms concerto. Or maybe some jazz. I didn’t ask her. Sitting in her car I was consumed by warmth, not just from the heating, but because of her. If men use cars as penis extensions, this was the female equivalent.

We kept talking. It was on a different level to small talk, but neither of us said what we were thinking. I felt her quiet desperation—she told me of her divorce; or rather she talked enough to let it slip. She talked about her sons and their jobs and wives. I’ve never experienced any of it but I had an idea how she felt. Feelings are rarely different, only the catalysts.

We drove down some very dark streets and it occurred to me that maybe women picking up young boys in cars happens all the time, just doesn’t make the papers. I have to say that the prospect didn’t worry me greatly. I felt like she might need it in some weird animal way. Her respectable world of business wear and dinner parties and BMWs and sons with high-paying jobs probably didn’t have much of an outlet for selfish and carnal pursuits. If she thought I could help, I would try my best. The years had been kind to her, not just financially, and I felt like telling her.

But of course I didn’t. It may have been my own loneliness that I could smell. Perhaps she was completely happy with her existence, and only offered a ride to a stranger out of kindness, and not for the thrill of the unknown, the chance that something, anything, could happen. Maybe she didn’t sense the opportunity that we could both waste some of our lives doing something for no reason. Or that we could be honest despite our species’ aversion to it.

My stop came quickly. I lingered while we finished talking. She touched my knee before I opened the door. It was as though she wanted to know I was real. Neither of us had the words that night, or the abandon to bypass words in favor of lust. When I closed the door and crossed the road she spoke again. They were related to what we were talking about but not what we were thinking. I replied with a laugh and another note of gratitude, to which she smiled. I kept walking and she drove off into the night.

Land Lost in the Current

I noticed the rivers first. From the airplane window I watched them pour, brown and silty, into the blue ocean. Smaller streams converged, carrying the island’s sediment to the sea. I didn’t have to fall back on my boy scout training in soil and water conservation to know that something was out of balance. It seemed little wonder that the rivers were so dirty—hardly any vegetation stood out on the brown hills.

We began descending, and the land flew by as the plane grew closer. Open land, scattered with villages, came into view, then individual shacks, structures amounting to little more than scraps of tin, cardboard, and spare lumber. It was difficult to get a good look at them from the sky, but soon people were visible, black specks laboring in dirt yards. Thousands of feet overhead, their suffering and sadness was thick around me.

Then, out of the distance, a cluster of cement and rust and walls: Port-au-Prince. It looked bad from the air—the place emanated poverty—but once inside, it was more a hellhole of humanity.

Buildings rushed by faster now, and although they were not far below, they grew more difficult to distinguish. The airport came into view, our runway straight ahead. We landed for the third time that day. When the plane came to a stop on the airstrip, we strained to see the airport building through the windows, catching glimpses of turquoise walls and black men pressed to the railing that lined the rooftop.

Finally, the aisles cleared enough that the fifteen of us from a church of sixty in Glen Rock, Pennsylvania, could make our way past the cockpit to the door. I came squinting into the bright sun at the top of a set of stairs, and my senses sprung to life, soaking up as much of the scene as my spirit would contain. The air was hot, but less humid than at home; the sky was bluer; clouds wisped by. Directly before me, only a few hundred yards away, stood men, flesh and blood humans, black skin shining in the sunlight on the airport rooftop. I had tried, but never had I imagined them to be so real.

A member of my group who was ahead of me, already on the airstrip below, waved and yelled “Marcel!” One of the Haitians crowded onto the rooftop broke into a broad smile and waved. I waved back as I began descending the stairs. He would be our guide and primary translator for the next nine days. On the gray cement runway, littered with long, zigzagging cracks, our group collected, then walked toward the glass doors of the airport.

Inside we waited in line on pale red tiles with white speckles. A white sign on the wall read, “We apologize for the poor conditions at the airport, but we are doing everything we can to repair it.” At the customs counter, which looked more like a ticket booth, two men muttered a thickly accented “Hi,” before checking, stamping, and signing our passports.

We walked down a hallway to a large room where luggage conveyor belts wove amongst the crowd. We watched for our suitcases and we looked around at the chaos. Two murals brought life to the room, celebrating some event in Haitian history. Bored army officers stood with machine guns.

We piled our gear onto carts, then took them to a waiting room where Marcel met us. He quickly briefed us on what to do when we entered the courtyard outside, but I only caught a little of what he said.

“If someone touches the suitcase you are carrying, even just lays a hand on it, tell them, ‘no.’ They’ll expect payment for even appearing to help you carry it.”

Reentering the Haitian heat, we were immediately approached by lines of men in dirty polo shirts, and we kept our heads down and told them “no.” We piled our gear in the middle of a macadam courtyard surrounded by a chain-link fence and circled around it to keep anyone from trying to carry it for us. Marcel and two of the adult leaders went to bring the trucks sent to carry us to St. Marc, where we were spending the week at a missions compound.

They were stalled by men arguing that they should have a chance at carrying our gear. Once they were in the parking lot, the gate shut behind them. Black men lined the outside of the fence, holding onto the links like prisoners clinging to the bars of their jail cells.

It was a stirring portrait of the country’s plight, so for the first time I grabbed my camera and focused a shot, until a man to my right hollered at me in Creole to put it away. I didn’t get the shot on film, but it stands in my memory: desperate, impoverished men, clinging to a fence, believing with all their might that if only they were to get past the fence and place a hand on our bags that they could eat for a few days.

Lo*ve (it’s Spanish)

“Love.” There’s an odd word. Well, as far as I can tell there are two popular ways of starting out a speech. The first is to check Webster’s Dictionary for a definition, then repeat what you found.

“Webster’s Dictionary defines love as: You stupid moron. How dense are you to be looking in a book for a description of one of mankind’s deepest, most important feelings? Do the world a favor and stick your head in the center of this book and slam it shut as hard as you can.”

After three days of intensive therapy I was ready to begin writing again, this time using the second most popular way to start a piece of writing: Word dissection. That wasn’t much help either…

“Love.” Well “Love” can be split up into two words, lo and ve. Lo, as in lo and behold, is a word used to attract attention or show surprise. And ve isn’t in the dictionary. However, in Spanish, lo and ve, used in a sentence means “to see.” To see? Actually kinda neat, really. From what I’ve heard people in love see each other for what they are, so it fits quite nicely. Although it could also mean to see the years of bitterness and resentment that are bound to follow, it’s really all in the interpretation.

And now I’m confused. People should need a license to use the word “love” in a sentence. And a diploma to use it in a body of writing. Or at least some type of certification class.

What was I talking about again? Ah yes, love. Well, I’m not sure that I’m the best person to even attempt an explanation of the feeling, because I’ve really never successfully completed the whole “in love” cycle. In fact, I’m pretty certain that I haven’t even started the whole “in love” cycle, despite numerous attempts with several different girls. The cycle usually involves two people, and stuff. And the stuff is different depending on the people.

You know, I can’t really describe the “in love” cycle. A writer should have at least a little experience in what he’s going to write about; like they always say, “Write what you know.” I, however, do have extensive experience in the ‘trying and failing’ cycle.

Imagine two people, Frank and Perl. Frank is a sweet guy with a bit of an eccentric streak, which, quite frankly, is what makes Frank Frank. Perl is a quietly beautiful woman who is content to sit back and take life in. She hates it when people spell her name P-E-A-R-L, because that’s just not how you spell her name. These are qualities that are irresistible to Frank. Frank waits in the shadows for a chance to strike up a conversation. After much watching and waiting a window of opportunity opens. Frank is armed only with a wavering confidence and a small glimmer of hope. His only companion is Joel, his personality.

Joel does the same job all personalities do. He makes judgment calls, devises life strategies, thinks of clever things to say, and basically does everything not directly related to primary life functions. As Frank is approaching Perl, something goes wrong. All the lights at his station go out. By the time Joel realizes that foul play is afoot, it’s too late. Someone storms in the room.

“Clayton, how did you get past security?!”

“Oh, I have my ways. Surrender control of Frank to me or accept the consequences.”

“You fool! We’re about to attempt contact with Perl, if you take over now…”

“Exactly. Mwahahaha!”

Clayton, Frank’s other personality, assumes control of Frank just as he approaches Perl. Within seconds Frank says something bizarre and inappropriate. Perl, confused and disgusted, runs back to her circle of friends with a new story to tell. Clayton escapes so he can seize control at an inappropriate moment another day. Joel eventually comes to and tries to perform some damage control by reminding Frank that there will be other chances, but Frank doesn’t care. In a week or so the feelings of defeat lessen, but not by much.

And that’s what makes life odd. You can be completely normal one second, but throw something in that upsets the balance and all hell breaks loose. Here’s what happened when I called up this one girl to try and get a date for a dance (Just in case she wanted to remain anonymous, I’m changing her name to “person.”)

Valentines Day, 7th Grade:

Me: Uhm, erh, hiya.

Person: Hi. Who is this?

Me: (Uh-oh. I wasn’t counting on this. Name, name, name, what the hell’s my name again?) Hey, you wouldn’t happen to have the math homework wouldja?

Person: Hold on, let me check.

Me: (Phew. Ok, think, think, think. Steve! Yes, it’s definitely Steve!)

Person: I think it’s 234 1-13.

Me: It’s Steve.

Person: Oh, hi Steve!

Me: So, would you like to go to the dance with me?

Person: No.

Me: OK then! Well, see ya.


For my first actual attempt at breaking in it actually went pretty well. Luckily, there were three Steves in the seventh grade, so when the person asked me if I had called the next day I said “Nope, why?”

That was the end of that. A full three years later I tried forcing someone to love me again. Of course, that ended quick. I would try to be funny around her, but I was too uncomfortable to actually make her laugh, and I ended up looking stupid. Not your average stupid, by any means. I had actually began to act Ludicrously Stupid, which is a level I never want to reach again unless I’m paid. I walked up to her and, aggh. It’s easier to document it:

Person: Hey Steve, what’s up?

Me: (Say something witty… c’mon… think…) Hey! It’s, uh, it’s you! Howya feeling on this fine Wednesday morning?

Person: It’s Monday.

Me: (Change the subject quickly) So it is! Well, anyway, how was your Christmas?

Person: I’m a Jehovah’s Witness.

Me: *nervous laughter* I knew I recognized you, did you visit my house last Thursday?

Person: What is so funny?

Me: Oh nothing, I was just thinking of what a pleasure it was to meet me. I mean you! I mean, oh, I’ve got to go pee-pee now, excuse me.

*sounds of running echo through the hallway*

There were a few more of those encounters, but they all follow the same patterns. I think I’ll skip straight to the ending. I told this person that I loved her, and she laughed. Either she thought I was joking, which is understandable, or there are sinister forces at work in her mind.

Well, I wrote this piece two years ago, and it seems that nothing has changed. I could read this piece all over again it would play out exactly the same.

And you know, I still really don’t mind much at all.

Appreciating It All

I entered the week as an Indiana Jones figure. I arrived a day late to the student council leadership camp, having been stuck the day before in a Miami airport returning from a week of liberating the children of an exotic third world island. The camp had been informed Sunday night that I would be arriving the next day, since I had called ahead to say I was getting back late from Haiti.

I got there shortly before lunch on Monday, and when we ate in the cafeteria of the college which was hosting the conference, everyone was eager to hear about my adventures once they realized I was “the guy from Haiti.” I had taken along a selection of my photos from the trip and promised to show them to several girls who asked to see them.

That spring, when I was informed that I was being sent for a week of camp, I was nervous—council members are notorious for being snobby. I worried how well I’d fit in and, more importantly, if I’d have much fun.

It was this immediate interest in me, however, that calmed my fears. Here was a group of ninety-some student leaders who were well-respected and liked in their schools, mostly because they respected and cared about others a great deal. They intrigued me, and it meant a lot that they were interested in me as a unique, idiosyncratic person.

I guess that I often look at the social misfits in school as misunderstood, but I learned during the week that the most popular and esteemed students also face this problem. I went in expecting a gathering of stuck-up preps, but left the week wishing I could stay just one more day.

One of the reasons for the great week was that most of the girls at the camp were attractive, if not downright hot. It’s well known that were Gallup polls to be taken for high school elections, looks would be a leading qualification for the girls. The ratio was in favor of us males, nearly three to one. We basked in it. We were suave as heck: opening doors for the girls, jotting them notes, taking empty lunch trays. I still hear their delighted squeals when they looked out their second-story dorm windows one night to see all us guys on the lawn crooning, “You’ve Lost that Loving Feeling,” and I see our smiles as we returned to our rooms, telling each other, “Tomorrow we’re gonna get a piece.” We never did, of course, although a couple guys were rumored to have gotten a kiss, but we kept pouring it on, and the girls, unaccustomed to such treatment, soaked it up.

It was during this week that I encountered my first truly appreciative audience. My second night there, Tuesday, we had a camp-wide coffeehouse in the college’s basement pub. After several Chicken Soup selections and a couple genuine pieces—songs backed with guitar strumming, mostly—I sat on the stool before the mike and kicked off my turn with Poe’s “Annabel Lee” from memory, which I followed with a reading of Dick Allen’s “The Cove,” and my own “Embracing, though Little Wiser.”

I felt as if I had exposed my soul to the world in an act of complete trust and had not been let down. I had let the cat out of the bag—I am human, too—and my audience had remained bona fide confidants.

On the closing night, we held vespers. I read “Israfel,” another Poe poem, followed by the poem I had written the night before at the prompting of several new friends. The poem focused on how my childhood dreams to be a knight had matured with me to a deep appreciation of the beauty that already surrounds me. I talked about my trip to Haiti—about how the children were beautiful if you looked into their wide eyes, and how radiant human life is. I reflected on my time in Haiti and at the camp to show how beauty transcends usefulness and exists because life creates it.

A youthfulness pervaded the camp throughout the week with its hormones, idealism, and unhindered enthusiasm. The world was ours to conquer in love, and we as leaders of a new generation had the power to do it.

Earlier the day of final vespers we held an outdoor relay competition. Donned in my green shirt like my teammates, I was ready to do my part in the food-eating relay. One of six team representatives would run up, grab a random food item from a plastic grocery bag, and shove it down his throat as fast as he could. We could only have a drink once all the food was gone.

I picked the pack of peanut butter on cheese cracker sandwiches, and opted to throw three in my mouth and then worry about chewing. My body struggled, with little success, to make enough saliva to handle the mouthful of dry crackers on demand. Caught up in the excitement and frustration, I started shaking. I was fine, but my hands and body shook to the point that I worried one of the counselors.

It wasn’t until later, when the school year began again, that I realized how weak our beauty is, how vast the gap between reality and our dreams. I believe the world is ours to turn upside down; beauty needs only the eyes of a beholder. But I cram too many crackers into my mouth, and I shake beyond my control.


Gym class was never a whole lotta fun for me. I knew that I wasn’t going to be an athlete, the other kids knew I wasn’t going to be an athlete, and the coach knew I wasn’t going to be an athlete. With all this knowledge floating around, I still had to move the ball and make it go that way, very fast. So I would approach the ball, and make it move in a general direction, at an adequate speed, which was good enough for me. I was still beaten up.

You know what I’ve got issues with? The gym propaganda. There’s tons of it, leaking out of the mouths of teachers, coaches, celebrities, committees, activists, presidents, and the like. They say over and over again that sports help children develop self esteem, as well as help them live happier, healthier lives. Well, my question is, why do over half the students in my gym class sit with a depressed look on their faces? They look at the ball go by, scratch a little, look up at the clock, and look at the ball go back by the other way. If they’re not going to enjoy the athletics and aren’t going to even try, then give these kids another option.

Eg. Instead of actually playing baseball, kids can watch “Pride of the Yankees.” Instead of playing hockey, there’s air hockey. A nice alternative to football would be foosball.

Why do aerobics when you could simply watch Cindy Crawford do them for 45 minutes?

Old Coach Curko, there was a coach. He could tell who wanted to be in gym, and who didn’t. He put all the boys who could, and wanted to, play basketball on the full court. He put us boys who really didn’t like gym all together on a half court with some partially inflated relic from the Carter administration. So we would talk about computers and politics, and at least attempting to shoot a basket once in a while. Of course, whenever we did try to shoot a basket it would bounce off the bottom of the rim and end up in the full court. Then one of the larger boys would kick it at us and shout something about us being of homosexual orientation. And the cycle would begin anew. We boys on the half court had fun because there really wasn’t much pressure to do well. The kids who were on the full court had a nice, hard game of basketball. Of course, the Constitution states that all men were created equal, whether they like it or not. So in the spirit of equality the administrators try to have everyone playing on the same field. It’s a great intention, but not the best reality. Case in point: Dodgeball.

Now there’s an interesting sport. We used to play it all the time when we were kids. It’s a method of relieving academic stress for some kids; in other words, gargantuan monosyllabic idiots got to peg the smarter kids with inflated balls and get away with it.

A basic game of dodgeball went like this: Ten of us would line up on one side of half the gym, ten on the other. You would have to peg the kids on the other side of the gym to get them “out.” Our coach at the time was a very nice guy under normal circumstances, but he also liked to see kids getting hit with inflatable balls. He would demand that some of the bigger kids try for head shots, just to make things interesting. “That’s head shot number two!” he would shout.

I could never really throw the ball very fast, or very accurately, or very far, so I would just try to avoid getting hit. Eventually I was the only one on my side of the gym, which is when the other kids decided to throw all their ball at once in the hopes of scoring a hit. Dodgeball has some interesting ties to medieval gun battles. A bunch of men loyal to one lord would take one side of a battlefield and a bunch of men loyal to another lord would take the opposite side. The guns weren’t very accurate and didn’t have a very good range, but if there were a lot of people on your side, and they all had a gun, someone on the other side of the field was bound to die.

Am I mad at the gym teachers? Not really. They’re out there doing their best to keep everyone physically fit. They also seem to be out there doing their best to keep everyone mentally unstable, psychologically unbalanced, and borderline psychotic, but physically fit.

And if you don’t have your health, what do you have?

Popular Cookie Phrases

or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My Sister

The essence of life is to be found in the frustrations of established order.

—John Gardner

“God, Kris, you are so fucking disgusting!” I made a noise like a rhino in heat as I opened my mouth to reveal the large piece of orange gum that hung precariously from my tongue.

“Thanks a lot, E. You’re the one that called it an orange slug.” We both let out an uproarious laugh and quickly quieted ourselves. The geriatrics nearby were looking at us again. Our stifled laughter was still loud enough to make passersby wonder about our sanity, and that was just the way we liked it.

“Wait, wait! Do it again, but open your eyes wide; like you did the first time.” I concentrated hard for a second, then with my eyes as wide as I could make them, I dropped my jaw and flicked my tongue wildly in her direction. I then snapped my mouth shut and blinked heartily. I licked my lips and tasted the sweet, artificial-peach flavor. The “slug” rolled around gleefully in my mouth as Erika and I chuckled at the various mallrats screaming and laughing in the opposite corners of the food court.

“What a bunch of fucking losers!” Erika said as she flopped the middle part of her “tri-hawk” to the right side of her head and looped the barbell in her tongue through the two lip rings that protruded awkwardly from her mouth.

A putrid scent was carried our way by crowds of people that were walking by us. I could taste the stench in the air.

“Let’s get up and walk around. The Cookie Guy said it would take thirty minutes or so.” We’d ordered a cookie for my mom who had just had knee surgery. The “Cookie Guy” in question was a good-looking, nice guy who had helped us. It was more than a little strange to tell him that I wanted a giant cookie that said, “We love you, Mommy!” I thought about telling him to write something like, “Welcome back from the state pen. Thirty-five years is a long time, Daddy” or “We love you, Elvis,” but in the end, I decided against it.

We followed my suggestion and walked up the mall to the Deb Shop. Even from thirty feet away it reeked of perfume and cheap polyester fabric. As we closed the distance between ourselves and the store, the sheen of the predominantly sparkly clothing temporarily blinded us with a bright reflection of the healthy orange glow emitted by the fluorescent lights perched high above. I shielded my eyes and sidestepped my way into the store.

“Keribou!” a nickname for me. Which only Erika used. “Check this out!” With anticipation tugging at the corners of her mouth, she lifted up a very large dress, which had butterflies printed on it.

“Whoever made this dress should go to Hell forever. Oh look, Krisi, it’s a fatty dress!” Her sarcastic comment reached every corner of the store and the customers looked at her with bewildered and sometimes disgusted faces. I knelt down, embarrassed by her comment, and laughed into my knees.

“God, Erika, you are so mean!”

“You know the fashion industry has really lost its touch when butterflies and flowers are the ‘in thing,’” she stated sarcastically.

I walked away, but she continued to talk, “What a stupid combination anyway. How do you decide to make a mumu with little butterflies and shit all over it? When did… stupid… get…”

My bare skin mingled with soft velour shirts and sordid little sweaters that looked like lint balls glued together.

“Delicious,” I said to myself sarcastically as I reflected on some of the uglier outfits of the day.

Unbeknownst to me, my journey was leading me toward the shoe section, which consisted primarily of fuzzy black things and animal print shoes. By the time I reached the shoes, Erika had already picked out several pairs of them. Her favorite pair were chunky-heeled, red leopard-print shoes.

“I want,” she said as she shuddered with excitement.

“Erika, it looks like someone killed a New York hooker for her pelt. Those are gaudy as hell.”

I quickly realized my mistake as I took a step back and looked at my sister.

The short skirt she was wearing had punk-rock overtones, and many patches that were complimented by her fishnet pantyhose and a pair of clunky black shoes. The little bit of red in her outfit was pleasantly accented by her hair, which was indeed a nice shade of pink. Her black eye shadow, which made the whites of her eyes stand out, contrasted her pale face perfectly. She was a walking work of art. I suppose she resembled a Picasso in a strange, unfamiliar way; beautiful, ugly, and somewhat confusing all in the same note.

“Oh shit, it’s cookie time,” Erika said as she led the way back to the food court. I sang to myself as we ambled down the cheap tile toward the shops with fake Oakleys.

You don’t bring me anything but down
Everything just crashes to the ground
no more playing seek and hide
no more long and wasted nights
can’t you make it easy on yourself
I know you wish you were strong
you wish you were never wrong
well I’ve got some wishes of my own…

I walked behind her and watched her strut. She walked confidently, even as strangers stared at her. It was incredible.

As we reached “The Great American Cookie Company,” I started thinking about my relationship with Erika. I could remember only the terrible and heart breaking episodes of my life with her.

Her drug addictions had controlled her life for a long time, as had her alcohol abuse, lying, cheating and stealing. She alienated my family by constantly defying our moral beliefs. When she went to boarding school after she was arrested, her antics led to a speedy expulsion and the loss of a great deal of money. My family had been devastated physically, financially, and most definitely emotionally for years.

But on that day, she had forced me to laugh. Smiling at her jokes stung my cheeks, and I found myself rapt in thoughts of the past. As I paid the cookie guy, song lyrics rattled through my mind.

“You don’t bring me anything but down…”

For the first time in more years than I care to remember, I realized that I could love Erika again.

What a long road it had been. I missed the times we had spent together on our farm rolling through thick blades of grass. We had touched every inch of the property that we had grown up on. We’d climbed every tree, smelled every flower, and tasted the sweet juice of every honeysuckle. I had been near her since conception and I was forced away by her actions.

It was the most difficult time of my life when I could not love her. She had beaten the sensitivity out of my bones and had forced me into a corner. She made the choice for me, and I did not fight her.

Now it was my turn to make a choice. And I did. I made the most difficult choice I could have. I let the thing that had hurt me more than anything in the world back into my life, my twin sister. I had fortified my defenses for years, and I simply decided to submit to my need for her love. But that was just the way I liked it.


The flames do their elaborate dances to silent music only they can hear. The sparks fly into the midsummer sky for their short minute of glory, then plummet back to the earth and disappear. The wood performs an art show with its orange burning embers.

And meanwhile we humans take all this for granted and call it just a bonfire.

Why Can’t We Reach Out

About a hundred meters away from the busy intersection the robot turns orange.

Then red.

“It’s time to stop,” it says. “Sit back, relax and take a look around you.”

Her eyes, yes, as always, looking down at the road.

And on her soggy, grimy, corrugated-cardboard ‘licence plate’ are four similar downcast faces.


Sabotaged by the climbing ivy wrinkles of unnecessary worry and… confusion.

“Just look at her! She could pack bags at ‘Clicks’ if she were not so lazy! She makes more money here! The fool! The… the…

The robot turns green and the car rolls away…

It’s Sunday; we sing a hymn and a tatty old man stumbles in and sits down.

He is sitting alone, by the last stanza…

On my way to school a taxi flies past, full of noisy, tightly packed, screaming ‘animals’ off to their enclosures.

They are unaware of themselves.

Just minutes after…

another one!

But, this time full of children. “Gateway Village Bus” flickers in the sunlight.

Little faces—badly deformed—are pressed up against the windows.

As the bus goes on, they smile at me so warmly, oblivious to the hurtful, harsh criticism filtering through my ‘sophisticated’ mind.

Their faces disappear down the road.

Still smiling…

Sometimes we pass “the flats” on our way to the city.

Two young girls play with knives. They hack away at an empty cardboard box lying in the mud while their parents lie drunk on the patio…

My mother drops me off at the school gate. I wave good-bye and walk into yet another sad story.

Some stand in groups and talk about their exciting weekends. How they went to the ‘Vaal’ with their speed boats and had a really good time.

How they worked all night on Friday, but got a good wage.

They laugh together.

Their friendship is special and warm.

As I walk over to my own group of friends (happy to see me), I see others walking side-by-side sharing with one another… and I see those standing alone, looking at their watches, reading through their school diaries. Looking busy.

I know that they are just shielding themselves from the reality that no one is willing to be their friend.

“And me?”

I turn my head and walk on. Much faster then before.

“Got to get to my friends now!”

The bell rings. We go to class, only to face more mysteriously withdrawn characters. Only, they sit at bigger desks. They are less approachable.

Yet, they have lives, too.

Some of them.

After school they climb into their cars and drive off.

But I’ll see them again tomorrow… perfectly veneered.

“And me?”

Well, I only have to see them for a few more months. What’s more, I have my own veneer to polish.

And yet, when I go home (to my comfort zone), put on my music and stare out over the hilltops and see the ‘sophisticated’ human anthill from my mansion in ‘Florida Hills’… it hurts…

Because I wonder how much I actually care.

“Not much,” I say and pick up a magazine on the glass-topped coffee table.

“So?” I think.

“Who cares anyway?”