STEVEN JERAL HARRIS
EMERALD BLUE OKIKI
‘I’ve heard of you—you are—you are…’ I try to speak and fail horribly. The massive lion leans slightly closer and reply boldly.
‘I am Mane.’
Four Months Earlier
My bedroom has become a prison that I’ve voluntarily placed myself in. The plain white walls, the shelving units that are all filled with books of various genres, the collectible model planes hanging from my ceiling, and the teddy bears and dolls resting on my dresser top, are all too familiar. I have this window in my room, just one, that I sit in front of every single day, watching life around me progress. I grew accustom to this lifestyle, for it’s the only way I know how to live.
Too often I feel like a shadow, waiting for the sun to go down, so I can disappear with it.
Yet, even a shadow comes from a person, but I’m just a shadow with no one. I have no friends to keep me company when I’m lonesome. Maybe that's because I was home schooled during my childhood years. I do have Julia, but she doesn’t count for the simple fact that she’s my mother. By default, she has to put up with me because I’m her daughter.
I feel like an elderly woman in an old folk’s home. 19 years can easily seem like a hundred if you have nothing much to do all day long like me. There’s no meaning to my life, no defined purpose that I’m called to do. I’m literally someone sitting in front of a window, waiting to expire. The only excitement I get is reading a book, watching television, and looking at the neighborhood kids play around outside. I rarely go outdoors and when I do I’m always worried about having an episode in public.
It happened before. The most memorable was when I blacked out in a family restaurant. If not the epilepsy, it’s my allergies, if it’s not the allergies; it’s my arthritis, and so forth. Every time I’m outdoors and enjoying myself, there’s always some condition blocking me from savoring that special moment with my mother. It always seems so gray outside, no matter how good the weather is. The world to me always appear….obscure and colorless. It’s very hard to explain.
Sometimes I ponder about how different my life would be without these defects. Those subtle fantasies keep me from going crazy, and in a way, they give me a sense of hope that maybe one day things will change.
I’m still waiting ever so patiently for something to change in my life. I’m trying so hard, so desperately, to keep that hope alive. Besides my mother, hope is all I have to cherish.
So, every morning when I’m looking out my window, I polish that hope with the thoughts of a new beginning. Until then, I stay indoors where it’s safe. It’s hard enough knowing people stare at me like I’m some kind of freak. With that said, a trip to the mall would be something of a big leap for me. It’s my mom’s idea to drag me along while she shops at mediocre department stores.
I really, really, don’t want to go. Don’t get me wrong, I love to hang out with my mom, but it’s the crowds of people I have a problem with. Well in another perspective, it’s them that seem to have a problem with me. Maybe it’s my sickly pale appearance that attracts their eyes, who knows?
‘It’s such a nice day, let’s get some fresh air,’ she kept pressuring me earlier today, over and over again like a spoiled brat. She somehow convinced me that our time at the mall will be worthwhile. My mother is the only thing in this world worth living for. Without her I probably would’ve ended all the misery and committed suicide a long time ago. Also, I know how hard she’s been working to keep our mother and daughter relationship somewhat tolerable.
It’s a decent day today, the temperature is fair, and the mall is mild. Why not, it’s not like I have a long day planned out. Plus I’m tired of her begging anyways. The drive to town is about 15 minutes. Soon, we’re wandering about the mall spending some quality time together, mostly window shopping. Hopefully we’re out before it gets too crowded.
It’s repulsive how some people stare as if they’ve never seen someone in a wheelchair before. Do they know it’s rude to stare? Kids I understand, but when adults do it I become highly annoyed. As my mom stops to survey a blouse at her favorite department store, I can’t help but notice a plump woman looking over at me near the pants section.
‘Hi,’ she says in low tone with a faint smile.
I return the favor and smile back. She’s pretending to look at clothes just to look at me. Why do people do that? At least give me the common courtesy of turning away when I catch you staring. I hate being stared at, I hate it!
‘How does this one look on me?’ My mom distracts my whirling mind.
I shift and see her holding a black blouse against her perfect physique.
‘It looks okay,’ the words come out slightly dishonest.
‘You don’t like it?’
‘I’m not a big fan of black, you know that,’ I reply.
The funny thing is, I don’t have any fashion sense at all. Just take a look at what I’m wearing. My outfit looks like it came from an old woman’s closet. I’m wearing a silver blouse, a black skirt with black stockings, and black flats on my feet to match my skirt. Oh yes, and how can I forget about my butterfly hairpin to maintain a part in my curly hair.
‘What about this one?’ She presses on.
She holds up yet another blouse to her chest. This one’s red and seems to fit her physique better.
The red hue in the blouse is very bright, which compliments the green in her eyes.
‘Yes, much better,’ I give my honest opinion.
‘I thought so too,’ she replies.
She hangs the blouse on the handle of my wheelchair and manoeuvres me to another area of the store.
While she sorts through the jeans she looks at me and somehow discovers my frustration, although I’m trying my best to conceal it. As you can tell, she’s a pro at reading me. It’s almost impossible to hide my emotions from my mother.
‘Is something wrong?’ She asks.
I sigh before answering. ‘It’s just—I hate it when people stare.’
‘Iva, what did I tell you? We go through this every time. People stare, so what? People look at me. I don’t let it ruin my day.’
‘People stare at you because you’re beautiful. Why do they stare at me?’
She breaks for a moment to collect her thoughts.
‘Don’t be foolish, you’re beautiful. And if they stare, let them. Stop worrying about something you have no control over. It’s all in your head, darling.’
My mom doesn’t really know how it feels to walk in my shoes. She tells me she understands but we both know that’s not true. Seriously, what does she know? She was born healthy and raised like any normal girl. Bone deficiency, epilepsy, and a low immune system are only a few of many conditions doctors discovered over the years.
These conditions are the reason for so many trips back and forth the hospital. These conditions are the reasons why I didn’t do much of anything with my life. Everything about me is dull and uninteresting.
My mother was born with lustrous golden brown hair, raised with a mother and father who loved her dearly, was very popular all through grade school, and most of all, she’s absolutely gorgeous.
I, on the other hand, was born with colorless hair, my father left me when I was five, I never went to school, I never had a real friend, and the best characteristic about me is my large nose. I blame that on my Jewish grandparents. Unfortunately, that attribute skipped my mom and was passed down to me. How lucky is that?
We leave the store with a couple of new blouses and then journey over to the book café. It’s very quiet and subtle in here, just the way I like it. It sort of reminds me of home, very quiet with the constant scent of hazelnut coffee in the air. My mom manoeuvres me towards a row of tables which are covered in used books. We don’t dare look at the new books, we’re just not that fortunate to purchase books for 15 dollars a copy.
Maybe if my medical expenses weren’t such a pain in the neck we would be able to afford them. Or maybe if I didn’t have so many actual pains in the neck she wouldn’t need to pay for pain meds.
‘I’m going to get a latte, do you want something?’ She offers while she parks me in between the stacks of old titles. I’m too used to the smell of aged book pages. I actually prefer the musty aroma over the fresh store scent.
‘No, I’m fine,’ I decline her offer.
‘Be back in a sec,’ she informs me as she gracefully walks off.
As she walks away I spot onlookers secretively watching her stroll to the café area. They’re men of course but it doesn’t gross me out. Who can blame them? She is truly something to marvel at. Whoever says different is obviously blind or just flat-out insane.
I begin to survey the variety of vintage titles that are displayed. Different genres are scattered abroad, probably due to people picking for the best ones. I spin the wheels on my chair to manoeuvre down the aisle, excusing myself as I pass a couple of fellow book hunters.
Hmm, this one seems interesting. An older title of course, but it’s written by a renowned author. Why not, I’ll give it a try. As I reach for the book another hand beats me to it. I quickly retract my hands and look up to realize who it is; it’s Kristie Cambridge who lives a couple of doors down from us.
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