Adia and I were sitting on the rusty, swinging bench in my backyard. She was drawing a large blue jay who was sitting in the old oak tree that seemed to be sleeping beside us.
“Why is it taking so long?” I asked, spinning my soccer ball on my fingertips.
“Be patient, Whitney. Art is a process,” she said in a calm, cool voice.
I sighed and slouched, pushing my chin into my chest.
“Malarke,” I said under my breath. Adia rolled her bright eyes.
“He looks like he’d be very kind, if he could talk,” Adia sighed, wishful.
“Now what are you talking about?” I asked.
“The bird, duh,” she said with a slight giggle.
I smiled and rolled my eyes. Adia just smiled like always. Adia and I had been best friends since the day first grade had started.
I remember the first think she’d ever said to me, “You and I look very different, don’t we?”
She was definitely right. Adia was a tiny, delicate girl with vibrant, white skin and a supple body. Her dark brown hair was completely straight, resting around her hips, and her eyes were a brilliant, almost wise, green with long, dark eyelashes. She had small, quiet lips, pouting like a sad child. And then there was me, Whitney. I was a tall child with a very athletic build. My skin was brown, my eyes were nearly black, and my hair was full of tight, kinky curls that rested atop my large, round head like a baby birds rustled feathers. But despite her silly question that day, Adia and I became instant friends. We were practically joined at the hip, always together.
Bored out of my mind, I shot up from the peeling bench and punted my old soccer ball across the small backyard.
“Finito!” Adia exclaimed, making a “ma che vuoi” gesture.
Once I’d retrieved the ball, I quickly ran to her side, and crouched over her shoulder to have a look. It was beautifully done. The bird seemed to be asking, “How do I look?” with its shiny, black eyes and puffed up chest.
“Brava! You gonna keep your word and play a round of soccer with me?” I asked, impatiently holding the ball near her face.
Adia gave an irritated groan, “Fine. But go easy, ok? I suck at sports.”
“I know,” I said, holding my nose in the air.
“Uh-ho! I see how it is,” she said with a smirk, rolling up the sleeves on her maroon, button-up sweater.
I couldn’t believe my eyes. Adia’s thin wrists, covered in green and purple bruises, and scabs about the size of a cigar. Adia’s eyes became wide.
“What?” she asked with concern before finally looking down and yanking the sleeves back over her arms. It was too late.
“A-are we gonna play or not?” she asked, anxiously taking the ball from my frozen hands. Her freckles were turning red like they always did when she was embarrassed.
I kept my eyes glued to the ground, too dumbfounded to move or speak.
“W-what happened? Does it hurt?” I finally snapped out of my trance and started reaching or her sleeves. She backed away quickly.
“What is that Adia? It looks painful. Come on, don’t keep things from me, I’m your best friend,” I said, hot tears forming.
Adia only stammered, trying to explain without saying too much. Soon, the backdoor swung open.
“Adia, honey! Your mom called! She said you need to come home before it gets too dark,” my mother yelled before slamming the old thing shut.
Adia didn’t say anything. She quickly walked to the swing and picked up her worn, leather bag. With a wave goodbye, Adia ran across the backyard, to the front and out of sight before I could even wave back. I slowly inched my way into the house. What were those marks? What were those marks? I thought to myself, almost in a panic. I finally made it to my room, and plopped my tired body onto the soft bed. I stayed like that for a very long time, deep in thought, and when I went to sleep in the wee hours of the morning, my brain swelling with questions, I dozed of with an image of poor Adia and her scabby, bruside wrists.
I woke up the next morning with a throbbing head. My whole room was filled with an orange glow, which only made my headache worse. I arrived at the bus stop in a matter of minutes, anxious to see Adia at school. Although I knew being there early wouldn’t make the bus go any faster, I stood there, impatient, stepping on the tips of my toes to see farther down the gravel road. Once it finally arrived, I found my seat quickly, placing my bag beside me with haste. The ride was agony. The screaming children throwing paper planes and spitballs, along with the ranting bus driver yelling at the brats behind him. It was a hell ride before, but today my nervousness and the throbbing pain in my head made it actual hell.
We finally came to a screeching, sudden halt in front of the old, crowded building, pouring with noisy, sweaty middle schoolers. I searched intently for Adia, weaving my way through the dense cluster. I finally spotted her by the large, round spectacles she always wore. They were reflecting the bright sun into my eyes. I waved my long arms above my head, trying to catch her attention. This worked, only she turned beet red and turned away, swiftly walking in the opposite direction. I saw Adia again at lunch. She was sitting alone, taking small bites of a peanut butter banana sandwich, the same lunch she’d packed for herself since I can remember. I slowly approached the table, silently placing my brown paper sack next to Adia’s neatly set lunch.
“Adia, you’ve gotta talk to me. What’s going on? I don’t understand. What’s wrong?” I asked, in as soft a voice as possible.
She started taking larger bites, wolfing and gulping as if she hadn’t eaten in days. I continued to push, trying to squeeze some sort of response out of her.
She finally snapped, “Don’t worry about it, alright? It’s none of your business anyway. Just leave me alone before things get worse, ok?”
She shot up from her seat, packed her things, and walked away, her little fists clenched tight. Little did I know, that was the last time I’d ever be that close to Adia Gretchen. She would never speak to me again, keeping herself as far away as possible. As I watched her from a distance, I saw a dark change take place in Adia. Her bright eyes grew dull, and her light skin became grey. It killed me to see a girl I knew so well with so much light turn into a tired, isolated creature, with a pain inside of her that only God could heal. Once the marks got worse, travelling their way to her face, the school finally did something about it. They called her to the principal’s office one day, and she never returned. Her old locker was soon cleaned out, and left empty. I never again saw the silent, dying figure roaming those unwelcoming halls, almost aimlessly.
I wasn’t surprised when I found out the marks were her father’s doing. It made so much sense. He was a strange, emotionless man, always having some form of alchohol or tobacco in his dirty, oil-stained hand. When I’d come over to Adia’s house, he was always sitting on their old porch, rocking back and forth, sipping or puffing every few seconds. He never welcomed Adia home. Sometimes, I’d only be over for a few minutes and he’d tell me to go home, giving Adia the scariest death glare I could imagine as a young girl. This also explained why Adia out of nowhere started making “modesty” her number one priority. She stopped going on swimming trips with me and started wearing nothing but sweaters and pants, even during the hottest days of summer.
Nobody knows where Adia went after she was taken away. Some people say she ran away to convince themselves she’s not dead. They think it’ll make them feel better. It doesn’t. I’m not so sure myself. I try to have faith that some day, my phone will ring, and I’ll answer to hear that soft, sweet voice on the other end. But I know I’m only dreaming. My friend is gone. She was gone even before her physical body disappeared. Her father took her away when he stole her innocence, her joy. I wish a child’s words mattered more then. I would’ve said something if those times were different. I want to remember how important children are, their blamelessness, their beauty. I want to remember how valuable a daughter is.
But, speaking of daughters, I am with my own at the park. She is three years old, and she’s just fallen on the pavement and hurt her little knee. She is crying. I’m going to take her home now. Her name is Adia.