I (Allison) am a grade eight student in the Challenge program at Calvin Park Public School. I wrote this story for a project called Challenge for Change which is meant to raise awareness for a global issue. My story is about two girls, one wealthy and one poor, who meet at a homeless shelter. Will their different backgrounds keep them apart, or bring them together?
I’m starting to think I made a mistake deciding to come back to the homeless shelter with Mom. I figured I had nothing to lose. I couldn’t text with my friends because Jenna had somehow gotten the impression that I skipped out on her party on purpose (even though I explained to her numerous times that my mom forced me to) and she’d turned everyone against me. Coming to the shelter would at least be more interesting than lazing around at home watching snoozeworthy news programs or kiddy cartoons (Mom refused to let us get cable, so there was never anything good on) or (horror of horrors) working on homework. Plus, it made Mom happy to see that her daughter was "finally taking an interest in sacrificing spare time for the good of those not as well off as us" (those were her exact words). So, it seemed to be a win-win situation. But I might have been wrong.
Sure, it was kind of fun at first. That little girl, Allie, is adorable. She seemed to think my iPhone was the greatest thing in existence. Poor thing.
But her sister, Rachel–I don’t know what her deal is, but she certainly isn’t very friendly. Maybe poverty has made her antisocial. Well, I have no tolerance for antisocial people, no matter what the situation.
And now Mom is making me spend a whole hour with her.
"This is a great chance for you," Mom says, a huge grin frozen on her face. Her teeth are slightly yellow and there’s something lodged between two of them, which makes me think she forgot to brush her teeth in her eagerness to get to the shelter. Or maybe she’s just trying to give off the false impression that she’s like the poor people to make them feel more comfortable around her.
"You can get to know a new friend just your age and get introduced to the way people in other social classes live." Mom studies my face, which a slight look of disgust must have sneaked onto. "Why are you looking at me like that? You’re not reluctant to meet these people just because they’re poor, are you?"
"No," I mutter. It’s true–I might have been reluctant once, but not anymore. I’ve learned that some poor people can actually be quite friendly and fun–Allie, for instance. It’s just this poor person I don’t want to meet. And I really wish Mom would stop bringing up the "just-your-age" thing. Yes, Rachel’s just my age, but that doesn’t mean we have anything in common or that we’re going to like each other.
Mom turns the doorknob to the games room, which we’re supposed to spend this hour of torture in. Like every other room in the shelter, the games room is small and cramped. There are no shelves, so sloppy piles of thousand-year-old board games lean against the walls, which pale yellow wallpaper is peeling off of. A black-and-white television stands on a worm-eaten table. Thinning beige mats are placed at random spots on the wood floor. The only thing in relatively good shape is the foosball table, which Rachel is now standing at, one hand controlling the red guys and one controlling the blue guys, making them kick the little rubber ball back and forth. When Rachel’s on the red guys, I grab a blue knob and twist, flicking the tiny soccer ball as far as I can.
"So that’s what you want to do, girls? Have fun," Mom says breezily, that stupid smile still plastered on her face. She backs out the door, giving us a tiny wave. When she shuts the door, I am left all alone, abandoned, with no one but Rachel to keep me company.
"Hi," Rachel says flatly, shooting the ball toward my side of the table.
"Hi," I repeat, shooting it back.
Awkward silence. Nothing can be heard except the sound of the ball being flicked back and forth. After stopping one of my kicks, Rachel stays still, clutching the knobs, a blank stare on her face.
"Go on," I urge.
Rachel does, and so quickly that it takes me by surprise. There’s no way to stop the shot as it whizzes effortlessly down the "field" and into the little hole at my end. She smiles slightly.
I just stare. What makes this girl so good?
"My dad used to play with me," she says, answering my unasked question. "He taught me lots of strategies."
"My dad used to play with me, too," I respond. "Until..."
Before I can finish my sentence, a lump grows in my throat, and I fall to the ground. Tears seep out of my eyes, soaking the mat beneath me. Loud sobs escape my throat, and my nose starts to run. I have never lost control like this–not when I first heard my dad died, not at the funeral, never. It’s a strange feeling. Only two thoughts run through my mind–"He’s dead he’s dead he’s dead" and "This is so embarrassing. A non-emotional type like myself, freaking out in front of a poor person?"
But Rachel doesn’t laugh. She just hovers over me, saying "Are you okay?"
I say nothing but keep sobbing uncontrollably. He’s dead he’s dead he’s dead...The cold reality of it is sinking in for the first time.
Rachel kneels beside me and places her hand on my shoulder. "Are you okay?" she repeats.
"M-m-m," I stutter. "M-my d-dad d-d-died." Even saying the words is painful.
Rachel gasps, then recomposes herself and puts her arms around me. I first resist, but then succumb to her comforting touch and sob on her shoulder.
When I feel all cried out, Rachel yanks me up to my full length. "Are you okay?" she says a third time.
"Yeah, I think so," I croak, wiping my eyes and nose on my sleeve. I know how gross that is, but Rachel doesn’t care.
"I lost my dad, too, you know," Rachel tells me, and there’s a sad tinge to her voice. "He walked out on us. And then my mom lost her job, and then...well, you know."
I put my arm around her and suddenly feel better. Here is someone who’s been through much the same troubles as me. Maybe we can lift each other out of these hard times.
"I don’t think I want to play foosball anymore," says Rachel weakly, sinking down onto a mat.
"Me neither," I say, sinking down beside her.
Once again there is silence for a few minutes. But this is a different kind of silence. The silence before was awkward, strange, unfriendly. This is melancholy but relaxing and comforting. It’s the kind of silence I think real friends share. (Not me and my friends–we’re almost never silent.) Before long, my tears have dried up, and I feel ready to speak again.
"Funny that our dads both played foosball with us," I remark.
"Yeah," Rachel says, a small, sad smile playing on her lips. "I mean, most dads play soccer or football–but foosball?"
"It’s kind of dorky," I say, giggling.
Rachel giggles too, with exactly the same pitch. "Yeah. My dad is a dork." She doesn’t say was.
"Mine is, too," I say, also not saying was. "I miss him."
And we dissolve into quiet laughter. The laughter has a little bit of sadness to it–after all, our dads leaving us (one on purpose, one not) isn’t funny. At all. But it’s oddly comforting to think about the good times we shared instead of the pain of losing him. Unlike the laughter with my current friends, which feels kind of forced and unreal to me, this is true laughter. And maybe–could it be?–the start of a budding friendship.
Come back tomorrow to read Chapter 5!