Funny how I find myself in love with you
If I could buy my reasoning, I’d pay to lose
One half won’t do
— It’s My Life, Talk Talk, 1984
She carefully pushed the metallic strip embedded in the spine of the book out the bottom with a pencil. It was already a little bit sticky so it was easy to stick it into her friend’s bag. The other girls at the table kept an eye out. Their friend was at the front counter returning a book. Then she took a piece of notebook paper and wrote something on it. The girls watched her and were stifling their laughter. When she got back, they all looked as serious as they could.
“Here she comes,” she said to the other girls. “Like a lamb to the slaughter. Don’t laugh!”
They were sitting at the same table they always sat at, it was the spot where she was sitting by herself when she first saw Maria. Now, she was setting up a prank on one of her friends, a joke she’d planned and perfected. The metallic strip she learned was the thing that set off the detector at the library exit. This was going to be a good one.
“Well, she said,” we don’t want to be late do we. “We should head out.” The victim was clueless and joined the other girls as they started toward the exit. She was last, and all the other girls walked through the detector and when she passed between the white pylons it made a loud beep and the turn style locked.
She frantically reached into her bag while the ringleader who set up the joke watched with muted pleasure a few feet away.
“Ok, young lady,” the librarian, a taller white lady, “Let’s see what’s in the bag.” By now all the other girls were laughing and making faces at the girl on the other side of the turn style. The joker just folded her arms with satisfaction.
“I don’t have any books in here, honest,” she said to the librarian.
As the girl emptied out her bag a piece of paper fell out. Written in big, capitalized, black letters were the words,
“I STEAL BOOKS!”
Now she smiled and raised her middle finger at her friend, now fully aware that she was set up.
“See ya,” she said with a big smile. The other girls raised their middle fingers too, and then they ran off before the librarian had a chance to stop them and ask question.
As they were high fiving each other and laughing at the look on their friend’s face, she saw Maria in the hallway. Her face lost its expression and she watched the girl walk by. Maria looked sad, watching the floor. She glanced up for a minute and they made eye contact, and Maria smiled.
She felt that same weird and uncomfortable warmth she felt before, but now all her friends were watching her, they saw the transformation.
“Hey what’s up?” the tallest and oldest girl in their group said. “Are you in love or something.”
“Shut the fuck up!” she said with a grimace, looking right into the older girl’s face. “Just shut the fuck up. Don’t say that.”
All the girls in the group stood back looking surprised. The two girls stood close, then relaxed.
“Ok,” the older girl said. “Jesus. It’s no big deal.”
“Yeah,” she said. “Sorry, it’s just she’s new and alone and I guess, well.”
“She’s just a Mexican girl.”
“No, she’s not,” she said. “You know what, you guys get ready for the pay back on that prank. I’ll see you guys later.”
She walked away alone.
The last two classes of the day lasted forever. She had something to give Maria. But she was embarrassed. She was working up her courage to talk to her. It was stupid, she thought. She’d let this weird fascination go on too long. Was she in love? Is that what this was? Or was it a way to do something on her own for once, find her own trouble? Maybe it was both. Today was the day, she thought, that she’d finally say, “Hello” to her. She’d even tried to learn a phrase in Chorti, kochwa ture’t. It meant, “how are you.”
She walked to school but Maria rode the bus, and she’d noticed her out by the buses more than once. She figured that’s where she’d finally talk to her, at the end of the day. When the last bell rang, she started in that direction. She noticed there was a small crowd of kids near one of the buses.
“Watch where you’re going you stupid Mexican,” she heard a boy’s voice saying. When she worked her way through the crowd, she saw Maria getting up off the ground and the boy who called her a Mexican. Something lit up at that moment, and she moved – fast.
She dropped her backpack and tackled the kid. They hit the gravel on the ground and she began to hit him in the face. He blocked her blows and then jumped back up and pushed her so she tumbled back. The crowd of kids was now urging them on, shouting and jostling.
He lunged at her and she swung at his face again connecting with his nose. Blood started to flow from the boy’s face. She finally pinned him so he was face down in the dirt. She put her knee in his back and grabbed his arms. She pulled him up. She recognized him now as an eighth grader, a typically bully. The crowd settled down and she pushed him through the crowd, like a cop with a criminal toward a squad car.
“Tell her you’re sorry, mothefucker,” she said holding him in front of the astonished Maria. “Say it,” she said pulling his arms back.
“Fuck you,” he said.
She kneed him as hard as she could.
“I’m sorry, Maria!”
“Fuck,” he said. “I’m sorry, Maria.”
“Now say it in Spanish,” she said tightening her grip.
“Dile a ella en espanol!”
“Lo siento, Maria,” he said.
She let him go, and he turned around.
“Now get the fuck out of here,” she said. “And tomorrow you better show up with a piece of paper with “Lo siento Maria,” written 500 times.”
“What the fuck is wrong with you?” he said. “You want me to write sentences?”
“You heard what I said,” she told him. “If you don’t have it tomorrow morning for her, I’ll kick your ass again.”
“You’re fucking crazy,” he said. “Keep away from me. Whatever. Just keep away.” He wiped the blood from his nose on his shirt. The crowd started drifting away, leaving her and Maria alone.
“I’m sorry he said that to you,” she said. “I’ve been trying to,” she stopped. “Kochwa ture’t,” she said.
She walked over and picked up her back pack and reached into it.
“And I made this for you,” she said. “It’s kinda dumb I know, and I tried. There’s no ‘r’ sound, I guess in the ancient Mayan. So that’s my guess at your name, you know.”
Maria opened an envelope with a white card. And there was handwritten glyph.
“Thank you,” she said. “Thank you, very much for this and for standing up for me.”
“Maybe you can teach me some of your language sometime,” she said. “So I don’t sound so dumb.”
“You’re bleeding I think,” she said. She reached up and touched her own face. There was blood. It was the boy’s blood.
“I think it’s his blood,” she said. There was an awkward silence. She stepped forward and hugged Maria, some of the blood on her shirt got on Maria’s white blouse. Neither of them noticed.
“If you ever need anything,” she said. “Consider me a friend. And if that asshole bothers you again, you tell me.”
Maria smiled, and for a moment she felt that same warmth wrapped in a sense of triumph.
“Hey,” a voice said. “Don’t move an inch. You’re coming to the office with me!”
She felt a tug on her arm as she was dragged back toward the school building. The feeling didn’t go away as she looked over her shoulder at Maria.
Oh, It’s my life
Don’t you forget
Caught in the crowd
It never ends (it never ends)
— It’s My Life, No Doubt, 2003