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African American Coming of Age Fiction

The best way to describe them was inseparable. Two exquisite moppets romping around the moth eaten vegetable garden, near an old dilapidated house. Their infectious laughter rang out like tinkling glass. Ava with her beautiful smooth mahogany skin, enormous chocolate eyes and tiny coils that framed her lovely face led Susannah into the tool shed. The butterfly they were trying to capture had landed inside. Susannah with her porcelain skin, azure eyes, and sun kissed curls tried to stifle the burgeoning giggle that was trying to escape. Ava, lifting a raised finger to her lips to quiet her, lurched for the pretty insect. Disappointment clouded both faces as the butterfly escaped from their clutches.


The two girls mirrored each other in all ways except looks.

”Let’s get a popsicle!” suggested Susannah digging into her pockets for change.


”We should dig a grave and hold a funeral for the dead bird that’s in my backyard,” lamented Ava, holding an empty shoe box.


”Let’s skip stones in the creek” laughed Susannah, as the girls raced to see who would arrive first.


”Let’s pretend we’re princesses who slay dragons for a living,” insisted Ava, as both girls grabbed discarded branches for swords.


The close friendship of the two girls, however, did not extend to their families. Susannah, whose father was the manager of the local mill, did not like her friendship with Ava.


“Stick to your own kind Susannah, those people are always up to no good.”


Ava’s father, who owned his own lumber business was leery of her friendship with Susannah.


“Ava, those people will turn on you just as sure as I’m standing here.”


The girls, however, ignored the friction between the two families and their bond grew stronger.


When both girls began attending school, they began seeing less of each other. In the beginning, when they would play after homework was done, their friendship remained intact. Wiping each other’s tears when one or the other was sad, or giggling about the silly things they noticed about people or life, theirs remained a deep friendship.


As both girls began middle school, the focus on classmates from their separate schools caused a slight drift. Their mutual heavy workload of assignments coupled with friends of their own race being antagonistic to one another, furthered the chasm.


Ava observed Susannah’s distance with her whenever they were together and sensed a slight annoyance toward her. Sometimes she wondered if Susannah’s annoyance was with her or Susannah herself. The gamut of emotions she experienced battled one another. Maintaining her relationship with Ava, often lost to, maintaining her white friendships. As Susannah began socializing more with her friends from school, friends that were more like her racially, the more Ava felt left out. Certain thoughts entered Ava’s mind that she didn’t want to entertain. Did Susannah decide not to be her friend because of skin color? Could she have been persuaded by her family to end the friendship? Ava told herself that it was all in her head and that they just had to get use to each other again.


*************


Ava stared at the phone for what seemed like hours, but in reality more like minutes. Contemplating if she should call Susannah, she found her fingers dialing her number. The trepidation that engulfed her, came to a screeching halt when she jumped at the sound of the voice on the other end.


“ Hello,” she could hear the nonchalant voice on the other end. A hint of blasé in the tone was more offensive than outright hostility.


”Hi Susannah, it’s me Ava.”


There was a slight pause and Ava could hear the reluctance in Susannah’s voice.


”Oh, Hi.”


”I just wanted to call you since we haven’t hung out in a while.”


There was another pause, and Ava’s heart plummeted.


”I’ve been busy,” the reply was unmistakably curt.


”Oh, I thought maybe we could take a walk to the creek like we used to do.” Ava now felt foolish for even suggesting it.


”I don’t think so. I have too much homework.” Her tone was dry almost lifeless.


Ava hung up and felt the tears stinging her eyes. Past memories began flooding her mind, memories of the wonderful times that she and Susannah had shared. It was a friendship, she thought, that would last forever. The person she spoke to on the phone sounded like someone she no longer recognized. Susannah became a stranger.


**************


When both girls went on to high school and then college, they had not spoken to each other since that last phone call. A phone call that seemed like another time. Ava looked back on that time and wondered if she dreamt it. Had their friendship been an illusion? Was it really that easy for Susannah to dismiss her? The two girls would, over the course of time, see each other occasionally. Ava would attempt a half smile, only to be ignored or rebuffed. Susannah’s refusal in acknowledging her presence, cut deep inside her soul.


Throughout the years, Ava established friendships with girls from both middle and high school. These girls taught her another kind of friendship. These friendships changed her, as her maturity as a young woman with ideas and dreams, were shaping who she was becoming as a person. Girls that mirrored herself, not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually, reciprocated genuine affection. These friends remained her closest and dearest friends. They were the friends that were her bridesmaids at her wedding that calmed her jitters. They were the friends that were the voice of reason when she was being unreasonable. They were the friends that were her rock when she was wracked with uncertainty. These friends would never abandon her no matter what. They were in it for the long haul. The disappointment over the broken friendship with Susannah had passed. What was it that St. Jerome said? “A friendship that can cease has never been real.” It was another time, another place in her life that was over. She chose to remember that time with Susannah and accept it as a small snapshot of her life. The memories were pleasant and the mourning of the broken friendship had passed.


*************


Ava and Susannah had both reached their fortieth year of life, when they ran into each other at a mutual event. Both women had careers, husbands, and children they loved. Mingling among the throng of people, a soft collision brought them face to face. The two of them, quickly glanced at one another with no acknowledgement that they had ever been those two little girls that had been inseparable.

May 31, 2021 18:18

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