“Honey, you have to talk to me.”
The words could’ve come from miles away. The lady who spoke them to her might’ve just been a figment of her imagination. The world around her seemed so distant, like she was in the heavens looking down. However, she was not. Instead, she was surrounded by four walls, all covered in mementos from other kids her age. To her left were drawings crude, innocent. To her right, photographs of the lady in front of her with the others. The plastic chair under her butt was cold and stiff. It didn’t bother her, though.
“Mina,” the lady said, “Please talk to me.”
Mrs. Downson looked at the little girl concernedly. She had been like this all day. She spoke to nobody and did not acknowledge any of her peers, and the few times she spoke, it was nothing more than a whisper. She refused to do any of her school work or answer any of Mrs. Downson’s questions. At lunch, she refused to eat. When asked, Mina said she wasn’t hungry, although Mrs. Downson knew that she was lying. She did not emote like a little girl. Her face was stiff, and her little brown eyes had no light. It was as if she was dead.
“Mina,” Mrs. Downson said, “You can talk to me. I can help you.”
Mina shook her head slowly, still keeping the stone-cold expression on her face. Exasperated, Mrs. Downson shot up from her seat and walked out from behind the desk. She shut the door behind her in a huff.
“Any luck?” said a voice next to her.
She turned to see who it was; it was the principal, Mrs. Strange. She stood with a dour expression on her face, almost as if she had expected this to happen.
“No luck,” Mrs. Downson replied. “She won’t speak to me.”
Mrs. Strange huffed and crossed her arms. The two of them sat down on a bench nearest the door. Mrs. Downson ruffled her hair with her hands, anxiously combing her long fingers between her dirty blonde locks. She pursed her lips in agitation.
“That girl is like a damn rock!” Mrs. Downson sputtered.
Mrs. Strange lifted an eyebrow at the remark. She turned her head attentively towards her.
“No matter what, I can’t seem to get close to her. I can never get a bead on what makes her tick! I’ve never had this much trouble with a student before.”
“She acts up that much?” Mrs. Strange asked.
Mrs. Downson paused. Then with a heavy sigh, she said,
“No. Not at all….”
“I could say otherwise,” Mrs. Strange said coldly. “Remember that little incident on the playground a couple of weeks ago?”
Mrs. Downson remembered that after fall break, Mrs. Strange had called her into her office. During recess, a monitor reported a fight near the swing set. The two participants were Mina and a girl from another classroom. When asked about it, the little girl claimed that Mina pounced on her for no reason. When they confronted Mina, she claimed that the girl was calling her names and taking her necklace. She said it was her grandmother’s, her last gift to her before she passed away.
“You’re going to bring that up again?” Mrs. Downson growled.
“All I’m saying is you’ve got one tough kid in your class.”
“You say that like you haven’t had one before.”
“Not one like her, not one of her kind.”
Those words dug into her. How the hell can she be so cold like that? A principal of all people! It was evident from the start; she had no patience for kids like Mina. But it wasn’t her fault that she was who she was. Nobody chooses to be born who they are. Mrs. Downson clenched her left hand in frustration.
“Don’t get so riled up about it,” Mrs. Strange said. “You cry over her, and you’ll cry every one of her people. Hell, they’ve got nine reservations just for them; you’ll be out of tears for six lifetimes.”
“Go to hell, Strange.”
“Ha! I knew it!”
Mrs. Downson shook her head. She was already in enough hot water as it is, with Mina acting the way she’s been. There’ll be more now that she told off her superior. But Mrs. Strange didn’t understand. A girl like Mina, she had a family once before. Mina had one person who understood her, and that same person was the only one who cared. Now that she’s gone, she had no one. A person can’t soldier on from something like that, especially a child so young.
Summoning herself, Mrs. Downson got up from the bench. As she opened the door, a profound noise hit her ears. A faint sound buzzed around. She honed in as best as she could; it was music. Someone was singing. But who could be singing, she thought. The PA system wasn’t on, and neither was the radio. As she got closer to the sound, she could barely make out what sounded like lyrics. She tried to catch them; were they English? She listened further. No, not by a long shot. Finally, she could zero in on who was singing. Mina.
Mrs. Downson crept slowly, for she did not want Mina to stop. Her voice was heavenly, far beyond the average seven-year-old.
Wani wachiyelo omakiyayo
Waka Tankan nisnala
Waka Tankan neshniya
I oh nah hei nei yo wah
Abruptly, Mina stopped. She turned her head and faced Mrs. Downson. There were tears in her little brown eyes and, though she tried her best to hide it, her lip trembled. She slowly turned her head away again, and Mrs. Downson softened her rigid body. She bent down next to the little girl, who bit her lip and held her necklace close to her bosom.
“That was beautiful, honey.” Mrs. Downson said, trying to soothe her.
Mina nodded her head in appreciation.
“What was that? Something you learned from your grandmother?”
Again, Mina nodded.
“What does it mean?”
In a trembling voice, Mina uttered the words,
“It means help me….