The kids were grouped in the small gangs that defined my middle school playground: the youngest stood by the trash cans and the older bunch gossiped by the fence that surrounded the grounds.
I was perched on a tamarind branch, trying to keep the pink dress I got for my thirteenth birthday from showing the world that my panties didn’t match. I was watching everything below, but focusing on nothing.
A roar of laughter made me search for Victor Cuevas’ voice.
“Can I use the big bowl on your forehead as a chamber pot, Isi?” he said.
His friends laughed.
His friends laughed.
Victor was at it again. He was teasing Isidro Manzanares, a kid whose forehead had been smashed in by a horse kick when he was a toddler. Isidro was trying to run away and hide behind the trash, but Victor would not let him go.
I squeezed my branch until my hands hurt. I wanted to climb down and get in Victor’s face, but I didn’t know Isidro that well. It would be weird to intervene on his behalf; most boys hated when a girl tried to help them out of a bind.
Then Victor looked up, flashed me one of his too-much-candy-blackened smiles, and said, “Hey Monkey-Lynn, wanna pee in Isi’s chamber pot face?”
I swung off the tamarind tree, breaking my fall with a punch on Victor’s mouth. The impact, or maybe the surprise, threw him on his back. Then my left knee was on his chest and my right fist on his face. I pounded and pounded. It felt good. I closed my eyes when his blood, tears and spittle made my stomach twist and bubble. I continued hitting him and shouting “My name is Maelynn, say it, Maelynn!”
“A teacher’s coming!”
I didn’t know who yelled the warning, but I listened. I rushed to my feet, kicked Victor on his side one last time, jumped the fence, and ran out of school grounds.
I ran towards my safe place at the beach. I was not a fast swimmer, so it took me some time to reach the rock that poked out of the waves about a quarter of a mile from shore. I climbed up belly first and stayed in that position for a while, crying and cursing between recovery breaths.
I sat up after the sun started to feel too hot on the back of my neck. I thought about Victor’s face all bloodied up; rage and regret boiled my insides. Kicking the water, I promised myself that the next time I made Victor Cuevas bleed, I would also stuff a fistful of dirt in his rotten mouth.
Girl Climbing Tree, by Alida Bothma