Fiction in response to Good Health and Well-being
By Caroline Sun
CC Image Courtesy of Salvation Army USA West
“There are starving kids in Africa who want that bread!” My mom yells after me as I race out the door, backpack swinging.
I roll my eyes. “Then give it to them,” I mutter under my breath.
I pull on my shoes, stomping fiercely on the bright green welcome mat. The anguished-looking face of a cartoon squirrel glares up at me.
“Cassie, get back here and finish up your breakfast!” Her voice trickles through the opened door, loud and insistent.
“Mom, I’m going to be late!”
“Better late than starving!”
“Mom! I’m leaving!”
I slam the door shut, rolling my eyes again. Why was she so annoying? Didn’t she understand that if I missed the bus, I would have to walk? Or worse, she would have to bring me to school herself? And, oh my GOD, she was always going on about those kids in Africa! Her reply to every request for new shoes was “There are poor kids in Africa who would want those shoes!” Or, if sick, she would say, “There are kids in Africa ten times as sick as you!” If she cared so much about those kids, then why didn’t she just move there and be done with it?
I start down the driveway, annoyed and angry, and kick at the dead leaves arrayed across the pavement. The maintenance guy needs to come in soon, I think to myself. These leaves are really getting out of hand.
A low rumble catches my attention, and I look up to see the bus pulling up beside my house. The doors swing open with an audible clang. I quicken my pace, bag bouncing against my back, and hold up a hand.
“Wait!” I call, in case the bus driver decided that no one was home and left. “Wait!”
Sure enough, the doors stay open. I clamber up the steps, nodding a polite thank you to the bus driver. All the seats were taken but one in the very back, so I sit down and put my bag on the ground. I look out the window at my house, big and tall and white. At the front of the house stands my mother, waving at me.
I cringe. How embarrassing.
* * *
The sound of the bell awakens me from my stupor, and I rub my eyes groggily. The numbers and diagrams on the board come into focus, and I sigh. Only math could have such a soporific effect on me.
“Class, you are dismissed. Don’t forget, homework in book!”
The bell tones again, urging me to get on to my next class. I stand up, pushing my notebook into my bag, and thank the teacher.
“Bye, Mr. Richards! Thanks for class today,” I yell. He looks up from the book he had already begun to read, and nods in acknowledgement.
Now, it was time for homeroom. I head to Ms. Long’s classroom, shoulder already aching from my bag. How was I tired already? This was going to be a long day. Two down, five to go, I think to myself.
* * *
As I sit down at my desk, I wave at my best friend Liz. She smiles back, fingers curling to mimic our secret handshake. We are interrupted by the loud voice of Ms. Long.
“All right, everyone! Settle down. I’ve got something special for you today.”
I turn my attention to the front of the room, intrigued. Did she have a guest speaker again, like last time? That talk about inner confidence and self-respect had been interesting. Or perhaps a surprise field trip, maybe an off-campus lunch break…
Instead, she holds up a poster.
“Class, I was lucky enough to be asked to join this worldwide project, called Mealz for Realz!” She pauses dramatically, eyebrows lifting in excitement. The students manage a half-hearted smattering of applause. Satisfied, Ms. Long continues, “We would be going to fundraisers all over the state, collecting non-perishable foods and money to support this hunger movement in Africa! But what got me interested is that this fundraiser focuses not only on hunger, but also on hygiene and wellness! That’s so unique!”
“Any more exclamations, and you’re going to need some wellness too,” I mutter quietly.
“So, we would be collecting not only food, but also soaps, napkins, and other hygiene supplies! Isn’t that fun!”
There is a low chorus of yeahs and yeps.
Ms. Long pulls up a presentation on the projector, and she flashes through multiple slides of pictures, all the while narrating with her cheery voice. I am too horrified to listen.
In one of the pictures, a small child peers up at the camera, eyes wide in his emaciated face. His clothing hangs in tatters and his hair matted with mud. In another, a mom sits with her baby, desperately trying to keep him warm with only a scrap of cloth.
After the presentation, everyone is silent. I sit, shocked, seeing those pictures over and over again in my head. I would never forget those for as long as I lived.
We are interrupted by Ms. Long’s voice. “Well, the first event is this weekend. Anyone interested, if you may please raise your hand?”
I glance around at the surrounding kids in my class. Nobody moves. Liz meets my eyes and tilts her head, as if in question. Ms. Long looks around too, face falling.
Before she could say anything, however, I slam my chair back and stand up.
“Ms. Long, I volunteer.”
* * *
I slam the box onto the kitchen table and stand back, arms aching. My backpack lies on the floor, forgotten.
My mom enters the room, rubbing her eyes sleepily.
"Cass, do you mind keeping it down? I’m trying to sleep—” she breaks off, eyes on the box. “Good heavens, Cass! What is that?” She steps forward, reaching into the tall box. She pushes aside the paper covering and pulls out a bar of soap, wrapped neatly in plastic.
I cut her off. “Mom, I’m organizing a fundraising event this weekend. Liz is helping. It’s for this organization called Mealz for Realz. See, there’s not only soap in here, there’s also cans of soup and biodegradable toothbrushes!”
My mom gives me a strange look. “But why, Cass? Why would you want to do this?”
I smile at her. “Because, mom, there are underprivileged kids in Africa who want this.”