a short story exercise from my creative non-fiction class:
I stood waiting under the awning outside, watching drops of water fall from the edge to the puddles below. I could see red leaves reflected in the ripples. One had fallen. It floated there, sailing like a boat towards the asphalt shore. I thought if I could hear the water, each drop would be a note; each ripple would hold the sound out, longer or shorter, it’d make music. I looked at the things around me: cars, water, students. Seemed everything moved to the same silent song. The pitter-patter on the rooftop drummed and I stood there, still and waiting. I wanted to get away from this school, dry and out of all this wetness. It felt like it’d been long enough since class ended. I wondered where he could he be.
How long was it I’d been here? I’d tried to distract myself from time. Listening to the rain I’d hoped it would pass faster but now my attention was brought back to myself, shivering. And the more time that passed now, the more I felt waiting was unreasonable. I was starting to lose feeling as the cold crept in from my extremities. The tips of my fingers and toes throbbed and I was getting soggy. My stomach spun, all knotted feeling and I felt myself start to slump. I hugged my arms in tighter. Where was he? What could be keeping him?
The noise of all the Dutch I didn’t speak started to dwindle as the courtyard emptied. Parents peeled the younger kids away from the wet, metal slides. I hoped to blend into the wall as I tried to act assured. I figured he’d be there soon and I didn’t want to struggle to answer questions. As they walked to their cars I watched them getting smaller in the distance. Then, they sort of became like the drops of water too. As they got tinier I could still see them moving. But I couldn’t hear them anymore and they didn’t seem to notice me watching. They went along with their normal day because that’s how it was: my foreign, their normal. Not for me, I thought. We’d only lived in St. Petersburg for a few weeks; I still felt myself clinging to my life in California. I was confused about what was normal.
Dad and I had talked about what to expect on the way to school this morning. True, the culture and the language had been a boundary all day. But now, waiting, I was mentally and physically alone. I stood there stranded out-of-place. I considered maybe I was exaggerating it all. Maybe it hadn’t been that long, only, being so far from the normal I knew made me think too much; stretched time out while I watched the world go on around me. Was I thinking about thinking? Why didn’t I think to wear a watch? Water splashed up from my foot tapping on the ground. I worried. I waited.
I was upset but maybe someone outside of me couldn’t tell. Even if I was being neurotic, they couldn’t know what I was thinking. Then again, if I spoke it out loud, they wouldn’t understand much of the English either. Inside myself I was pretty panicked. It was a weird, bearable kind of panic I hadn’t felt before though. I was uncomfortable now, just like I had been all day. But I didn’t feel like crying about it or anything. In reality, I knew it wouldn’t do anything for me. It wouldn’t make me sure my dad was safe or get me back home any quicker. I felt so removed from myself, so rational, like my flood of thoughts fought the tears. In my head, I talked myself through it all. Not many people around spoke my language.
I tried to remember when I’d become so ambivalent. Seemed I thought about everything in a whole different way here. In a different place would I become a different person? I didn’t know how much I wanted to change. But in the same way I didn’t cry, I felt myself surrender to newness: in a sense, I had no choice.
I tried to slow this bouncing feeling in my brain and collect myself. Almost everyone was gone now and I realized leaving was going to take more than standing here pondering about all this stuff on my part. I admitted I’d have to give up on waiting and take action and in that moment, I kind of perked up. Finding my way back to that new house became a game. I sifted through my memories to find its olive face. What stood beside it?
Had I decided to do something sooner it could’ve been easier. Would’ve made sense to talk to someone from the school who’d met me already. Someone who knew how little I knew. All day they would’ve witnessed me silent and unsure. I’d felt divided from them, like different species’ in zoo cages or something. I often considered myself an animal but never felt so outside a community; so categorized. By the end of the day they must have been familiar with my unfamiliarity. If they didn’t take note of differences themselves, I’m sure they could read my sense of them. After all, my body was tired from this constant alertness. I imagined my face taken over by some look of introspection too. I wore my tension.
I looked back at the classroom windows. The lights were off and I could see the empty playground across the courtyard mirrored on the dark outsides. Maybe I could knock on the door but, then what? Interacting with anyone seemed like too much effort right now. I looked down at my mom’s old leather bag she’d forced me to take that morning. It was darker brown now and all spotted from the rain. I remembered how I wanted to leave; mad at her while she tried to convince me a hand-me-down was really some cool kind of heirloom. And now, I just wanted to be there again, in that moment where I’d been this morning, even mad at her. If only I could remember to anticipate how hindsight might change things, I thought. I pulled the bag up on my shoulder and followed the last of a crowd down the street.
I might have even looked like I knew where I was going. I avoided puddles in the cracks between cobblestones. I felt like a kid again, walking through the narrow streets, like grocery store aisles. I avoided the water like lava as I jumped around the stones like I would the checkered tiles, years ago, back home. I realized how funny it’d be to see myself shuffling through emotions. If only I were really removed from myself, if I could look in on me from the outside. What I found terrible flipped fast with each moment.
It all seemed kind of funny. Like something I’d seen in a movie. I was a living fiction. As I continued walking I decided I’d keep thinking that way. I changed my pace and jumped from puddle to puddle to make it more fun. I tried to be as graceful as I could still, aware someone could be watching like I’d watched the water drops and shrinking people.
My newfound fun in the panoramic streets came to a halt when I noticed the bright pumpkiny door near the corner. With the rain, the leaves and the cinnamon bricks of the building, the scene looked perfectly autumn. I was enchanted. Not by the Autumness of it all though, no. The door stood there like a landmark, holding the history of the day. It’d witnessed me missing home this morning. I thought about Thanksgiving: cranberries, casseroles and spiced seasonal sweets. I remembered rolling my eyes at my dad’s line: “Couldn’t you slice that door right off the building like a piece of pumpkin pie?”
Happy for his ridiculous comment, now, happy it wasn’t the first time I’d noticed the door, I felt I owed one to who ever decided to paint it that orangish color. I turned the corner and sure enough, our small, rented, solar blue smart car came rolling down the street. My mother’s hands waved frantically at me through the windshield; then she pulled the car, all hazardly, to the side.
“Aw look at you, you’re all wet.”
Comforting, like always, she was sympathetic.
“Were you worried?”
I could tell she was. I could hear in her voice she was irritated too.
“I don’t understand how he lost track of time.”
I laughed at myself as I went to respond, amused I’d be the one to defend his mistake.