Written by Addie Barnett
There are those who pride themselves in being down-to-earth. They look at the sky and all they see are rolling clouds and, if they are lucky enough, they perceive the universe beyond.
There are those who don’t even dare to look up, afraid to leave the bubble that has been protecting them ever since they were children.
There are those who crawl every day, glued to the ground that has become their prison.
And then…there was Mahala.
Mahala was none of those people. Mahala did not look at the sky with contempt. She was never afraid to go out of her way, nor did she ever crawl. From the first day, Mahala stood up and walked, albeit unsteadily, into her father’s arms. All her father could do was stare in wonder at his daughter and shed tears.
Mahala would never lean on them for support–from her first day, she was independent, a strong personality that filled any room she chanced to walk inside.
I paled in comparison, but this story isn’t about me. It is about a girl, much thinner and shorter than I, who towered above us all with a boisterous laugh and a mischievous smile. With two eyes as black as night, twinkling like stars, with cheeks as pink as cotton candy and hair as electric as a storm, Mahala looked down upon us and cackled. How she loved to cackle. It did not matter if anyone had said a joke or made a rude comment–Mahala always found something to cackle at.
Her mother was a janitor and her father…in full honesty, I have no idea what job her father had, but he was away for weeks, if not months. Mahala had no brothers or sisters, for her parents feared that, should they have another child, it would not rise up to Mahala and would forever live in her shadow and they did not wish to doom an innocent child to a life of frustration.
But Mahala had me. We weren’t friends, but we weren’t enemies either. I would tag after her like a puppy, curious to see what mischief she was up. Day in and day out, she would find new ways of entertaining herself. She would run around after crickets, try to catch butterflies, play hopscotch, or throw tiny pebbles at old men sleeping on the benches of the park, hiding in the bushes when they woke up and looked around groggily. She would challenge the boys in upper classes to arm wrestling matches which, somehow, she would always win.
When we graduated secondary school, I followed Mahala to high school, afraid that once she was gone my life would become meaningless. I felt attached to Mahala like a dog chained to a fence post–wherever she went, I, inadvertently, followed. In high school, Mahala flirted with all the boys but as soon as they tried to put a hand under her purple skirts, she would slap them and leave. Once, a boy tried forcing himself upon her. I stared in shock and horror as he lifted her up and slammed her into a locker. Just as I decided to turn around and get help, Mahala drove her knee into his crotch and when he fell down, yowling, drove another into his face.
Mahala kicked him three times in the stomach then glanced up at me and smiled.
No one ever tried to touch her after that. Not even her boyfriend who ended up following her the same way I did. His name was Daniel, and he was head over heels for her. But no one got close to Mahala. So, despite Mahala saying Daniel was her boyfriend, I was the one making out with him. We never went further than a few kisses and smooches in intimate places. Not when Mahala had tagged him; I knew better than to cross her.
We went to college. Law. I barely made it through while she graduated summa cum laude. I didn’t manage to get a job at the same firm she did, but I still watched her from afar, befriending her on Facebook and hanging out with her co-workers. She never complained about me and she even defended me when one of them accused me of being a stalker.
Mahala shined at whatever she did. She had a great job, and a great husband who loved, respected, and feared her, sometimes all three at the same time.
The world wept when Mahala died.
I wept when she died in my arms. A hit-and-run. We were walking home–just me and her, after grabbing a bite to eat. Hand-in-hand; peculiar of her to take my hand or acknowledge my presence in such a way.
Before crossing the street, she looked at me and smiled. “Why have you been here all this time?” she asked me.
“I don’t know. I guess, in a way, I saw something in you that resembled me. Something no one else seemed to have.”
Mahala sighed. “The winds have stopped.”
Mahala nodded. “Ever since I was a child, I could feel a gentle wind lapping at my feet. Sometimes, everyone felt it too. Other times, I was the only one who could feel it.” She turned and hugged me. “Farewell.”
“Farewell? Whatever do you mean?”
Mahala stepped on the zebra walkway. The car hit her with full force, a car none of us had seen.
In a world where everyone walked, Mahala soared through the clouds.