Selima, my friend, woke up with a start on a cold, clammy wet morning, full of possibilities, possibilities! The sky was clouded over, and her brain, woken up with a start by her heart-stopping alarm clock so that her blood felt drained and tingly, thought it was still the previous day. All days, these days, are the same now, in their dullness, and we can forgive her (at least once in a while) if she forgets. See, today was very, very special. Selima turned a year older today. Yes, it’s just a number after all, but what wonderful, wonderful effects that raised digit can have on a person’s life! Selima might have felt it….no, it looks like she forgot. Here, see, she got up from bed, blood drained still, picked at her ruffed-up brown hair, scratched and poked at her stomach, sort of bear-like. Her parched desert lips opened wi~iide as she yawned, showing all her white teeth. The clock, she looked at it with disgust before getting up to think: what on earth am I supposed to wear today? Well she’d better think fast, fast! because I was going to be picking her up in about twenty minutes.
Ah, time moves too fast for so many of us, and we soon realize that everything we do takes time! How bothersome! How annoying! Selima barely had time to brush her teeth before I was pushing at the doorbell (*dingadingadingadingadingadingadong!*) and shouting:
“We’re gonna be late-ah, Selima!” The extra “ah!” was for emphasis.
I heard her rushing at the door, putting on some shoes. Door opened, she came rushing out, frantically locked it, and Away we go! Such a life! Such excitement! We barely smiled on our way into the car and off to the crowded disaster roads ahead of us.
“What time is it?” she asked, looking at the car clock.
“Thank God, we’ll make it,” she answered herself.
“Happy Birthday, Selima,” I said. “Your present’s in the glove-thing.”
She opened the glove compartment and took out a badly wrapped present (I only tied a thin red ribbon around it.)
“Oh, what’s this?” she said. I laughed at her.
“Try it on!” I said, flipping down the sun visor for her to use the mirror.
Selima glanced over with a kiddish smile, then looked up and carefully applied the brightest, reddest, most glossiest lipstick on the market onto her open lips. Yup! And they’re done!
“Aw, don’t I look beautiful? Let me ki~iiss you!” She leaned over and gave the air between us a kiss.
“Ha ha, glad you like it! I got one for myself. So we can walk around together and freak people out all day.”
“What? Did you bring it? Put it on! Put it on!” She dug into my purse, pulled out an identical tube, and uncapped it for me.
Red light in front! I stopped the car and quickly spread some on. There! Hahaha,…
Eventually, we arrived at school, and we went our separate ways, vowing, “I’ll see you later!” to each other before walking off. I went back to double check that I hadn’t left anything in the car, and saw Selima’s back, walking on stilt-like heeled boots, echoing steps all through the parkade. I looked at my own boots. Who knows? Maybe I’ve grown, too, I thought.
Selima walks through the university like she’s the only one there: head held high, and looking straight ahead, walking bee-line straight to her destination. I’ve seen people look at her, and I’ve seen her pretend not to notice. In secret, she would say to me that she did, and maybe she’s also a bit flattered by the attention.
But classes are so boring! We sit all day and fall asleep like cats under sunbeams. I dream when I am asleep. I dream of lonely places. Last time, it was a store I’d never seen before, with dust covered shelves and tacky souvenir pieces, no one around to buy them. Selima doesn’t dream. When she sleeps, all she hears is the professor, and all she sees is darkness. And she doesn’t ever notice herself asleep. I’ve seen her: comically, clumsily trying to take notes in her intoxication, scratching them out, trying again and again until, in frustration, she drops her pen and no longer attempts to pick it up. Notes are all in the textbook, she thinks, and allows herself to rest a while.
She noticed, then, that classes never used to be so boring. She would look at the clock now and again, and think that time runs too slow too often, pick at her pen cap, and draw strange spirals in the margins of her notes. No imagination. Just spirals, spirals, circles, squares, stars when she feels like it, leaves and flowers sometimes. Highschool, we know, was so much more interesting, but….we don’t often talk about highschool anymore. It reminds us of too much, I guess.
Selima has other worries, too. Today, she went to see the course advisor to try and drop a course that she had not shown up for since late January, and was told that she had missed the last day for dropping anything. Poker-face set and ready to face the world, she told the advisor with the kind face and wide eyes that it was “okay,” and “thanks for your help.” Bravely, bravely she stepped out of his office and went to her next class, where she fell asleep like always, as if nothing had happened at all. After class, she found voice mail on her cellphone and thinking – hoping – it was me, she listened to it and heard an unrecognizable voice. It was from the place she had applied to work for, saying that they had something they wanted to speak to her about. Eagerly, she called back. A man, some director of something-something told her, “I’m sorry, but we weren’t able to hire you at this time,” and ” please keep in touch, and we’ll look forward to seeing you apply again in the future, when another opening pops up.” Pop! Pop! Openings don’t just pop up, I say. Selima’s fine. We’re all fine. The world is fine, and Selima’s absolutely fine, since she told me so. I sighed for her and patted her on the shoulder.
Finally, we can go home. Both tired from classes, we stared blackly ahead, at the sky and road and other cars that sped by us. I drove ahead; she remained silent.
“Have a lot of homework tonight?” I asked.
“Midterm tomorrow,” she replied. “I should probably study.”
“Haven’t studied yet. Good!” I said.
“No, no.” She sighed and rubbed her forehead. “I’m so scared I’m gonna fail.”
“Yeah, you’ll do fine,” I said. Not much else to say. Silence.
“You?” she asked.
“I think I might get to rest a bit tonight. Homework due on Friday. I’m gonna put it off and do it tomorrow,” I said.
“Oh,” she said.
Quiet drives really are the best. We heard so many interesting, interesting things on our way home, like car horns, yelling, engines, birds, maybe. I opened the window a bit to let in the wind, and it felt like we were outside.
“That’s cold,” Selima said. “Close it.”
Fine, fine. I closed the window again, and drove the rest of the silent way back to Selima’s home.
When we arrived, Selima was still staring unblinkingly ahead, not moving. Panic does that to people, but so does stress.
“Selima,” I said. “We’re here.”
“Oh, right. Thanks.” She moved out of the car and towards her front door. I rolled down the window.
“Don’t be so late tomorrow!” I yelled at her. She waved back and moved inside as I glided off the driveway and back home to my own place.
Selima, Selima, she turned on some lights in an already dark house and realized that she lives alone. I told her before to get a pet, but she told me she wouldn’t be able to handle the responsibility.
Over to the kitchen she glides, glides, over to the fridge, opens it, and retrieves a pot of some stew. She puts it on the stove and turns on the heat. Then, over to the tv she glides – no, wait, back to the microwave to set the timer, then over to the tv she glides. She leans forward to turn it on, just a button press, then leans back to stare at Joan Makabury’s cheerful, cheerful face as she recites the news as if possessed by an ecstatic emotion. Later, when the pot heats up, she’ll get some stew in a bowl, have a piece of toast, or two, and watch whatever’s on tv for a while. At 12, she’ll probably go study some for tomorrow’s midterm, then maybe look at some more job postings, not letting herself worry anything about that one class she’s bound to fail. We can’t turn back time after all, as everyone knows.
Slowly, surely, maybe when she’s half asleep at her desk at 4 am, she might notice that it was her birthday the day before, and think back to those other birthdays she once spent with her friends, going to movies, eating out, doing stuff, whatever, whatever we felt like doing. We’re all busy now, so,…
Maybe in a couple more years, she’ll think to herself, when we’re all older and when we all have jobs that give vacations, we can take a vacation together, all at the same time, and go do something fun, like a cruise, or a trip to London, or something, or anything for fun fun fun. I hope so, at least, if we’re not all too busy for each other, we can,…
But, well, that’s still a long way off,…
No, Selima. Absolutely, absolutely, we are going to be happy again. Just….wait a while. You’ll see. I promise.