The Kok’s. What an unfortunate name. A name that had been dragged in the mud by everyone at school for who knows how long. They reminded me of trolls, the whole family. The youngest, Mary, always had greasy hair sticking to her neck and back; thin strands of smokey blond that had a chance of being pretty if she washed it. Her older brother consistently sported a black eye, possibly because he was often angry, but maybe he was just defending the family name.
I’d every so often catch a glance of them when visiting my friend who lived next door. They’d be playing with a two-by-four in the backyard; Old, rotting pieces with nails still stuck in them. Or peeling twigs off trees to set fire to. Barefoot among piles of trash. I could see the dirt on her skin from where I stood in the safety of my friends better fortune.
Mary was a grade older and took the same bus as me to school. She always sat in the front seat, always alone, looking solemnly out the window each morning while others chatted quietly to each other.
I got on the bus one day and paused at her seat. I sat down next to her. Her stench was overwhelming. She didn’t acknowledge me the whole ride to school.
The next morning I sat down next to her again without giving it another thought.
“Good morning,” I said. “I hope it’s okay that I sit here.”
She turned her neck slowly to me, gave me a polite smile, and nodded. She turned back to the window.
The next morning I sat by her again, and after saying hello, I launched into what would be a one-sided conversation about the excellent creek that resided by her house. She looked at me with a blank expression, one that didn’t say stop. I continued about the area around the creek, and the excellent tree fort someone had built years ago, hoping my young interests were the same as hers. I watched her watch me as I spoke, the details on her face already looking years beyond her age.
We pulled into the parking lot of the school and I stopped talking. I put my backpack onto my shoulders and stood up, feeling embarrassed at myself.
“The toads are great in that creek,” she beamed. “I found four of them just the other day.”