By Anushree Nande
Emmy was like a sprite—hard to capture, impossible to forget. On her good days, I got a big smile and her tiny hand slipping into mine as we walked her class to the language room. On her difficult days, a very disobedient fervour permeated every cell and fibre of her thin being. She almost quivered with the effort of keeping all the energy trapped inside. Then there were her worst days. Days every week when her face folded into itself, all expressiveness wiped away as quickly as an Etch-a-Sketch. On such days, nothing got through to her; her only reaction a careless sort of disregard, an almost teenage air of rebellion for all her seven years.
Unconcerned about firm words or reprimands from the teacher or the amount of times she was made to stand outside the class or in a corner of the classroom, Emmy would casually lean back against the wall, slouch (sometimes all the way to the floor), tap her feet and play with the ends of her plait or ponytail—her frizzy dark hair as immune to any semblance of discipline or control as she was then. She would bend and lift her head to distract her classmates, sliding her glasses up and down her nose. The glasses were a bright lilac (her favourite colour, as she had informed me on the first day) that clashed with her smooth, permanently tanned skin, but somehow suited this girl with as many moods as the colours of the rainbow.
On the first day of spring, I was walking across the playground to the teacher’s room, not paying any particular attention to the squeals and cries of the kids on their lunch break. Most of my mind was in my current read, a book based in up-state New York, and I was looking forward to an uninterrupted hour with it before my next class. But her voice called my name and broke my reverie. Emmy ran towards me, a whirlwind unsettling the sand on the playground, and showed me a new gap in her teeth before ruing the lack of the fairy the night before. She woke up to nothing under her pillow, but confided that she thought the fairy might not have known that Emmy was now living with her grandparents. This was news to me. I reassured her that she was probably right and the fairy would turn up in a day or two. In return, she wiggled her surprisingly long, artistic fingers at me. They were covered in glitter from when they had made butterflies in art class earlier that day.
That was when I really looked at her. She was looking extra pretty—her hair brushed out and tamed, falling around her bony shoulders instead of being tied up. She wore a white peasant top with delicate lace and crochet details over a brightly coloured skirt that fell just below her knees. Her feet were in elegant, white, strappy sandals, but even they couldn’t entirely mask her awkwardness at having to keep up with a body growing at a faster rate than she could match. There was something visibly different about her though, something that had nothing to do with hair or dress. And then it struck me, she had no glasses on. For the first time, I noticed how exposed her heart-shaped face looked without them, how vulnerable her slightly pug nose and chocolate brown eyes that were shifting and blinking more than usual today. Before I could ask her what happened, she delved into one of the pockets in her skirt and brought them out. There was a big crack down the middle, its lilac frame bent at right angles.
‘I accidentally sat on them during science’ was her simple explanation. But the smile never left her face. She continued, ‘It will cost a lot to get new ones, but you want to know a secret?’ Emmy leaned in towards me and I instinctively lowered my head down to her height.
‘I can see fine without them. Now Mum won’t be mad. I can see fine.’ She squinted again even, like she was focusing, though she wasn’t in the line of the sun. Her voice was a whisper and my heart splintered at how hard she was trying to make it true. I wanted to put my arms around her and hold her close. Before I could react at all, Emmy gave me a quick, tight hug and ran off to play with her friends. Glitter-flecked clothes and broken glass.