By Rachel Reyes
I was looking forward to eating that, you know. I was looking forward to peeling off the lid and licking it shiny-clean before sinking my plastic spoon into the rich chocolaty goodness and shoveling it into my gap-toothed mouth. Afterwards, I was looking forward to using my finger to scrape every drop of pudding from the cup that the spoon couldn’t reach, which Mom always told me wasn’t polite with a smile, because even she knew that as a second grader, one does not simply waste chocolate pudding.
I saw you in the window as the bus pulled up to my stop that morning, your face distorted by the grime in the glass. Mom was standing next to me, holding my hand even though lots of other kids were at the bus stop and none of their moms were there. I didn’t care, though, because her hand was soft and warm and her perfume smelled like lilacs. But I saw you laugh and point at me as Mom smoothed the front of my dress and kissed my forehead. My cheeks grew hot, and I pushed her away, and I boarded the bus, ignoring her as she waved good-bye.
I could have tried harder to stop you, girl who stole my pudding cup. I’d never met you before, but you must have been a fourth-grader, at least, the way you towered over me with your long curly hair spilling over your shoulders, the way you stomped up to my seat with your light-up sneakers flashing while the bus was moving, even though that’s not allowed. I could have stood up to face you, which wasn’t allowed either, and I could have hugged my lunch box to my chest and shook my head when you ordered me to hand it over. What a baby, you sneered, did your MOMMY pack your lunch? Instead of letting you rummage through the peanut butter sandwich with the crusts cut off and the apple slices and Mom’s note—Have a good day at school, honey! XOXO Mom—I could have said No, that’s mine. Instead of letting you snatch the pudding cup and hold it in the air like a trophy, I could have told you to give it back, get your own.
I could have been the envy of the lunch table that day. I could have been swarmed with other kids wanting me to trade them my chocolate pudding cup for packets of Cool Ranch Doritos, homemade peanut butter cookies, carrot sticks (not on your life), string cheese, Fruit Gushers. But I wouldn’t have traded my pudding cup for any of those, never, never, never. I would have held my plastic spoon like a scepter, refusing everyone’s inferior offerings as queen of the cafeteria. Instead, I opened my lunch box, crumpled up Mom’s note before anyone could tease me for it, and ate my sandwich and apple slices alone.
If you hadn’t stolen my pudding cup, I still would have had the lingering taste of chocolate in my mouth after lunchtime back in class. I would have been thinking about coming home that day and begging Mom to let me have another pudding cup as an after-school snack when the principal called my name over the scratchy loudspeaker and told me to Please come to the office.
I could have licked the remaining bits of chocolate pudding from the corners of my lips as I walked down that endless hallway, entered the principal’s office, and sank down in the too-big chair across from his desk, wondering why Daddy was there when he was supposed to be at work, and wondering why he was crying.
I could have still been thinking about chocolate pudding, chocolate pudding, chocolate pudding as I watched the principal’s elephant-wrinkled face collapse, and I listened to him take a deep breath before telling me that there’s been an accident.
If I had known that the chocolate pudding cup you stole was the last one Mom would ever pack for me, I would have jumped on you. Pulled your long curly hair. Bit your hand until it drew blood. Screamed. Shouted. Cried thief!
But I didn’t.
I hope you enjoyed that pudding cup, really, I do. I hope your own mom buys you a whole truckload of chocolate pudding cups and gives them to you for every breakfast, lunch, dinner, morning snack, midnight snack, Christmas, birthday, half-birthday, and just because. I hope she feeds you so much pudding that it replaces the blood in your veins, the fluid in your eyeballs, the saliva on your tongue. I hope her pudding pours out of your mouth like a waterfall whenever you open it to speak.
When your mom packs a chocolate pudding cup in your lunch box, don’t you dare crumple up her note. When she hugs you in front of all your fourth-grade friends, don’t you dare push her away. When you eat your pudding, lick the lid, scrape out every last drop from the cup.
Don’t waste it.