Inside the trailer, my high school’s famed “alternative classroom,” there were no windows. The wood-paneled walls gave the trailer a rustic, impoverished appearance. I expected to see a boxful of pregnant girls. There were only two other girls in there—I knew them both. Maxine and I were in Honors Physics last year and we spoke from time to time, shared the occasional crack at the teacher who looked haggard and dredged, as if student loans and teething babies ran him into the ground.
Maxine was a plain, brown-skinned girl like me. Nothing special. Her parents worked with my parents, which meant we both had money and options. We differed on how to best exude our statuses: Maxine came back from Christmas break with a Benz; I drove a ten-year-old Skylark.
Femi was asleep at her desk. I never said a word to her before. A black girl in black makeup: I didn’t know how to approach her, didn’t know her angle. We had gym together once and she never participated, always sat on the bleachers and scribbled in a notebook, with headphones on, appearing to daydream about this and that. Someone once told me she was Nigerian; I assumed she was homesick and plotted escape within her notebook.
Goth girls were sought after by the boys because they reminded them of vampire chicks and big-titted comic book heroines, I guess. Femi looked like the real deal, though. She looked pissed and sad all the time. And she had small tits. She was down for the cause, whatever that was, and seemed disinterested in dudes who wanted to know if she fucked differently than the cheerleader, nerd or preppie.
Ours was a buffet-style curriculum. Whatever we wanted to learn or know was our prerogative—we just had to serve it up ourselves. I read my SAT prep book and Maxine yapped in my ear about the internet. “Chat rooms,” she said to me. “People go in there and talk all kinds of shit. And there’s a chat room for everything. I was in a Neo-Nazi room last night.”
“Why?” I asked, lowering my book.
“Just to see what they were talking about.”
“You know. Fatherland and shit like that. What you would expect.” Femi lifted her head from the desk. Her right eye was slammed shut by some foreign object: a fist, foot or four by four. “You okay?” Maxine asked.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” Femi said, “but yes, I’m okay. Thank you for asking.”
Femi popped a pill into her mouth, chewed it raw and rested her head on the desktop. Even without the black eye, she looked beaten, as if harried by a fed-up master, like a nag. The black makeup was still there, though not as neat. It looked blotchy around her eyes and the redness within them made her look high and unplugged. Between two dimensions, the trailer and the inner world, Femi had the gait and stature of a woman due for a hanging.
Maxine was the first one paroled. Six weeks after I arrived, she had a girl, Nadine, who was born without complication. I didn’t see a picture of her baby until graduation, or for another six months, but that was expected. I felt no sisterhood to her. We were two dumb girls who swooned at the sound of “I love you.” At least I did.
Miss Levin, Femi and myself were left alone. Miss Levin was in a better mood, or not as angry, and started to write on the blackboard textbook pages she wanted us to read. Femi’s mood and appearance oscillated between normal and anything-but, which led me to question who was the real one. Both versions were pathetic, but at least one of them smiled on occasion.
I changed desks and sat next to her. On that day, she was pleasant, though looked apprehensive, as if she knew I was going to talk to her, given Maxine’s departure. I asked her, “What will you do?”
“Adoption,” Femi said.
“I have to give it up, too.” I turned my chair toward her. “Are we being selfish?”
“Yes,” Femi said, “but that is the beauty of option. You can have it. You can kill it. You can give it away. Pick one and run.”
My girth notwithstanding, I often dreamt of running—not away, per se, but out: of space; of time; of patience. The latter frightened me, since it seemed my id fantasized of infanticide. My parents thought I was too young to raise a child. I didn’t argue. I could see the future. No good would come from my motherhood.
I asked, “What’s Nigeria like? Do they have pregnant teenagers over there?”
Femi shrugged her shoulders. “I’ve never been. But from what I know, it does. It loves the girls, or hates them. It depends. My grandmother, she lives with us here, thinks we’ve all lost our morals, our ties to God, our Heavenly Father. We’re made in His image,” she said and stared down Miss Levin, reading a magazine. “His image.”
“Men suck,” I said.
“Don’t say that,” Femi said. “It’s not completely true.”
“Fine. Then we all suck,” I said.
“Agreed,” Femi said and smiled again. I felt warm, invited. I grabbed her hand and was shocked by two things: that I reached out and that she held it without a frown. She squeezed my hand and said, “Things happen that shape people. I’ve been shaped,” she said as her other hand stroked her belly, “whether I had a say in it or not.”
That night, I had a dream. Or vision, I’m not sure. I was in that weird half sleep, half awake stage and my brain imagined Nigeria: a patchwork of pictures from history books, black and white movies and Sally Struthers commercials. The sky was a mosaic of photos and film reel. Nothing quite blended.
I stood on a hill, almost like a mountain, and the grass was wet like spray paint. I saw huts in the foreground, skyscrapers in the back. Femi appeared out of nowhere; she held my hand and walked me through the village. There, I saw what I expected: young, pregnant girls danced, the men walked with spears, children with distended stomachs and frail limbs crouched limp and hungry, a spiral of flies and mosquitoes buzzed over their heads.
We entered the city and I saw men in suits, women in beautiful sundresses, children decked out in dark blue and white school uniforms. They hustled about, catching cabs and lifting the fences to their shops. On one side of the street, the Nigerians went about their day like ants. On the other side, plain, brown-skinned babies sat in phalanxes and observed, their eyes narrowed in judgment; they cooed and drooled, in glee I suppose, as Femi led me out, as if a future murderer fetched the next train out of town.
Thomas DeMary, whose fiction has appeared in Up The Staircase and is forthcoming in PANK Magazine, also contributes a weekly column for PANK Magazine‘s blog. He currently lives in southern New Jersey. For more information on the author, visit him at www.thomasdemary.com.