She was 14, the gifted child that everyone in school knew. Even the little kids.
Her dad was late. She had looked outside the gates for the cherry red van, or at least the black face with perpetual frown, but neither had shown up yet. She regretted the rush to get out of class, books dumped into the backpack in a hurry, being caught in the throng going down the stairways through the grounds and into the tarred waiting area that filled up with browned girls in brown skirts and beige shirts, hair in plaits that had begun the day all neat and oiled but were now all frizzy forming deceptive halos around the heads of mischievous school children. But her gut was burning up as though a fire had just been lit. Only she mistook the instinctual warning for hunger. Yet her body knew, and her feet were restless, neck craning over the sea of heads. No cherry red van yet.
Slap! Straight across her left cheek. "What the hell are you doing? I've been waiting for half an hour," his voice boomed.
"I looked," she said softly, knowing that if she remained completely silent it would only further enrage him.
"Shit! Why you can't you come out and look."
Sweat was pouring down his face from anger and the heat. The cacophony of voices that usually engulfed the dock was now quiet.
Then as suddenly as he had appeared he turned on his heel and walked out through the mustard gate. She followed, looking down, not meeting what she assumed were questioning glances. She hurried after him, trying not to touch her burning cheek, through the gate, onto the pavement, past the people waiting for a bus to the beginning of the yellow stripes. His face was like a total eclipse, all darkness and no light, spitting out loud about not having eaten all day like dangerous radiation.
Her head hung low in shame as she remained still. She wanted to run away, just run...
And then as though afraid she would run away, he reached towards her, pulled at her arm and held her hand, tight. And crossed.
The tears came then, hot and fast, blurring her vision and making her mind swim. She had no memory of her father having held her hand before, not even in the vice-like grip he had hers in now.
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