Carrying the Flag
Chapter 1: Hadiya

Copyright© 2016 by peregrinf

Coming of Age Sex Story: Chapter 1: Hadiya - Dee Walker has graduated from Central High. The Naked in School Program continues in spite of the immobility of the Federal bureaucracy that set it up and some hard-core community opponents. Judy Liu, Dee's protege diver and a former gymnast, finds herself facing daunting challenges. On the first day of her junior year she comes to the aid of a new student, a Pakistani refugee. Together they battle bigotry and their personal demons along with a new threat to the Program

Caution: This Coming of Age Sex Story contains strong sexual content, including mt/ft   ft/ft   Teenagers   Consensual   Romantic   Lesbian   BiSexual   Heterosexual   Fiction   Interracial   Black Male   White Male   White Female   Oriental Female   First   Oral Sex   Masturbation   Petting   Slow   School   Politics  

I don't like the first day of a new school year. It's too chaotic. Not that I'm obsessive but I like stuff organized. Even lunch is a chance for screw ups, since we have two lunch periods. People are flying on instruments, reading their schedule trying to figure out are they "A" or "B" lunch and where are they supposed to be? This year was worse than usual. Call it a lunch crunch. With the first shift leaving as the second arrived I kept getting bumped by hips and thighs. I almost got a tit in my eye. Elbows? I put teeth marks in one.

It was self-defense, officer, honest!

Yeah, I'm that short. Some people, 'specially seniors -- I'm a junior -- don't even see me, which results in contact with total strangers I'd rather not ever get to know. Gridlock would have been preferable. At least if no one can move there's no bruises and who knows, maybe I'd be squeezed against someone I knew and liked. That even made for some mutual fun, like "what's that banana doing in your pocket?"

Anyway, I was inbound with Alice, one of my best buds, when the fit hit the Shan and things started to get weird.

Somewhere upstream there was an off the charts book drop, a full dump, with papers fluttering, pens, pencils, lip balm and other small items rattling on the tile. The only thing missing was the tinkle of broken glass. Someone's book bag had to have been completely up-ended, which is rarely an accident.

I might've ignored the usual cheer and jeer at someone's misfortune, but there was a familiar laugh and an ugly slur that was all too familiar. When it happened to me -- more than once -- the insults ran something like "clumsy midget, step aside runt, outta my way dwarf, why don't you die you worthless chink, slope, slant, cunt, slut, bitch, skank and my all-time favorite, gook."

This time it was "stupid fucking clumsy rag head bitch, go back to your terrorist friends, cunt."

Dolphus the Dork, self-appointed leader of our own little Klan, had obviously found a new ethnic target. He was just getting started. His vocab would ripen as the year went on.

But aside from a few heads turning and the usual burst of snide cracks, nothing else happened. The hall monitors were overwhelmed. The inward bound were focused on their empty stomachs, while the outbound were desperate to escape the barfeteria and find their next whatever.

Or maybe not getting involved was going to be the fad this year.

Attention class: the meeting on apathy scheduled for this afternoon in the small conference room has been canceled due to a lack of interest.

That wouldn't happen with Dee Walker around. She'd leap into action, ready to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. She'd part the crowd like the Red Sea, all six-foot-two and a hundred and sixty plus pounds of her lusciously fit and sculpted swimmer's body, and she'd be followed by her entourage, of which I, Judy Liu and her successor as the school's female diver, would have been one.

But of course she'd graduated last June. Without her to follow I was paralyzed, apparently along with everyone else.

I asked myself why somebody didn't do something.

I could hear Dee say, "You're somebody, aren't you?"

Which I couldn't deny I was. Not as much of a somebody as she was, but I was somebody.

Shit! Shoving my backpack at Alice I sent her ahead to claim our table while I headed up the handicapped ramp that only made the crunch worse, with no clue what I could do or what I might be getting myself into. At the top, where the railing between the ramp and the steps split the traffic, all I could see was boobs and pecs, so I pressed on, worming my way against the current.

Then the mob parted and coming right at me was the mouth that roared, Adolph Foster. Given the chance I knew he'd notch me up as bonus points. Rather than let him turn me into a grease spot I twisted aside.

Only Tsk! I was a step slow and somehow my ankle hooked his. He stumbled. The impact spun me around, off balance. I put my hands out. Fortunately his sweaty back was right there to push off from or I might have fallen!

Was it my fault the rocks in his head made him so top heavy he couldn't recover?

Or that his foot missed the top step of the stairs?

He took flight amid a chorus of screams. How unfortunate.

Finishing my pirouette I heard him land at the bottom with an ugly crunch.

I kept going, hoping nobody'd been under him, and that someone would step on him.

It wasn't hard to find his victim. In the center of the corridor, leaning on her elbow, a girl was awkwardly trying to corral her stuff before it got kicked all the way to the kitchen. I slowed to sweep spilled pages back into a trampled binder before dropping to my knees in front of her. Other people picked up pens or pieces of paper or a book and gave them to her or dropped them within reach, proving at least we're not all thoughtless thugs.

"Hi! I'm Judy Liu. You're new here! Are you okay? Can I help?"

"I am Hadiya," she responded, amazingly calm, bobbing her head without really looking up. A colorful scarf concealed her hair, hung over her face. "Yes, thank you. I do seem to have offended someone."

"That was Dolph Foster. He's just offensive, 'specially to anyone who's not his color. We try to avoid him, but that's not always possible."

"He is what you would call a bigot?" She had a lovely accent.

"He is what we call an asshole."

Hadiya made a face.

"Sorry about the language."

"It is alright, it just startled me a little. It is not a term I am familiar with. Ass-hole. Very descriptive. I like that!"

Looking up she favored me with the sweetest smile, what I could see of it. Her scarf hid the right half of her face.

Oh that smile! What I could see of her was so beautiful. Her flawless complexion was like light caramel syrup, a lighter tint than mine, but not too different. She looked exotically delicate, a full cheek, a small chin, a button nose, and a subtle fragrance. I wanted to taste her. She wore a loose tunic and flowing pants -- trousers, I suppose you'd say -- over what seemed a slight figure. Given the light fabric of the scarf I assumed she was Muslim, but probably not Arab.

I was stunned by her one visible eye, her left eye. Unlike my own very dark brown iris hers was deep bronze. Her bright, alert eye was framed with lovely long dark lashes, topped with a gracefully arched eyebrow.

More than that, there was something in that eye's depths that made me feel that we were looking into each other's souls, an instant connection, like an electric shock. She must have felt it, too, because we both quickly looked away.

I used the trick my brother had taught me for remembering names. "Did you say Hadiya?"

"Yes, it is Pashto. It means 'gift.'"

Pashto? That sounded familiar. While I held her bag open Hadiya carefully straightened bent pages in a civics textbook and for a moment I thought she was going to cry. She closed the cover, stroked it gently, like it was precious, and tucked it carefully away. Her full lips were pursed with determination. That text was for a junior class. She was a junior like me? Nice! I hoped I had some classes with her.

Getting up I held out my hand to help her up, but she didn't take it. That's when I realized her right arm ended in a stump. That's why she'd been leaning on that elbow, picking up her stuff left handed.

Shit! That totally sucked. The scarf alone was Bully Bait to people like Dolph, worse even than my size, dark skin and almond eyes. Not only was she obviously Muslim she was a cripple. She was really going to catch shit from morons like him. She needed all the friends she could get!

Fortunately I had a good supply.

The mess of her stuff rounded up, the traffic thinning, a hurrying teacher only gave us a curious glance.

Hadiya brought me back to my senses. "I am sorry. I do not mean to be rude, but I cannot stand. I fear my leg is broken."

Her right leg was twisted at the knee, bent at an impossible angle. Shifting on the floor she felt at her loose trousers.

I felt sick. Why wasn't she in screaming pain? "Oh sh... ! I'll get the nurse..."

"Oh no. No, no. It is not like that." Her English was precise, with an accent I'd heard somewhere before, maybe on TV. "Really. No nurse. No physician. It is more that I need a ... a mechanic, or a carpenter.

"But I do fear my mobility will be greatly impaired until it is fixed," she finished with a sigh. The way she was tugging and twisting at her right foot made me woozy, but I couldn't help noticing the pretty polish on the toenails.

A carpenter? I suddenly twigged it was a wooden leg.

But with a lifelike foot, with a real sandal on it, and toes with polished toenails?

She'd lost both her hand and her leg?

Suddenly I wasn't in Kansas anymore.

A bell rang and the rush was over, leaving a few stragglers studying their schedules and scratching their heads. Everyone else was either in the barfeteria, where we should be, or at their next engagement. What to do?

At least there wasn't any blood and it wasn't like she was really hurt, so the wood shop was the logical place to take her.

But Mr. Mac would be at lunch. Besides, something about her made me want to keep her to myself for as long as possible. I looked around, and got spooked by a disembodied hand behind her.

"Would this help?" I asked stupidly. It wasn't wasn't much more than a mannequin's hand, though the fingers were jointed. It was plastic, the wrist hollow, presumably to slip over her stump.

"Not really, but if I could push my arm into it at least it will not get lost," she decided. I helped, her skin warm satin as I slipped it on. I didn't want to let go.

That done, we crawled over to lean against the wall when a patrolling teacher stopped by, one of the prissy ones.

"We're comparing notes," I alibied.

"Well at least get up off the floor!"

"Yes'm," I agreed meekly as she left, distracted by a squabble down the way.

My stomach growled. "Hadiya, can your leg wait? If we miss lunch it'll be a long afternoon."

"I am hungry also but I will have to do without. Someone stepped on my lunch. It is not a big thing. I have been hungry before.

"Besides, how can I get to the lunchroom without my leg? Crawl? I suppose I could hop, if I had a crutch, maybe, but I do need to get this off so it does not flop around." She seemed to be thinking aloud, still working away on her foot, one-handed of course, twisting and tugging at it.

She was so polite it only made me feel worse. Her fake hand had fallen off again. It looked really creepy just lying there so I picked it up and put it in the top of her book bag. Giving myself a mental shake I thought fast. She wasn't much taller than me, and probably weighed even less, being that I'm mostly muscle. "Crawling would take forever, and it's undignified, and hopping you might fall. I can carry you."

"Carry me?" She gave her foot a final vicious twist, there was an ugly snap and she pulled her leg out of her trousers! Whoa! And I thought I was strong!

The foot, with its painted toenails -- and, duh! toes -- had a real sandal on it. There was even an ankle -- 'cept it wasn't anything more than a hinge -- and the calf was shaped nice and looked real lifelike. But where the knee should be there must've been a hinge like the one on my brother's old Vietnamese puppet.

That helped me get my wits back. "Piggyback? Do you know what that means?"

"Oh yes, I do know. I used to play that with my brother. I would ride on his back for fun. We had races with the other children even." She studied the damaged joint, then looked at me. "But I am heavy. I weigh almost thirty kilos, and you are -- forgive me -- not very big."

That look, oh God that look! My mind was fogged by that look.

I was too confused to do the conversion in my head. "Do you know what that is in pounds?"

"Oh yes, I do. About seventy pounds."

"No problem," I assured her, my brain clearing. "I leg-press twice that in weight training."

"Weight training?"

"I'm a gymnast. Used to be a gymnast."

"Oh. But I do not want to trouble you!"

"What trouble? You think I'm going to leave you here in the middle of the hallway? Besides, I've got friends who'd like to meet you. We'll get you some lunch, too."

"Are you sure?"

"Of course! C'mon, Mr. Mac can fix your leg after we eat."

"Mister Mac?"

"He teaches shop. You'll like him. He can fix anything."

"We will attract attention," she observed as I took the broken leg from her and added it to her book bag, the foot sticking up. Then I helped her to her feet -- uh, foot. While she leaned against the wall I turned for her to get her arms around my neck. She was a bit taller than me, and I knew we'd be a bit top-heavy, so balance would be tricky.

"It's either that or starve."

"Okay." She leaned on my back and put her arms -- well one and a half arms -- around my neck. "Oh, wait, I seem to have lost my hand again."

"No problem. I put it in your book bag."

She snagged the handle of that with her left hand and held it so it dangled in front of me. "Thank you. It falls off easily. It is not much use, really, but some nice person gave it to me. I only wear it for appearance. It avoids questions."

I grabbed her left leg under the knee – no problem – then totally whiffed going for the right knee that wasn't there. Shit! That was awkward. We lurched, almost went down, banging back against the wall to stay up. I heard her giggle. She raised her stump and I fumbled until I managed to grab her empty pant leg.

After expanding her vocabulary and more fumbling I transferred the pant leg across my chest to my free left hand. Still leaning against the wall she gave a wiggle getting settled, her right thigh hugging my waist while I shortened up the pant leg to form a sort of sling from my left hand. It felt better so we tilted off from the wall again, wobbled while we caught our balance, and started off. Leaning forward slightly I caught us with a quick step before we fell on our faces. Gymnast reflexes caught us.

We were top heavy, so I sort of stumbled along until I caught the rhythm. We wouldn't win any sprints, or style points, for that matter, but at least we were moving. I wondered if that seventy pounds was with or without her right leg, but decided that would be a rude question. Besides, my legs were carrying that along in her bag anyway.

"Pardon me. I hope I am not offending." Hadiya's breath was warm on my ear. "You look to be oriental, perhaps Southeast Asian? But you are called 'Judy' and have no accent."

"No offense ... I'm as American as apple pie," I answered, puffing a little, lumbering on. "My parents are from Vietnam ... but I was born here ... Uh, if you don't mind ... I assume you're Muslim? ... Where are you from? ... And I'm sorry about that ... that jerk that dumped your book bag."

I could feel her shrug. Oh she felt good against my back. "That ass-hole. I like that word better! I have encountered worse. He is nothing. I am from Pakistan."

Ah hah! Pashto! Pakistan. I made the connection. Northwest Pakistan, in fact.

"Maybe ... he's nothing ... but I'd be careful where you use the word ... Asshole, I mean ... Not that it doesn't apply ... but it's considered -- uh -- vulgar, I'd guess you'd say. So what brings you to America?"

The moment I asked it I realized it was a stupid question. She was missing an arm and a leg. She'd encountered worse than Dolphus? I guess so! I was an idiot! She had to be a refugee. I'd seen enough news. In fact I knew a lot more than I wanted to about that part of the world and what went on there, the stuff they don't show on TV, at least not without a warning that the pictures might be disturbing.

Still, I was curious. I wanted to know more. But at the same time I didn't. And I didn't want to make her uncomfortable. Choosing the handicapped ramp I checked the stairs, the ones Dolph had skipped on his short flight, and the floor beyond.

No blood. I couldn't decide if that was good or bad, finally decided it would depended on whose blood it was.

When we got through the lunchroom doorway the chatter faded, heads turning as I lumbered toward my friends at our usual tables. We'd made quite an entrance. Together we probably looked like a two-headed hunchback dwarf. And there was a foot sticking up out of her book bag.

Oh well.

The tables can handle four on a side -- five in a pinch -- but being there's eleven of us that eat lunch together we kinda spill over to a second table. Hadiya made us an even dozen.

Huh! In middle school I'd been a member of a sex ed class called the Dirty Dozen.

But that's another story.

Everyone in the room -- some of 'em even standing up to see better -- was watching, including the Vice Principal Mrs. Devers and the lunch ladies. I backed up to ease Hadiya down. After she got herself untangled from my pigtail it felt good to straighten up and stretch.

"Hi guys, this is Hadiya. She's from Pakistan. On her way here Dolphus dumped her stuff and managed to break her leg."

That got a gasp so I quick pulled it out of her bag to show 'em it was wooden while she got herself turned around and settled. "Hadiya, these are my friends. Next to you is Esther. Beside her is Maria, our soccer star. Across from Maria is the baby of the bunch, Izzy."

Izzy stuck her tongue out at me and wrinkled her nose.

"The Goldilocks beside her is Alice, and then there's Angelina and Naomi."

"Hey don't forget us!"

"Oh, yeah," I went on. "I almost forgot. At the next table are Barbara, Cynthia, Donna, and Muriel, but they hardly count," I teased. "Donna's a cheerleader but we like her anyway."

"Be nice or I won't share my gramma's cookies with you," Donna warned. "Glad to meet you, Hadiya."

"Her gramma makes the best cookies ever," Izzy explained after an almost musical chorus of "Hiya Hadiyas."

Some offered to shake hands, but Hadiya pretended not to see by fussing in her bag. Esther took Hadiya's leg, gave it a curious look and stood it on the table like a centerpiece. Alice passed me my pack and I dug into it for my lunch. Today it was peanut butter and jelly on wheat. Sometimes it's mom's stir fry in a plastic container. It's delicious hot or cold. I'm culturally omnivorous, but that doesn't include cafeteria food.

"Hadiya's lunch got stepped on," I announced. "Anybody got any extra?"

"We're almost done, but the line's still open. I'll get her something. What would you like, Hadiya?" Maria asked, instantly picking up on my not-so-subtle hint. I should've offered mine but all I had was a sandwich and I was really hungry.

"I do not wish to trouble..."

"No trouble," Maria insisted, getting up. "What would you like?"

"Avoid the mystery meat platter, especially the creamed corn," Donna warned.

"Better make it vegetarian," Naomi announced curtly, picking at her food. "This stuff is supposed to be kosher, but I dunno. What is it you people call it? Halal?"

I looked at her. You people? Curtness from Naomi? That wasn't like her. What bit her on the ass?

"Ah yes, vegetarian would be best, thank you. I have money."

"Save it," Maria told her, already heading off. "I'll get you milk, Judy."

"Water is fine with me," Hadiya assured her before turning toward Naomi. "And you are Jewish? I am sorry, I have forgotten most of your names already. I will try to do better."

"I'm Naomi. And yeah, I'm Jewish and you're Muslim," Naomi came back, a bit testy. "Does that bother you?"

Ah hah. I'd forgotten she'd lost a cousin in Israel to a Palestinian suicide bomber. It's a small world.

"No. Why should it?" Hadiya asked innocently.

Naomi shrugged, and frowned.

"Dolphus is such a jerk! Racial purity my ass!" That surprised me. Alice is one of the sweetest, most prim people in the world, and never mind that she could suck the skin off a cucumber. For all I knew by now her lips had circumcised her boyfriend. But still she wore a circle pin as a symbol of her virginity, and we knew she meant it -- well, at least sorta.

"We are the United Nations of Central High," Angelina suggested loftily.

"I prefer to say that we're blended," Esther observed with exaggerated snobbery, brushing one of her cornrow braids back. Her family's Ethiopian and she claimed the Queen of Sheba as an ancestor. Who were we to argue with that? She was pretty enough.

We'd never really thought about our friendship, at least I hadn't. We're buddies, just a bunch of kids that like each other. Maybe that was because they'd all been at my sex ed slumber party in middle school. That had been a real bonding experience! You might say we sorta melted together. It had been positively orgasmic, especially the Truth or Dare game. John, the one guy there, had struck sparks hot enough to weld him and Alice together probably for life. Izzy had learned the joys of masturbation. It had been wild. Nobody'd slept alone. Actually nobody'd slept much at all.

I'd shared Dee's sleeping bag.

Well, how else were me and Maria, my Dirty Dozen partner, along with Dee, s'posed to teach them that what we said we learned in sex ed was the straight stuff? We'd even invited Beth Finch, the high school senior who'd taught it.

Anyway, as to race and religion and stuff like that, we liked everyone.

Then I saw Der Fuehrer -- the dolt I'd tripped -- at the Klan table flip me the bird, so I added an exception in my head. He gave Caucasians a bad name. It looked like maybe he was developing a black eye, and seemed to have one arm in a sling. I hoped that was my fault.

Naomi was totally focused on her tray. The rest were yakking it up. Sure we knew Naomi was Jewish and tried to keep kosher, but we didn't really know the rules, except that she avoided the school's ham and cheese macaroni casserole.

But then anyone with taste buds did.

Sometimes we teased Naomi about her extra holidays.

Anyway, no matter how you looked at us we're a real mix, an ethnic stir-fry. Esther was black -- very black. But she was caught between two worlds. Being Ethiopian she somehow didn't fit into the usual black community around here. What was it with people, anyway? I'm Oriental. So what? Maria's family was from Mexico and the Aztec in her showed, though there were some Conquistador genes there, too. Angelina was Italian or something, Alice was maybe German or English? Irish? Who cares? We were all Americans, fer chrissakes.

Maria was back with Hadiya's salad and the conversation turned to the hopes for our girls' soccer team, headed for another championship if Maria had anything to say.

Hadiya gave a little sigh. "I used to play football."

"Football?" Izzy asked.

"You know, soccer," Alice explained.

Izzy blushed. "Oh. Yeah."

Maria perked up. "Used to?" Then she saw Hadiya's leg, still on the table, and looked mortified.

"Sorry," she apologized.

Hadiya shrugged.

The talk moved on to our football team's chances (not good), and speculation about who would be Miss School Spirit for the Homecoming game.

Not one of us, God willing. After Dee's freshman year the football team had again reverted to picking senior cheerleaders. We were tossing names around -- not always nicely -- when the jaws of the people sitting opposite me stopped moving and I got an icy feeling down my spine. A hand landed firmly on my shoulder.

I knew that grip. Devers.

"My office after last bell."

"Yes ma'am," I said, resigning myself to my fate. What was it this time? The piggyback entry? More likely the way I'd sent Dolph flying down the steps.

"And Hadiya, not that it comes up often, but we do have a rule against people putting their feet on a lunchroom table. Not that this is exactly what it means," Vice Principal Devers added with a chuckle, handing the girl her prosthetic.

We all laughed, even Hadiya. Humor from The Devil?

"Do you need help with it? You can get a medical pass if you need it."

"I am sorry, that was very thoughtless of me," Hadiya said, ignoring the fact that it was Esther who'd put it there in the first place. "It will not happen again. Judy tells me Mr. Mac will fix it after lunch."

"We're taking care of it," Esther put in with a glance in my direction and I nodded.

"Well done, Judy."

"Thanks. Seemed the best solution." I got a compliment from Devers? But I knew that wouldn't get me off the hook.

"All right," Devers went on, "but it must be hard for you to get around without it. We can't have you hitching rides on people between every class. I'll have the wheelchair brought from the nurse's office.

"Besides, we don't need another circus act here. This place has enough clowns as it is."

With that she moved off in the direction of the Klan table, which made her point about clowns as far as I was concerned.

"Are we in trouble?" Hadiya asked in the silence that followed.

"You aren't, but I probably am," I reassured her, watching Devers with Dolph, who was glaring at me, waving the arm he had in a sling and jawing at her all at the same time. With his mouth full, of course.

Nope, not the piggyback. It had to be how I'd tripped the Dolph. Probably someone'd seen it, someone who should've been helping Hadiya.

"I will come with you to explain," my new friend announced.

"No, it's not anything you did. I'll take my medicine."

"It won't be the first time!" Maria said with a snide grin.

I made a face at her.

"First day of school, though," Donna pointed out. "That may be a new record."

"I hear the Dolphus had an accident on the way to lunch," Alice observed, her sky-blue eyes twinkling wickedly. "Tripped or something? Would that have anything to do with you?"

She knew it did. After all, I'd just left her. She was probably lucky he hadn't landed on her.

"He was in a hurry, coming right at me, and maybe my foot was a little slow getting out of his way," I admitted.

"Good for you!" Esther gloated. She knew who'd hung a noose from the tree in her front yard.

"Way to go!" Naomi added. She'd endured some of the Klan's worst bullying, including a swastika carved in her locker's paint.

"I learned a new word from Judy today," Hadiya announced proudly. "She said he is an ass-hole."

She pronounced it very carefully. That got a laugh.

"He's a pig!" Maria grouched.

"Not kosher," Naomi muttered.

"That fits, too. A pig is not halal!" Hadiya agreed.

Izzy snorted milk out her nose.

"I don't think Devers agrees," I responded gloomily, thinking at a minimum detention and a note home. It wouldn't be the first time, but on the first day? I hoped that wasn't a trend.

"Oh, Devers knows he's a pig," Maria argued. "But in this country we've got free speech."

"A bit too much, if you ask me," Izzy suggested, wiping her face.

"Oh no!" Hadiya disagreed quickly. "I have lived where if you said the wrong thing it could result in a flogging, or worse. If you said anything against The Prophet Mohammed you might be shot, or they would cut your head off."

That shut everyone up for a minute.

"Sorry," Izzy responded meekly.

Hadiya reached with her left hand to give Izzy a soothing touch. "It is all right. Just be glad that cannot happen here."

On a lighter note Donna reminded us that spanking was still in the latest Naked in School pamphlet.

"I thought Dee got that killed," Izzy said.

"It's still in the pamphlet," Angelina responded. "The bureaucracy just hasn't caught up with us yet. Devers would never use it, though."

Hadiya comforted me with a pat on my back that made me tingle. What was it about this girl? Was it just because she fitted in so well with us -- well, most of us? Naomi was still in a bit of a sulk, but she'd get over it. I hoped.

"Believe me, Devers can flog you with a look. I've got the scars," I admitted. "Let's eat up so we can get to wood shop and get Hadiya's leg fixed."

"Why wood shop?" Naomi asked, coming out of her funk.

"Because that's what Hadiya's prosthetic is made of," Esther pointed out patiently.

"I am what you could call a peg leg?" Hadiya suggested with a smile.

Naomi's lips made a round "O" and I could see her thinking, really looking at Hadiya. It was about time!

"That's no peg!" Izzy, our artist, complimented. "It's a work of art!"

"Thank you. My father made it for me," Hadiya said with pride, holding up the limb in question, tilting it to show how the ankle was hinged. "As you can see, he is a skilled worker of wood. He even modeled the toes after the ones on my other foot."

She started it around the table.

There had to be a story behind it, but we were all afraid to ask, until it got to Naomi.

"What happened?" she asked softly as she studied it.

Hadiya wasn't bashful. "I was helping Hamid, my brother, work on a small lorry," the Pakistani girl explained. "It was, I think, what you would call a pickup truck?"

The guys at the other table moved closer so they could hear, and I saw people from other tables listening, too. This story would make the rounds, and probably grow in the telling.

"Hamid was a mechanic. A very good one. He could fix anything."

Hearing the past tense I felt a chill.

"What we did not realize was that the vehicle was a trap, that it was stolen. Someone had fitted a small bomb to it -- what your military calls an I.E.D. It is a good thing it was only a small one. Big ones take out whole houses."

Naomi dropped Hadiya's foot like it was hot. It hit the table with a bang. "Why would anyone do that to you?"

Hadiya took her leg back. "They were Taliban. They did it because my father was a teacher who taught both boys and girls, together in the same classroom even. I went to his school. The Taliban does not approve of girls going to school, and other things."

"Assholes," someone growled.

"Yes. Their interpretation of the Koran is twisted. That is why we came here. I could just say for freedom but it is more than that. We came here to live, literally to live. A fatwah has been issued for us, for my entire family."

She looked around at us. "Do you know what a fatwah is?"

"Yeah, I think so. It's like sort of a death sentence," Cynthia answered before I could.

"Not exactly. It is a religious ruling," Hadiya explained.

"Didn't some writer have one against him? It was in the news. He had to go into hiding," Donna recalled from the neighboring table.

"Salman Rushdie. Yes," Hadiya agreed. "In our case a mufti, a religious authority, and a member of the Taliban, declared us to be apostate. That is a way of saying we deny the teachings of the Prophet Mohammed. It was not true. We read the same Koran he does, but he interprets it differently.

"Coming from him that might as well have been a death sentence. That was – what is it they say? – the last straw.

"Perhaps the first one was when I was twelve," Hadiya went on, "I rejected a so-called marriage offer. It was more a demand, really, from a high ranking Taliban leader. He was a wealthy and powerful man. He had seen me playing football with my friends."

"Marriage? And you were only twelve? Mierda!" Maria whispered.

"Shit!" Donna echoed. "I've heard about that."

"I told my father I would kill myself first. My father stood up to the Taliban leader, even though it would have meant a lot of money for our family. It angered the man greatly.

"Then there were other things, like the school and what my father taught there. And who. He -- Father -- was a leader in our neighborhood in spite of his – unconventional ways. He was educated, very respected. He'd gone to school, university, in England. Otherwise they probably would have assassinated him sooner. I guess they -- the Taliban -- finally decided they needed to make an example of all of us.

"Anyway, as I removed the air cleaner from under the bonnet for Hamid -- the, what is it you say? From under the hood? There was an explosion. The bomb had been wired to it."

"Oh God!"

"It was a small bomb as those things go, but I lost my right leg and hand."

She'd kept her right arm in her lap while she'd eaten left-handed. Now she held it up, the sleeve falling back to her elbow to show her scarred arm ending above her wrist.

It wasn't a pretty sight.

"Oh no," Donna gasped.

"And my eye. And I was burned."

Hadiya brushed the scarf aside to reveal the empty socket! The right side of her face and head was a mass of scars, most of her right ear was gone, all of her hair on that side. The scarring went down the right side of her neck, under her tunic.

"Oh Jesus!" That was from Naomi no less.

"I am sorry. I do not mean to make you uncomfortable."

"It's alright," Alice assured her, reaching across the table to give her a gentle touch.

"And my brother was killed," Hadiya added, so softly maybe only I heard it, her head bowed.

I almost lost it. The world started to gray out. I would have fainted, but I could feel those snakes at the Klan table watching us. I reached for Hadiya's hand, my right to her left, and leaned against her. She returned my grip and we squeezed each other's hands as hard as we could.

Until it hurt.

Until our eyes leaked.

Now I knew what we shared, and even though I hadn't said anything I knew somehow she sensed it.

There are no words.

Worse, I knew she blamed herself for her brother's death, because it was her lifting off that air cleaner that had set the bomb off. At least I didn't have that horror.

We were saved from a total meltdown by an office courier appearing with the wheelchair. Devers had probably forgotten it had been in the Candy Stripers' wheelchair races through the hospital's children's ward. It was decorated with all sorts of scarlet and gold stuff -- school colors -- and there was one of those squeaky bicycle horns attached to the armrest. The left one, fortunately.

The other guys cleared the table while Naomi and I helped Hadiya into the chair, not a major challenge. She was light, and handled her situation well. Experience, I guess.

Naomi took the opportunity to give Hadiya a hug.

So did I.

The one problem Hadiya did have was instantly obvious. With only her left hand to push she could only make the chair spin to the right. As she'd said, the fake right hand was useless, so after trying it she dropped it back in the book bag in her lap.

I saw Dolph struggling to clear away his lunch with his left hand. By the looks of it his crash landing had done something to his right wrist, or maybe his shoulder. Served him right, and the awkward way he handled it gave me an idea. I bent down and whispered in Hadiya's good ear, and saw her get a wicked gleam in her eye.

A quick series of rock-paper-scissors games sorted out who got to push first. Izzy won, and found two silly clown hats left in a pocket on the back of the chair, along with two red rubber clown noses. Her scarf back in place, Hadiya got a hat and one red nose while we pushers traded around the other hat and nose.

So much for no more clowns!

Up from his table Dolph was still juggling his tray of garbage. Of course his friends were no help. They'd already split.

"Let me give you a hand with that," Hadiya offered as we passed him, waving her right arm in his direction. We'd even taken the trouble to fold the hand, leaving one finger extended.

It was a perfect shot. The useless prosthetic made like a bird and landed on Dolph's tray, splattering him with the remains of his lunch. Unfortunately he'd gone for the mystery meat loaf with gravy, creamed corn, chocolate pudding, even chocolate milk.


The tray with the remains hit the floor with a satisfying clatter that drew the usual cheers and jeers. I could feel my troubles with Devers mushrooming but I didn't care. After what Dolph had done and what Hadiya had told us and shown us, that parting shot was worth any amount of detention.

Leaving the useless prosthetic behind we took off through the halls, Hadiya honking the horn to clear the way, shrieking when she cornered on two wheels. Thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act there were ramps where needed. My push was so strong we actually got lift-off at the top of one of them.

Mr. Mac heard us coming, of course, stuck his head out of the shop door and almost got himself run over.

Once we were inside Hadiya's leg got his immediate attention, especially when she told him how her father had hand-carved it for her. Mr. Mac was an Army vet and he knew prosthetics from personal experience, though you'd hardly guess it from the way he walked.

"Beautiful! He's an engineer and an artist," he said, admiring it. "It works well?"

"Well enough." Hadiya was pleased. "Thank you, I will tell him. He will be happy to hear that. But can you fix it?"

"Better than new, but I'll need the part you're still wearing, sweetheart, and it'll take some time. I can have a quick fix done by end of school. Is that soon enough?"

"Oh yes, thank you! But..." She looked at us and we assured her we'd push her around. "I will pay you."

"No need. I was trying to come up with an easy shop lesson to fill the afternoon. This will be perfect. But I will need your socket."

Fortunately Hadiya's loose trousers didn't have to come down to get that part of it off her stump, saving her Muslim modesty. Mr. Mac was very gentle when he saw her wince. He gently peeled down the stocking she wore, and I saw him studying the socket and a blister or something on her stump.

Then we really had to hustle, Hadiya scattering pedestrians with the horn's squeak-squawking. On the run we pushers discussed schedules, arranging for one of us to always be available.

Naomi didn't hesitate to pitch in when it was her turn. I think after she'd heard Hadiya's story she felt bad. Meanwhile Hadiya kept trying to apologize for being so much trouble. So at the door of her next class, before I let her go in, I knelt down in front of her and stared her right in the eye. "Shut up! You're one of us now, like it or not. We help each other, no questions asked. Understand?"

She nodded solemnly. I gave her a hug. I'd never miss a chance for a hug, 'specially one with her, and I finished with a kiss on the lips, half of it her scarf. I really wished it could go on longer, but I wasn't sure how she'd feel about it and it might start talk. I blinked back tears at having to leave her with someone else.

Then we scattered, leaving Donna as Hadiya's first motorvator for the afternoon, and it was more books, more papers, more assignments, yada yada yada.

My last period turned out to be math with Hadiya, but after the closing bell someone else took her to get her leg back, since I was on my way to Mrs. Devers's office.

I knew the way all too well, and there were no other customers – uh – felons waiting. The door was open and after a cursory rap on the frame I swung around it and was brought up short by a carved ebony elephant staring back at me from the desk.

Not in Kansas? I wasn't even on the right continent! Or in the right school, anyway. The only pet elephant I knew was Ms. Andrews's and she was my middle school counselor.

So I'd had some issues then. What teen didn't? Some would say I still did. And anyway, I had good reason.

I backed up and checked the sign on the wall. Counselor? What had been the vice principal's office had become the school counselor's?

Since when?

"Come in Judy, what can I do for you?"

I must have looked like a demented jack-in-the-box, popping in and out. I swung back through the door, the warm fuzzies I felt mixed with a twinge of panic. It had been awhile. Sometimes I feel so stupid. "What're you doing here?"

"I guess you could say I've been kicked upstairs," she answered with her usual warm smile and comforting manner. "I'm glad to see you, too, Judy. How've you been?"

"Uh, pretty good, I guess. Uh, I'm glad to see you, too, I think, I mean I know I am, I really am, but I'm s'posed to see Mrs. Devers, though I'm glad to see you." I was babbling. I made a face. "Sorry, can't stay. I'm sure you understand. I'd better find her."

"In trouble?" At least she didn't say "again."

I shrugged. "Sorta."

Ms. Andrews shook her head sympathetically. "Still leaping without looking, are you? I thought maybe Dee's diving lessons had cured you of that."

"She tried. At least now my jumps are higher and fancier!"

"And I'm sure you're making more of a splash, too."

We both laughed. "I'm s'posed to make less. See you. Uh, where is Mrs. Devers these days?"

"The main office. If you need to talk, my door is always open."

I thanked her and boogied off, my head still spinning.

I didn't know it, but as weird as the day had begun it was about to get a little weirder, if that's a word.

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