Already at eight, Sapphire had fought her way to being included in the boys’ football team at her decrepit grade school, right in the middle of what some termed “urban squalor.” She could keep up with the worst–and the best. Vulgarities spewed from her mouth without venom, reflecting the commonality of such language in every part of her environment. Her boisterous laughter revealed gaping holes where permanent teeth ought to have been, but instead had been cruelly beaten from her tiny face by one of her mother’s capricious boyfriends. Her oddly unmatched clothing was often held together with oversized safety pins or belts, which could be swiftly called upon to double as weapons when threatened–which happened regularly. More than once a much bigger boy had howled in pain, finding his hindquarters the target of the sharp tip of a rusty pin.
“Aggressives”–the derogatory term coined by stern administrators for the segment of the student population who they felt caused concern—seemed to fit perfectly. Yet, unlike many other aggressives, Sapphire rarely instigated trouble, but could hold her own handily when provoked, or when she saw a defenseless person or animal being treated unfairly. She was also known to attack her studies in the same way she did her adversaries: with tenacity, fearlessness and passion. Those she fought on the playground or streets shook their heads in confusion at her dizzying intelligence–easily and willingly expressed.
It was a humid August afternoon, when the crumbling concrete radiates oven-hot, foul air–a noiseless reminder of dead rats, cheap grilled steaks, feces, urine and blood-stained sidewalks, choking mixtures of illegal substances and vehicle exhaust. No one much noticed or cared. Sapphire exploded out of the kitchen door of her row house, followed by an entourage of five equally rambunctious children. She kicked a rock in front of her as she strode ahead, hands in her pockets, looking for something to do.
Across from the twisted basketball hoop fastened to the neighboring housing unit, a group of older boys shouted and danced, always returning to squat down at one spot on the ground next to the fence. Her eyes narrowed, curious, but all the while silently assessing the advisability of going any nearer. She knew all but one of the boys. They were nine or ten years old and much bigger than she. Yet she wondered what the commotion was about.
A tiny yelp pierced the blazing afternoon, and Sapphire bounded into a sprint, looking over her shoulder just long enough to shout a commanding, “C’mon!” Not waiting for anyone to follow, she was next to the rowdy boys in under a minute.
Continued in Behind Each Face*
*Because this story appears in the recently published book, it is subject to restrictions as to where it can be posted in its entirety.