We were 12, the girls and I. We’d squeezed together on a bench by the tracks. It was painted green and the paint was cracked, like all paints those days. The dust, brick red, and the runners advancing closely together, like they weren’t even competing. More like a group of equally vulnerable strangers fleeing en masse from some blockbuster natural disaster.
We had different colours. Patricia was the darkest. She was “fit”, they said, and turned their heads to watch her go when she walked down the halls in tight Lotus jeans and bright sleeveless tops. Everything looked bright on her skin.
Averything about Cristina was caramel themed. Her tan, her sweaters, her chapstick flavor. She was the brightest of our lot and knew it, she could figure out all the equations in record time and always had her hand up in class. Now she was dangling her feet and rubbing her left eye with a paper tissue. The dust was troubling her she said, but we knew. She’d started using mascara for a week or two and was still poking herself in the eye with the brush every morning. Patricia giggled, she didn’t need mascara, her eyelashes were as dark as they got.
We wouldn’t try it for another year, we’d decided, Iulia and I. She was untangling a piece of red string holding her keys together. Her fingers were long and pale, her nails unpolished. She was just right. She never yelled and never blushed and never said or did anything embarrassing, all the teachers liked her and all the boys loved her, even Patricia knew she was going to get all the marriage proposals in a couple of years, and she wasn’t even that fit, she was skinny and almost transparent and never managed to smile properly in any of our yearbook photos.
We’d been fighting. Almost like we were hating each other. And not even properly, out in the open honestly hating our guts but in secret, keeping our hates in our tiny pockets and tiny purses like lady fire arms, all shiny and new and toy like, but equally deadly. If only we could race it off, I thought. If only we did the running on the dusty track that day, not a bunch of sweaty high school boys who didn’t know we existed but who’d managed to get us out in the sun and together, peacefully together after so many spite filled episodes.
“We’re mean to each other.” – I whispered, swallowing loudly. There was hot dust in the air. Patricia was biting her tomato red fingernails, watching the race without blinking. The poplar trees were turning yellow in the sun. Several years later, they cut them all down and there was no place left to hide from everything.
Iulia was the first to get married. There’s a photo of the two of us on her wedding day, we’re both standing next to the men who loved us at the time, our backs straight and our curls perfect, and she’s smiling. Patricia had a son. He’s so amazing I bet all the pig-tailed girls in his kindergarten class think he’s fit. Cristina is an engineer. She is beautiful. She wears her hair shorter and her skin tanned and no makeup. I think she still keeps her hate in a pocket, and rubs it shiny with a soft cloth every time we meet. We seldom see each other. Things change after a race.
Iulia was tying the red string around her finger. “We’re only growing up.” – she said, just loud enough to be heard in the craziness that followed. Someone had won and was jumping around in a cloud of bloody dust, his fellow runners patting his back. Patricia leaped up screaming, clapping her tiny tomato painted hands. The paint was cracked. Some of the runners looked our way and smiled.