A Whispered Smile
Mandy. Her face, like her name, is crystallized within the contours of my mind. Frozen in her ageless youth. Smiling. She was always smiling. As a child of only seven, I could never quite understand. How could someone smile as they were being tormented by their peers?
I was new to the school when I first saw her. I hadn’t made any friends yet, or even uttered a word to a single person, teacher and student alike. I was a quiet and serene little girl. I remember sitting on the hard, sun baked concrete at recess, with my back against the building, and scabbed knees drawn up to my chest. Sounds of laughter permeated the small, depressed, court. Children would run by, kicking a ball, or chasing one another, periodically casting a curious glance in my direction. My eyes darted back and forth trying to take everything in at once. Ever attentive.
I saw her then. Her mousy brown hair fell in tangled tresses down her back. There was a sheen to it that could only be acquired through weeks—or even months— without washing. Her tattered blue dress with faded yellow sunflowers bellowed around her emaciated, scab-ridden arms. The soles of her ancient sneakers were torn, flapping mockingly with each step. She was smiling.
I watched wearily as two boys approached. Even at my young age, I understood the concept of predator vs. prey. They began pushing her around, shouting cruel and humiliating words. Tears filled her eyes, yet the smile never left her lips.
I don’t remember climbing to my feet. Nor do I remember crossing the courtyard. But I remember the pain that shot through my little fist as it connected solidly with the boy’s face. I remember the soft thud it made, and the wail he emitted as he fell to the ground. I remember how red the blood was that flowed in a crimson stream down his chin, and onto the black concrete. Mandy’s smile faltered for the first time since I saw her, replaced by surprise. Her eyes met mine, a maelstrom of emotions churning in their depths. And then the smile was back, more radiant and beautiful than ever before.
People didn’t torment her much after that. And she was never far from my side. A sweet, albeit slow child. She never came to my house without stopping to pick a fresh array of wildflowers for my mother. My mom would try to explain that she didn’t have to go through the trouble, but Mandy just smiled. Always smiling.
I remember the first day she missed school. I frowned, because she never missed school. I remember the second, and the third. Time went by, and slowly Mandy’s smiling face became but a distant memory. I assumed she moved. But she didn’t.
The years passed by in a haze of frivolity and angst. I was a teenager now, and rebellious beyond compare. I was doing a penance paper on historical events of my city when I came across a familiar name among old newspaper articles. A name I hadn’t heard in ages. Mandy.
I scrolled through the article with growing horror as I read about the years of sexual and physical abuse suffered by one mentally handicapped child. All of which came to a brutal end when she was murdered by the very people who were supposed to protect her. Tears filled my eyes as I imagined how she must have felt being locked in a closet for weeks until her tiny body couldn’t take it anymore. Bile rose in my throat, remembering how terrified she was of the dark.
Emotions raged within me. Nobody looked for her. She just fell through the cracks. Even I was guilty of forgetting her. But not anymore.
Her name was Mandy. I can still remember her smile.