Short story offering #3 – “Roza”

The Punkymood currently says ‘vulnerable.’ So I’m posting a story.

Yeah, even I can’t understand the logic therein. I got nothin’.

Here it is.

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ROZA

The picture of the burning monk on page 167 of her social studies book haunted her. During lecture that day, when Ms. Morrow had her back turned, she surreptitiously turned to that page and stared at the picture, as she had done for many class periods before. It was a black and white photo – the flames were white, the monk’s robes and skin were black. The caption said he’d burned himself alive to protest the persecution of Buddhists in Vietnam. Certainly she admired his courage to do such a thing, but it seemed pointless. The monk was dead. He didn’t get to see if his selfless gesture of immolation had any effect, and the book didn’t say if it had.

There was a tap on her shoulder, which startled her. Jenny Kagen, one of the popular girls, indicated a note in her hand. “Pass this to Tricia for me,” she whispered.

Roza took the note, unfolded it without reading it, crumpled it in her hand, neatly dropped it back on Jenny’s desk, and turned back around to face the front.

“You bitch!” Jenny hissed.

Takes one to know one.

The first thing most people noticed about Roza was that she never said a word. Sure, she could talk, but she preferred to write what she wanted to say on slips of paper, make people work to understand her. She didn’t see the point in talking; too much was lost in translation. She was, for all intents and purposes, a self-made mute. For some reason, her parents were concerned by this. She was twelve years old.

Later that morning, Mr. Huan, her math teacher, called on her to demonstrate a fraction problem on the board. There were snickers from her classmates as she went up, which told Roza they thought it was a difficult problem and they wanted her to fail at it. The problem was easy for Roza. She solved it with flying colors.

“Excellent, Roza,” Mr. Huan said with a smile.

“Teacher’s pet,” one of the kids muttered.

Jason Norris stuck his foot into the aisle, trying to trip her as she returned to her seat. She deliberately stepped over him. He kicked out anyway, connecting with her shin.

She was relieved in a way to be home. Nothing to do but stay in her room, listening to music; her favorite groups were Gorillaz and Queen. Whenever her parents asked her how her day was, she would just shrug. She wouldn’t have told them about the problems at school, anyway. Her dad was a lawyer, her mom was a realtor. They were busy enough, and she’d caused them enough trouble just by being. Once or twice, she’d thought about actually saying something, just to cheer her parents up, but she hadn’t so far.

By the time lunch rolled around the next day, she really wasn’t hungry. During kickball, Jason Norris had succeeded in tripping her. She dutifully joined the lunch line, tray in hand, ignoring the chatter that was taking place around the lunchroom. She was looking forward to recess, to wandering around by herself.

Every week, one sixth-grader would volunteer to help the lunch ladies – this week, it was Stephanie’s turn. Stephanie was another one of the popular girls. She was ladling tomato soup into small bowls. Roza wrinkled her nose, observing the steam coming off the soup. They had boiled it. Her mother had always said a person should never boil soup. She wasn’t sure why. Stephanie, social butterfly that she was, was trying to listen in on the lunch ladies’ conversation, and wasn’t paying attention as she poured soup all over Roza’s left hand.

She instinctively jerked her hand back. Her tray clattered to the countertop. Aside from a sharp intake of breath at the searing pain, she did not react, merely stared at her souped-up hand and the rapidly reddening flesh.

Stephanie was screaming and wailing and carrying on. One of the lunch ladies shooed her away into the kitchen. All the other kids were gasping and buzzing amongst themselves. Roza was left standing there, staring dully at her hand. She didn’t make a sound. Mr. Huan eventually took her by the elbow and rushed her to the nurse’s office.

Her hand was blistering by then, and the nurse said she didn’t have the resources to properly care for the wound. The nurse wrapped it in loose gauze, and the principal himself drove Roza to the emergency room. Roza tried to shut out the pain, but it was insistent. It felt like hundreds of hot needles digging into her hand.

I write with my left hand. Suddenly she felt panicked. What if I can never write again?

The school must have called her mother, because not more than ten minutes after Roza was shown to an examination room, her mother appeared. “Oh, my baby, are you all right?”

She glared at her mother. How do you think I feel?

What if I can’t write again?

The doctor gave a “Tsk” sound when he saw her hand and declared it a second-degree burn. Her mother hugged her, teary-eyed. The doctor salved and wrapped her hand, and prescribed antibiotics and pain medication. He and her mother made small talk while Roza glared at him.

You’re going to make me ask, aren’t you?

The doctor looked at her quizzically, as if he’d read her mind. “Do you have any questions for me, Roza?”

She made a frantic scrawling gesture with her burnt hand. The doctor looked questioningly at her mother.

“My daughter is left-handed,” her mother explained. “I think she wants to know when she can write again.”

Roza nodded.

The doctor chuckled. “It isn’t permanent, dear. It should take ten days to two weeks to heal. You’ll be able to write just fine at that time.”

Later, she pulled out her social studies book and flipped through it with her good hand, turning to the page with the photo of the burning monk. She thought she would feel some sort of empathy or kinship with him, but she didn’t. It still seemed pointless, much like her injury. Unlike him, she knew the effect her injury would have – the kids would still hate her, she would hate them, and now she had no way to communicate with anyone for the next two weeks.

Maybe that’s the point.

She put the book away and padded downstairs. The living room was quiet and empty, but she heard her mother moving around in the kitchen. She took a breath.

“Mom? It’s time for my medicine.”

(C) by me, Mouse, sometime between January and May 2010

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Image made by me, from images found via Google search for 'burning monk' and 'roza galieva'
Image made by me, from images found via Google search for ‘burning monk’ and ‘roza galieva’

The entire idea for the story of a little girl named Roza came to me one morning in sophomore year of high school, on the bus ride to school. And that entire idea was simply this – to write a story with little to no dialogue. This particular short story was written as an assignment for my ‘flash fiction’ class in 2010, and was the first step towards fleshing out that idea. (And, yes, from the get-go, my idea for Roza’s name and visage was based on Russian gymnast Roza Galieva, one of my most favorite gymnasts of all time.)

Much of it is based on little things that have happened in real life. Except for the whole burnt hand bit. Certainly I’ve been superficially burned by hot liquids before (grease spatters, boiling water spatters, etc.), but not to the extent that Roza is in the story.

There isn’t a ‘whole story’ of Roza yet. It’s still in development. But this, I feel, I hope, might be a step in the right direction.

What do you think?

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