Nina was growing. She was three inches taller than when she’d last hugged her father. Her mind was filled with truths that completely redefined her view of the world. Her heart was filled with emotions that she had never experienced in such extremes before. She was becoming familiar with emotions like hate and bitterness. The spite she held against her mother grew each day. At the same time, new emotions of attraction and desire were beginning to bud in her bosom about a boy, named Jamin, who was taking up more and more of her thoughts.
Nina was changing. She’d experienced more of life’s rugged truths in the last year, than in the rest of her life. It hurt.
Life had never felt so heavy, so sad, as it did right now. Her heart hurt. She was bearing a burden for her mother that she should never have been expected to bear. It wasn’t right. Her mother wasn’t right.
Nina wasn’t right. She was starting to wonder what right was these days.
Ever since that night in the dingy shadows of a broken lamppost, she’d been different. How was she going to keep living like this? How would she survive? Even the things that she’d once loved to do seemed like a challenge. She couldn’t focus. She couldn’t function properly. Everything was too hard. Even eating was a chore.
Nina tossed the fresh apple she’d just bought to the ground. She chided herself for being so wasteful, but what was the use? Who would know? Who would care?
It was market day again, and Nina had left with two wrinkled potatoes, some rubbery, wilted cabbage, and a half-eaten apple. Jamin wasn’t at his stand this week, just his uncle, Nathan. Nina had been too distracted by herself to even notice Nathan watching her–between helping his customers–trying to catch her eye. He was a kind man, she knew, but she had little interest in talking to anyone this morning. She wasn’t even sure if Jamin could have cheered her up this morning.
That thought made her want to cry. What was wrong with her? Jamin was the sweetest, kindest person she’d ever met! If there was one person in this filthy world that could make her smile it would be him, but it didn’t matter anyway. He wasn’t there. She wouldn’t see him for at least another week, and even if he did come to the market next Saturday, he would be too busy to spend any time with her.
Nina had reached her home now, but didn’t want to go in. She left her basket inside the front gate, and kept on walking down the block. She didn’t care where she went, as long as it wasn’t back to that house.
The voice jumped into her thoughts so suddenly, that it caused her body to jump too. She looked up with chills, into the eyes of her father.
“My gracious, child,” he exclaimed, holding his hands wide, “I hardly recognized you! You’re all grown up!” His arms were around her then, and she squeezed him back with all of her might.
He let go too quickly, but she stepped back anyway and looked up into his eyes. He seemed lower to the ground now than he used to, and she realized then just how much she really had grown. Her heart swelled up into her throat, and she could feel the tears coming back, but this time they were at least partly happy tears.
“Oh my, don’t cry, dear.” His eyes filled with concern, and he pulled her close again. She recognized the familiar smell of him, as she cried against his shoulder, and it filled her with such emotion that her quiet tears turned into sobs. He just held her then, and she was thankful that he didn’t ask her why she was crying or what was wrong with her. He was always so understanding.
“I am so glad you’re home, Daddy.” She whispered, and he squeezed her tighter.