For kids, things are sweet and simple. There are super heroes and princesses and magical talking animals at every corner. The fire-breathing dragons and the evil sorcerers, however, are merely fears that we are assured exist only in the realm of fairy tales. This was my reasoning when I bounced into school that morning with seven dollars safely tucked away. But by the end of the day’s events, a minor injustice would open my eyes to the real, if somewhat petty, villains in life.
I fidgeted all morning as fanciful images of book fair merchandise orbited my head. When my teacher finally announced that we were leaving for the book fair, my class let out a collective groan lamenting lack of funds.
Regardless, I floated into the transformed gymnasium – the sheer multitude of the merchandise created quiet ecstasy, until a friend inquired, “Hi Tiffany! Did you remember to bring money?” I use the term friend loosely; she was more of an acquaintance – we were only bound by occasional lopsided conversations on the monkey bars.
“Umm…” I stalled – lying would result in guilt, but her motives were painfully transparent. “Yeah, I brought money.”
“Could you buy this for me?” she asked in her best Shirley Temple impression, as she licked her lips voraciously and led me to a display of tacky bookmarks. “I promise to pay you back.” A tiny voice in my mind warned me of the dangers of this transaction, but she promised to pay me back, so I trusted that she would.
The next morning, I asked nicely for my dollar back, expecting her return the loan immediately without qualms. She’d forgotten – she’d forget consistently for weeks to come, though I kept asking for repayment like a mini-Tony Soprano. It was not the monetary value but the principle that troubled me – how could someone break a promise and show no guilt?
Weeks later, a tall woman in an alarming orange sweater approached me in the classroom. “My daughter owes you money,” she said with her Cheshire cat smile. I nodded in hushed anticipation and held my hand out to her. “Well, I’m going to pay you back.” My heart soared – finally, justice! She reached into her pocket…now, I may have been a child, but I knew that the scrap of metal in my hand was not a dollar – a quarter lay like a beached whale on my tiny palm. On the inside, I was livid, but too afraid to question the adult that loomed over me. So I squeaked out a fraudulent ‘thanks,’ and slipped the cold symbol of defeat into my pocket.
That was the day I lost my innocence. Gone was the naivety of childhood, when pinky swears were binding contracts and the Power Puff Girls made me believe in sugar, spice, and everything nice. And in its place was a single seed of cynicism, and a deficit of 75 cents.
Tiffany Keung is a rising senior at Winston Churchill High School and lives in Potomac.