The Quiet One (2012)

She was a quiet child, hardly ever making a sound. At recess, she watched the children play, but her feet never ran with them, her little voice never joined theirs. She sat on the sidelines, wishing she could run and play, but held back by a force she could not understand. Her tears of frustration fell in the dust, but no one noticed. Her lips trembled with loneliness, but no one saw. In her large, brown eyes there was a bright spark of intelligence but it was too often clouded over by a haze of sadness. Teachers ignored her, student mocked her. But she never said a word. Through each painful day she stepped, one step at a time. When tripped, she would only pick up her books and walk away. If ridiculed, she would stand still, as one both deaf and dumb. The little boys would never cease to pull the ribbons from her hair, the apples from her lunch kit, or from stepping on her toes, for she never said a word or raised her hand in sweet revenge. The little girls whom she longed to have as friends, close companions, were not interested in her company—far too quiet and plain, they thought. Day after day, she trudged to and from the schoolhouse, never seen with a companion, never seen with a single friend.

The years went by and she grew into a fine teenager. Still just as quiet, just as sad and befriended by no others. But something did begin to change, though no one suspected it. A few began to wonder about the quiet mystery girl, and a sense of shameful regret came over those who most had wronged her. Every day she walked to school and minded no one but the teachers. Every day she walked away—to whom and where? No one cared.

No one, except one.

One who had stuck his foot in her path, sending girl and books flying into the mud. One who had not only pulled her ribbons, but tied them to the back of her chair. One who had sprayed paint all over her locker and stuffed gum into her gloves; glued the pages of her books tightly together and secretly exchanged her apple for his rotten plum. She walked alone to—oh, who knew where.

And no one cared, except one.

One who followed her past the schoolhouse, past the store and pharmacy; down the walk by judge and lawyer, out the grimy, back alley. Through the slum, he kept pace with her footsteps, never turning his eyes from the tall silhouette, ‘til she reached a shack on the corner where a number of children twitched and sat. At her appearance they rose and shouted and with glee, and that’s when—yes! for the first time—he saw it on her face: a smile. With mouth gaping wide he watched her disappeared inside, returning in the garb of a worker and with an old man by her side. An old man? No, not so. He was no more than forty-five, by a stretch. But it seemed that terrible sickness had brought him closer to his death. The girl put her arms around him and pointed up to the sky. He looked up and smiled at the sight so bright, so nice compared to the misery around. Back inside went father and daughter, and the observing boy turned to leave.

A glance over his shoulder made him change his mind—she was back outside and about to go somewhere else. He followed her back through the slum and alley, past the judge and the lawyer and pharmacy door. She entered the store and through the glassy window he saw that she drew an apron—for she worked at that store. A claw seemed to clutch at his heart, intent to tear it in two, and he fled from the scene in horror and shame. Past the store he flew, past the schoolhouse and church, over the meadow that separated the opulent from the despondent. Through a white-painted gate in a clean, quiet community and into a house, large and lacking in nothing—nothing but love. He looked around at the things he had, the things being wasted and left to grow old. In disgust, he escaped to his room and collapsed at his desk. Several pencils lie broken where he had, in frustration, left them. His homework from the last several weeks also lie there—unfinished. As he looked at the textbook, a determined jut formed to his jaw. He picked up a brand new pencil and began to work, hard. An hour passed, then two. Before long he was called to supper. He got up from his desk, reviewed his work and saw that he had finished two weeks’ worth in three hours. A smile spread over his face as he pondered the thought in his mind.

Three years passed and graduation day came. As the gathering of seventeen and eighteen year olds grew, expectations ran high. But no one thought about the mystery girl’s grades.

No one, except one.

One who had changed from a rowdy, mean bully with the worst grades in the class to a refined, intelligent young man with a smile and a kind heart. He had turned around completely and climbed the ladder of academic success. But he wasn’t finished yet. He hadn’t reached his ultimate goal, his overwhelming desire. But first, he needed to know where she stood, how she had fared academically. The lights went low and the stage lights flared. One by one, successful students were called. But he didn’t hear her name. A lump began to form in his throat when he heard his name. He went up for his diploma in a daze and returned. The name call continued, but hers did not come up. His heart began to pound as his thoughts swirled. Had she passed? Would she graduate? She had to—she must! Or else—no, he dared not think about it. His one dream must come true; it must not die. Glancing over at her, he wondered what she was thinking. Her face looked the way it usually did—still and inexpressive, like a man in a poker game. He couldn’t tell whether she was worried or not. She just had that sad, gentle look.

The name call came to the end and the announcer stepped down. The young man could not bring himself to believe it. After all these years, had she failed to graduate from highschool? Again he looked at her face. It was blank—completely devoid of expression. Shaking his head, he looked down at his toes, and then was startled by a familiar voice. The principle stood at the podium now, and … that name … that name! A glimmer of hope shone in his eyes. The principle had called her name. And … yes! There she was … walking down the aisle to receive … a full scholarship to medical school?

Shocked, the boy stared open-mouthed as the blank look disappeared from her face and was replaced with a … smile. It was like a bolt of lightning through the hall as one by one, her classmates remembered the days gone by …the days when they excluded her from their games …the days when they laughed at her sad little face and made her sad life even harder to bear. They looked down at their hands, some holding diplomas, earned by the skin of their teeth, and some holding nothing, after wasting the years on play. Slowly, they realized why the mysterious, quiet girl had never sought revenge for their cruel, childish actions. Oh no, she was above that sort of thing. She was an intelligent girl, even from that time. She knew what she wanted, and she kept her eyes on that goal. Revenge? Yes, they thought so. This was the worst sort of revenge, they reasoned. A revenge that took her twelve years to take, but revenge nonetheless. The whole student body felt it, all except one.

The one who smiled broadly as he rose from his seat, and weaved his way to the door that led to the backstage. He waited with baited breath as the footsteps came nearer and nearer. Finally, the door opened and he exhaled. “Anna,” he whispered. “Want to join me for some lemonade?” A broad smile spread over her face, a smile that no one had ever seen. before. “Why, yes!” she exclaimed. “I’d like that very much.” As they held hands, the two met each others gaze. Suddenly, they smiled. They were meant to be. It was plain, so plain.