“Do you have your tablet? And your lunch?” Spinning around on one, stockinged foot, Nema scanned the small kitchen and dinning room for signs of anything left behind. It was September thirtieth, the first one to arrive without the dark cloud of a Summons hanging over it, so she wanted to be sure everything was in order. She hadn’t told Neisha about the big dinner she had planned for the two of them tonight in celebration, it was going to be a surprise. The maple-wood table, easily the nicest thing in the apartment was bare except for the two woven green place-mats and the the yellow fruit bowl. Grabbing the end of her braid, she brushed the bushy end with her thumb while Neisha slipped into her navy blue fleece. With a mischievous smile and hugely exaggerated movements the girl deposited the peach colored tablet into her denim school-bag. Dropping the braid, Nema pulled her daughter into a tight, impulsive hug, ignoring the bleat of protest. “I love you so much!”
“Mom— mom, let go. I can’t breathe!” Flailing her arms Neisha groped blindly around for something to hold onto, her right hand swinging hazardously close to the kitchen counter. Nema snickered and squeezed the small body even tighter. She whispered softly into her daughter’s hair.
“There, there, Mommy’s got you.” Neisha became limp in her arms, her small, gangly frame turning into a boneless sack-of-teenager that slipped from her grasp like it had been oiled. Landing in a puddle on the floor, Neisha stared blankly upward, her eyes empty and her mouth hanging open. Nema grinned. “Ooo, that’s perfect. Now I can get you stuffed and keep you forever.” The battle was won. Neisha blinked and focused her dark, wide-set eyes. Her small mouth twisted slightly in judgment.
“That’s gross, mom.”
“Yeah, well, you may think differently when you have a daughter of your own.” Pulling Neisha to her feet, Nema held onto her long enough to straighten the loose end of her ponytail while feeling a swell of emotion over how much alike they looked.
“Mom, I’m going to miss the bus.” Looking slightly desperate, Neisha tugged gently to free her arm.
Nema sighed and let go. There was always something pulling her daughter away from her. Today it was school, tomorrow it could be a boy. After that it will become a Quad and a Cause. There was a victory in this inevitability though. On this day in particular she knew Neisha would never leave because the JOC took her.
Reaching for the apartment door, Neisha twisted the knob and pulled. For just a second the door seemed to fight her, then it peeled free of the rubber seal and swung inward on a gust of wind. Nema jumped to hold it. Swinging her bag up to settle the strap on her shoulder, Neisha’s arm brushed against the edge of the counter she had been clawing at only moments before. Her elbow knocked against the molded, glass salt shaker causing it to skitter back from the edge. It came to a safe halt a few inches from where it started, its wide bottom flat against the dark top. Bracing her foot against the bottom of the door to keep it open, Nema prodded her daughter through.
“Close that hallway door when you leave.” That long-haired fool in apartment four had probably propped it open again, acting like he was the only one in the building that mattered.
“Okay.” Grabbing the door knob again, Neisha braced herself and pulled. For a single instant her small, heart-shaped face was framed by a perfect halo of black hair as the loose side pieces she hadn’t put into the ponytail became caught in the wind of the hallway and rose up around her. Nema’s heart jumped into her throat. The little kitchen shook from the impact of the door.
Feeling caught in an eddy, Nema looked from the door to the counter and watched the salt shaker tip on its side. The lid that should been secure popped off and rolled away in a wide arc toward the side of the refrigerator while two thirds of the contents poured onto the counter.