Why I Killed My Best Friend - excerpt
Fotini and Martha are always singing a song by the child star Manos: You don’t live in my time, Mom, you don’t live in my time, Dad . . . I like it a lot but I also know it would annoy Anna. In fact we do all kinds of things that Anna wouldn’t like. We watch Little House on the Prairie and wear cherry lip gloss during our beauty contests. There are three titles, one for each of us: Miss Beauty, Miss Inner Beauty, and Miss Youth. Fotini always ends up being Miss Youth because she’s the youngest. Martha likes being Miss Beauty, and I’m happy with Miss Inner Beauty, so it works out just fine for us all.
“Girls, the festival is starting!” Kyria Pavlina calls. Martha and I abandon our beauty pageant in the middle and run to the television. Fotini comes, too, since her punishment is over. We’re rooting for a girl, Roula, who sings in the commercial for Roli cleaning powder. Please tell me, Dad, is love good or bad? Today he gave me my first kiss, and I cried with bliss . . . Her father gives his approval and Roula gets as excited as Eliza Doolittle: Well, then, I’ll say it, I love a boy, I love him and I want him tons!
This summer I’m in love with Angelos. He’s very serious and wants to be a nuclear physicist. We only see him in the morning when he wakes up and at night before he goes to bed. The whole rest of the day he’s out roaming around with his friends. I’ve lost all interest in tanks and submarines. No more lies. Mom has gone to help Dad empty out the house in Ikeja. She left me behind, with Aunt Amalia.
Next fall Gwendolyn will be telling her proverbs to other kids.
I keep whistling the tune to “Please Tell Me, Dad,” but Anna covers her ears when she hears it. Of course I don’t tell her about the beauty pageants.
“Aegina ruined you,” she says, raising an eyebrow, the one with the white streak.
“It made you dumb.”
I look down at my shoes. She’s right, after all.
“But maybe it’s not your fault, it’s those girls, what were their names again? Fotini and Martha.”
Anna lectures me about how the Socialist Party in Sweden lost power after forty-four years and how the Workers’ Party in Great Britain is weaker than ever before, as if I were to blame. She tells me that in Paris she made some important decisions, when she grows up she wants to be like Gisèle Halimi, Sartre, and de Beauvoir’s lawyer who risked imprisonment for supporting the Algerian National Liberation Front. I understand barely half of what she says, but I keep nodding my head. She’s determined to bring me back to the proper path, and tells me about Patty Hearst, who disowned her rich father and started robbing banks, and sixteen-year-old Nadia Coma˘neci, the human rubber band from the Montreal Olympics. We braid our hair to look like Coma˘neci, put on our gym clothes, roll aside the portable table in the living room and practice our splits. Next is modern dance. Anna always chooses the theme. Our choreographies have names like “Long Live the Revolution” or “The Students” or “A Carnation on the Polytechnic Memorial.” The dances are full of pas de chat and when we start to sweat, we lie down on the rug and stare at the ceiling.
“A perfect score!” Anna tells me. “You’re not dumb anymore.”
I hug her and we roll like barrels into the hall, splitting our sides with laughter.
[. . .]
This fall we have a man for a teacher, Kyrios Stavros. He’s short and wears silk vests that barely contain his big belly. The fifth-grade reader is called The High Mountains and Kyrios Stavros says we’re going to like it a lot because it’s full of adventures. My biggest adventure, though, is the week when Anna stays home because she has the mumps. Angeliki keeps saying “teapot” over and over until it sounds like “potty,” and Petros picks his nose, chases me down, and wipes his snot on my legs.
“When are you coming back to school?” I ask Anna over the phone.
“Not until my cheeks aren’t swollen anymore.”
“Anna, you have to come back. It’s awful without you!”
I tell her about the things the other kids do to me during recess and Anna plots our revenge: we’ll handcuff them to the fence and tickle them, we’ll spit in their food.
Since she’s been sick in bed, Anna finished the entire fifth-grade reader. She says it’s almost as good as Petros’s War or Wildcat Under Glass.
“What are they?”
“You mean you’ve never heard of Alki Zei? Merde!”
I make Mom buy me all of Alki Zei’s books and I read them at night in bed. Anna’s right. They’re wonderful, especially Wildcat Under Glass, with the two sisters who say ve-ha, ve-sa when they want to show whether they’re very happy or very sad.
“Ve-ha? Ve-sa?” I ask Anna over the phone, so she’ll know I read Wildcat Under Glass.
“Ve-sa, because I have the mumps.”
I puff up my cheeks, trying to imagine what it would be like to have the mumps. Sometimes I’d like to be Anna, for better or for worse.