Sonji had known she was different since before she could walk. Only her very best friend in the whole wide world Francis knew her secret. Sonji was a sharer. Telling anyone outside of Francis would have been a death sentence. Her mother would probably have preferred if Sonji had told her she was a murderous lesbian than a sharer. So Sonji did everything in her power to keep that bit of information to herself. Looking up from the concrete into the weary eyes of her brothers, she knew she was closer today to being found out than at any other point in her life.
“Why are you on the ground?” Michael was angry with her. He was sick and tired of having to defend his weirdo sister and all her crazy acting. People talked about Sonji constantly. Only Francis would even play with her and now she was laying on the ground in the fetal position clutching her belly and shaking her head as though she’d been punched in the gut. He’d been watching her the whole time. She’d be playing jump rope with Francis when she suddenly collapsed. Michael was bending over to pick her up, angry. He was so tired of Sonji’s foolishness.
Walter was more understanding. He knew his sister was special. He just didn’t know why she was so special or why her specialness always seemed to get in the way of them having a good time. Walter knew that Michael would be rough with Sonji so he stepped in to help her get to her feet before Michael yanked her up. Quietly he told her, “Sister you fell down. Are you alright?”
Sonji was nodding. The youngest of the three of them, she knew that they grew tired of taking care of her. Michael at 16 especially hated her ‘spells’. She didn’t even know what had happened. She remembered playing with Francis, who was know standing beside Michael trying without much success to diffuse the crowd of kids that had begun to gather. “Nothing to see,” Francis called out. “Nothing to see. Just go back to your summer people. Nothing to see.”
Sonji reached for Walter’s hand and slowly rose to her feet. Michael huffed and turned to go back to his touch football game. Walter asked if she needed water. When she told him no, he left her alone with Francis who he told to take her home. Francis grabbed Sonji’s hand and guided her toward their two family flat only three blocks away from the neighborhood playground.
“Girl you fell down like a pile of bricks.” Francis squeezed her hand two times it was their signal to bring Sonji back to the real world. One squeeze was a quick ‘I love you girl’ while three meant ‘we’re in trouble’ but the two squeezes was their signal that ‘they were alive and everything would be alright.’ Sonji took a deep breath and pressed down on Francis’ hand once.
“I was in a hole,” Sonji began. “I couldn’t breath. It felt like my inside were on fire.” Sonji turned to look at Francis and there were tears in her eyes. “It hurt so bad Fran. It hurt so bad I couldn’t stand it.”
Francis swallowed and wondered who was in trouble. Sonji hated being a sharer. She thought it was the worst possible thing to have happen. Francis thought it was the coolest gift ever. It was like knowing the full news report days before anyone else. Sometimes because of Sonji’s gift they would be able to avoid certain pitfalls in life, like mass food fights in the cafeteria and being at exactly the right place at the right time. Other times though it just felt like watching a train wreck in slow motion repeat itself over and over again but not being able to prevent it.
Francis had tried to help Sonji control her gift. She had tried to help her focus it so that they could get useful information like how Bobby felt about Francis and if he was going to ask her to the dance. Francis also thought it would be better if Sonji’s sharing went the other way around so that she could impose her feelings on other people. But Sonji couldn’t change the way people felt. She could only feel what people felt.
Sonji told Francis that feeling other people’s feelings wasn’t a gift at all and that she hated it. Sonji hated sharing what others felt because it made her confused and she looked crazy from the outside. No one understood why a 13-year-old could feel so sad. And at 13 she didn’t understand horny but knew what it felt like. Sonji was tired of being a conduit for everybody else. For once she just wanted to feel what she felt all by herself. Today’s antics were proof once again to her that she’d never be normal.
“So what do you think happened?” Francis asked. They had arrived to their house. Francis and her mother lived upstairs from Sonji and her family. Francis believed God Himself had a hand in having her mother answer Mr. Davenport‘s ad for an upstairs tenant in their two family flat. Meeting Sonji was an answer to her nightly prayer for a sister.
Sonji slumped onto the porch stoop. She sighed, “I don’t know what happened. I only know what I felt.”
Sonji rolled her eyes at Francis. She had told her this before. Sharing wasn’t like being a fortune-teller. Sharers can’t tell the future or look into people’s souls or their pasts. Sharers can only share feelings. Sharing feelings don’t give you any insight into a person, well at least not any real insight as far as Sonji could tell. All she knew was that Mr. Johnson had it bad for Mrs. Kelly. Real bad. But she couldn’t say that anything ever happened between them or that anything ever would. She knew that Mrs. Kelly didn’t notice Mr. Johnson but that she didn’t love Mr. Kelly anymore because every time they were together Mrs. Kelly felt sad and lonely. Sonji hated knowing these things about her neighbors, her family and even strangers walking by her. She hated it. It made her feel like a peeping tom. These were private things and she shouldn’t know such private things about people. Sonji was sure of that.
But Francis thought most of Sonji’s experiences were big mysteries to solve. She always figured that if she asked the right questions, they would get to an answer that would solve world hunger or something else just as important. “So what were you feeling before you fell on the ground?”
“Afraid.” Sonji was picking with something that had lunged itself into the sole of her shoe. Then she looked up into Francis’ eyes. She gasped, “No, it wasn’t just afraid. It was terror. I was feeling terrified. I felt like I was about to die.”
Francis was about to ask Sonji another questions when she saw Sonji’s eyes glaze over. Afraid her friend was going to fall head first onto their concrete stoop, Francis held on to her and started to hum.
Sonji was shaking and near tears, “I’m so afraid, Francis. I’m so afraid.”
Francis started to rock her friend in her arms. She knew it would be no help to ask any questions when Sonji got like this. She knew that whatever was happening and wherever it was happening Sonji was in the midst of it and wouldn’t be able to answer anything. Francis wanted to know though who was being hurt and where they were. This is part of Sonji’s gift that Francis couldn’t stand. What was the point of knowing someone was in trouble if you couldn’t do anything to help them?
“Francis!” her mother was calling her from the upstairs window. The volume of her voice indicated that she still thought Francis might be up the street.
“I’m here, mama.” Francis called back from the stoop.
“Oh,” her mother looked down and saw Francis and Sonji sitting on the porch rocking. Ms. Gibson thought Sonji was a weirdo but she never told Francis that because as weird as that little girl was she had gifted her loner daughter with friendship. It was their friendship that kept Ms. Gibson from moving even though she couldn’t stand Mr. Davenport and his gruff demeanor. She had grown to love Sonji and her mother like family. She wasn’t alarmed that the girls were sitting on the stoop rocking like a mother calming a baby in distress. She was used to them and the way they played together. Ms. Gibson did, however, believe they were getting too big to keep this strange games going. They were 13 after all. “I’m headed over to your Aunt Sister’s house. You can come along with me or stay here. I’m leaving in 5 minutes.”
“Okay mama,” Francis looked at Sonji and wondered if she should leave her friend in the state she was in. Sonji was still shaking when they heard the ambulance sirens turn the corner. Sonji jumped up.
“I know where it’s happening, Francis.” She told her and started walking. Francis forgetting about the promise of a slice of her aunt’s famous egg custard pie, followed.
“What do you mean?” She asked trailing behind Sonji.
“I just saw something…lemon colored walls with green leaves going across them.”
Francis nearly stopped dead in her tracks. She knew where Sonji was headed. Mrs. Morgan’s kitchen was lemon colored and she had wallpaper with ivy leaves. Mrs. Morgan was their friend. She let them sit on her porch and would bring them lemonade and talked to them like they were women. She even knew most of their secrets. Francis started running toward the last house on the corner. The ambulance had already arrived. Instinctively heading to the back fence, Francis watched as the ambulance driver lifted the gurney out of the back door. “Mrs. Morgan!” She called out. “Mrs. Morgan!”
The EMT workers walked right past the girls, ignoring them. Francis looked at Sonji afraid, questioning. “She’s hurt real bad,” Sonji answered. “And she’s afraid.” Sonji was near tears. “She’s so afraid Francis.”
Not needing anymore information, Francis opened the gate and ran into the house where she saw the EMT workers lifting Mrs. Morgan onto the gurney. She was holding her belly and moaning in pain. “What’s the matter with her?” Francis demanded.
“It looks like a burst appendix. Do you know her?” One of the workers asked Francis.
“I’m her neighbor. That’s Mrs. Morgan but she doesn’t have a husband.”
Hearing Francis’ voice Mrs. Morgan reached for her. Francis grabbed her hand. Mrs. Morgan gave Francis’ hands three quick squeezes. Recognizing their secret signal, Francis became afraid, “Will she be alright?”
“We need to get her to the hospital.” They strapped Mrs. Morgan onto the gurney. Francis noticed her purse on the kitchen counter and grabbed it.
Francis followed the gurney with Mrs. Morgan on it out the door. Sonji was standing by the gate clutching her stomach. She was sweating and shaking. Francis couldn’t decide who needed her most. She caught Sonji’s eye and told her, “Get mama. Now Son. Get her now.”
Francis started to climb into the back of the ambulance with Mrs. Morgan when one of the EMT workers stopped her, “Minors can’t ride in the back.”
“She don’t have nobody but me. I can’t let her ride to the hospital by herself.” Francis was pleading with the EMT worker. Mrs. Morgan was her friend and had been her babysitter since she moved on this street. When her mother was at work or out with friends, Mrs. Morgan was her safe haven. She didn’t have a husband anymore or children. The only family she had that Francis knew about was a niece Mrs. Morgan spoke with twice a year on Christmas and her birthday. Francis was holding onto the door arguing with the worker when her mother came around the corner out of breath.
“What?!” her mother shouted.
“They say her appendix burst and they have to take her to the hospital and they won’t let me ride in the back and we can’t just let her go by herself mama help-“
Ms. Gibson grabbed her daughter and looked over to the worker, “I’ll ride with her. She needs somebody with her. Is this her pocket-book, Francis?”
Ms. Gibson took the purse from Francis and gave her a quick squeeze. The last things the girls heard as the doors closed was Ms. Gibson telling Mrs. Morgan, “Us single ladies gotta stick together.”
Francis was crying now. Sonji put her arms around her friend. Sonji could still feel the ache in her abdomen but she also felt relief. She had a feeling Mrs. Morgan would be alright. They stood on the corner till the ambulance pulled away. As Sonji started to lead Francis home she told her, “For the first time in my life…I actually feel like this sharing thing might be a good thing.”
Francis grabbed her hand and gave it two quick squeezes.