I slouch behind my battered green desk at St. Elizabeth Elementary School in Etobicoke, Toronto. My Grade 3 teacher, Ms. Macucci, surveys us silently and marks the attendance sheet.
I glance at the other end of the classroom. Jessica, my best friend, looks equally bored.
“How come Violet hasn’t been in class this week?” I ask my teacher.
Ms. Macucci furrows her brow, readjusts her thick glasses, and gives me a sour look.
“Violet has chicken pox, a contagious illness. Violet has to stay home until she feels better. That way, none of us will get the chicken pox.”
That afternoon, the school bus drops me off in front of my building. I run to meet my mom. I grab her hand, pull her towards the elevator, and press the button with the 2 on it. When the elevator opens, Mom and I step out and walk down a dark, dusty hallway. Once inside the apartment, I ask Mom about the chicken pox.
“It’s good to get chicken pox at your age. If you get it when you’re older, you’ll suffer,” Mom says as she searches the fridge for a snack. In a matter of seconds, she scrambles together a sandwich with two slices of bread and one sticky slice of Kraft singles cheese. Mom looks pleased with herself. I accept the sandwich and scrunch up my face.
Mom chuckles at my expression. “When Violet returns to school, go play with her. It’s better if you get the chicken pox now.” She ruffles my hair. I nibble on my sandwich and think.
Violet returns to school next week. At recess, Jessica and I search for ladybugs and we build a fence out of broad twigs and we cage the ladybugs inside and we count the black spots on each one. The spots on the ladybugs make each one different—special. I think of Violet.
“Let’s go talk to Violet,” I tell Jessica. We abandon our ladybug prison. I spot Violet on the stairs of the portable where we have music class. Jessica and I race each other.
I dash up the stairs and stand close to Violet. Jessica maintains a safe distance. Violet’s long blonde hair and pale blue eyes sparkle in the sun.
“Hi. Do they hurt?” I squint at Violet’s face and inspect her arms. Small bumps freckle her skin. Most of the bumps are colourless, some are yellow, and a few are red.
“They itched like crazy the first few days. My sister Victoria also got sick.”
“Cool,” I say. “Let’s play tag.” I look at Jessica, then at Violet.
I act quickly. I press on Violet’s bumpy arm and shout, “You’re it!” Jessica and I sprint down the stairs. Violet chases after us. I make sure I run slower than Jessica. Violet tags me.
I play with Violet and her sister for the rest of the week. I ask to share their snacks. We trade erasers. When either of them coughs or sneezes, I don’t move away.
Two weeks later, I start to feel tired in class. I can’t finish my lunch. I run out of energy at recess. When Jessica and I play with the black-spotted ladybugs, I notice small red bumps appear on my arm.