Mia Bell McCubbin, Author


Focus, just focus Keya you’re almost there as I stare at the whiteboard trying to make sense of Teacher’s teaching. But I can’t, I just can’t, my eyes keep drifting to the clock. I’ve never been able to read. My hands clutch my stomach, my ribs poking me through my skin. 

“Keya!” Teacher calls and I snap out of my daze.

 “Keya I’m asking you a question!” 

My classmates snicker at my confused expression. 

“Will you please repeat the question?” I mumbled my cheeks heating up but the truth is, the question is the last thing on my mind. Food is the first. I push myself to focus as the teacher recites the question 

“Come up to the board and show us how to complete the equation 12×6=”

 My empty stomach lurches as I slowly get up and walk to the board, knowing I will never be able to solve the equation.

The bell rings for lunch and all the rest of my classmates reach for their lunch boxes and begin to parade out of the classroom but I remain sitting and eventually, Teacher comes over. 

“No lunch again?” I shake my pounding head. I want to tell her I haven’t had breakfast either but I can’t force the words out of my mouth. Teacher sighs as if my not having lunch is exhausting her. “ I’ll see what I can do,” she grumbles.

 “In the meantime go outside with the rest of your frie… I mean classmates.”

I really don’t want to go outside, but I listen to Teacher and begin to plod down the stairs. My stomach started growling. I know Teacher doesn’t think I noticed, but I did. I noticed how she was about to say friends, but instead said, classmates. Because even Teacher notices I don’t have friends.

 As my tired muscles shove the heavy door open sunlight blasts my eyes making my already-pounding headache twice as loud. Immediately some of my classmates surround me and for a second my chest is filled with hope for things that I realize will never happen, when my eyes adjust to the light and I see their contorted faces already accusing me of nonexistent things. Finally, the tallest boy says 

“ Why were you late for lunch recess?” 


 I  respond knowing that my response will not justify the tall boy.

They stand there for a while eyes piercing into me, it’s as if they’re trying to suck the answers out of me but I refuse, pressing my lips tight. And after a while, the pretty blond-haired girl sighs and says 

“Let’s go, guys, we’re wasting our time.” 

And slowly all of their backs turned on me leaving me alone. 

Teacher brings me a sandwich long after everyone else has finished eating. 

“Here,” she says, handing it to me. Her tone is not friendly to me like it is to the other kids. She talks down on me as if I’m her burden, I really hope that’s not the case but I fear it is. “I can’t give you any more than this because it wouldn’t be fair to the other kids that pay for the lunches.” 

I walk home after school with my old ugly backpack light on my shoulders. I see kids laughing and playing together. I know they have been home for a while because they have families that pick them up and drive them home in their cars. I watch them, a part of me hoping they’ll spot me watching and invite me to play. But then reality hits.  

My mother isn’t home from work, I knew she wouldn’t be home, but my heart still sinks when I enter an empty apartment. But I forget about that as I race to the pantry silently willing it with all my might to have food inside. I fling it open and it seems to reflect how I feel inside.


I can’t help myself, tears begin to stream down my face and I am just too exhausted to wipe them away. Please Keya, you can do it, but I am just not strong enough. 

I collapse.

I woke with a sudden jolt as the door was slammed open and a figure dressed in black came in, my breath caught in my chest and for a second I am scared to death, but the figure throws back his hood, and my heartbeat goes back to normal when I saw the figure was only James. 

James began to talk but I tone him out. I have never been close to my brother before and I wasn’t going to start being close to him now. He was always disappearing for days or even weeks at a time only coming home to take something, whether it was or wasn’t his. I used to ask my mother to do something about it, though I was never sure what, but she would always respond the same way as she held back tears

“He’s older now, I can’t control him anymore, he is turning into your father.” but I did manage to catch one word of his and it sent me springing up even though my whole body still ached. He held out a chip bag to me and I greedily snatched it without thinking twice.

 “ Mom ain’t feeding you too well is she.” I didn’t want to interact with James, but he’d just given me a whole chip bag, so I managed a slight head shake, knowing that chip pieces would fly everywhere if I tried to talk. His eyes turned sad in a way I’d never seen before. 

“I’d hoped it would be different,” he said, his voice coated with deep sadness. I couldn’t help myself 

“What would be different?!” I burst out. 

“You won’t understand,” he mumbled and for a second I saw a flash of the old James, the James that cared about something more than stealing or getting what he wanted.

 “ Tell me, I will understand.” my voice was calm persuading him to open up, we were silent for a while just staring at each other, causing me to suddenly realize how much I’d missed James. Sure he wasn’t perfect but that didn’t mean he wasn’t my brother, that didn’t mean I didn’t secretly still care for him. 

“ Do you know the real reason I left?” he asked me but before I could answer he continued “I left because I wanted you to have a better chance at succeeding than I did. I left because I wanted you to have more food, and that was just easier if ma didn’t have another mouth to feed.” Before I could speak we heard the sound of feet outside of our apartment, I knew it was mama. James did too, without saying another word he yanked open the window and disappeared into the night.

I awoke the next morning, my mother was already gone and my stomach was already growling, I groaned as much as I had wanted it to the bag of chips just couldn’t hold me over.

I arrived at school dreading the moment I will have to tell Teacher that I don’t have lunch again. The weather began to change so it matched my mood and before I knew it rain was pouring from the sky drenching me in cold. My whole body felt 10 times heavier than before as I made my way down the street. Cars sped past me, some holding my safe dry classmates inside. My mind still felt fuzzy as if everything that happened after school was just a dream, but I knew it wasn’t because I still felt an ache deep in my heart for what my brother was trying to do for me. 

I finally walked into the school doors soppy wet and exhausted emotionally and physically. I flung open my classroom door not looking up because I knew all eyes would be on me because I was late and soaking wet.

 “Hello there!” a cheery voice I’d never heard before said and my head immediately snapped up. I see a beautiful young woman with long blonde hair. She looks at me in a way I have never been looked at before like she’s legitimately happy to see me. I have never seen this woman before but already she’s making me uncomfortable.

“Sit down, sit down!” she says motioning to my empty seat. With a big smile showing off her pearly white teeth. I start to go but then I can’t help myself I turn around and ask,

“Who are you? What are you doing here?” Somehow her already huge smile widens. 

“Well, how about you sit down and I will introduce myself to the whole class!” Startled, I quickly sat down.

“Hello, class! I am Mrs. Brown, I will be your teacher for a while! I cannot wait to get to know all of you!” When she said this she stared only at me the whole time. It was very strange having Mrs. Brown as a teacher because she was very different from old Teacher. There was something in Mrs. Brown’s voice sort of tricking me into paying attention. Mrs. Brown was a very good teacher, but even she couldn’t distract me from food for very long. My stomach started to growl and hunger began to wash over me. In a desperate attempt to stop myself from fainting, I hurried over to the water fountain gulping down water as fast as I could but it wasn’t helping, it just wasn’t. I felt hands wrap around my shoulders and slowly lead me out of the classroom, I sit in a chair the world slowly stops spinning but I couldn’t bring myself to look Mrs. Brown in the eyes, she taps me on the shoulder and I dare to look up to see she’s holding out an apple. 

“Take it, it’s fresh.” I stare at her and finally, I reach my skinny arm out and grab the apple. 

“How did you know?” I couldn’t help asking her, she smiles, not speaking for a while, and then she says, “I used to be like you, and the same thing happened to me, and then my teacher offered me an apple. And it changed my life.” She pauses and looks me in the eyes with a kindness I’ve never seen before, she places her hands on my shoulders and whispers.

“I will fix this for you.” And I believe her. 

I walk into my very first classroom. Focus, Keya focus I look around at all the bright new faces I will be teaching, and then I spot her, in the far back row, hoodie up, hands clutching her head. The rest of the children are chatting and having a blast. I walk over to her until she’s forced to look up at me. Then I smile, placing the object weighing heavily in my hand down on her desk. I turn to walk away but then she whispers. 

“Thank you, for the apple I mean.” 


The End