My name, Ayumi, is written with the single kanji of 歩. My mom admitted to me when I was old enough to understand that she chose to write my name like that because it meant “to walk.” She believed one day, I would be walking out of high school with a diploma in my hand – the diploma she could never get after getting pregnant with me.
Life has a certain irony to it.
I rolled my wheelchair through the hallways of the school, a belt across my lap to keep me from falling out of it. “Early as always,” I said to the emptiness. I had to arrive early to get to my locker without having to deal with the swarms of people rushing for their books.
The halls were littered with paintings of our mascot – the Northern California Wildcat. There were so many articles of our basketball team winning the state championship against Los Angeles’s School 24 seven years ago plastered in the trophy cases, as if to remind us of how horrible we had been since then. All we had now were a bunch of shiny floors and losers on the court.
I rolled over to my locker. Today was an A-day, which meant I’d need my books for math, English, and Japanese in the afternoon. My last period nominally was meant for gym, but having only one leg pretty much excused me from that for life.
“Easy afternoon,” I said when I put my Japanese book in my bag, which would be slung across my chair’s handles all day. While I had only live in Japan for the first two years of my life, my parents refused to speak anything but Japanese to me at home. That led to a quick acquisition of biliteracy and a guaranteed A in school.
I closed my locker. That was when I noticed a sticky note placed on it, and place a mere three feet off the ground: my eye level. “If you have a wish you want granted, come to room 204 after school. Magic exists.”
I held it in my hands. Was this some kind of a prank? Somebody wanted to make fun of me for being the poor girl in the wheelchair, willing to believe in magic for any hope of getting out of my chair.
I crumbled up the paper and was about to toss it into the bin when I thought better of it. If somebody wanted to play a prank on me, then I would prank them back. I simply needed to get all my eggs in a basket.
By the time I got out to the commons area, there were students filtering in and choosing their favorite couches and tables. I rolled myself over to the one closest to the math wing. There was nobody near it currently, but that was quick to change.
“Oh, hey Ayumi,” said Naomi, a girl of Indian origin. “How was the math homework last night?”
“You mean you didn’t do it?”
“Do I ever?” She stuck her tongue out at me. “Say, if you let me copy your work I’ll let you copy my Japanese homework.”
I gave her a look.
“Kidding, kidding! But you do remember the time I wrote that paper on handball for you, right?”
I could have fallen out of my chair if I didn’t have a belt restraining me. “You wrote that after I wrote it myself!”
Either way, I was happy to let her copy. She was my friend, and not just a mooch. “Say,” I passed her the sticky note. “Do you know who may have written this?”
She studied the note with a certain intensity. “I can’t say for sure.” She pulled it closer to her eyes. “If you have a wish you want granted, come to room 204 after school. The most I can say is that it’s a girl who wrote this.”
“Over the word wish, the author dotted the i with a heart. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never heard of a guy who’d do that.”
True enough. “Thanks. That narrows the student population down by half.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know it’s not much. That’s the definitive answer I have. The second part is a guess, but I’m thinking the culprit is an honors student.”
“What makes you think that?”
“All the words are spelled out. Only honors students put in enough effort with these kinds of notes.”
It wasn’t enough for a conclusive decision, but it did narrow down the possibilities significantly. Whoever was responsible would have been in one of my classes then, and a girl, leaving about 10 possible results who—
“Hey, hey, what’s that?” asked a cheery high voice.
We turned to see Lauren, the captain of the cheer squad, and another one of our friends. Unlike Naomi and me, she was Caucasian, and a stereotypical blue eyed blonde. “A note.” I passed it over to her. “Do you have any idea who might have written it.”
“Hm…” she examined it, turning her head. “Nope! But if you find out, let me know, all right?”
She wouldn’t know anything. She wasn’t bright. In fact, I had seen her in one of my IEP meetings when they were discussing hidden extra supports she would be receiving in class like calculator usage and prewritten study notes.
Her IEP of course had everything to do with her lack of knowledge in math. Mine was physical, giving me three accommodations: no gym, all classes on the first floor, and extra travel time between classes. It was the same as I had since I entered kindergarten, and it’d remain the same until the day I graduated.
More and more of our friends filtered in as the morning went on. And, as was an unfortunate fact in schools, we were all minorities in some way. A Filipino, a Jewish girl, and another of Indian heritage joined in with us. So why was Lauren, the Caucasian cheer captain with us? Because last year she had come out as lesbian, and we were the only people willing to accept her for who she was.
Kids could be so cruel.
The morning bell rung. “Well,” said Naomi. “If you figure out who it is, let me know. I’m curious now!”
“Yeah,” Lauren responded. “And if the whole wish thing is true.”
I gave them a salute and rolled myself over to the next class. None of my friends offered to push my chair, which was how I knew they were truly my friends. They knew if I needed help I would ask for it. I’ve been in this chair for 17 years, after all.
Heck, it was the entire reason why I was in America instead of Japan today.
The first class of the day was math, Calculus to be specific. There were four girls in that class. Naomi was one of them, and I was the second. That left only two options if the culprit planning to taunt me was in this class. One of them was a short girl named Samantha who hid in the corner studying the curriculum on her own. The second was a redhead, Jill, who spent her entire class period sleeping every day. Samantha was quiet, and the quiet ones were always the most suspicious. Jill on the other hand wouldn’t have taken the effort. One who didn’t take effort in classes didn’t take effort in anything in life.
English was more populated. The four of us were still in there (with Jill still asleep), but there was also Liz and Yvonne. Liz wouldn’t do such a thing, as she had to spend close to a year on crutches after tearing her ACL and then having an infection after the surgery. She knew not to make fun of a disability. Yvonne was a possibility. Considering how today she always made a point to kick the wheel of my chair when she walked past, she seemed all too likely to want to bully me further.
I gave her a glance, and she glared at me. She knew. She had to be the one.
When lunch came, we gathered around the table.
“It’s Yvonne,” I declared conclusively to them.
“Oh?” asked Lauren. “How do you know?”
“Process of elimination. It was between her and Samantha, but I had nothing to implicate Samantha. Yvonne was glaring at me and all.”
Naomi folded her arms. “Why was she glaring at you?”
“Why else? I just gave her a glance, and that was good enough to say that she was caught red handed.”
To that, Lauren sighed. “Ayumi, if you glanced over at me for too long, I would have glared at you too. People don’t like it when others stare at them.”
“Still!” I continued, “she’s always kicking at my wheelchair and talking about me behind my back. You saw her in cheerleader practice, right?”
Lauren against sighed. “She’s like that to everyone. You can’t make generalizations about people, Ayumi. You know that.”
Of course I did. If I were to stereotype people, even based off of their own behavior, I wouldn’t have a single friend. I accepted people despite their differences.
The rest of the lunch period was spent in deep discussion about the newest episode of Girl’s Paradise on TV. We were, after all, high school girls and into that stuff even if we were mostly honors students.
The afternoon ticked away with an easy lesson in Japanese, and a free study period where I could finish all my homework instead of attending gym. Then, the final bell rang.
My mom typically came to pick me up at the end of the school day while my dad was busy in his job at a bank. He makes the money, I make Ayumi a woman, was what she liked to say. Unfortunately, without a high school degree she didn’t have much chance to do so. Either way, I had texted her to come later.
I rolled my chair past the exit, and went to the elevator. I was given first floor classes because of my wheelchair, but I also had a key to use it just in case.
I put the key in, turned it, and then I was lifting up in the slowest elevator in the world.
Room 204. I had to see who would be waiting for me. I had responses ready for Yvonne, who I still suspected, and Samantha. They wouldn’t get a laugh out of me. Yeah, they forced me to go upstairs, but I chose that – not them.
“So,” I asked, pushing the door open. “Who is—”
It was neither of them. It was Jill, the redhead who was asleep all class.
“What are you doing here?” I asked her.
She was wearing a hood which shaded her eyes draping down as a long cloak to about her waist. “I told you,” she said, “I have a wish to grant. Magic exists.”
Jill had always been a bit of a loner. Seeing her like this sent needles up my back, since the odds of her lying was infinitely smaller. “Why are you…”
She pointed a finger out at me, bony and thin. “But, before I grant you your wish, I must ask you: Why are you in a wheelchair?”
It wasn’t exactly something I talked about a lot. It wasn’t something I’d reveal to her either. But seeing her here, and her attitude, I felt like she might be telling me the truth. And there was a wish granted. A wish I’d wanted granted ever since I was a little girl.
I pressed my hand to my chest. “I was barely 1,” I said. “My dad was affixing a mobile over my crib, and without his knowledge a screwdriver fell off his utility belt and into my bedding. Needless to say, that screwdriver found its way into my thigh, eventually causing an infection requiring amputation.”
The girl showed no emotions. “This occurred in Japan?”
“Yes.” I tried to recall what my mom told me. “We moved here soon after, as I was going to need accommodations in school. Japanese schools never have been too accommodating, so it was for my best interest.”
Jill pulled down her hood, revealing her red hair. “You speak no lies.”
“You needed to know this?”
She gave a small smile to me across her pale face. “I was simply curious. It was a mystery I never knew about.” She reached down into her pocket and pulled out a sphere which seemed to glow of its own light. “Now, as I promised, this is a crystalized wish. It is truly a rare thing which you will never find again in this world. Name your wish and it will be granted, no matter how impossible it may be.”
That thing was real? It sure seemed it. There was no battery, no cord, nor anything to make it glow like that. Its sphere shape was common in nature, and hard to make by human hands. If this was a prank, it’d be quite the elaborate one.
I closed my eyes. There could only be one thing I would wish for. One thing I’d desired for so long.
“I wish people in this town would accept each other, no matter what their race, gender, religion, or love.”
The sphere glowed, and then in a poof, it disappeared, leaving an astonished Jill behind it.
“What?” I asked.
“You didn’t ask for healing of your leg?”
“Oh, this?” I put my hand on the stump. “Nah. Why would I ask for that? Just because I have an injury doesn’t mean it rules my life.”
Jill put her hood back on. “Then you’re a stronger girl than I imagined. I will see you in your new world tomorrow.”
Of course I was strong. Why else would my mother name me Ayumi? For even if I cannot walk, that doesn’t mean I cannot move forward.