Kazi Falguni Eshita
I met Shaina when I was seven years old. I was in the hospital for dehydration when I first saw her.
At first, her sickly, milk-white skin and the black circles around her eyes frightened me, but I wanted to know why she looked like that. I didn’t understand how we could be in the same place when she looked so sick and I looked fine.
When I finally decided to talk to her, she was sitting in the playroom drawing a picture of a girl with wings.
“That’s a pretty picture,” I said happily.
Startled, she jumped a little before turning to look at me. “It’s me as an angel,” she explained.
I looked at the picture again. “It’s beautiful!” I paused for a moment, unsure of what to say next. “I’m Holly. Do you want to play?”
Shaina smiled, her whole face lighting up with excitement. “I’m Shaina… I’ve got dolls in my room; Want to play with them?”
I nodded, and then followed her to her room.
Her room was different than mine. Her room was just for her, not shared like mine was. And, although we were both dragging IV’s behind us, I was alarmed by the machines in her room. Even the table filled with pills kind of scared me; I couldn’t believe that they were all for her… She was so skinny that it seemed like even one pill would fill her stomach up.
She went around the bed and dragged a big bag of dolls to the foot of the bed where we sat to play.
As we began playing, Shaina looked up. “Why are you in the hospital?” she asked. “You don’t look sick.”
“The doctors said I dehydrated,” I explained before leaning toward her and lower my voice to continue, “I don’t really know what that means.”
Shaina giggled. “Ohh.”
I hesitated. “Why are you here?”
Shaina sighed. “I have AIDS. I don’t really know what it is, but I was born with it.”
I didn’t understand at all, but we just kept playing…
Every and now and then, though, Shaina’s plastic angel watch would beep and she would walk to the pill bottles and take one a out. A nurse would come in a few seconds later with a small cup and watch Shaina as she put the pill her mouth and swallow it with the water. Sometimes, it would take a few tries, but every time she got the pill down, she’d look at me, rolling her eyes, and we’d both giggle.
For the next week, we played every day –from the time we woke up until the time when a nurse would tell me it was time to go to my room for bedtime.
The last night that I was in the hospital, one of the nurses wheeled an extra bed into Shaina’s room for me to sleep in. We stayed up for hours that night, just telling stories and laughing.
When it came time for me to leave the next day, we both cried. I promised that I would visit her everyday and that we would have a sleep over as soon as she got better.
As soon as I got home, I taped pictures of me and Shaina all over my walls and then called her, checking every number three times before pressing the buttons.
Shaina was still sad about me leaving, and sounded tired; weak. We talked for two hours before I had to eat dinner.
At the dinner table, I told my mom all about Shaina, even though she had visited every day and already knew about her.
Then, I got brave. “Mommy, what’s AIDS? That’s what Shaina has.”
I knew that my mom knew why Shaina was in the hospital, but I had felt like I had to tell her why I was asking.
“Well,” she sighed, “it’s a disease… a sickness that doesn’t go away. It’s a disease that’s in Shaina’s blood that makes her really sick.” My mom’s expression was both sad and frustrated. I could tell that she having a hard time explaining the AIDS thing to me.
My heart raced. “Mommy, is Shaina going to die?”
A tear rolled down my mom’s face. “She might, Sweetie.”
The best –and worst, thing about my mother was that she was always honest. At that moment, I hated her for being so honest… but I was still glad that I knew the truth.
She took me to see Shaina the next day. WE played with her dolls and I pretended not to know the truth.
After two more weeks, she went home and out moms said I could spend the whole weekend at her house! We were both overwhelmed with joy.
The whole weekend, we played dolls and house and colored and her mom even helped us take Polaroid pictures and make frames for them.
We had, in our minds and hearts, become sisters. We knew everything about each other. We talked about everything –how her real mother died of AIDS, so she was adopted; how neither of us had ever met out fathers; and even how we both wanted to be doctors when we grew up.
I started spending every weekend at Shaina’s house. Our moms even became friends and, every weekend, the four of us would spend each day together.
Even after school started, I spent as much time as I could with Shaina –sometimes, my mom would even let me go to her house after school.
Then, one day, my mom picked me up early from school.
As I walked toward the office, she knelt and wrapped her arms around me. She was crying. Silently, I kept telling myself that Shaina was okay.
“There’s been an accident,” my mother said through her tears.
“What kind of accident?” I asked as my own tears began falling. “Shaina is okay, right?”
“Shaina and her mommy were in a car accident. They’re at the hospital.”
“Shaina is okay, right?” I repeated, scared and angry.
“I don’t know, Holly.”
It felt like it took an eternity to get to the hospital.
When we finally got there, Shaina was sitting in the playroom. A nurse took me to her. I kept thinking of the first time I met Shaina. It was right there. She was even at the same table… but, this time, she was crying.
I ran to her and threw my arms around her. I was so happy to see her. Before the accident, I had never realized that Shaina could die. I knew it could happen, but I never actually believed it would. “My mommy,” Shaina whispered.
“She’ll be okay,” I assured.
And she was. She needed five stitches on her head, but she was fine.
After that, I started making sure that I talked to Shaina every single day. Not a day went by without my fearing that I would lose my best friend.
And then, one Wednesday night, my mom woke me up and, without any explanation, carried me out to the car and strapped me in. I never really woke up until I saw the lights of the emergency room. My heart leapt into my throat.
A nurse led us to Shaina. I ran to her bedside, crying hysterically and terrified by all of the machines hooked up to Shaina’s tiny body. I grabbed her hand.
Her eyes opened slightly. “Holly?”
“Yes, Shaina. I’m here.” Tears poured down my cheeks. “I love you.”
“I love you too.” She was fighting to breathe. “Don’t cry, Holly.”
“I’m not scared, Holly. I’m going to be an angel.”
I couldn’t stop crying. I kept trying to, but I couldn’t help it. I climbed into bed with Shaina and held her tight. “You’re the best friend in the whole world.”
“Sisters?” she whispered.
The tears made it hard for me to speak. “Sisters.”
Then, one of the machines started to make one long beeping sound. My heart broke. My mother lifted me up, ripping my arms from around Shaina’s limp body. The tears were uncontrollable. Both my mom and Shaina’s mom went with me to the waiting room. I sat down and stared blankly as the wall until a nurse walked over with a doctor. The nurse took my hand.
I was led, once again, to the playroom and, again, I kept thinking of the first time I met Shaina. She was right there. I could still see her sitting there, drawing her picture, but this time, she had her angel wings.