by Sorita Heng, Age 17, Cambodia
Artwork by Lucy Zhang
The theme for November fiction was “fuzzy.”
Tempo of Hope
“Are you all right?” a voice asks. A girl’s.
And instead of the polite nods and mutters of “I’m fine” that I specifically reserve for these cases ever since the trembling got worse, I snap.
“Do I look all right?” I glare at the girl’s sneakers, thrusting out my hands. “My hands won’t stop shaking! I’m gripping this camera so hard I feel like my bones are about to break! And even if I know the trembling’s not gonna magically disappear, I still do it. Because I’m pathetic that way. I’m so pathetic my brain can’t even send a command properly. And here I am! Trembling! Trembling! Trembling!”
It takes only a second later to realize how insane I sounded. But before I can think to do anything, form an apology, I’m pulled into a hug.
And I’m so stunned, I forget to break away.
The girl smells like sweat and shampoo, a weird combination until I realize my nose is right beside her curly hair. It’s only until she leans back that I recognize her.
Shana. From school.
She’s crouching down to my level on the park bench, in a T-shirt and shorts, sweat trickling down the side of her face. Her brown skin is a reddish orange from the sunset and her dark eyes are alight, making me see her pupils.
It clicks in my mind.
Shana…the girl that always looks like she wants to say something to me but changes her mind at the last second. Shana. The girl who just hugged me.
All I can do is stare.
“Sorry,” she mutters, straightening and staring at the ground. “I know how my brother hates it when I do that.”
Five full seconds go by before I realize she’s waiting for me to say something.
“Your brother…?” I trail off helplessly.
Nodding, she shuffles her feet. “He has essential tremor like you. He’s going into surgery tomorrow.”
I don’t know what to say. But this time she doesn’t expect me to. Rummaging around in her pocket, she pulls out an iPod and earphones.
“I checked online. It’s effective for, like, nine out of ten people. But he keeps worrying that he’ll be that odd one out.” She scrolls through the iPod. “I made a playlist to calm him. To calm me. It’s, um, called ‘The Tempo of Hope.’ D’you want a listen?”
She holds out her earphones and iPod for me, like an offering.
Hesitantly, I take them.
“You aren’t scared I’ll run off with it?” I blurt out when she turns to go.
She smiles. “Umm…we go to the same school, remember?” And with that, she’s off.
I sit staring at the earphones for at least a minute before my hands, ever trembling, finally plug them in. Holding in the scent of grass and dirt that’s just blown my way, I press play.
Immediately, I’m hit with the fast tempo of the drums and the light-pitched and lively strumming of a banjo, like the chirping of birds. Soon after, a static-gripped voice follows. I lean back against the bench, staring up at the pink and orange sky.
And then I’m nodding along to the beat, my grip loosening on the camera.
The further I go down the playlist, the more I let myself forget. About the nights spent fearing the tremor spreading. About the days spent racking my brain for a career besides photography. About everything that’s ever gone wrong in my life, and simply listen.
And when the end of the final song grows near, when all the elements–drums, guitars, and voice–come together, a contained crescendo building to a release at the climax, I hear it. I feel it as I turn to the sun on the horizon.
The tempo of hope.
When Shana comes back, I hand her back her things. And for the first time in what feels like forever, I smile. “Thank you.” I breathe. “I feel much better.”
She looks so genuinely happy when I said this that I glance at my camera in a new light. “Do you, um, mind if I take your photo?”
To my amazement, she doesn’t look the slightest bit surprised. “Not at all.” She grins.
I stand and bring the camera to my eyes. It teeters back and forth in my hands as I shoot, but somehow, I’m okay. And when the picture turns out fuzzy like I expected, I don’t care. Because when I look up, I can still see the picture as clear as ever: her back to the sun, her smile radiating a light of its own. I can hear the music, the tempo of hope, in my mind.
And I think that maybe, maybe I’m going to be all right after all.
Sorita says, “I write, read and then repeat.”