It was an odd-looking contraption. Oh, it had four wheels and a thunderous engine the same as any bus. But this one was different.
After school on a warm September day it rolled to a stop by the curb. Kids my age – some older, some younger – prowled around it, keeping a respectful distance. I stood to the side, watching the other children giggle and poke one another until the side door of the odd bus slid open.
The little group made a semi circle. A funny, yet wonderful smell drew me closer. The familiar face of my favorite teacher appeared.
“Which of you will dare to enter the library bus first?” Ms. Perris asked, her eyes sparkling with mystery.
I found myself standing by the steps, ducking my head when I realized I was the only one. Snorts and chuckles burned the back of my neck.
Ms. Perris brushed back the sable strands escaping my ponytail. “Well, Mary Anne, it looks like you get to be first. Hand your completed form to Mrs. Grimes and she’ll give you a library card.”
Schoolbooks snuggled close, I gladly slipped past Ms. Perris to the shelter of the smothering interior.
The smell of hundreds of books made me shiver and smile as I raised my eyes to stare in wonderment at the shelves and shelves of treasure. I had never known such a glorious world existed.
Hearing the pack behind me, I quickly made my way to the far corner. I landed in the history section.
Absorbed among the giant shelves, I ran a finger along the titles, licking my lips in anticipation. Mrs. Grimes had said we could choose up to five books each. Which ones would be mine?
No longer a part of the present world, I thumbed the pages of the illustrated history books. I stacked my favorites on the floor beside me: Daniel Boone, The Civil War, a collection of historical fiction, and tales of the Old West balanced together.
“Hola, como estas?”
I squirmed as I met the eyes of the pretty Mexican girl smiling at me. She was new at school, and no doubt looking to make friends. Swallowing, I spoke slowly, my Texhoma accent ringing true.
“No speak Spanish.”
The girl looked hard at me before scrunching her eyebrows and spinning away. I sniffed and coughed, convincing myself the dusty books had stirred up my allergies.
Focused on the shelf in front of me, I determined to choose one more title. Surely I could find…
My fingers gripped the cover, but I hesitated. Memories of my fair skinned classmates stared at me, and echoes of giggles and whispers rang in my ear.
“Here comes Mary Anne, let’s go.”
“We don’t won’t her to play with us.”
“Pretend she isn’t here.”
I couldn’t understand what the Spanish-speaking children would say about me, but I had to cope with the same shunning from them.
Loosening my grip on the book, I turned to my stash. Four would be enough.
“Be proud you’re Indian.”
My nose crinkled. Why did my daddy’s words have to emerge right now? He didn’t understand anyway. He didn’t know what it was like.
The Native Americans book tumbled off the shelf where I had pulled it half out and it landed at my feet. The front cover bounced open on impact and the pages split. I knelt and held it open with one finger.
A beautiful illustration filled my eyes. A young girl stood by the river bank, her hand resting on a painted pony’s neck.
“She looks like me,” I whispered, turning the page. And another. And another. Buffalos, tipis, farms, rolling prairies, forests, children, fathers and mothers took me on a journey I will never forget.
God, this is how you created me.
I was the last one to leave that heavenly library bus.
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