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ordinary lives


Carla picked at a scratch on her desk and stared at the woman speaking.

“Hello, everyone,” the lady began. “My name is Martha, and I’d like to welcome you to Surviving. For those of you who are new here, Surviving is a group we sponsor here at the First Congregational Church so that we can help each other in times of need. We all go through some tough times in life, whether it’s due to the death of a loved one, or an illness in the family, times when we have to turn to each other, and to God, in order to survive.”

Carla kicked at the empty chair in front of her, bored.

“Shhh,” her friend Keisha scolded. “Pay attention, girl. They might teach you something. Lord knows you could use the help.”

Wasn’t nothing Carla was gonna learn about having HIV from this group.

Some fancy-dressed white chick stood up. “My name is Amy,” she said, “and I’m a recovering alcoholic.”

Carla rolled her eyes. Boozing wasn’t a problem, more like a way of life. Take a walk down on Main, she wanted to say, and you’ll see a bunch of drunk-ass homeboys with some real shit going on. At least this girl looked like she was ballin’ — decent clothes and real meat on her bones.

And what was the beef with this next chick? Depression, hell, what’s a pretty little white girl got to know about depression anyway? Try finding out your cheating old man gave you HIV, you got no place to go and nobody to give a damn if you got anything to eat. Not much good gonna come out of sitting on your knees crying to the Lord then. Carla knew.

Some old broad stood up next. “My name is Marge, and I… well…” Her voice trembled. A man sitting next to her patted her hand. “I … I can’t have kids.”

No kids, yeah that was real sad. Carla carved her initials into her desk with the butt of her nail file. At least the woman could adopt — plenty of crack babies on the streets.

“Goddamn,” she whispered to her friend, “ain’t there anybody here with real problems? Where’s all them people you were talking about, with cancer and brain disease and shit?”

Keisha just gave her a look.

Carla swung her head impatiently, looking at the man sitting next to her, the pamphlet in his fat fingers. Obesity and Heart Disease. Hell, stop stuffing your face then, you big fucking beach ball.

Some things the Lord gives you that you can’t rightfully handle but other things… Jesus, you just had to learn to look out for yourself.

“Thank you, Marge,” the group leader announced, “and God bless. We’re all praying for you.”

Carla shifted in irritation. These people were whacked, whatever the hell Keisha said; they weren’t really surviving. Surviving was being on that other level, just holding on, trying not to pop yourself off before death came and popped you. Surviving, for fuck’s sake, the only thing you can do when the world keeps heaping all of its shit on you till your back done broke and you curl up into a ball and let the pain take you home to the Lord. These people weren’t surviving at all — they didn’t even know what that meant.

These people were living.

Vanitha Sankaran  is presently writing a collection of vignettes, to be titled Ordinary Lives. Her recent work can be found online at Prose Ax, The Independent Mind, Orchard Press Mysteries, and The Paumanok Review. Her current print work will appear in upcoming issues of Mindprints, The Guild, and FUTURES. She is also an editor at the new e-zine flashquake.