It should have been a typical day. Maya glanced at her boyfriend, Matt, as they crossed the street. He was talking again. She was catching enough of his monologue to know that he was bragging about getting wasted at the keg party for which she had feigned illness to avoid. On a typical day that would have irritated her but today she couldn’t bring herself to care. She could barely focus on him at all. Today The Music was too distracting.
So she nodded and smiled encouragingly hoping that would be enough of a response to placate him. Matt’s parents had taken away his car for a month (again) as punishment for being caught cutting class (again) so today they were walking home, something Maya was infinitely grateful for. She didn’t want to be confined, not now when the wind was cool and exhilarating. Maya swatted at her curls impatiently as they whipped across her face. It was April 20th but the weather reminded her of fall. She could taste the salt of the ocean in the air. She liked that. It somehow gelled with The Music.
“I only had one beer bong. It was the ganja that got me wasted. Dave brought the good stuff! He made brownies and everything. I ate like five.” Matt went on, his perfectly tanned face stretching into a proud grin.
“Mmm-hmm.” Maya offered another closed mouth smile. She loved Santa Cruz when the weather was like this. When the gray clouds promised a storm and the evergreens danced compliantly in the wind. Sometimes she wondered if the trees could hear The Music. But that was stupid. Trees didn’t have that kind of awareness. Still, it would be comforting if at least one other thing on earth could hear what she heard.
She had tried to talk to her parents about it ages ago. Her mother had misunderstood. She thought the music Maya heard was of her own creation, like she was some kind of musical prodigy. Within days of bringing her mother into her confidence Maya found herself being dragged to piano lessons. After countless hours spent sitting on a bench running her fingers over a bunch of ivory keys Maya had become a competent musician but not an inspired one and she hadn’t composed anything. What her mother failed to grasp was that what Maya heard couldn’t be expressed through a single instrument. It couldn’t even be expressed through a 70-piece orchestra. As far as Maya could tell the only one who had ever come marginally close to replicating the sound was Mozart but even he hadn’t been able to do it full justice. But had he heard it? Maybe…or maybe not.
Maya’s father had misunderstood too. He had thought she was crazy. It was after her parents had a knock-down-drag-out fight over whether or not Maya should be medicated that Maya decided to retract her story. Her parents didn’t need to know about everything she heard. No one did.
And normally The Music didn’t serve as a distraction at all. If anything it motivated her, fueled her passions and even helped her focus. When she thought about it she had to admit that The Music might be the very reason why she DIDN’T need Ritilan.
“You know that old Prince song, Purple Rain?”
Maya blinked and tried to bring her attention back to her companion. At least he had changed the subject. “I’ve heard it. My mom has it on her iPod.”
“Okay, so Jared came to the party with this super cool bong. It was like, really intricate. He calls it Purple Rain ‘cause, you know, it’s like five different shades of purple but it’s small, you know, like Prince. And it turns out Jared made the bong himself!”
“Oh.” She had made a mistake. She never should have stopped ignoring him.
“Dude, and I thought Jared was dumb! I was way off about him!”
“You can be dumb and still build a bong.” She inhaled another lungful of sea air. How was she ever going to manage living away from the ocean?
“You think?” Matt asked.
“Yes, I feel fairly confident about this one.”
“Huh.” A car drove by with its radio blaring and Matt sent it a quick covetous glance. “I don’t know. I think there’s some skill involved in building something like that. I’m going to have to visit you when you go to Harvard.”
“You don’t have to,” she said a bit to quickly. This relationship was never destined to last past Grad Night. He was a great surfing buddy and she enjoyed training with him (Matt was the only other triathlete in their senior class) but that was about it. She had only agreed to go out with him because every other girl in the school had wanted to. Between his athletic abilities, his Zac Effronesque good looks and his hand-me-down Porsche Matt was considered to be the most datable guy at her high school. Saying yes when he asked you to go out with him was the normal thing to do and Maya had learned that it was beneficial to occasionally do the normal thing if only for appearances sake.
She turned her attention to the houses they were walking by. A small aqua-blue Victorian next to a salmon colored Spanish styled home next to a light brown cottage next to a boxy 1960’s style house with dark wood paneling. It was amazing that anything could be considered “normal” in this town that embraced the banana slug as a school mascot and “Keep Santa Cruz Weird,” as a motto. But Maya knew that underneath it all she was a lot weirder than most and not in a way that her classmates would consider cool. She wouldn’t be normal in Harvard either but it would be easier to hide her eccentricities once she was one student out of 25,000 rather than one of a 1000. She was grateful to have been raised in Santa Cruz but it was beginning to feel a little claustrophobic. Although today…why did everything feel like it was expanding? Like there were possibilities around every corner…or at least a few corners. Why did The Music sound different? It was more intimate and anticipatory.
It was kind of exciting.
“No, I want to visit you,” Matt persisted. “I’ll come with you to a few of the college parties just to prove my point. How much do you want to bet that the Harvard students know how to build epic bongs?”
“Oh I’m sure they do,” Maya deadpanned. “They even ask you about it on the college application. On the bottom of page three it asks Do you have mad skills as a bong maker. It’s considered a preferred extra-curricular activity.”
Matt laughed appreciatively. “If that was true they never would have accepted you. But trust me, you might not smoke now but you will by the end of your freshman year in college. Everybody smokes in college.”
Maya shrugged. Everybody smoked in High school too. She wasn’t a prude and didn’t like to judge but…but there were so many interesting things going on! She wanted to be able to focus on it all. She didn’t want her senses dulled and she had no desire to drown out the naturally intoxicating turbulence of the world around her…not even when things were really horrible, like they had been when Elena had been killed.
“Maybe I’m wrong, though,” Matt said. “Even if Harvard did want their students to be doped up they still would of taken you.” The wind ruffled his hair making him look tantalizingly mischievous. Maya couldn’t help think that his looks should have been given to someone else, someone who had the personality to live up to them. They slowed their step and then stopped at the edge of her front yard. Matt moved a little closer to her and grinned. “You know why Harvard really wants you.”
She flashed him a quick look of warning but as usual he wasn’t picking up the hint. “When they admit you they can check off every box on their diversity goal sheet.”
Maya’s face became as smooth as glass as she sucked the anger inside of her…to a place where she could use it and allow it to seep out slowly instead of burst out in a violent explosion. “You’re saying I got in because I’m multiracial?” Her voice was as steady as a concrete foundation.
“Well duh! You’re more than multiracial anyway. You’re like…like seriously multiracial! You’re mom’s side’s Jewish AND Persian AND Russian and like, your dad’s dad is from the friggin’ Congo and your dad’s mom is from Korea!”
“Right, well I was close.”
“Yes, kind of like how California is close to Venezuela. I don’t suppose you’ve noticed that I’ve been taking almost all AP classes.”
“Yeah,” he laughed sympathetically. “You’re a serious nerd but you’re a seriously sweet nerd. I like that”
She could hear the blood rush to her ears as she fought for control. She had worked so hard to get where she was. The classes had been nothing compared to everything else. The community service work the leadership positions, the millions of little things she had done to ensure her path. For years now she had known that she had to be bigger than herself. She couldn’t settle for pursuing her own dreams and goals. She had to pursue those of her sister, Elena, as well. Her grandmother had once told her that a child is a parent’s gift to the world and to destroy that kind of gift was unforgivable. Elena had been destroyed but the impact she was going to have on the world would remain intact.
Maya was making that happen and her success had nothing to do with her ethnicity. To reduce it to that was a monstrous insult and for a moment she considered punching Matt. If she closed her eyes she could visualize it, hear the sound he would make when her knuckles hit his stomach. But he wasn’t worth the effort. He wasn’t even worth a sneer.
“So what do you say? Your mom’s not home from work and…well, can I come in?”
“Go home Matt.” She turned her back and went to the mailbox.
“Ah, come on! Don’t get in one of your moods.”
She ignored him and reached for the mailbox and then paused. Was the music getting louder? She yanked the mailbox open. Wedged inside was a large envelope. She pulled it out with a tug and realized that it actually wasn’t a large envelope, not exactly. It was a FAT envelope, the kind of envelope universities send you when you’ve been accepted. And this fat envelope was from…
A little cry escaped Maya’s lips as she struggled to steady her hands. It was addressed to her! Her name, her address and the return address…God, it couldn’t be a hoax, could it? No one was that cruel!
Actually she knew better than that. Still this felt real. Her hands were warmed by it almost as if it was emanating its own heat and The Music it was chaotic, and jubilant and…and….this had to be real!
She hadn’t heard Matt walk up behind her and now that he had spoken she still couldn’t look at him or anything other than what she was holding.
“Krisa University? Nobody gets into Krisa! It’s like friggin impossible! Remember Tim Singh who graduated two years ahead of us? He skipped two grades and got a 1600 on his SAT and even HE couldn’t get in!”
“But that kid in Calistoga did a year before that. It was in the news, remember?” She wasn’t really talking to Matt now or if she was it wasn’t intentional. She just needed to add her own voice to the moment…make it real.
“I got my rejection letter over a month ago!” Matt said. He stomped his foot against a dry leaf and it responded with a satisfactory crackle.
“You applied?” But she hadn’t really needed to ask. Despite Matt’s insistence that nobody ever got in everyone with half a brain…or perhaps in Matt’s case a quarter of a brain, applied. It's just that NOBODY expected to be accepted. Krisa’s selection process was utterly random. Sometimes they did take a school’s valedictorian but then there were stories of kids who had barely managed to graduate high school who had miraculously managed to score admission. Kids who hadn’t even bothered to take the SAT! And then there were those like Tim Singh, the perfect student who had been passed up. The guy had gotten into Oxford but he was passed up by this little sixty year old university that was spread out between two privately owned islands four hundred miles off the coast of Puerto Rico.
But those who were accepted…the kids who actually got their degrees from there…those kids didn’t end up making their livings as executive assistants or run-of-the-mill CPAs. Krisa graduates were leaders in the most literal sense of the word. They were presidents and dictators and miracle surgeons. They were the men and women who ran Wall Street and the scientists who redefined the heavens. There were Krisa graduates who had started some of the most compassionate and effective charities on earth and then there were the others…the ones who waged the most violent wars.
But no matter what they did they always led. They always changed the world.
And Krisa U had just sent Maya a fat envelope.
“Well now you’ve got to let me in!” Matt insisted. “I have to see what’s in there!”
“No.” She shook her head and for once she offered Matt a genuinely sympathetic smile. “I know you want to know but I really have to do this myself.”
“You said you were going to take me surfing early tomorrow morning, remember? I’ll tell you all about it then.”
“Matt,” Maya’s voice had dropped an octave. She wasn’t playing. “I’m opening this envelope by myself….alone. Go. Home.”
“You’re bitch, you know that?”
“Two minutes ago I was a seriously sweet nerd,” Maya shot back but she didn’t really mind the insult. People had called her worse and besides it didn’t matter. Nothing mattered now but the envelope. The excitement that she hadn’t been able to define before was now bubbling up inside her and impulsively she ruffled Matt’s already mussed hair before turning her back and running to her front door as she fumbled to pull her keys out of her book bag with her one free hand.
She could hear Matt calling out to her as she stepped inside and slammed the door impatiently.
She leaned her back against the door and exhaled. She let her book bag fall to the floor and out of the corner of her eye she could see her lipstick roll out and disappear under the console.
Maybe she shouldn’t open it. Maybe it wasn’t what she thought it was. She should savor the moment before exposing herself to a possibly devastating disappointment.
She ripped open the envelope.
Dear Maya Adeyemi ,
We are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted into Krisa University.
Maya’s knees gave out from underneath her and she sank to the floor. She had achieved the impossible.
And The Music was spectacular.
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