The solar eclipse had been in the headlines for weeks. The moon would pass directly between the Earth and sun, casting its shadow on the U.S. from coast to coast in a beautiful, natural phenomenon. I was excited to witness the first visible solar eclipse to occur my life, so I was disappointed when the day finally came and the sun hid behind the clouds for almost the entire morning. After glancing out the window for hours, I trudged back to my bed and flung my pair of eclipse shades onto my pillow. But a few gales knocked the clouds and suddenly it became bright outside. I eagerly scurried downstairs, my hand clutching the eclipse glasses.
The yellow light dimmed as I put on the glasses. It seemed that a corner of the sun had already been etched away. I walked into a shaded region and patiently waited for the Moon to shift. I have always been fond of exploring the sky and the mysterious objects hanging in its vastness. At night, the stars blink like scattered baby’s breath, yet each one is a ginormous object that has been burning for thousands of years.
My eyes were well protected, but after tilting my head for 10 minutes, my neck began to ache. I pushed the glasses to my forehead, looking around for a good place to lie down momentarily. As I surveyed my surroundings, a teenage boy suddenly walked toward me, holding a large colander in his hand.
"You can see it from here." He placed the colander under the sun and carefully adjusted the angle. Hundreds of crescent shapes were clearly projected onto the ground.
"How come?" I exclaimed, bending down to inspect the dancing crescents.
"My magic." He spared an omniscient smile before explaining the phenomena, "This is a lens act. The rays of sunlight go in all directions and they pass down a small hole. You get one ray of light for each point on the sun, and it corresponds to one point on the image."
I stood back up and took a closer look at the boy. He seemed to be about my age. Dark hair was tossed in a nonchalant manner, and his crisp white T-shirt outlined a lean frame.
"Do you want to try these?" I handed over my glasses. He thanked me with a smile, and gave me the utensil in return. We rotated the tools, and when the sun was cloaked by the clouds, we exchange a few words.
"I haven't seen you before. Did you just move in?"
"Yes, I live in that building on the first floor." I looked at the direction he was pointing. My eyebrows rose, and I bite my bottom lip. This apartment complex was built on sloped land. The unevenness was inconspicuous, until on rainy days, some areas would gather puddles easily. His apartment was in the lowest corner, where the two units on the first floor had been flooded twice in the past two years. The previous tenants had moved out, and nobody took them for a while.
Born in Mexico, Miguel spent most of his adolescence in a southern Texas farm, growing up with his uncle. When his mother finally became a permanent US resident this year, he decided to move into the big city with her. She wanted to run her own business, and he respected her entrepreneurship, so after years of saving money, they invested it all in a food truck.
"We are risk takers," he proclaimed. From his wide grin and sparkling eyes, I could tell he was proud of how he and his mother worked towards their aspirations.
After watching the eclipse, both of us headed back home. But before we parted ways, I couldn't help asking, "Why did your mom choose that apartment?"
"The leasing office said they could guarantee a large parking spot."
Seeing that he was grateful, I avoided mentioning my qualms. Certainly, a destructive storm wouldn’t plow our city three years in a row, I assured myself.
But I was wrong. Six days later, Hurricane Harvey made a harsh landing on Houston. I had never seen so much rain; the lawn in between the apartment buildings was practically a swimming pool. Power was out. The sky was as plain as a piece of wrinkled rag. After two days of ceaseless pattering, I gave up hope that Miguel’s apartment could survive. "Is he still there? How is he?" I wondered.
By the evening of the second day, the National Guard drove their high-water vehicles to pick up flood victims. The beam casted over the entire apartment complex like a lighthouse by the sea. A torrent of people waded across the water, children sitting on parents’ shoulders, dogs paddling beside their owners, people clutching their belongings as they climbed up the big cart. Miguel might be among the crowd, but at my far vantage point, I couldn’t possible discern him from the moving mass.
Two months later, I came across Miguel when he was hanging out with a friend at the cafeteria. A strand of hair had been dyed purple, I noted.
"Yes, my apartment got flooded, and my mother's food truck got totaled. We moved across the street. The bitch in the leasing office was damn tricky. She knew we just moved here and had nobody to ask around. She cheated my mom into taking that apartment."
"I’m so sorry. Your mom invested every penny in that food truck."
"That van is insured. They will pay us back. It's damn slow though. I don't understand why it would take such a long time. Did they grow up eating shit? But everything in the apartment is gone now. We didn’t buy insurance for that. The mattress, the table, the clothes…All gone. I’ve got to ask the fucking bitch to pay for it."
I felt ashamed of myself, for I had a chance to tell him the history of that apartment. I asked, "Do you need anything in particular now? Let me see what I can get for you."
"Nothing in particular. Jim got us lots of stuff."
Jim?! The news was thrown at me like a brick. Jim was two years older than me, and he quit school a long time ago. He used to live with his grandmother and two younger siblings in the same apartment complex. No one knew where his parents were. Sometimes his grandmother would talk about her concerns with my mom, but she had no influence on him at all.
"How did you get to know Jim?" Miguel just moved to Houston. How did Jim get in touch with him so quickly?
"I met with him in the stadium after the storm. His grandma and two fellows were sent there, too. You have no idea how cool he is. He knows everybody in the loop," Miguel replied with a yearning look, not paying any attention to my suspicion.
The bell rang, signaling the beginning of class. I said goodbye to Miguel and headed for my first period. As I was about to leave the cafeteria, I turned around. Miguel was still there chatting with a cluster of guys. The big skull printed on his gray T-shirt seemed to sneer at me as he was moving his arm. A guy next to him grimaced at me and muttered something to Miguel. I didn’t want to be judged by them, so I ducked my head and quickly walked out.
But my heart was burdened by worries, and I couldn’t pay attention to teachers in class. I should say something. Like how I should have said something to Miguel before Harvey. I couldn’t bear to see him be flooded away. So that evening, I decided to walk to Miguel’s new place.
As I got closer to the building, I realized that I didn’t know the exact address. But a loud noise came from inside one of the apartments. I knocked on that door, praying that I wouldn’t regret my recklessness. After a minute the door swung open. Thank God, it’s Miguel. He looked surprised, and a pungent smell immediately engulfed me.
"How did you find here?"
"Miguel, I know it's none of my business, but Jim is not a good person. Don't mess with him-"
"Oh, yeah, it’s that chick." I was interrupted by a rough voice. The guy standing by Miguel in the cafeteria flashed from behind. He smirked and shouted out, "Jim, you’re totally right! That chick did come here."
Laughter broke out in the room, and I felt my face get hot. Jim walked out slowly. "Hola, my angel girl! What brings you here today? Are you gonna give us a lecture about staying in school?"
My embarrassment swirled with my anger. Jim continued, "How about you come in and have fun with us? Don't be so serious all day long. I’ve known you since you were a baby, and I watched you grow into a dumb ass. Do you lock yourself up in the room and read all day long? What's that for? Why is it that school-loving bitches always get uglier over time?"
"What are you doing here?" I felt an inexplicable surge of courage. "I’m telling you Miguel is different from you. He is still under age!"
"You bitch. Do you want me to teach you what a grown-up is?" Jim clenched his teeth.
"Hold on bro, let her go. She's just a nerd." Miguel stretched out his hand before Jim and pushed me away. "Get back home," he said indifferently and shut the door in my face.
From then on, I only occasionally saw Miguel and his friends at school, and I generally kept my distance. The day before Thanksgiving, I passed by him in the registrar office. His hair was dyed sandy, and there were a couple of piercings on his face.
Some lonely nights I would stare up at the sky. Spotting a new star, I would feel a sense of exhilaration and tremendous longing. But the star always dimmed and soon it would melt back into the dark abyss.
After winter break, Miguel dropped out of school. I never did see him again.