"There's a difference between being nice and being good," Juno's
mother would always tell her. "People who are nice aren't necessarily good,
and vice versa."
Juno knew this was true. For example Mrs. Buan across the street, who
always used to offer her ripe plums from her garden tree when she was
smaller. Washed in a small sink on the outside of the house, still warm
from the sun. Juno always thought Mrs. Buan's plums tasted better then the
ones they got at the store. One day Juno saw Mrs. Buan spraying her trees
with poison to keep the humming birds away, clearing small carcasses from
the roots of her beloved tree.
Juno's mother didn't like Mrs. Buan, didn't like most of their
neighbors and would never let Juno go ask for garlic when they were out,
would send her all the way to the store to get some. Juno's mother's name
was Susan, but when she was young she had changed it to Adosinda, which
meant strength in some language or other, the result was that most people
called her Cindy, except her special friends who called her Ado. She didn't
have many of those. She was weird.
Juno, on the other hand, wasn't.
She was interesting, she had a funny name and sometimes dressed
differently than you'd expect her to, but she wasn't weird. She was cool.
If you ever asked most people to describe Juno they would say she was
"awesome, a great girl, a really cool person". She had thousands of
friends, and a circle of especially "cool" people grouped around her. These
"cool" people were a bunch of kids who all looked alright, sounded alright
and were usually nice, good people. Juno liked most of them and was kind to
all of them. She listened, gave advice, was hardly ever mean or snobbish
without reason. Although she was known as a girl who spoke her mind and was
rather blunt, she was usually pretty damn nice about it. When she worked at
She had but one weakness.
It's name was Natalie Treowe a.k.a Beach Ball, Porky, 80 Days, The
Blob. and many other imaginative names Juno came up with for her. And they
usually never failed to get a laugh - except on special occasions when Juno
went completely overboard. Only a few people laughed when she took all
Natalie's money and used it to buy fifty six gumballs, with which she
stuffed Natalie's bag instead. Most people thought it was theft, but no one
said it. No one could quite understand Juno's relationship with Natalie,
because Natalie was always following Juno around, silently, her whole being
bouncing jiggily as she tried to keep up with Juno's long legged pace. It
took excruciating pains to get rid of her, which was why most people's
sympathy was very much underlined with annoyance. Why people tended to call
her Nataleave! Why Juno was forgiven her wretched evil.
People talked about it in wonder, Juno who was such a nice girl, who
was always so kind and funny, why she would choose someone as weak and
powerless as Natalie Treowe open which to vent her - what was it? Anger?
Nobody confronted her about it, nobody said a word.
Was it because they were afraid? Afraid she'd turn that wrath on them?
Surely not, she was always so sweet to them. Would never try and hurt them.
And still, it was a nagging mystery at the back of all their minds, as
they watched Natalie offer Juno her change at the cafeteria, as Juno took
it and laughed at what a sucker this Lard Ball was, would turn to Natalie
and say, "You know you'll always be my favorite Sperm Whale, now somebody
help me push her back! Help me save Willie people! Push her back into the
water!" and with that Juno would push Natalie hard, so that she lost her
balance and went - flailing madly with blubbery arms - crashing into a
bunch of jocks behind her, who were all knocked down by her weight.
The entire cafeteria roared with laughter. Natalie righted her glasses
and laughed with them, far too loudly, showing her shiny metal clad teeth.
A boy named Munsif Qadhi watched from the edges of Juno's group. He
was tall and dark and good-looking in a very quiet way. That day after
school he followed Natalie instead of heading with the others to the park.
Munsif didn't know exactly why he did this, or why he made sure
nobody, including Natalie, noticed what he was doing. He followed Natalie
from very far away, and even found himself crouching behind a clump of
bushes when Natalie stopped to buy an ice-cream cone and a can of Pringles
from a little hole-in-the-wall junk food shop. Munsif watched as Natalie
managed her cumbersome load, cone held perilously in one hand, potato chips
safe beneath the left armpit, her free hand busy straightening its owner's
glasses. Natalie made her way over to a bench close to the clump of bushes
where Munsif sat, having a mental argument with himself.
What am I doing?! Munsif yelled inside his own mind. If anyone from
school sees me talking to her, I'm dead. But Munsif couldn't help feeling
that he had to speak to Natalie, ask her what it was that made her stick to
Juno like glue. He listened to her slurping, and tried to make up his mind.
He could either crawl on his hands and knees to that dumpster over there,
and take off, or he could confront Natalie. He wasn't even quite sure what
he wanted to ask her, he just sort of wanted to know who she was. He
glanced back at the dumpster.
Munsif Qadhi was not the kind of boy to crouch behind a bush, or crawl
on his hands and knees to the safety of a dumpster. He did not follow
people. He was sub editor of the school newspaper, though he was only a
Sophomore, and captain of the debate team. He was often noted for his calm
and logical attacks, his mature and advanced vocabulary. He never would
have noticed someone like Natalie Treowe, if it weren't for Juno. People
like Natalie Treowe generally didn't want to be noticed. Then why follow
someone who's sure to spotlight you?
He'd made up his mind. Munsif stood up.
Natalie gave a surprised squeak and nearly dropped her cone. Munsif
could see terror in the blue eyes behind her glasses.
"Munsif!" Natalie cried. She knew all the people of Juno's group by
name. She quickly recovered herself. "Wh-what were you. what were you doing
behind that bush?"
Munsif refused to be embarrassed, he stepped out from behind the bush
and started slowly towards her. There was no turning back now. He might
even have to sit next to her. For some strange reason the idea sent shivers
down his spine. He had a lightening quick confrontation in his mind. Why
was it that the thought of merely being near this girl made him feel greasy
and infected? Natalie was very ugly, that was true, she was also very
stupid and socially inept, but she had no disease he could catch. She was
not contagious. Munsif found that much of his disgust was aimed towards
"I want to talk to you," He said, and stood before her.
Natalie seemed to be trying to decide whether to stand up or remain
sitting. Munsif had always been one of the least scary ones, never shouted
out anything, even if he laughed at the others' jokes. Still, Munsif was
tall and a good student. Natalie giggled nervously, "Whata you wanna talk
about?" she asked.
She watched as his eyes changed, became confused and annoyed. Natalie
thought it was because something she had done. Would he be mean to her now?
Would he laugh at her?
Munsif knew that he couldn't get what he wanted by being condescending
and stiff. Natalie had a light coating of ice cream around her lips and
chin, and the thought of sitting down next to her. Munsif went rigid again
with disgust in himself. He knew what it was like to be ostracized. A dark
boy in a white neighborhood knew all too well. Natalie was no different
than anyone else. You can't catch un-popularity. he told himself. But he
didn't believe it.
With an iron will he forced himself to sit down on the bench beside
her, albeit as far away as he could. "I want to talk to you about Juno." He
Natalie swallowed her new mouthful of ice cream and said, "You gotta
crush on her?"
"No," Munsif glared at her, then stopped when he saw the frightened
look on her face. "No," he said more gently, "that's not it."
"Then what is it?"
He took a deep breath, "Why do you follow her around? All she ever is
is mean to you. Why do you stick around and take it?" the words almost
tumbled over themselves on the way out of his mouth. The willow tree that
hung over them swayed slowly, making the kind of noises and casting the
shadows which usually accompanied a park bench and a pretty girl. Munsif
felt doubly miserable and uncomfortable when he glanced at his partner.
Natalie downed the last bit of her ice cream and placed the soggy cone on
the bench between them, where it proceeded to spread a strawberry flavored
puddle slowly but surely. "I like her." She said.
"But all she ever does is insult you!" Munsif cried, trying
unsuccessfully to keep his voice level.
Natalie laughed, a nasal sound, "Yeah she's a biatch, isn't she?"
"Do you mean bitch?"
Natalie blushed. "Yeah."
"Then why do you like her?"
Natalie popped open the can of potato chips, and stuffed her mouth
again, rubbing the grease and salt on her pantleg. "She talks to me."
Munsif stared, "You like her because she talks to you? You mean 'cause
she pays attention to you? You mean, if she ignored you, like everybody
else, you'd leave her- uh, not like her anymore?"
Natalie shrugged, "Yeah, I guess. Sometimes she's nice to me, when
Munsif was taken aback, "Whata you mean? When are you guys alone?"
"Our moms are best friends, sometimes they come over to our house, or
we go over there. Then she's nice to me, and we watch TV together."
"You visit each other's houses?!" Munsif couldn't believe it, he felt
a bitter and incredulous smile tugging at his lips.
"Yeah, around once a week. Our moms were like sisters in college, or
"And you've never told anyone this before?"
"Yeah, she swared me not to."
"She swore you."
"How come you told me, then?" Munsif absently stared down at the thin
thread of pink ice cream that was making its way sluggishly towards the
grass from the puddle on the bench. Out of the corner of his eye he saw
Natalie shrug, "I'm mad at her today. You won't tell anyone will you?"
Munsif stood up, and brushed his hair back with one hand. Natalie felt
a shiver run down her spine, and a small ray of hope that glistened in the
back of her mind. Munsif Qadhi turned to her and a sad grimace crossed his
face. He held out his hand to her, "Thank you." He said. Natalie stared up
at him with watery and disbelieving eyes. She took his dark hand in her
pudgy white one and giggled, "Whata ya thanking me for?"
Munsif smiled, turned and walked away, absently rubbing his hand on
A few days later, Juno was sitting with her friends out on the grass.
She was letting Stacy Gardenheart braid her hair in small and thin braids,
though she hated it when people handled her hair. They were sharing a large
bottle of coke, and brownies someone's mother had made. One of the new boys
was lying with his head on her lap reading The Picture of Dorian Gray. He'd
only very lately made his way into the center circle of her group. She
liked him a lot, even though she'd laughed when Doria had said he looked
exotic. His name was Munsif Qadhi.
She was running her fingers through his hair absently, and watching
his eyes move as he read. Stacy got up, "I gotta pee, I drank way too much
of this goop."
"I'll come with you," Sandy said, "Yeah, me too." Aretha said, "Me
three." Lisa chirped. "You coming Juno?"
Ray Liano laughed, "That's it! If one goes, they all gotta go!"
"I'll stay here." Juno said, and motioned for Ray to sit behind her,
so she could lean against him. He complied, and the two of them watched the
four girls walk off towards the school, swaying and laughing. Munsif didn't
look up from the book balanced on his chest.
"You know they used that book in the trial against him." Juno said.
Munsif looked up at her, "What?"
"Oscar Wilde, they used that book to prove he was gay and stuff."
"Yeah, well, he's being pretty blunt about it."
"I wonder if it's possible to create art without pouring your soul
into it. Good art, I mean." Juno began unbraiding her hair distractedly.
"Yes, just the way you can live without pouring your soul into it."
Munsif Qadhi said.
Ray laughed, "How can you live without a soul?" he said. But Juno
stared down at Munsif thoughtfully. "What do you mean?"
"You can kill it. Or you can just neglect it, so that it dies on its
own." He said, laying the book face down on his stomach, absorbing himself
completely in the conversation. "Remember Faust?"
"That's different. That's giving your soul up for something."
"It's exactly the same, selling your soul is the same as letting it
die. Nobody would let their soul die if they didn't get something out of
Juno thought about it for a while, "You're wrong. Somebody could let
their soul die by accident, you know, without noticing."
"Then they didn't deserve one in the first place." Munsif re-entered
his book and nineteenth century England.
Ray laughed again, it seemed to Juno that was all he ever did, she
could feel his stomach bouncing against her back.
Juno replayed their conversation in her mind all day. Every time she
felt strangely worse.
That evening Adosinda told Juno that Janet Treowe and her daughter
would be coming over for dinner. Juno groaned and scoured the TV guide to
plan the evening. When they were done with the soy cutlets and wild rice,
Adosinda and Janet moved to the kitchen for a cup of coffee. Juno and
Natalie found their places on the couch, and settled down to watch reruns
"Juno," Natalie said, her face turned away from the screen towards
Juno, her glasses flickering like lightening in the darkening living room.
"Juno, I think I'm in love."
Juno sighed and turned to her adopted cousin, pressing the MUTE button
on the television. "Who is it?" She asked.
Natalie blushed and turned away, "I can't tell you." She said.
"Yes you can." Juno cajoled, pressing Natalie's knee gently.
"I think he likes me, too."
"Who is he?"
"He came to talk to me a couple days ago. Almost followed me home and
everything. I don't know what to do, I don't know how to act. He's so
"What's his name, Natalie?"
"That Arab boy, Munsif. He came and talked to me and was so nice. I
think he really likes me, Juno, what should I do?"
"I'll be right back."
It was cold outside, but Juno didn't care. She went down the steps too
fast, and nearly twisted her ankle. She limped across the street and sat
down on the sidewalk. It was getting very dark now, and everything was
blue. Juno felt her heart hammering in her chest, and tried to lean back
and calm herself. Her hand rested on something small and soft. She turned
and saw the small body of a humming bird, a male, his bottle green plumage
making him almost invisible in the blue night.
Very suddenly tears welled up in Juno's eyes and a loud sob wrenched
itself from her throat. She clutched the dead bird in her hand, felt the
small delicate bones crunch beneath her fingers. Then she stood up and
limped towards where she knew the tree stood. A small burgundy globe glowed
at her through the blue and cold. She plucked it easily from the branch and
bit down decisively.