**For more information on the inspiration of this piece please visit the prompt**
My back hurts as I lay on the tiny plastic blue cot. Goosebumps appear on my body. I shiver and my teeth begin to chatter. The tile floor is cold, and the thin blanket is not enough to protect my long frame from the icy January night. A cough starts, a deep cough that commences in the bottom of my chest and never ends. I stare at the egg white ceiling and try to dream.
My mom has been waiting with me for twelve hours. Waiting to be seen for the cough that has lasted for weeks. That stops me in my tracks and causes me to fold with pain. As my eyes move around the room, I see people in pain. Young girls with scared faces clutching screaming babies. Old men clutching handkerchiefs decorated with blood. I close my eyes and let my mind wander.
As the sun dips low into the sky, we emerge with my diagnosis. Acute bronchitis. Stay warm, said the harried doctor. I prepare myself to return home. Well, it is not really my house. More like the place where I lay my head at night. An uncomfortable place with tiny cots and even tinier space. A house brimming with twenty bodies, twenty loved ones that take up space but provide no heat.
My stomach starts to grumble. I open the refrigerator, hopes high but expectations low. It is empty. Who ate my food? Someone cops to it, shrugging it off as if there was a ready supply of the stuff. I see the bundle of cucumbers lying on the table. I bite into one and exhale. I imagine it as something different.
Counting down the days until the bags come. Our eyes brighten and we giggle with glee. Hamburgers tonight. Juicy burgers topped with lettuce and tomatoes and onions and pickles. A side of crispy, pan-fried potatoes seasoned with Morton salt. They say when it rains it pours. Heaven for the moment. The crunch of the fry makes the cucumber feel like a distant memory. We sleep well that night—well at least better.
It is loud. Laughter and shouts fill the halls. The pitter patter of socked feet. Two hours. The amount of sleep I will get before my AP History class. My hands are rough from hours of scrubbing. Twenty plates stained with ketchup and lettuce bits. Pans blackened with grease and bits of fries. We all have to pitch in.
Pitching in. The theme of my life. I love it. I understand it. You learn that early when you grow up a cliché. Poor. The daughter of a single mother. It means survival.
I am surrounded by struggle. We live hand-to-mouth. The lights are off—we light candles. At least there is someplace to lay our heads. Who has time to think about much else?
I flip open my history textbook. Strain to read it by the thin blue light of my cellphone. Everyone is counting on me. I cannot disappoint. My future—our future—awaits.