Two men on the street yell at each other, they talk in thunders, mom holds my hand as we walk, she turns around to see them, then turns my way and says I should never yell like that, you should be kind and quiet. I nod and don’t dare talk further. Mom drugging me around, so early in the morning, that’s kind of odd and mom looks sad and doesn’t talk much, so I stay quiet.
There’s seven billion of us on earth. We learned that in school two days ago. But grandma passed last night, so we must be seven billion minus one. I tell Dean on our way to school. He shrugs, like that’s not important. Dean is my best friend, he’s supposed to care. I won’t talk to him, but he pats my back, once we enter the classroom. It’s still seven billion, he says, I asked my brother.
Teacher comes into class, she speaks in thunders, you on the second row, she says, she’s pointing at me, be quiet. The truth is lingering, a halo above my head, when I ask her to check the world population again, but teacher gets furious, she thinks I’m joking, and she says, it’s seven billion, her eyes open wide, when I talk back and say, you’re wrong.
Mom comes into my room, she speaks in thunders, she tells me I’m the firstborn, I’m grown now, I should be taking care of my brother, he’s only four, she says, which means I won’t attend grandma’s funeral service. I don’t talk back, I will only make mom angrier, or sadder, I only ask her about the world population and she thinks for a while, and says, it’s seven billion, so I have to remind her grandma’s gone and mom wipes a tear from her eye and makes a gesture like what I said was funny, but I don’t find it funny, so I hit the door with my feast and leave the room running, while mom yells at me to come back.
Dad comes into the kitchen, he speaks in thunders, zero tolerance next time, he says. Next comes zero, I think, but I don’t say it, I don’t talk back, or dad will be furious, then I won’t be the kid in the second row, I won’t be the firstborn either, I will become zero, zero is close to nothing, and I feel like I’m fading, I disappear, I’m lost, a never ending peek-a-boo, only I’m gone forever, some people don’t count, obviously that’s basic knowledge, so I leave the house running, and head to Dean’s.
Dean’s mom storms into his room, she talks in thunders, or numbers, first why is he here? she asks Dean, second, why aren’t you studying? She takes Dean’s hand and drags him away from me, yelling at him, but doesn’t say a word to me, as if I’m not there, as if I have already disappeared behind an invisible wall, or like I don’t count, like grandma didn’t count.
This time I talk back, I’m number seven billion, I say, that’s the biggest number I know of, and she stares at me like I’m crazy, she’s angrier now, but I don’t care, I’m here, I refuse to vanish, if that’s what it takes to escape grandma’s fate, I’ll make people angry, or furious. She then fixes her hair, smiles, and tells me, you’re not a number sweetie, and I turn her way, shrug, and say, you see me now.
Mileva Anastasiadou is a neurologist, from Athens, Greece. A Pushcart, Best of the Net, and Best Small Fictions nominated writer, her work can be found in many journals, such as Litro, Jellyfish Review, Queen Mob’s Tea House, Moon Park Review, Okay Donkey, Kanstellation, Open Pen, and others.