“Is it because you’re black?”
“Can I learn even though I’m part Mexican?”
“How do you do it?”
“I believe!” Kenya says and shakes her head so that the white and blue plastic beads at the end of her braids make noise.
“I’ll believe,” Maria says. There’s lots of things she believes in as hard as she can. Santa and Jesus and her little sister not being retarded.
“Then watch,” Kenya says. She raises her hands and claps them together twice. Suddenly there is a quarter in each of her hands, silvery-new.
“You could get rich.”
Kenya nods. “I give all the quarters to my Mom for laundry.”
The recess monitor blows the whistle, and they get in line and go back to the classroom. All day Maria thinks about magic and practices believing. She tries to make her teacher call on her every time she raises her hand. She tries to turn her pencil into a pen. At dinner that night, she believes the potatoes in her mouth are chicken and that the chicken is potatoes. It’s hard to tell if it works because her mouth tastes like both. Maybe it works a little. She dreams that night about snapping her fingers and controlling everything. Like being a grown-up, she thinks in the morning as her Mom makes her get up and eat sticky gloppy oatmeal before she catches the bus. Just like a grown-up, I’ll control everything.
Kenya has saved her a seat on the bus, and Maria plops down beside her.
“I’ve been practicing.”
Kenya nods her head. “It takes a lot of practice.”
“How long did it take you?”
“Forever!” Kenya claps her hands and makes two more quarters appear. At lunch she buys two chocolate milks with her quarters and gives one to Maria. It is sweet and thick and better than the wheat bread and yellow rubber-cheese sandwich her Mom packed for her.
They have a test in long division after lunch and Maria feels mad that Kenya can just get an ‘A’ with magic but she has to work hard. She knows how to do it but keeps forgetting to carry the ones and the twos and the only thing that matters to the teacher is getting the answer right. I believe I’ll get an A, Maria thinks as hard as she can. D into A, D into A!
“Can you do more magic?” Maria asks Kenya at recess.
“Will you show me?”
“Maybe tomorrow. I have to believe more first.” Kenya does a cartwheel, and her braids fly out in all directions. Maria tucks her hair behind her ears and does the same. They run to the bars and do pennydrops until recess is over.
Maria works on turning her white milk into chocolate milk at dinner. She works on believing her sister is learning how to talk instead of being stuck. She believes her room is painted pink with blue clouds instead of dingy white. She believes her Mom is not sad, that all her teddy bears are Barbies, and that she is five inches taller. Nothing happens.
The next day her mom lets her eat sugar cereal for breakfast and Maria knows it must be starting to work. She doesn’t tell Kenya, not yet. Her math test is handed back with a big fat D on it, but next to it is a plus.
I believe, Maria thinks.
Kenya is grumpy at lunch and won’t make quarters for chocolate milk. Maria talks to Sophie instead. Maria used to be jealous of Sophie—she has the best sticker collection and the coolest lavender overalls. But she’s also all the way white, and Maria believes, despite what Kenya says, that all the way white can never learn magic.
I believe, she practices all weekend. I believe I don’t have to do chores. I believe we have a car and will go to a picnic at the ocean. Nothing happens except she learns Kenya’s trick on Sunday. She claps her hands and there are two quarters.
Maria has an old chipped pink piggy, and she puts the quarters in it until it is full. She doesn’t give any to her Mom because she would only get mad and think she had stolen it, like the time she took the Big Wheel from the house down the street.
“I learned how to do the quarters magic,” Maria tells Kenya on the bus, then claps her hands and gives both quarters to Kenya. Her own pockets are already full.
Kenya frowns. “Big deal. Who showed you?”
“No one. I believed.”
“Don’t be a baby. Who showed you the trick?” Kenya takes the quarters Maria gave her and tucks them into her sleeves. She claps her hands twice and makes them appear.
“That’s not how I do it. I learned it for real,” Maria says.
But Maria turns and pretends not to hear because outside the grubby bus window, there is a pink sky with blue clouds that is prettier than anything she has ever seen.