It is the summer before kindergarten. There is a vacation playground program at the neighborhood school. My mother lets me go with my older brothers after lunch. They take too long to eat but if I tell them to hurry they eat slower, so I wait outside to jump and twirl instead of stare and sigh. As soon as they come outside I run to get there before someone else takes my doll.
She was in a crib with other dolls. They are all naked and hard rubber with curls carved in their heads. They are identical except for color. Three are white and one is deep dark brown and she is mine. Her name is Nancy.
My dolls at home are clean with clothes handmade by my grandmother. Each outfit comes with a matching sweater and cap she crochets. One has brown hair like mine and I comb it every night before we go to bed. Her eyes have real lashes and shut when we lie down. But I stare at shadows on the ceiling and think of Nancy... she lays watching moon shadows wondering where I am.
A new girl comes to the play house and wants my doll. I point to the crib. “There’s more dolls in there.”
“I want that one.”
She stomps off to talk to the woman with glasses and hair like my mother's.
“Sharon, this is Roxinne. Be nice and let her play with the doll.”
I hug Nancy against my chest.
“It’s not fair. I had her first.” The woman stands over me, hands on hips and frowns. I hold Nancy behind my back and go to the crib. “She can have this one.” I offer the best of the other three.
The woman leans close to my face. She smells like my grandmother but doesn’t smile. “Why don’t you play with this one and give this little girl that other one?”
The sick feeling comes over me like when my mother is mad at me for something, but I don't know why.
My neighbor, Linda, comes over. She is a year older and I never argue with her because I want her to like me. She protects me in the neighborhood from the older boys and we pretend to be sisters.
"Give her the doll."
Tears start. What is wrong with everyone? I hold Nancy tighter knowing something bad is about to happen.
Linda says in a loud whisper, "That girl is colored, and that doll is colored, so she should get it." She gives me a hard look. "Why do you want it anyway?"
I loosen my grip and the woman takes Nancy and gives her to Roxinne.
Roxinne doesn’t talk, hold or feed her. She lays her on the floor as she plays and watches me watch her. An older boy with matching brown skin comes to the door. “Roxie! Time to go!” She buries Nancy beneath the white dolls and runs after him.
I dig her out and whisper. “I’m sorry.”
I still run to the play house every day. But if Roxinne shows up, I let Nancy go, with promises to make it up to her later.
For Christmas I get a rubber baby doll with carved curls on her head. I call her Nancy, and pretend she is brown.
Roxinne and I are both in kindergarten but she goes in the morning and I go in the afternoon. Our classes do not see each other until the end of the year picnic. There are games, hot dogs and the class races. The crowd forms on either side of a large grassy area. Earlier I saw the principal and some fathers checking it over. They were looking for dog poop and rabbit holes. My brothers told me a kindgartener broke his leg last year and it had to be chopped off. They said the one-legged boy was at the picnic, but I never found him.
The kindergarten girls race first. I look over the line and put myself in the middle. Roxinne and another girl are the only ones with brown skin. Roxinne was in the morning class so I don’t know how fast she is. I am the fastest runner in the afternoon because my father was a track star. We have our own Olympics at home and I race my brothers. They win, but once I came close. Today I just want to beat Roxinne.
The principal yells “ON YOUR MARK, GET SET, GO” and I am gone before he said."GO", so we all come back. Roxinne is close enough I hear her call me stupid. Then another girl does it and the crowd laughs as we line up again. This time we obey the signal and I run hard, eyes fixed on the finish line, and hit the rope. “TIE” The principal holds up my white arm and a brown one. “The Winners”. Her name is Vickie and she becomes my best friend.
She doesn’t like Roxinne either.