UGLY • by Meera Jhala

Lakeisha’s Momma called her “Princess” every morning, as she braided Lakeisha’s hair into fat black pigtails. Lakeisha was very glad that Momma had no idea of the ogre her Princess faced on the school bus every day. Red lights were the worst, because whenever the bus’s rattles stopped, Evan Meyer’s stream of insults flooded Lakeisha’s ears. At least afternoons weren’t as bad as mornings, because the ugly yellow bus was taking her home to Momma, instead of away.

Lakeisha was just glad she didn’t have to put up with Evan in class. Evan was twelve too, but he was in sixth grade, while Lakeisha was in eighth. Evan’s homework looked like a fistful of deformed letters that he had flung at the page, and sometimes he still confused “b” and “d.” Somehow though, nobody ever picked on him for that.

This afternoon on the bus was like all the rest. Evan flashed the driver a perfect smile as he got on, ran his fingers through the perfect sandy waves of his hair, and took the seat in front of Lakeisha.

“Did you hear the joke about the fat girl?” he asked, craning his neck around the side of his fake-leather seat to watch Lakeisha’s face as he spoke. “When she played hopscotch, she labeled the squares ‘Texas, Pennsylvania, Alabama…’” When Lakeisha showed no emotion, Evan’s face twisted into a sneer. “Your squares must be continents. You’re a pig, ‘Keisha.”

A girl sitting across the aisle narrowed her eyes at the back of Evan’s head. Lakeisha tried to meet her eyes, hoping she had found a friend. But although not everyone liked ogres, few were interested in defending a stranger from one. The girl turned her head and stared hard out the window, suddenly fascinated by the road signs. “You’re ugly,” Evan said, his voice a little louder than before. “Ugly with nappy hair.”

Unzipping her backpack, Lakeisha pulled out a book and shoved her nose in, so Evan couldn’t see her lower lip quiver. If only she were slender and graceful, like the Colombian sisters who glided to their seats every morning like twin flamingos, reducing Evan to a drooling puppy. If only her parents would get back together. If only she were a real princess, and she could banish mean boys from her kingdom, or get on her winged pony and fly away. The stream of “if-onlies” made Lakeisha so miserable that it drowned Evan out until she finally got home.

Parent-teacher meetings were that night, and so when Momma came home from work, she and Lakeisha drove back to school. While Momma and her teacher talked, Lakeisha wandered the corridors. She loved the school after hours; with the fluorescent lights dimmed, even the sickly green cinder block hallways seemed serene. In the half-darkness, the lockers were castle halls, and Lakeisha really was a princess — never mind that princesses weren’t chubby and clumsy, with cocoa skin, or that “Lakeisha” wasn’t a princess name.

A classroom door slammed. The startled princess slid between two rows of lockers and became invisible; one never knew what monsters might come along. She heard footsteps, and then a deep, angry voice. “So you’re getting held back. After all that money I spent on private tutoring. Evan Meyer, you’re a retard — like your mom. You. Goddamn. Retard.” Hollow metal clanged and shuddered as Evan’s body slammed against the lockers. Through the reverberations, Lakeisha heard the thin, trembling line of Evan’s sobs. Terrified, she backed away, and fled headlong down the hall.

“Yo, pig. Oink oink.” When Evan greeted Lakeisha the next morning on the bus, the back of his head touched his seat, and he winced. “Dumb soccer ball hit me,” Evan said to nobody in particular, glowering at his feet.

“Your dad hit you,” Lakeisha thought. “You have to tell someone. Don’t be scared. It’s not your fault.” She opened her mouth, then paused, struggling to choose the right words. The diplomatic aspects of being a princess were challenging sometimes.

Evan interrupted. “Can’t you talk, retard?”

Lakeisha’s shoulders stiffened. Maybe ogres lived in the deep, dark forest for a reason. If you offered them a room in your castle, they would eat you — so sometimes all you could do was leave them where they were. Her mouth closed, and she swallowed the words that might have changed Evan’s life.

Momma always said the way to make a bully go away was to ignore him, so that is what Lakeisha did — better not to meddle in the affairs of ogres. A month later, Evan stopped riding the bus. When someone said that he had broken his leg playing soccer, Lakeisha shut her eyes for a moment — then stared out the window, and absorbed herself in the road signs passing by.

Meera Jhala remembers writing her first poem at age six. At some point, she got detoured from creative writing. She did a PhD, traveled the world, and became a science professor. One day she left the professorship — and started writing again. In addition to Every Day Fiction, her creative writing has appeared in Flashquake and a variety of other publications.

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 average 4.3 stars • 9 reader(s) rated this

Every Day Fiction

  • Joanne

    There is a lot of truth here.

  • What a great story. Very well told and with believable characters. Just goes to show that bullys can be victims too. Reading it brought a lump to my throat.
    Loved it.

  • I enjoyed this story, and particularly this description:

    “Evan’s homework looked like a fistful of deformed letters that he had flung at the page, and sometimes he still confused ‘b’ and ‘d.’ Somehow though, nobody ever picked on him for that.”

  • Such a gentle, truthful story. Beautifully written and moving.

  • Louise Michelle

    This is a very poignant story that realistically explored the hardships of childhood that, sadly, happen too frequently. Your ending was perfect because Lakeisha was, after all, a bullied child herself and reducing her tormentor to a fanciful ogre was quite understandable. You really captured the heart of the child.

  • Chris Hurley

    Almost like a double tragedy–loved it. I think we’ve all known–or been–a Lakeisha or Evan at one point in our lives…

  • Rose Gardener

    I sided with the heroine obviously, but the ogre was so well-written I could sympathise with him too. (To this day I confuse ‘b’ with ‘d’ and I couldn’t help but think the school were a bit to blame for not diagnosing his dyslexia. Poor Evan!) 5 stars for a well-written story that captured both sides of the situation.

  • Hello, everyone! This is my first publication in “Every Day Fiction,” although I’ve been a longtime lurker here. One of the nicest parts of this site is the reader feedback, and I’m grateful to all of you for your comments.

    My thought in writing this story was to portray the three sides of the bullying triangle: the bully, the victim, and the bystander. I also wanted to explore how a single person can go back and forth between those roles.

    Thanks again for reading my story, and I am glad if it made anyone think.

  • Well-written and poignant. Shows how every kid really needs to be loved.

  • fishlovesca

    Hello Meera, good story.

  • Rob

    Very well told. Full marks from me.

  • Complex characters, and some touching images. My favorite being the walk through the school after hours — brings back memories. I really liked that age never said anything to Evan in the end.

  • Nicely done.

  • Thank you, all. While writing and editing, I received some suggestions on this story that Lakeisha really should say something to Evan in the end. That might have worked too, but I opted to make her morally complex.

  • All the kudos are well-deserved. I would add that one thing that struck me was Lakeisha’s self-control. Not too many twelve-year old kids could take what she took and not respond. Methinks Lakeisha’s mother was also a strong woman.

    Four stars….

  • JenM

    That was sad, but realistic and perfect. Bullies are all insecure about themselves and sometimes, they’re bullied too. The that Lakeisha couldn’t bring herself to help Evan was sad, but it was also true. Most people have a hard time rushing to the defence of someone who torments them. Five stars.

  • Marisa Samuels

    Excellent story. I can remember being bullied — and usually by someone just like Evan — and I didn’t have Lakeisha’s maturity and would cry. Ah, that I had had the “don’t take any crap from people” attitude that took me decades to develop. Four stars.

  • Jamie Lee

    Beautiful, beautiful story. Tragic but so accurate. Keep writing, your work is lovely.

  • Paul Friesen

    I loved the full circle, and the returning theme of looking away (out the window)

  • joannab.

    great story, five stars, congratulations.

  • Thanks all, from Lakeisha and her writer. In writing, I very loosely drew on my own memories of riding the school bus–though I never did learn what (if anything) was going on in my “Evan’s” life that made him a bully.

    I’m grateful to EDF for having been willing to publish a story about kids, which departs a little from their usual fare. (I did intend the story for adults, though.)

  • tgor

    I just loved this. For so many reasons it moved me and rang so very, very true. When I was a kid I was bullied by another girl- I was bullied in general, verbally- for being chubby (if you can call it that) and artsy (you can definitely call it that) but she was the only one who took it to a physical level. The first time it happened, I did nothing, but managed to elude her grasp before I got very hurt (I was pretty tiny- and very fast). I ran near a teacher and stayed there. The second time I realized I wasn’t going to be so lucky, and elbowed her HARD as my tiny self could and then kicked a few times so she’d have no choice but to let me go. She fell over and I looked her in the eyes and said,”Don’t you touch me again.” In a voice that, in my seven-year-old mind sounded just like my dad when he was upset with me. To this day, I’ve no idea where that strength came from.
    I found out later through friends that she had a horrible home life and wished desperately that I had befriended her instead of trying to be miss tough girl. Oh well, lesson learned. Either way- this story choked me up. Now you know why!

  • Paul Miller

    Wow. I thought this was great. Fantastic job packing such an emotional punch in this short a story.

  • Carol folsom

    I loved this story, one of the best I have read on everyday fiction. Tender, sweet, sad. We can all relate.

  • very well done.

    4 banger

  • Nick

    Beautiful story, beautifully told. It got 5* from me. Tiny false note was the fluorescent lights being “dimmed” – in reality, they can’t be; they’re either on or off. (Sometimes I wish my inner pedant would just shut up, really.)

  • Hello all. Thanks for the comments.

    Nick…interesting note. In office buildings and schools, sometimes there are multiple fluorescent bulbs under one light cover. On evenings and weekends as an energy-saving measure, half of the bulbs are turned off. I actually wondered if I ought to attempt to say that, but since I was working under a word limit, I decided to just say “dimmed.” 🙂 I do appreciate the note from your inner pedant, though!

  • Gretchen Bassier

    Lovely story. Great job on capturing several different angles of a complex and heartbreaking issue. Some beautiful descriptions as well, especially the images of Evan’s jumbled homework and the school at night. As a reader, I wanted Lakeisha to help Evan, but understood completely why she didn’t. Nice work.

  • Simone

    Heartbreaking. 5 stars.

  • Pingback: Podcast EDF082: Ugly • by Meera Jhala • read by Folly Blaine | Every Day Fiction - The once a day flash fiction magazine.()

  • Ramakant

    Very touching! Sounds like a real-life situation! Keep it up!
    Of the 3 roles that you mentioned, you have done a great job in reflecting the insecurity of an ‘ugly’ girl. More meaningful if you could have elaborated the growth process of the bully-boy (for instance, his “retard mom” context). Third side of the triangle is perfectly fine! I understand the real limitation though (constraint of word-limit).
    As for the “b”s & “d”s of the story (for instance, a 12-year old reaching grade-8) – such things hardly matter!

  • Dear Ramakant,

    Happy New Year and thanks for such a thoughtful critique and taking the time to really analyze each of the characters. I genuinely appreciate the feedback!

    By the way, at least in the US it is not unusual to begin eighth grade as a 12 year old, and turn 13 early in the academic year. (I was 12 in eighth grade, as were many of my classmates.) It is also possible that Lakeisha skipped a grade.


  • S Conroy

    Wow! Another gem in the archives.
    I almost felt like telling Lakeisha not to feel bad. It’s not the job of the victim to understand the perpetrator, all the more so if she’s only a child. On the other hand the other child’s fate was horrific, so part of me wishes she had been a saint.
    Eitherways making a reader care for children who are part of a fictional story is a sign of a very well written story.

    • Meera Jhala

      Thanks! I appreciate the remarks, and I am very honored that you got sufficiently drawn into the story that you wanted to talk to Lakeisha. I hope to contribute to EDF again when they are open again.