Shame on Me| July 5, 2022
When Kaila spoke, everyone listened. When Kaila smiled, everyone noticed
was a week into camp when Kaila finally smiled at me.
It wasn’t easy being one of the only out-of-town kids in an in-town camp with a huge campus and four bunks per grade. Coming from a small camp where everyone knew each other to a huge camp where I met a new face every day made me feel about as significant as the ant that crawled across my bed. I chose a bed in the corner of the bunkhouse, where I tried to sink into the wall and observe everyone, while remaining unobserved myself. What made it even harder was that making friends wasn’t easy for me, like it was for Rina, my older sister.
It was easy to see the dynamics of my bunk and my bunkmates. During rest hour the same five kids sat around shmoozing, and another few kids sat on the windowsills with their shoes off and their loud voices about to shatter the very windows themselves. The rest sort of floated around from group to group.
Then there was Kaila. And Bina and Dassy. Or was it Dina and Bassy?
The three of them sat in a corner of one of the co-bunks in a little circle. It was obvious that outsiders weren’t welcome. Individually, they were nice girls, but when they were together in their cluster, everyone gave them a wide berth. Still, the others vied for their attention, especially Kaila’s. When she spoke, everyone listened. When she smiled, everyone noticed.
And here she was, smiling and making her way toward me. My brain scrambled for something to say, but she was already talking, and I only caught the last few words. “…You’re in one of my co-bunks.”
My eyebrows shot up in feigned surprise. “I am?”
Kaila nodded. “Sure. I would consider walking with you back from the dining room but Bina, Dassy, and I have been doing it together since forever.” She cast them a look. “They’re cousins, did you know?”
I had not known, but before I could make that clear, Kaila moved on. “They’re leaving supper early tonight for some kind of optional game.” She made a face, then brightened. “Why don’t we walk back to the bunkhouse together?”
Walk? With Kaila? I tried to play it cool. “Hey, maybe. You sure?”
“I love good company,” she said brightly. “See you later!”
Supper was over and all the little clusters around the tables in the dining room dispersed. I sat in my regular spot, but instead of sinking in and pondering my lack of friends, I sat up straighter, eyeing Kaila on the other side of the room and feeling a shiver of joy. Finally! A friend!
Kaila and I left the building together and walked out into the warm summer air. I could see us in my mind’s eye, walking together, enjoying the slight breeze, our friendship deepening as the month passed. Of course, Bina and Dassy would be with us too. We would become the super close foursome — the kind of friendship I’d always longed for.
My dreams were interrupted by the voice of a girl I recognized from Kaila’s bunk. The next thing I knew she sidled up beside us, and after casting me an apologetic glance, Kaila proceeded to chat with her the whole walk back. Well, if I thought this walk would be bonding time, I was wrong.
Still, it was nothing to sneeze at. Rina was out on the porch of her bunkhouse when we approached, watching me wave goodbye to Kaila as I entered my bunkhouse. Rina and I were three years apart, looked alike, got the same grades, and yet a week into camp, Rina was already strutting around with no less than ten girls, at all times.
“Who was that?” Rina asked, looking incredulous.
To retain that shiver of joy I’d felt, I turned to see Kaila from her view. With her straight back, confident flair, and easy way of chatting, Kaila exuded the Popular Girl image. Not the sort of friend Rina could expect for me.
“A new friend,” I said snootily, and walked past her into my bunkhouse. Rina’s incredulity would stop right here. Popular Rina couldn’t believe baby sister Baila was making new friends!
I looked out eagerly for Kaila the next day at breakfast. There she was with Bina and Dassy, but her back was to me. She didn’t look up. Throughout the day I kept turning around to catch her eye, and I was awarded with a wink at one point during arts and crafts. But that was all. When supper ended that day, the threesome walked back together with nary a glance at me.
I walked back to the bunkhouse alone. My thoughts were a confused jumble.
By the time I was convinced I’d made the whole thing up, she came looking for me. It was a few days later, one early Sunday morning. I was still in bed, enjoying the last few minutes of sleep, but Kaila’s voice jolted me upwards.
“You heard there’s a special surprise activity today, right?” My answer didn’t matter, because Kaila went right on. “It’s supposed to be massive. Can you believe Bina and Dassy have kitchen duty today? Want to come with me to check things out? What time do you want to go? Five minutes, yeah?”
It was almost said in one breath. I confirmed eagerly and wildly flung open my closet. What was going on in camp today? I hadn’t heard about anything special. No matter — I had to look just right. I debated between a set and one of my go-to comfortable dresses. The set was cuter, I decided.
By the time I was dressed and ready, with my frizz ironed down, I realized it was way past five minutes. Kaila still hadn’t come back to pick me up.
I waited on the porch until I spotted Rina running towards me, disappointment in her eyes.
“Is this about Kaila?” Somehow, I figured it was.
“Oh, Baila! I just saw Kaila by the basketball court and she told me to tell you that Bina didn’t have kitchen duty in the end so she just went to check things out with her…”
I couldn’t move.
Rina was still standing there. “She canceled on you?”
My heart rate must have slowed to about 30 beats a minute. I stood there, shocked, all dressed up and ready to go and yet… so easily had I been discarded when Bina had been available. I nodded slowly.
“Shame on her,” Rina said furiously.
Rina’s fury should have comforted me, but instead it only made me angrier. I stomped into the bunkhouse, threw myself onto my bed, and wondered what on earth had happened.
I don’t know much about what happened that Sunday, or if in fact there ended up being some kind of special activity, but I do know that I moped around most of the day and then went to bed that night with visions of Kaila and Bina laughing and having fun without me. I cried myself to sleep.
The next day, I kept sneaking glances at Kaila while at the same time telling myself not to. I wanted her to want to be friends with me. But days passed and she kept up the same polite smiles, that was all. Until the next week, when she finally met me outside the bunkhouse one evening after night activity.
“I’m sooo bored,” she said. “And so in the mood of ice cream. Why don’t we go to the canteen together? I think they have late hours tonight.”
My first thought was, Where are Bina and Dassy? Not available? But hey — my evening was free, and I badly wanted the company. So we made up a time and I got ready.
I was halfway out the door when I saw Rina running toward me. Again. The bad feeling came right away. I almost didn’t want to hear what she had to say.
“Message from Kaila. She totally forgot but she had made up to meet with someone else tonight…”
My throat closed in on me, and it took effort to stand on my own two feet.
“Don’t tell me,” Rina said, “that she canceled on you again?”
I didn’t answer. My bed called to me, my grand escape from the world, and I slammed the bunk door behind me for good measure. It didn’t take long for Rina’s knock to sound.
“Go away,” I sobbed.
But my command went unheeded, and Rina invited herself in.
“Shame on you,” she announced.
Huh? I sat up and blinked angrily through my tears. “Shame on me? Kaila’s the one who keeps canceling on me!”
“But you’re the one who keeps going back to her.” Rina shook her head, sighed, and sat down on my bed. “Ever heard of ‘Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me?’ Look, little sis, I know you want to make new friends, but you can’t fall for the ones who will take advantage of you. Kaila sounds like she’s using you. Only asking you to join her when it’s convenient for her and cancelling on you when it’s not. And if she did that twice, she’ll certainly do it more times.”
I sniffed. “She only makes plans with me when her two other friends aren’t available.”
Rina put her hands on my shoulders and rotated me so that I faced her. “You have four parallel bunks. You must have at least 50 other girls your age. So give them a chance and forget Kaila. I’m telling you, she’s not worth it.”
I swallowed hard, and Rina’s gaze softened. Her hold on my shoulders relaxed, and she hugged me. “Hey, you are my only little sister — I’ve got to look out for you. I want you to move on toward better friends.”
Rina’s words were the harsh reality, and it took courage to enter the dining room the next day and see Kaila still huddled in her spot with Bina and Dassy, never once looking out for me. But it took more courage to look around, notice other girls, and see them not as random girls, but as potential friends.
(Originally featured in Teen Pages, Issue 918)
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