The Jamalbra Days are Over

The Jamalbra Days are Over
            Only one person knows the fate of Jamalbra the duck. Jamalbra’s fragile one-inch frame made her an easy target for thieves and bullies. She was beautiful—her delicate buttercup plumage protected her tiny orange feet and perfectly sculpted bill. She wore a white bonnet with a blue ribbon tucked under her miniature chin, a testament to her innocence. She had once lived in the Plymouth Colony Gift Shop, an orphan among molded mouse families and pocket-sized Pilgrims. She waited eagerly for a family of her own, and I gave her that opportunity—a country duck in a big city with only me to protect her. 

           The light bounced off of her beaming bill as the cashier put the adoption papers in order. Placed haphazardly in a brown paper bag as if she were unworthy of the white boxes reserved for only the 17th-century inspired jewelry, Jamalbra felt lucky to leave the land of her oppressors for the promise of the American dream that awaited her in New York. We boarded the bus together and selected a seat in the back next to Anna, my lanky best friend who, with her brilliant blonde hair and awkward frame, resembled big bird—surely a distant relative of Jamalbra. As I nestled into the window seat, I gently pulled Jamalbra out of her paltry packaging and set her on the tray table in a miniature makeshift cotton nest. Anna inspected the sleeping ceramic bird, and I watched as her eyes lingered just a little too long. In the depths of Anna’s brown eyes I saw desire—not for a duck like Jamalbra nor for a play-date with Jamalbra, but for Jamalbra herself. I gave Anna the classic this-is-my-duck-do-not-go-there stare and stored Jamalbra in my pocket for the remainder of the ride home. 

            The subsequent five blissful days Jamalbra and I spent together were perhaps the best in my young memory. I transplanted her cotton crib to my bedside table and began and ended each of those five days with her.   Monday, she eagerly absorbed Johnny Tremain and earth science, tucked away in the safety of the hidden pocket in my carnation-colored L.L.Bean backpack. Tuesday, I introduced her to Jackson Hole’s onion rings, which, I realized as I wiped her clean of their grease, proved to be too large for her slight duck frame. By Wednesday, she had graduated to riding the remote-control sailboats at the Central Park duck pond. Thursday, she played cheerleader to the Spenceb-team basketball game, and, despite her enthusiastic support, we lost the game 48-0, bringing our record to a whopping 1-18. Friday should have been the most exciting yet, my mother had scheduled Jamalbra and me for a play-date at Anna’s house. 
            As was our custom, Anna and I stopped at Jamba Juice on our way to her house for a Power Size Mango-A-Go-Go. I ordered Jamalbra a sixteen ounce Strawberry Surf Rider, but after remembering that acid could not be good for her glossy paint, I decided to drink that one too. Anna’s mother greeted us at the door, and upon seeing Jamalbra in my hand, demanded why Anna had brought home the Pressed Felt Pilgrim Hat instead of a fetching feathered figurine. After that, Anna did not want to play Sims, dance to Stacey’s Mom, give each other makeovers, or dress up in her new authentic Pilgrim outfit. She only wanted to play with Jamalbra—she put me to work making Jamalbra a house out of an old Mary Janes’ shoe box that had clearly been sitting in her closet since second grade. Nobody wore Mary Janes anymore. She was master and I her slave. Anna lounged in her orange blowup ‘N Sync chair drinking deeply from her goblet of Jamba Juice. She fanned herself with the “authentic” Chinese fan we had bought in Chinatown as I worked tirelessly to build Jamalbra’s palace, a palace I though Jamalbra and I would share. However, unbeknownst to me, my hard work would benefit only my master: there would be no Exodus from Anna’s house for Jamalbra. We resurrected Anna’s old pink Barbie convertible and somehow Jamalbra and the car ended up under Anna’s bed. Anna valiantly offered to rescue the two, and sure enough, after about five minutes of circumnavigating boxes of Halloween costumes and sports jerseys, she emerged victorious. She looked at Jamalbra again with that same desirous hungry stare she had given her five days before on the bus home from Plymouth Plantation. I held out my hand waiting for her to drop the duck into my expectant palm. Instead, she moved her hand up to her mouth and popped Jamalbra right in. 
            Outraged, I stared mouth agape as Anna slowly rotated Jamalbra from left to right drenching her in saliva. As she opened her mouth, the silver of her braces glinted and I noticed a leftover piece of mango wedged in between her two front brackets. I shuddered in disgust and the small cut on her bottom lip oozed red blood as her lips parted to free Jamalbra. I fought to hold back tears; how could I ever touch Jamalbra again? Just that morning, Ms. Falk, the short and quirky health teacher with the over-bleached hair, had warned us against the evils of Mono. A propaganda campaign against saliva ensued: refuting such slogans as “don’t kiss and tell,” Ms. Falk discouraged all kissing, encouraging us to keep our spit to ourselves. That meant no sharing drinks, no double-dipping, and definitely no touching miniature ceramic ducks that your best friend had just licked. She smiled and said, “I never lose.” 
I left Anna’s house that day alone with only the memories Jamalbra and I had shared together. As for Anna, we never spoke again. Our only exchanges became curt hellos in school hallways as we shuffled by each other and awkward interactions in the frozen-yogurt line of the Spence cafeteria. I gave up playing Oregon Trail, abandoning any dreams I had of setting the school-wide high-score on the library computers because I knew that I would see her there. In the next few weeks, Anna came to resemble big bird even more than she had before as she developed a taste for yellow sweaters and orange Keds. There were times when I thought I saw Jamalbra’s small, bonneted head peaking out of Anna’s skirt pocket, or a tiny orange webbed foot extending from her pencil case.           
            To this day, I know not the fate of Jamalbra. Did she shatter as she fell off of the shelf where Anna surely kept her? Had Marley, Anna’s large yellow Labrador, eaten her? Did Anna dispose of her with the other memories of our childhood together? Or is she still there in Anna’s room, a silent reminder of a friendship lost? I sometimes convince myself that I miss Anna. How is it, I ask myself, that a childhood fetish for miniature models ended a friendship? Unfortunately, every time I see Anna, the short hair on her arms and legs turns to yellow plumage as her mouth morphs into an orange bill and her words become quacks. It is then that I realize it is not Anna I miss, but Jamalbra the duck. 

Stephanie Tomasson
Age 17, Grade 12,
Trinity School
Gold Key Gold Medal

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