Strength in Numbers

September 20, 2016

Story By: Pinky Hossain

Sara likes numbers. She was always great with them. At seven-years-old, she could add big numbers like 38473298 and 9383. She could multiply by 12s way earlier than her nine-year-old counterparts and she could tell you that the remainder of 78143 ÷ 68 is 11 in a matter of seconds without even using pen and paper. Ask Sara to recite the quadratic formula for you. She’ll know it off the top of her head and, no, she doesn’t need the silly song to remember it by. Sometimes she counts in multiples of 6 until the number gets too big for her to keep track of. 6 is Sara’s favorite number because she loves the way it looks, loves the way it curves on the “C” part, loves the way it loops around on the bottom “o” part. Numbers are beautiful.

Sara feels like a number. She is 12, her birthday is on 3/16, she has 32 teeth, her ethnic composition is ½ Black and ½ Chinese. Nobody at school knows that though. At school she is simply the number 1 in most of her classes. Sara is the 1 Black person, the 1 minority, the 1 with the “bright future.” Numbers help Sara make sense of her day. At 8:00am she wakes up and her morning ritual begins with the mirror. She counts the 3 birthmarks under her bottom lip, marks her height as 4 feet and 11 inches on the edge of the bathroom door, and makes a mental note of the 91.3 on the scale.

After getting dressed, Sara eats exactly 250 calories worth of breakfast in the form of 10 grapes and 24 almonds. By 10:00am Sara is in U.S. History. She tries to pay attention to the Boston Tea Party, but her mind turns to numbers instead. She plugs random digits into the quadratic formula and works through it in her head. If x is 87, b is 98, a is 33, what is c? The same thing happens in her other classes that are more liberal artsy. At 11am and 12pm, she thinks about how she might try the new fries that the cafeteria is offering, but then decides against it because she’d go over her 1000 calorie budget. At 1pm, she eats ½ of a cookie (84 calories) and 24 carrot sticks (100 calories), which brings her to 434 calories.

Sara gets groggy around this time, but she gets through the rest of the day by wishing for 4pm to roll around. She is always in her element at 4pm. When the bell rings during her last class, she bolts out the door and heads towards the large track outside the middle school. She likes to be the first one in the locker room so she can change into her running shorts and loose t-shirt privately. Often times Sara changes in the adjoining bathroom stalls if she heard voices in the locker room before she entered. The coach blew his whistle for warm up and Sara ran. With every thump of her shoe on the hard concrete, Sara counts in multiples of six. Thump. 6. Thump. 12.  Thump. 18. Five minutes into her run she reaches 3600. Sweat drips down her forehead and she thinks of it as the numbers slipping out of her body. If she maintains a constant heart rate at 125 beats per minute (she pressed two fingers to her throat as she was counting her 6’s), she burns about 7 calories a minute and if she runs for 60 minutes she will burn 438 calories and that means without dinner she will be at -4 calories. Numbers make her beautiful.

After practice, she goes home and takes a nap for 1 hour and 30 minutes. The time is 6:30 when she wakes up and she reads through 55 pages of her U.S. History textbook. Sara’s mother calls her down for dinner at 7:30pm and she’s right on time for her daily fight. I’m not hungry today. No, you have to eat; this isn’t healthy. You’re going to get sick. Mom, I’m fine; I just feel really full that’s all. Eventually, Sara and her mother compromise and Sara does not eat what her mother cooks (a delicious looking meal of baked ziti and grilled vegetables), but chooses to instead eat an apple and the side of grilled vegetables. This intake adds up to around 170-200 calories, putting her total calorie consumption at 166-196. Not bad. Sara then finishes the rest of her homework by 9:30pm. She gets ready for bed by brushing her teeth - ten brushes on each side of her mouth. Afterwards, Sara pumps lotion into her hands twice and moisturizes her skin. She has such dry skin. She blames her father who has skin like a lizard.

Before she turns out the light in her room, Sara stares into Teen Vogue. In the first 10 pages that she flips through, she notices there are 6 women that have much lighter complexions than Sara and 2 women that look more like Sara (they have her hair, eyes, lips), but still don’t have quite the same dark tone. At this point in her life Sara doesn’t know yet how to feel about that. All Sara knows is that she feels ugly and the woman on page 10 looks like an angel. There is a close-up of her pink face, her plump lips slightly parted. Her hair is a straight, strawberry blonde. Sara’s mother will not let her straighten her hair until she is in high school. Another woman on page 14 has perfectly angled eyebrows. She is free of blemish. She is thin, very thin. Sara will be that thin one day. Of course Sara will, she made 166-196 calories today - better than her 300 yesterday. Sara closes the magazine and pulls the blanket close to her chin. Once more, she counts in multiples of 6 until she slowly dozes off.

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