I’ll never be able to last the whole two years, thought Suzanne, as she rested her head against the old seawall. She often came here when homesickness overwhelmed her, to dream of home and to look out over the blue water of the Gulf of Aegina.
Suddenly she heard a sound coming from the other side of the wall. Someone was crying. She stood up, and there on the other side of the wall was Katia, her arms hugging her knees. Suzanne had seen her every day in their class at the American school in Athens, Greece, but had never spoken to her.
“What’s the matter?” she asked.
Startled, the girl stood up and then recognized Suzanne. “I’m sorry you’ve seen me this way. I do not often cry,” she said, brushing away her tears.
“Please,” said Suzanne, “tell me what’s wrong. I won’t say anything about it if you don’t want me to.”
“It was the test today. I saw everyone writing and writing. My mind would not work. I am very stupid.” Katia began to cry again.
“Someone who speaks English as well as you is not stupid,” said Suzanne.
As the girls talked, Suzanne learned that Katia was from the island of Hydra and had never been away from home before. All the city girls seemed to be smarter and wealthier than the island people she had always known.
“My people are only fishermen,” Katia explained. “It was a sacrifice for them to send me here. I thought I could win the big scholarship and go to study in America, but now I know I never will.”
“Well, don’t give up so easily. You have lots more time to study,” Suzanne comforted.
“It will not help,” insisted Katia. “I have made a big mistake to come here.”
“I feel the same way,” said Suzanne. “I am lonely for my old home, and I think that the years my father will be working at the embassy in Greece will be very long.”
Before the girls parted, they agreed to help each other and Suzanne suggested that they study together. “Perhaps,” she said, “you will win the scholarship to America after all.”
The next afternoon the girls took their books and met again at the seawall that they laughingly named their crying wall. Before they left, Suzanne assured Katia, “You are every bit as smart as the rest of the class. No one is better than anyone else, and no one is worse. You just have to have more confidence in yourself and know that you can do it.”
“But I don’t know,” said Katia sadly.
Almost every day the girls studied together and one was seldom seen without the other. Katia soon was passing tests with high marks.
The day the tests for the scholarship were given, Suzanne waited for Katia outside the classroom. “How did you do?” she asked.
“I think I’ve done well,” Katia answered. The girls hugged each other in excitement. “But we must wait for the results until the Friday before the weekend you have promised to visit my family on Hydra.”
“How could I forget that!” Suzanne replied.
The day that the results of the tests came back was gray and cold. Suzanne looked all over for Katia and finally hurried to their crying wall. Sure enough, Katia was there, crying bitterly.
“Oh, Suzanne, I came in second, and second gets nothing. It was all for nothing!”
Suzanne tried to comfort her, but her own thoughts were as gray as the clouds above and the sea below. Maybe I was wrong to build up Katia’s hopes, she thought as she packed for her weekend with Katia’s family. The trip on the boat to Hydra was fun, and Katia became excited, telling Suzanne about what they were going to do.
On Hydra they went quickly to Katia’s house. It was a small, whitewashed building with a lemon tree in the courtyard. Although Katia’s mother and father spoke only Greek, they were able to let Suzanne know how welcome she was.
It didn’t take long to see the entire village and to visit the shops and cafes. Katia seemed to know everyone and they all nodded and smiled in greeting. Although Katia seemed happy to see her old friends, Suzanne could tell that she was still sad and worried about the scholarship. Late in the afternoon as Suzanne rested, she could hear Katia downstairs talking long and earnestly with her mother.
That evening the girls went for a walk. The stars, big and bright, were just beginning to dot the sky, and Suzanne had the feeling that Katia was as distant and silent as the heavens were. “Is something wrong?” she asked at last. “What are you thinking? Can I help?”
“I was just thinking that my mother is right,” Katia answered. “My place is here. I am needed to teach right here on my island when I graduate from the school in Athens. It is not necessary that I go away to school. And also I am thinking that the studying we did was not for nothing. I learned very much. But most of all I am thinking how glad I am to have you for a friend.”
“And I’m thinking,” said Suzanne, “that since the day I met you at the crying wall, time has just flown. I will be sorry to leave Greece. Maybe we need a new name for that wall.”
“I think we do,” answered Katia.
The girls were both silent for a few minutes. Then at almost the same time they said, “How about calling it the laughing wall?”