Prickly Pear aka Opuntia, Genus Cactaceae. The fruit of the cactus plant is green when raw, bright red when ripe.
You see her, a prickly pear standing alone by the lockers, headphones on, covered in thorns, fighting a silent war with the world.
Nobody talks to her. But you want to ask her why she flinches when people try to approach her, or why she hides behind her thick, brown hair and her headphones. You want to reach out to her, hold her hand and say something that’ll soothe those angry half-moon marks on her arms that her nails have made.
The thorns on the prickly pear are called glochids, hair-like splinters which can be painful if they stick to the skin. Always wear gloves while handling the fruit.
Others probably tried to pluck her thorns out, but you’re not scared of them, you want her to know you’ll embrace her, glochids and all.
And then one magical day, maybe the day you defend your essay in Lit class or the day you stand up to a bully, she’ll walk up to you to tell you how cool it was that you did that.
She’ll smile back at you the following day. You’ll find out that she also likes to hide under the bleachers at PE and read.
When she agrees to walk home with you, you’ll ask her if she’ll sit on the playground slide with you for some time. A comfortable silence envelops you both like a warm blanket on a winter night. Side by side, shoulders barely touching, you watch the clouds morphing into unicorns and dragons.
When she’s leaving, you’ll call out to her and say “It’s not your fault, it’s going to be okay.”
In the days that follow, her hair will start turning red. Her natural color, she’ll say.
And then maybe some day, she’ll take off her jacket of thorns and show you her wounds.
You will too.
But until then, you wait by the lockers and watch her from afar.