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Only a Chance

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Anita drew a city.

She had started, quite innocently, drawing the parking garage next to her home. Next she had drawn a tree, and then a whale, and she realised she needed to draw an ocean for it to swim in next. She drew the sky and the clouds, and a rainbow slide that would bridge them to earth.

And pretty soon people were noticing.

The apartment complex next to hers was very tall, and the residents looked down off their balconies to where she was kneeling on the roof, filling in the outline of a building with bright yellow chalk. They waved at her when she looked up to them. One person gave her a conspicuous thumbs-up. She only smiled up at them, or waved shyly, before turning away to resume her drawing.

Then somebody yelled something at her. She couldn’t quite make out what they were saying.

She turned to look up, and her eyes found a boy her age, standing on a balcony five floors above her.

That was how she met Superman.

He waited a moment before shouting down at her again. Repeating himself, most likely.

Anita tucked her chalk between her fingers and cupped her hands around her mouth. “I can’t hear what you’re saying,” she called up to him.

The boy fell silent. He stood there for a moment, with his arms crossed and a stubborn look on his face, before he went back inside.

Anita shrugged to herself and resumed her drawing.

A half an hour later, Superman climbed up the fire escape and met her on the roof.

“What are you drawing?” he asked her, with a small frown on his face.

Anita looked down at her hand. It was currently covered in green dust, from filling in the leaves. She could have just as easily said she was drawing a tree, but…

“I’m drawing the city,” Anita said, adjusting the tiara sitting on top of her head. “This city,” she specified.

Superman studied the picture, a stern look still stuck on his face.

Anita had finally decided to return to her drawing when he spoke up again.

“You drew the sun,” he said, pointing at the bright yellow circle in the top left. “It’s not sunny here,” he said, looking up at the sky. “It’s cloudy. And there isn’t a rainbow, like in your picture, either.”

So?!” snapped Anita, suddenly feeling defensive. She wished she could gather up her picture in her arms and march off somewhere else to work. But it was spread out in chalk, attached to the rooftop, so it wasn’t possible.

“So it’s supposed to be this city, right?” the boy said. He wasn’t Superman, even if he was wearing a blue jumper and red cape. So she didn’t need to answer to him.

“Yes,” Anita said shortly.

Superman did not go away, but his expression softened.

Anita continued to work and, slowly, her annoyance with him started to ebb away. It wasn’t so bad to have somebody watch you draw, so long as they weren’t scowling.

“Well, alright then,” Superman finally said. He placed his arms on his hips and lifted his chin up confidently. “It’s this city. But it seems like we still have a lot of work to do, then.”

==

Superman returned a couple hours later with his friends, Batman and Spiderman.

Spiderman laughed when he saw the picture. But, when Anita glared at him, he blushed, and she realised he was only nervous. She felt better, after that.

Batman was very quiet. Anita had seen him before. He often sat around at the park and looked enviously at the basketball players on the courts.

Anita thought he should just go ahead and ask to play. But, then again, he was very short, and all the best basketball players were very tall. She could understand how he might feel unprepared.

“We’re going to make this city like the picture!” Superman announced.

Spiderman laughed, looking between Anita and his two friends.

“How?” Batman asked solemnly.

“We’re superheroes, so we can definitely do it!” Superman insisted.

“What about her?” Batman said, nodding to Anita.

“She’s a superhero, too,” Superman said.

“She has a tiara,” Spiderman said, unsure. “Like a princess.”

“A princess is kind of like a superhero,” Superman said. “If you’re like Princess Leia.”

“Are you like Princess Leia?” Batman asked shyly.

Anita reached up to feel her tiara. She adjusted it in her hair, and didn’t remember her hand was full of chalk until she pulled it back down.

She wasn’t sure if she was like Princess Leia. She knew Princess Leia was from a movie called Star Wars, but she had never seen it.

“Yeah,” she told Batman.

Batman watched her a minute. Then he smiled and nodded.

“There you go,” Superman said. “She’s an honourary superhero. Now – how do we save the city?”

==

They started by picking up litter in the park.

Superman ran off to get some trash bags, and returned with gloves too.

“My mom said we could get sick touching the trash directly,” he said, in an annoyed voice as he passed around the gloves.

“Superman’s mom died on planet Krypton,” Spiderman said sceptically, as Anita nodded in agreement.

“No!” Superman protested. “She’s alive because I just saw her and she told us to wear gloves.”

Picking up litter was dull, but the path they were working on looked much nicer now that it was done.

Then Superman noticed an emergency situation. There was an exhausted-looking man talking on his cell phone walking a whole pack of dogs, and Superman and Spiderman generously offered to help.

“I think that’s his job,” Anita called out to them, but they didn’t hear her.

There was a pause as Anita shook her head and resumed picking up trash.

“That’s alright, isn’t it?” Batman said suddenly, shrugging as he picked up a candy wrapper. “Even if it is his job, he looked tired.”

“If you put it that way,” Anita said curiously.

They circled around the park, only picking up the biggest and most offensive pieces of litter, now that it was only the two of them. Eventually they made their way over to the fence, next to the basketball courts.

There was a couple playing over on the courts and, pretty soon, Batman had given up collecting litter and was watching them curiously.

“You should go ask them to play,” Anita said.

Batman blushed and shook his head.

“Hey!” Anita called over to the couple on the court. “Batman wants to play with you! Hey!”

The man on the court saw them and jogged over, holding the ball under one arm.

Anita shoved Batman over to the gap in the fence, so he could go play.

The man gave Batman the ball, and the woman showed him how to shoot it.

Batman tried several times, but he couldn’t seem to manage getting the ball through the hoop.

Every time he missed, he frowned over at Anita before running to go get the ball.

Eventually the man lifted Batman up onto his shoulders, and the woman handed him the ball.

Batman looked scared, but Anita nodded at him, so he steeled himself and…

Bam! He made the shot!

Batman smiled wide and pumped his fists in the air. The couple cheered for him. And Anita was really proud she could make that possible.

==

“What else can we do?” Superman asked.

They were back on Anita’s roof, looking at the chalk drawing she had worked hard on.

“We made the city cleaner, like in the picture… but I don’t know how were going to get a rainbow slide,” Spiderman said, shaking his head.

“Or a whale,” Anita agreed.

“I don’t think palm trees grow here,” Superman said slowly.

They looked at the picture unsurely.

Then Anita heard a croak.

They looked at each other questioningly.

“It was over there!” Spiderman said, rushing to the stairs.

They all looked around, but Anita found it first.

She bent down and cradled it in her hands.

“How did a toad get up here?” Superman asked.

“It shouldn’t be here,” Anita agreed. “We have to get it to water.”

“But the river is all the way over there,” Spiderman said, pointing wildly in all directions. “We’ll have to take the subway.”

==

The subway was crowded, but Anita and the others were good bodyguards. She held the toad gently, and they kept him safe as they asked around for directions. They scrounged around the underground to find enough change for their fare. Some people asked where their parents were and tried to cause trouble, but others helped them. One lady gave them five euros to help pay for their return tickets. Superman thanked her and, very heroically, promised they’d return the favour in her hour of need.

They walked, five minutes, from the station to the side of the river, and Batman had stuck close to Anita’s shoulder the whole time. He looked frightened, as the strangers passed them.

“The toad is more scared than you,” Anita reminded him. “That’s why you have to help.”

Batman nodded.

Anita deposited the toad on the riverbank, pushing it away with her fingers.

It croaked and toed the grass, before hopping away silently.

Anita smiled as she stood, and ran to the stairs to join the others.

But Spiderman was frowning, looking up at the sky.

“It’s going to rain,” he said.

They looked up at the grey sky.

Surprisingly, Batman was the one to break the silence.

“That’s okay,” he said. “Toads like the rain.”

==

The rain came the next day, and Anita ran up to the roof in her rain jacket.

Her picture was ruined completely.

The colours ran together and followed the water off the top of the roof, down the drains and down the rain gutters, onto the sidewalk far below in a sickly multi-coloured swirl.

Anita abruptly realised that the rain gutter was the rainbow slide she had drawn in the picture, and it upset her greatly, that she had had the foresight to draw it.

She went to hide in her room for the day.

The next day, though, there was a knock on the door.

“Anita – there’s a Hans here to see you,” her mother called, and Anita dragged herself up off the couch and over to the door.

It was Batman, only without his costume.

“Hello,” he said. And didn’t say anything further.

“What is it?” Anita asked, after a while.

“I’m sorry your picture got ruined,” he said seriously. “But we can still make the city look like that.”

“No, we can’t,” Anita retorted angrily. “If the picture isn’t on the roof, there’s no way I can remember what it looked like enough to make it real.”

Batman looked down at his feet.

“Also palm trees don’t grow here,” Anita said. “And we can’t get a whale.”

“Ansell and Eugen say we should play tomorrow, too.” Batman kicked his foot against the ground. “They told me to ask you to meet in front of the market. Will you come?”

And Anita didn’t want to, but she felt a little guilty. It wasn’t like Batman and the other heroes did anything wrong – only the rain.

“Alright,” she agreed, but Batman ran off, before she even finished.

==

Superman and Spiderman each brought a crowbar, and Batman brought a wheelbarrow full of tulips. They split into groups and began pulling up stones in the walkway.

Anita pulled up a stone, and Batman planted the tulip. They both smoothed out the soil, running the dirt all over each other’s hands.

They had planted five tulips before Batman spoke.

“When we’re doing things, all together like this… to me, the city looks as colourful as your picture,” he said. “Even if it’s not sunny.”

Anita smiled, and covered her mouth with her hand.

“So you’ve already been there – to the city in my picture?” she asks.

We’ve all been there before, right? Don’t you think so?