Friday, January 13, 2017

The Student

            She grew up an only child and she never had many friends but that’s the way she liked it.
She screamed to be interesting but never quite was.  To keep herself busy, she made things up.  She wrote stories about princesses, animals, witches, billionaires.  She didn’t like to eat breakfast.  
“Aya, can I speak with you after class?” her teacher said one day in November.  It was raining out, a rarity in Southern California, and Aya could practically smell the blacktop.  Her classroom was right next to the playground and her desk right next to the window, which tempted her more often than not to gaze out and imagine something better than reading comprehension and multiplication tables, or whatever it was they were learning that week in the sixth grade. 
“Aya?” 
The annoyed repetition caused Aya to tear her dark eyes away from the window, but the rain pounding against the hopscotch setup was still in her vision as she answered, “Yes?”  Mrs. Abrams blinked at her, clearly about to scold her for not listening the first time, so Aya pressed on, “Yes,” with affirmation.  She nodded as if to convince Mrs. Abrams further.  Her head turned back to gaze out the window almost on its own.  A fourth-grader was twirling around with his arms spread wide, head back and tongue out to collect stray raindrops.  The smile on his face was the biggest she’d seen in a long time.  It caused her plump, plum-colored lips to turn up with delight as she watched him, watched him, spinning round and round until his teacher ran out with an angry, beet-red face and yanked him back inside. 
Aya turned back to face the board and feign listening to the lecture Mrs. Abrams was giving.  She wasn’t worried about being asked to stay after class because frankly, she’d already forgotten about it. 
Minutes passed laboriously while Mrs. Abrams went over the reading of The Odyssey, a Greek requirement we’ve all had to suffer through for some unknown reason.  Aya spent this time staring down at the pattern of the fake wood of her desk.  She fixated on a large, dark brown streak, imagining it to be the bank of a pond. 
“Aya,” Mrs. Abrams scolded, pursing her lips and staring at her student with her arms crossed over her large bosom. 
Aya’s head jerked up, vaguely aware that the bell had rang a few minutes ago and the class was just about empty.  “Yes.”
Mrs. Abrams sighed a long, exhausted sigh.  “It’d be helpful if you came to my desk,” she said loudly, exaggerating how distant Aya was from the front of the room.
Aya fought the urge to roll her eyes as she stood, shoving her books into her backpack and slinging it over her shoulder.  She approached the desk tentatively, suddenly the slightest bit concerned about the point of this meeting.  She stopped directly in front of where Mrs. Abrams was seated, staring at her expectantly.
Mrs. Abrams cleared her throat.  “We need to discuss your behavior in class lately.”
“My…behavior?” Aya said with a blank expression.  She was extremely aware of the texture of her backpack strap, rough and patterned against her right fingers lazily hanging on.
“You have not been performing to the best of your abilities,” Mrs. Abrams quipped, straightening out a few sheets of paper as she spoke. 
“Performing?” Aya repeated slowly.  This made her think of a prize ballerina or an NFL quarterback, or perhaps a hamster in an experiment.  She didn’t like the taste of the word in her mouth.
Flustered, Mrs. Abrams continued, “You have seemed very removed from the lectures.  You’ve gotten D’s on your last two tests and it’s becoming a concern.  I don’t want to have to call your parents in for a meeting.”
This got the reaction Mrs. Abrams was looking for; nothing scares a sixth grader much like the threat to call his/her parents in.  Aya’s eyes, encircled by a constant, hereditary darkness, threatened to pop as her lips simultaneously disappeared into her face, giving her a striking resemblance to a raccoon.  “Oh, Mrs. Abrams, no, please.  I’ll do better.  I’m sorry, I’ve just been feeling so distracted lately.”  Her voice began to tremble, “But…please,” she pleaded.  “I’m really sorry.” 
Mrs. Abrams’ harsh expression softened as she realized there were tears forming in young Aya’s eyes; she could never be tough on her students for long before she started to feel an overwhelming sense of guilt for it.  “Oh…Aya, it’s okay.  Just promise me you’re going to do better.”
Aya’s head bent over and she sat down on the desk behind her, letting her hands fall into her lap.  While Mrs. Abrams couldn’t see her face, she could hear her breathing quicken, see a slight trembling in her jaw.  Aya’s shoulders began to heave up and down as she sobbed, leaving Mrs. Abrams to feel like a complete asshole.  The words of her husband last night echoed in her head, “You let things bottle up and then blow them out of proportion!  You’re nothing but a bitch!”  Was this what she had done with Aya?  Yes, she had noticed a decline in Aya’s interest for months now, and yet she had given her no warning.  Was it fair to ask her to stay after class and then attack her like this?  Poor Aya must have been stressing the entire period thinking about what the meeting was going to be about.  This was a disgusting thing to do to a child’s mind.
“Aya,” Mrs. Abrams said, slowly rising from her desk and coming out from behind it to approach her student.  She sidled up next to her gently, reaching out a hand to touch Aya’s shoulder.  It was then that Aya looked up and directly at Mrs. Abrams with dry eyes and a malicious smile.  Mrs. Abrams stared at her, uncomprehending.  Aya laughed. 
“Wow.  You actually think I give a shit if you call my parents?”
“I…what…oh—” Mrs. Abrams stammered, unable to organize her thoughts quickly enough.  She felt sweat prickling at the inside of her palms and she yanked her hand away from Aya’s shoulder, taking an unconscious step back.
“I…what…huh,” Aya mocked, twisting her face into a cruel mockery of Mrs. Abrams’ gaping mouth.  “You dumb bitch,” she howled, throwing her head back to cackle.  Her hands clapped together drunkenly, delighted by the situation.  “Call whoever you want!  Do anything you want!  It doesn’t fucking matter!  I’m going to be a famous rapper soon anyway.  You think I need to do well in pre-algebra for fuck’s sake?  Ha!” she spat, practically foaming at the mouth.  Her eyes were dancing, her entire body came to life.
“Aya, you can’t—I—”

“Okay, well, thanks for the talk, Mrs. Abrams,” Aya said, face suddenly solemn as she bent to pick up her backpack.  “You’re right, I need to focus more.  I will do better from this day forward.  I hope you have a nice day.”  Aya gave Mrs. Abrams a wan smile and half-floated, half-skipped out of the room, gazing at the ceiling as she did so, leaving Mrs. Abrams leaning against the desk and clutching her desk, wondering if she had imagined the entire thing.

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