“That’s how many kids you’re inviting?” Anna’s mom asked, brushing the hair from her eyes and glancing at her daughter. They’d spent the better part of an hour comprising a list of children’s names from her fifth grade class to come to her party. But they still had one spot left to make it an even dozen.
“Yep, ten. But counting me, it’s eleven.”
“We’re paying for twelve at the pizza parlor. Are you sure you don’t want to invite anyone else?” Her mother thinks for a second, and when the light bulb goes off her finger shoots into the air. “I’ve got it. How about that girl Marti who was playing soccer with you that one day? Remember, the one who looks like she should be in seventh grade?”
“She’s supposed to be in eighth.” The anger brews in Anna’s cheeks and her teeth clench. “And she wasn’t playing soccer with me, she was kicking the ball away from me. She always does that because she’s a bully.”
Her mom gives her a squeeze and leans back examining her daughter. “Okay, you don’t need to have an even dozen. Maybe you’ll think of someone from church or from the playgroup. Hey, I know…”
Anna’s mouth twists up and her eyes roll toward the ceiling before she gives her blond shoulder-length hair a shake. “No one.”
“Well, you never can tell. Maybe you’ll surprise yourself and think of someone before the weekend.” With a pat on her backside, her mother says, “Let’s get you off to school. We’ve been so busy, I almost made you late.”
Throwing their jackets on, Anna snags her backpack and follows her mother into the garage, slamming the door behind her.
“Mommy, you’ll never guess what happened at school today!” Anna came barreling into the kitchen where her mother slouched over the computer at the table. A stack of envelopes to the side, made out with stamps on the corners. One lone invitation set apart from the others.
“What happened, my little munchkin?” She opens her arms and tugs her little girl up against her, planting a kiss on her forehead.
“I made a new friend today!”
“Really? Just like that?”
“Just like that.” Anna repeated. She set her backpack down on the floor and unzipped the opening, pulling out a picture she’d drawn and holding it up for her mother to take in. There were two little heads, one with yellow straight-lined hair and the other with brown loops for hair. The brown-headed one had big dark eyes contrasting with the blonde’s blue ones. Both of the faces had smiles and a big red heart hovered between their foreheads.
“Oh my goodness!” Her mother stretches her mouth and eyes wide open. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen such curly hair. Is this a kid in your class?”
“Yep!” Anna said with pride.
Her mother nods and adds, “Does your friend have a name?”
“Wow!” Her mother tilts her head, peering at her from the corner of her eye. “I’ve never heard of that name before. Is it a girl?”
“Yes, and she’s so smart.” Her eyes squint hard at her mother. “Doesn’t my picture look like a girl? That’s me.” She indicates the likeness with a jab of her finger and then turns the paper around to scrutinize it.
“I could tell that was you, but sometimes boys can have long hair.” She pulls the edge of the paper down, peeking over the top. “Oh, I didn’t see her eyelashes. Of course, now I can tell it’s a girl. I’m sorry.”
“That’s okay.” Her shoulders rise and fall as if preparing for a big announcement. “She sits next to me. And when Mrs. Coates was calling out our names to line up for lunch, she called Bana and then my name.” She giggles. “All the kids laughed at that, even Marti.”
“Why were the kids laughing?”
“Because Mrs. Coates said, ‘Bana, Anna,’ right after each other. That’s pretty funny, right? So we sort of knew right away we were meant to be friends.” The cozy assuredness on Anna’s face gleamed. “At first the other kids acted sort of weird around her, but I told them about all the great things I learned from her in one day. She’s very smart. I think she might be the president some day.”
Her mom laughs and strokes her daughter’s hair. Pressing her forehead against her daughter’s, she said, “Yeah, I think you’ve established you think she’s smart. Is that who you want to address your final invitation to?”
Anna’s head wobbled up and down like the bobble head in the front of her grandpa’s truck. “Yes, please.” She snatched the pen from the table and addressed the letter herself, writing slowly and methodically in ink and then reciting it aloud. “Bana.”
About a month later, Mrs. Coates had to leave the state to care for her sick mother. A substitute surprised Anna with a gruff introduction. She waited outside the classroom for the kids to enter, like Mrs. Coates always did, but she didn’t smile at all or speak. Her arms crossed in front of her, Anna thought she was copying the mean teachers from when her mom was a kid.
Anna sat tall in her chair and waited for Bana.
The bell rang and Bana wasn’t in her seat. But as soon as the substitute rubbed her name “Mrs. Evans” on the board, Bana popped through the door.
“Bana!” Anna called out, waving her arm in the air as if she hadn’t seen her for a week. “Hurry and come—“
“Excuse me,” the teacher interrupted saying. “The bell has rung. Class is in session, and all eyes should be on me.” Her glare shot out at Anna. “1-2-3, eyes on me. Have you heard that before?”
“1-2, eyes on you!” the class chimed in, and Anna sank into her chair. Bana slowly settled into her own seat. For a moment, Mrs. Evans smirked.
“Do you have an excuse for being tardy?” Mrs. Evans spit out the question.
“Yes, my dad had problems getting the car started this morning and—“
The teacher sighed heavily, exaggerating with slumped shoulders. “That isn’t what I meant,” she said, “Do you have a piece of paper from the office with a signed statement explaining why you’re interrupting the class?” The teacher’s corners of her mouth drooped even lower. “Even now you’re taking up twenty-two kids’ learning time by being tardy. Understand?”
“Mrs. Evans.” The teacher reminded her.
“My name is Mrs. Evans. When you address an adult, you should say her name. ‘Yes, Mrs. Evans’.”
A peculiar silence sucked all the positive energy from the classroom. Anna could only hear her heart beating. Not a kid moved.
“Yes, Mrs. Evans. I’ll get a note from the office.” Bana’s head was down. Anna noticed her fingers twisted in front of her indicating discomfort.
Mrs. Evans playfully lunged at Bana, nearly causing her to fall back as she staggered into her desk. “Go then.” She whispered. “And hurry back. You have five minutes, but don’t run. No running allowed in the halls.”
Bana stole a glance at Anna over her shoulder before shuffling toward the door. “You’d better go faster than that. You only have four minutes left,” Mrs. Evans said, chuckling afterwards.
The door closed, and the classroom remained shocked while Mrs. Evans strolled to the board and picked up a yardstick lying across the top. With a whacking noise, she brought it down several times in the palm of her hand. “One thing I will make exceedingly clear to this classroom is that while your teacher—whatever her name is—is gone, everyone of you will follow my rules as if I was your original teacher.” Her eyes shift and land on Jaxyn, who scrunches down in his seat, eyes averted. “No exceptions. Is that clear?”
The entire class nodded their heads and a few voices muttered their approval. “Good. Let’s start then.” Her head craned up to the wall beside the door. “Uh oh, I believe we’ll have to make…”
The classroom door popped open and Bana rushes in, handing a slip of paper to the substitute teacher. The teacher pulls the note arm’s length away and squints her eyes to make out the words. “There’s no date on this note,” she said. “Where’s the date?”
Bewildered, the class watched in morbid silence as the teacher crumpled up the note and threw it into the garbage can stationed by the desk. “Never mind, I’ve wasted enough time trying to coerce you into cooperating. Go sit down.” Her long thin finger pointed at the lone chair to the side of the room, under the light switch, segregated from the rest of the class.
“But her chair is right here beside me.” Anna let the words spill before stopping herself, and her arm jolted out indicating the empty desk.
The teacher took long deliberate strides in front of the blond and bent down. She leaned over and whispered, her breath forced the blond locks lying against Anna’s jaw to bow in as she spoke. “Without implications, I believe I was quite clear with my demonstration in substantiating that I make the rules. I’m the queen of the classroom and you, my dear, are the serving drones who should consider themselves lucky. By the time your teacher returns, she won’t know what hit her.”
Pulling back and straightening up, she smiles a raw and treacherous grin, as if the earth of a graveyard were opening wide to swallow the headstones it had housed for so long. “Understand?” Her head swayed a bit as a punctuation mark at the end, but nobody moved an eyelash.
The lesson droned on as Mrs. Evans snapped the book shut, uncrossing her thin cricket-like legs and slid off the desk. Shifting the notebook toward her, she flipped it open to the roll. “Gabrielle, tell me what the author meant when he wrote about the sound of a scorpion.”
The class snickered. No one answered, even though her eyes pierced through Gabe’s face like a laser through a piece of tissue paper. “Don’t you know the answer? Weren’t you listening to a word I said?”
“Yes, ma’am.” His green eyes dulled and he shrinked in his chair.
“Then why don’t you answer me?” Mrs. Evans hovered over Gabe the way bad news hovers over an envelope from the IRS.
Frightened beyond words, Gabe whispers something inaudible.
“What did you say?”
“My name is Gabriel, but my friends call me Gabe.” He winces and his eyes shift away for a second. “Not Gabrielle, ma’am.”
Brock Turner leaps from his desk with his finger extended forward pointing at the front of Gabe’s pants. “He peed his pants. OMG, he freakin’ peed right there on the floor. Pathetic!”
The class bursts in mixed reactions, some of them sneer in revulsion while others cringe in angst, as if the situation happened to them. Mrs. Evans’ body straightens tall and she sniffs the air. With lowered glowering lids, her chin lifted and she said, “You, Gabriel, piddled your britches as a scorned puppy, refusing to be housebroken. I simply don’t know what to do with you.”
Gabe’s lower lip quivers and he ducks his head in shame.
“You need to leave him alone,” Bana said, rising from her desk and pounding it with her little fists. “You’re a bully and you’ve probably always been a bully, even in school. You probably have to be a substitute because no one else wants you.”
The entire class stared at Bana with their mouths hanging down to their chests in complete and utter awe. “Just who do you think you are?” The teacher spat at her, bending over to plant her hands firmly on the desk in front of Bana.
“My name is Bana Baz, and I come from a country where we were beaten and slain for no other reason than being in the wrong place at the right time. My mother and baby brother were shot in front of my father and me. I still remember everyone screaming and running away. Everyone but me. I knelt down beside my mother, her mouth opened, but no words came out. Still, I knew she pleading for me to save my brother, but he was dead too. I started to cry. My father scooped me into his arms and dived into a shelter, saving my life. That was before we came here to the Land of the Free. The land where everyone pulls together. Not just Republican or Democratic, but humanity as a whole. The country of God. The country of love.”
For a brief moment, Mrs. Evans stood in silence, gaining her composure and preparing for her own mass destruction. “So, you are a refugee? I should have known by the way you behave so defiantly. A troublemaker…”
A pencil flew across the room and bounced off the rude teacher’s shoulder. Before Anna could determine what was happening, the majority of the class scooted out of their seats approaching the front of the room like a junior mob.
The teacher took a couple of steps back. “Get in your seats right now,” she said, although the curtness was missing. There was a sense of uneasiness surrounding what she said as her fingers clawed the air, reaching behind her for the jacket draped on the back of her chair. Curling her fingers around the coat she gave it a yank, removing it easily, and staggered toward the door. “You are a group of ungrateful curs,” she said before Marti lunged at her, giving her a shove and slamming the door closed behind her.
Standing alone in the classroom amongst the chairs, Gabriel’s head hung low and tears dripped from his eyes. “Don’t worry. You can call your mom and have her bring you some clean pants,” Anna said to him, draping an arm around his shoulders and giving them a hearty squeeze.
“It’s not that as much as what my father said this morning at the breakfast table. He said the refugees coming into our country were going to ruin it.” His tear-stained cheeks reflected the fluorescent lights from above. “But Bana is a refugee, and I think she may help save the country by reminding us who we are.”
Bana stood with a smile and threw an arm around Anna’s shoulders. “With Bana-Anna in this country, we can do anything.”
Japetoneda, (Jan. 2, 2009) God Bless America – American Flag with M4A1 Rifle and Dollar sign, Flickr