I graduated UT mid-term. I am a substitute teacher with daily hopes that a full-time position will
open for me. I work almost exclusively at Jay Bird Middle School. That is not the school's real name, and I did not choose it in honor of any avian creature, if you know what I mean.
Jay Bird is one of three middle schools that feed our local institution of secondary learning, Napoleon North High School. Napoleon, Texas (don't look for it on the map, for I made that up, too) is in the middle of the state if anyplace is and whatever that means. Suffice it to say that any place in Texas is at least five hundred miles from some other place in Texas.
Jay Bird has a full-time teaching staff of 51. The teacher attendance rate averages 96%. A bit of simple arithmetic will show you why, since I have become the principal's favorite sub, I work virtually full time at half the salary of a beginning teacher. But I digress. This is to be a story, not a diatribe. Student attendance is worse, averaging 91%. The Board of Education has tried various measures up to and including suspensions and expulsions for absenteeism, thereby giving the little birds exactly what they wanted. The current policy simply encourages each teacher to do his best with each child with the goal being to send him on to high school at the end of his eighth grade year.
There exists the story of a high school star basketball player who has attended fewer than 30 days of school in the past six years, but that is no doubt apocryphal and not to be believed. Besides that is not the story I am telling here.
I am an eighth grade math teacher this week, a class I rather enjoy inasmuch as the teacher is top-notch and her plans are always up to snuff, and I don't have to wing it as I do with some. Wednesday second lunch I am "on duty" in the courtyard, keeping an eye on the kids as they eat their sandwiches or ramen noodles, or whatever the day's offering might be. Third lunch is my lunch time, but I usually stay in the courtyard sitting at a table off to the side, munching my salad and reading my latest penny dreadful.
Miranda, who is in my seventh period class, sits alone at the table to the left. Her long dark hair hangs somewhat across her face and she has a rather vacant look about her. Sophie sits at the next table beyond, also by herself. Sophie's blonde hair is coiffed in the very latest style and so lacquered that it wouldn't move in a cat 3 hurricane. Her artfully torn and shredded jeans no doubt cost the equivalent of three of my days' pay. Her platform shoes are ridiculous beyond description. I hear a long slurp as Sophie sucks the last of her drink from the bottom of the paper cup. This is followed by two quick make-sure slurps, then she rises from the bench and saunters toward Miranda. She pauses briefly behind the girl, turns her cup and deliberately pours the ice over Miranda's head. Then she strolls on
Miranda sits at table, ice chips sparkling in her hair, cascading down her shoulders, and smiles. That's all. She just smiles-- doesn't even brush the stuff off her hair or clothes.
Thursday, third lunch, same setting, same actors. Same skit played out. After Sophie was back in the building, I walked over to Miranda and sat across from her. "Miranda, tell me. Why is it that you simply sit there quietly when Sophie pours ice over you?"
"Oh, that's easy. Sophie's chauffeur drops her off and picks her up every day. She don't have any friends, sits alone at lunch. It's sad. But her little joke gives her a couple minutes of pleasure, I'm happy for her."
"But why don't you join her and talk to her?"
"Oh, she wouldn't want to talk to someone like me. And besides, it would spoil her fun."
As the kids were passing between classes after sixth period, Sophie walked by my door. "One second, Sophie." She stopped. "Sophie, why do you baptize Miranda with your ice chips every day?"
Sophie snorted. "Silly cow," she said. "The lump just sits there smiling, never says a word. Maybe if she'd get up and smack me or something I'd quit, but in the meantime, it amuses me!"
"Did you ever try to talk to her, maybe sit at table with her?"
"Seriously? Are you kidding me? No one, I mean no one, in this dump talks to me."
"I'm talking to you."
Sophie spun on her platforms and disappeared down the hall.
Friday, third lunch period. Patio seating, same principals.
Sophie slurped her drink from the bottom of the cup and stood. She walked slowly behind Miranda, but she did not dump the ice on her head. She continued toward me and I saw Miranda stand and step behind the bench. She started toward me, too. Just as Sophie disappeared from my peripheral vision, I felt the ice chips pouring through my hair and down my back! Miranda caught up with Sophie, they linked arms and hooted with laughter as they hastened to the entryway.