American English

By

american school house ink sketchMrs. Willow was a red-haired hippie with a heart full of kindness. When the class read Shakespeare, she brought hats with feathers, fake daggers, and a plastic skull.

That year, and every year after, the office would run out of paper leaving teachers to scratch their head as to how they would administer an exam. Mrs. Willow used her own money to buy copy paper so her students could take tests.

Today, Mrs. Willow sat at her desk waiting for students to stroll into class. Forty students filled the empty seats. Soon, pouches zipped open, book bags thumped against the carpet, and teenagers chatted. As the sun peaked through the tinted windows, all seemed cheerful, but today there was nothing light about Mrs. Willow’s news. A few students noticed their teacher’s dimmed persona. I was one of them.

Usually, I entered her classroom the same way I scurried to my classes, like a shy mouse darting quickly to remain unnoticed. On some occasions, our eyes would meet, and she’d smile. Her big blue eyes left a warm impression which made it hard not to smile back.

I saw none of that happiness today.

With her eyes red and puffy, she stood before the classroom and took a breath.

“I have to tell you something,” her voice shaky, “after hanging out with some friends at the mall, Luis walked home,” she said as her eyes filled with tears, “someone saw him at the mall and thought he was a gang member.” She covered her mouth for a moment before continuing, “someone followed Luis and shot him outside his home,” her face and neck went red from the stress, “he died yesterday.”

There was a cry from the front seat. When I glanced over, I saw a boy burying his face in his arms and beside him was an empty seat.

“I’m sorry,” she said to Luis’ friend, “he wasn’t in a gang, it was all a mistake,” like a mother setting the record straight she continued, “he never got into trouble at school. He was so sweet-,” the moment proved too much for her, and she rushed out of the classroom.

As the door slammed shut, an emptiness expanded across the room. Everyone’s eyes lowered as each person held back a tear or lump in their throat.  There was no English class that day, just the silence and sadness that follows death.