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a peaceful protest

I was 16, and the thought of being forced to mention God as part of the pledge of allegiance was too hypocritical an act for me to play along with. Each day of high school began with this mundane recitation, as most people just stood with their hand jutting from a hip, the other dangling across their chest as they counted out the seconds until they could sit back down. They leaned against desks, and talked through it about what party and where it would be, if there would be a keg or a bonfire in the woods. I recited the words, omitting the "under God" part as a sort of half-baked protest. I was raised to flaunt my family's ramshackle atheism, as a choice of smug pride. We knew better, was the prevailing logic.

But one day, I could not stand and say any of it. It felt so rote, so hollow, so devoid of choice. There was no law that said I was required to say it. I knew this was my right, a form of free speech. My homeroom teacher was a legendary drinker, a trash-talking re…

brutal youth (and twenty seven wishes)

He swings the book bag hard, thwacking her right across the face. I look up at the two of them, guessing they are both eleven, maybe twelve years old. He swings again, landing square on her nose and she is knocked back. A mother standing at the bottom of the stairs of the lobby separates them, as they shove against her, as voices shrill in the clammy air his higher than hers. 
Questions are asked. 
The boy speaks first, his eyes bulging from his face red now dripping with tears. His skin is pale, almost translucent. The girl stands, calm, tapping one toe on the wet floor. She interrupts, shrugs her shoulders. A group of mothers stare at them. I cannot tell which one is his, or which one is hers. 
They are not children. The girl wears pink cowboy boots covered in sequins. The boy is sobbing. He looks like he has never been in the sun or even the playground. I do not understand a word that is being said so I am left guessing who is guilty based on body language. 
I cannot tell. 
The security guard comes back inside from smoking his cigarette. I stare at him, wishing I had the words to rub his nose in, that I pay a special fee every month for him to sit in the lobby, that mothers are doing his work for him, that he is useless. 
I get a text message from E. They will be late coming back from the field trip, maybe even an hour. I watch the boy being dragged off by his mother. I would not have guessed it was her. The girl sighs, hands on hips. She seems too calm. I wonder if this is a subtle message, that she is the instigator. 


The children arrive in a messy group and E waves at me from behind the glass of the front doors. I jump up to take her and she makes a face.
"We can't go home yet." She tells me. "It's Grischa's birthday.
"It will take five minutes." Her teacher tells me in English.
I take E's hand and we climb the stairs together. The classroom is full of children, some still with their coats and hats on. As soon as the teacher enters the room they raise their hands.
A blonde boy stands by the chalkboard. The teacher rests her hands on his shoulders. She calls out the children's names and each one compliments Grischa, then describes something they wish for him. He smiles after each one, his head ducking forwards in quick thanks.
After all the wishes have been made, the teacher pulls his ears with a gentle tug and the children count to nine. He must remain on his toes on the ninth one as he tiptoes to a bag on his desk. He doles out chocolates and chewy candies to each of them, making a series of serpentine trips around the room until his bags are empty. He offers me a chocolate wrapped in purple foil and I take it. The children laugh, shoving things into their bags and wriggling around in their seats.
We head home as E tells me about Pushkin's house, and how his great grandfather was African, about what the rooms looked like, about how she did not get sick on the bus even though she does in cars.


We stand in the line for the poultry stand at rinok. There is an old woman in front of us arguing about the price of the eggs, or maybe just the cost of the paper carton. I am not sure. A round woman wattles up behind us with a little boy. He cannot be older than three. He is crying. She slaps at his face with a flyswatter until he stops. E rolls her eyes up to me. I shake my head. We cannot say anything. The boy makes quiet whining noises. He suddenly looks younger to me.
I ask for a small chicken, less than two kilos.
The boy begins to cry again and the woman smacks his ams and bottom with the flyswatter. People are passing us. No one bats an eye.
We go inside to buy a pastry for the walk home.




Comments

liv said…
If any idiot ever questioned the fact that you stay in that crazy place for your daughter, they should read that one again........she needs you to balance out this stuff, this crazy stuff that goes on there, that seems so common and unexamined.

Please tell E that I am very happy for her that she did not get sick on the bus. I can relate to that, I too get car sick easily - birds of a feather :)

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