First Day of School – a story

It was the first day of school, and the halls were booming with pubescent roars. Kids on the “Eduardo Segovia Municipal High-School” scrambled their way from the entry gate towards their assigned classrooms; in trickles of ones and twos, joining the larger streams of moving masses, snaking their way inside the building.

From his spot behind a window of the teacher’s lounge, he could see them burrowing an imaginary hole into the white three-story structure. He thought of the power embedded within the system, capable of ordering anybody – even them, even on the first day – into a well-fashioned, purposeful motion.

“Maybe there is some sense in it,” he thought a minute or two before the bell rang. He had toyed with the idea of becoming a teacher for some time. Finally, He admitted that despite his memories of hating most of it, and maybe because of it, he would be the right candidate for the job. Hell, no matter how bad it got, the pay was enough for him and the holidays were the final perk. Having spent the last year studying for his teaching diploma, he was beginning to acknowledge a creeping sensation of calling emerging from within him. He had attempted to fight it, but the idea of somehow being different than the teachers he had growing up, of being able to help people with the knowledge he possessed about reality, of changing things – had managed to persuade him that this was the place for him. Here, in high school, he would be valuable, helping others and, along the way mending the wrongs he felt had been engrained in the teaching system.

The bell rang, and the snake’s tail disappeared into the white box. Staring at the lackluster construction, he had almost expected the building to shake about; but it was standing still, awaiting him to charm whatever was inside. As the other teachers were nodding and scrambling out, he sipped the last of his coffee, grabbed his papers, and strolled out towards classroom 315.

Stepping on the grey tiles aligned on the way, he could almost recall his childhood walks home from school, spent looking at the floor most of the way. A wonder he would make it home at all without being run over, he thought. How much nonsense have they stuffed him with back then that he had to avoid eye contact with the world to reach home safely? Now was perhaps a chance to amend all this.

As he looked up, the hallway glared with silence, as if trying not to disclose the secret of its roaring just a moment ago. The rest of the teachers had started their classes already. He paused outside the door, trying to listen to the ruckus inside his designated class. He waited for several seconds and, unable to hear anything, went inside.

They were seated at their desks and were looking at him. He thought of nodding hello but decided to walk and settle his things first. The table was on the other side of the classroom. He walked in silence and flung his briefcase over it, only to hit the edge of the desk first and have his papers drop to the floor. Looking sideways to the classroom, they were still sitting quietly. He got on the floor, picked up his papers, and scrunched them on the desk as straight as he could.

Grabbing a whiteboard marker from his bag, he wrote his name on the board.

“Mr. J. Pennskie”

The name turned out more slanted and squiggled than he wanted. Deciding he had wasted enough time already, he turned away from the board to face the class.

“My name is Mr. Pennskie, and I will be your English teacher this year.” He finished the sentence and stared at the children, the allotted class of 35 seventh graders. They were quietly seated, focusing their gazes at him, soundless.

“Well, we are going to get to know each other in this class and learn English. Could anybody tell me first what English is and why we learn it?”

Having uttered the sentence he had practiced in his head for several evenings before, he raised his eyes to meet theirs.

They were a foul lot. Their faces were deadened by what must have been years of adhering to schoolmasters. His question did not seem to stir any response whatsoever from them.

He peered closer into the rows of fourteen-year-olds filling the room. The primary commonality was sweat, like a constant remnant perched on the sides of faces and top of brows. The smell of the air had reached him. Filthiness unrecognized to him was tangling in knots all through the acrid air. He could not think of the second line he had memorized in reciting. Instead, his sight became fixated on one student’s nose ring, placed between her nostrils – a shiny ring with jagged slits gracing it. It was some call for attention. His gaze shifted quickly to another student next to her, his pre-mustache making itself apparent in scattered clumps above his too red upper lip. They all look as if strange grime was oozing from them, unattended by a single piece of tissue paper. He wanted to stop it all. He felt something in his throat. As he turned to the sides in fright, he realized there was no trash can there, and so he threw up on the floor.

The Benefits of Coronavirus – a short story

ordinary-people

 

On a day like any other.

I’ll take the dogs out for a walk. I’ll get back home and give them their food, get

ready for the rest of the day, you know?

I’ll take a shower, get dressed and put on the mask and gloves before going

out.

I’ll look in the mirror before stepping out.

Nothing memorable, not with the mask on anyways.

It will be a bit warm outside, now being summer.

The mask is a bit uncomfortable, but at least it keeps people from staring.

I don’t think about being jumped by police or paying a fine for spreading diseases. At least if I’m a hypocrite for wearing it, so is everybody else.

I need money so I go into the bank. It’s a bit crowded since they reopened just now. Even outside there is a small line, with everyone dutifully awaiting to get their temperature checked.

All are masked, anxious, yet docile and seem tired and indifferent. The masks equalize and us them faceless. The new uniform of the masses.

I await in line until I scram forth to reach the guard. He checks my temperature with an infrared thermometer. It takes just a second and he lets me through. I catch the smiling wrinkles around his eyes. We are co-conspirators in this charade.

It’s always the busiest just before the weekend, when people are in a hurry to deposit their weekly salaries. There are five tellers all at it, with people more silent than usual, hoping to get it over with and maybe getting to rid themselves of the masks as soon as possible.

A few people in front of me, I scour the place. All are masked. Some clenching pieces of paper, most lean over to stare at their phone, as if their eyes are ready to dive into a deep pool. Every so often the number counter would change with a ‘ting’, causing several heads to lift, and then let out a sigh muffled by the mask, and the head would return to its previous downward slant right back into their phones.

I reached into my pocket to feel for the piece of paper which was my own to display that day. It was resting there, sure enough.

Several people were on the phone speaking a bit loudly. I stood there listening to them describing their most private affairs with the greatest of ease, as if they were entertaining a friend in their home. I could scarcely recall a time when such a thing was considered as rude, or even strange, behavior. The fact that you are able to do something doesn’t mean that you should do it, should you? I felt like I wasn’t alone thinking this, but that everyone else were in silent agreement, staring into their phones, thinking they are able to use them as distraction, and so they should do it.

The line of people grows shorter. The bank had conveniently made people wait in a single line that split off when you got to the end into whichever teller in one of the five stations was ready to help you. A nice way of moving the line quickly and having it all done with in a hurry.

I dislike being hurried most of the times, but here it seemed like a relief in a way. I even didn’t care for the line being long. What usually was tedious though, was thinking which teller would you get and how cranky, or unprofessional they struck you. With masks on they all seemed perfectly similar in their indifference. All equally unconcerned with your business and all likewise less prone to pass judgment.

I was now first in line and it seemed like it would come down to either a young brunette teller, which was finishing up with an overweight couple, whose sweaty t-shirts and pink puffed necks she was probably eager to let go; and an equally young oriental gentleman who was assisting an elderly woman. For the last minute or so, he was no longer looking into his computer monitor, and stared straight at the old lady, who was perhaps done with her transactions but didn’t seem to internalize the reality of that fact.

The couple slowly palmed a stash of bills which the brunette had laid in front of them, and commenced a triumphant exit, as if headed to celebrate with some food. I waited for the teller to look at me so to not barge in, as some people rudely do.

She took a few seconds to search for my eyes in the line, and gave a bewildered stare. I figured most people probably just go ahead and enter her line of sight without being called, like a conveyor belt of characters, just stepping into a slot. And now I was the odd one out for not applying this norm. I hurried to take my piece of paper out of my pocket so to not waste any time.

The teller’s eyes glazed over me as I stood there. I slipped to paper underneath the glassy screen and allowed her to read it. She took a few seconds and then looked at me, as if searching for something in my eyes.

She was nice looking, or at least the top half of her face was, which was not hidden behind a piece of cloth. It took her another minute to count the money and put on the counter. She also handed  me back my note.

Her eyes were now looking straight at me, a look I became used to receiving, a kind of alertness mixed with contempt. I had almost grown fond of it by now.

I thanked her and said “have a nice day”, which, while utterly banal as a saying, still feels like a common courtesy to me, which is why I don’t hesitate to use it whenever I bid goodbye to someone who is doing any service for me.

I went out of the bank and walked steadily home, making sure to pass through a few of the more busy streets, just in case I was being followed. I passed through the square, where the police had camped out to discourage people from walking about without a mask. I strutted besides them as if showcasing how good of a citizen I am to be wearing both a mask and a pair of gloves.

mask-and-gloves

I got back home and counted the money I got. Then, I wrapped it again and went over to the bedroom and opened the closet. “Safe within a safe” I muttered, and threw it in with the rest of the week’s profits.

I took out the crumpled piece of paper from my right jacket pocket. I’ve written it with a black marker on top of a piece of some legal notices I picked off of the ground. Nothing flashy, but looks strikingly similar to your everyday bullshit bank notice. On top of it I had scribbled this lovely message:

“Please remain quiet. I have a gun and this is a robbery.

Put all the MONEY in your register into this bag – NOW

Do not call the police – or I will shoot”

I didn’t think much of it, except that I wanted something to get the tellers to do what I want without time to think. What got me thinking how easy it could be was watching everybody wearing masks and not looking at what anyone else was doing. It’s as if people willfully became deaf, blind and dumb. And so I would be dumb to not use it to my advantage.

I needed the money, who the hell doesn’t. And this was perfect. Nobody suspected a thing, not with my mask and gloves, which made sure I left no fingerprints there. I couldn’t be identified anywhere, not by anyone watching the surveillance footage, not by people on the street, and not by the teller herself. With everyone wearing masks now, I was free to walk unnoticed, a loose criminal in the disguise of an every-man.