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A Small Juxtaposition
A new day. He woke up lazily and reluctantly rolled out of his bed, his head still buzzing with caffeine from the coffee he drank a mere six hours ago. The bittersweet taste was still in his mouth -- he had forgotten to brush his teeth.
He staggered into the kitchen and pulled out an egg sandwich from the freezer. It was when he pressed the “start” button on the microwave that he realized that he had accidentally typed in “300” instead of “030.” Huh. He watched as the toast burned to fine, crisp, black crumbs, and the egg exploding in the microwave. There would be no breakfast today.
He slung his brown leather bag over his shoulder, the strap of the bag stretching just a bit more from the weight of the paperwork he didn’t plan on grading. He closed the door behind him, its hinges creaking, almost groaning, until he forced the door shut.
Today would be a long day.
She was still asleep. She had gone to bed an hour late the night before to finish math homework. She knew that she technically didn’t even have to do it; her teacher only checked homework every other day. She’d considered the extra amount of sleep she could get if she stopped, the surge of relaxation if she didn’t have to try to solve the projectile motion of a ball that some Andy was throwing to some Mike. She never understood why she had to solve the petty problems of other people; to her, it made no difference whether or not said Andy and Mike knew about the velocity of their ball.
She’d done the homework anyway.
He sat at the intersection, staring blankly at the bleak landscape and tapping his fingers on the wheel, waiting for the light to turn green and the nonexistent traffic from the other side of the road to stop.
Some ambitious runners jogged to the crossroad. Seeing that the light was still red, she ran in circles around the stoplight and made a couple of stretches.
The engine of the car hummed softly, almost in line with the flickering of the street lamp.
The light turned green. He parted ways with the jogger.
The bus came twenty minutes late. Her legs trembled violently under her leggings in the frigid winds. The weight of her backpack only seemed to make the conditions worse, pushing the cold further down her body and keeping it there. Her ears were white; she could feel the pain of the cold and the sharp pangs more than she could hear the wind blowing onto her ears.
Some of the other kids were starting to leave the bus stop. Family sedans were driving past on the street, the sounds of their engines inaudible compared to the howl of the winter wind.
Soon, she was standing by herself.
The bus came twenty minutes late.
He drove past the bar he used to go to every Friday. Before his fiancée got pregnant.
She forgot her earbuds at home.
He filled his plastic Steelers mug with the tepid fountain water, and watched the water shoot out from the rusty fountain. He wondered about the projectile motion of the water. And a pathetic trajectory angle. It was so low that he practically had to push the mouth of the mug into the faucet. He hated doing this; he felt that he could see the germs from kids’ mouths climbing their way into the mug, or tumbling in with the water.
The warm water started overflowing the fountain. The mug was now full. He grimaced at his now wet hands.
He thought about when he’d overheard some kids in the hallways saying that the fountain water came from the toilets.
Drinking water mixed with adolescent spit and their s***?
Somehow that didn’t seem too hard to believe.
She opened a chipped silver water bottle with great effort. Insulated stainless steel bottle, the packaging had read. The double-insulated bottle made her backpack significantly more burdensome than she intended. That was a huge drawback, but the drawback to the drawback was that she had lost her other bottles, and her other-other bottle was too much of a hassle to clean.
She swished the water in her bottle, watching the small whirls that the waves seemed to create. Some of the water came out. The well-insulated bottle made the water freezing; it did not help that she had just been outside for so long.
Insulates for 12 hours hot and 24 hours cold.
The door to the second portable classroom was locked. His shoulders fell in a surge of relief; he had been worried about forgetting to lock the door the afternoon before. He fumbled through his bag for the keys. He found the keys. He opened the door. He grimaced as a whoosh of the chilly cold AC air blew into his face. Why go inside when you could get same effect outside?
The lights oscillated between on and off, as if they weren’t sure which state they wanted to be in. The wire that projected his PowerPoints was broken again. It ran crookedly across the front of the classroom, traveling under desks and the cart where he put all his materials. He plugged the wire into the outlet again. The computer groaned. The board made a cringy buzz. The screen was dull and flickered incessantly, making the words illegible.
The door creaked weakly as she opened it.
The school building was one of the oldest in the area. It was infamous for its volatility, from the volatility of the heating system to the volatility of students’ standardized testing scores. The school itself was two stories high, and divided into wings for the generic subjects of English, math, science, and social studies. In the heart of it all stood the hub of social life: a sketchy courtyard, the main office (which wasn’t the ideal place for social activity, but some people didn’t have a choice), and most importantly, the library.
Today, the library lights finally stopped oscillating between on and off; they had decided on the happy medium. It was bright enough to see the vague outlines of people’s faces, but too dark to cram last minute work. The heater was broken. Students huddled together in the dark for warmth, simultaneously getting news on upcoming assessments.
Nobody else had done the math homework, but apparently, the bio test would be easy.
The National Gallery of Art was featuring a new collection on its website. The Feast of the Gods by Giovanni Bellini and Titian. The gods feasted as the nymphs and satyrs attended to their every need. He sat back in his chair and imagined a beer sitting at his desk, water droplets cascading down the glass bottle. The bags under his eyes would be so much lighter, he wouldn’t smell like caffeine, he would be free from --
The morning bell rang, signaling another start to another day.
She was third to class. As usual. She had to walk the greater distance than the other two people, from the library to the portables. He was not one of those two.
He stood at the front of the room, staring appreciatively at a piece of art nobody else seemed to care about.
She didn’t participate during class, choosing instead to stare intensely at the board for the whole class. She looked like she was either insanely immersed in the lesson or on the verge of passing out from lack of sleep.
Everybody else in the class was most certainly the latter. Yet somehow he knew that she was the former.
“Uh, do you have some time?”
He looked up from his desk, a little surprised. He had never heard her speak before.
“I just wanted to say that I really enjoyed your lesson yesterday. If you... by any chance... have any related materials to share on the subject, I would really appreciate it.”
He leaned back into his chair, the back groaning as his weight dug into the felt cushion. “That’s good to hear,” he said flatly, trying to sound sincere but somehow not being able to muster to energy to do so.
She ignored his apathy and continued. “I don’t know... I guess I found it appealing because I think through this course I’ve learned beyond what the curriculum has taught me. I see an evolution of the human spirit.”
He hadn’t thought of it like that before. He stopped flipping his pen and carefully placed it down.
“The human spirit?” he smiled wryly, appearing almost as if he were entertained.
“What’s beautiful to me is how humans could take such a wild turn. I find it stunning that the human will can be so... tenacious... whether it be for the better or the worse. It’s remarkable. We are capable of a lot more than I thought. I won’t ever get to truly understand how much unless I live through something like that, not that I want to. I’m just saying.” Paused. “So yeah. That was all. Thanks.”
She turned and made her way to the door, but stopped suddenly as she was halfway out the door. She considered something for a second, then turned back around. “Actually, you know, even if I won’t ever get to understand humanity in that profound a way, I think if humanity today collectively paid more attention to the smaller things in life, we could definitely find something.”
There was a brief pause. He looked at her intently, then rose from his chair and began to pace the room. He suddenly felt a light bounce in his step. “An interesting proposition. What do you suggest humanity pay more attention to?” The smirk from earlier was gone.
“You have always taught us to analyze cause and consequence. I was just thinking, well, we’ve been looking at the big picture for so long, and clearly we’re not getting anywhere. Maybe the big picture is too big for us to comprehend. Maybe we’re not even looking at the right picture.” She turned back and pushed the door open again.
“I’m glad to hear that you like class. See you tomorrow.”
“Yeah. See you.”
They parted ways.
A day’s end. He sat quietly at the stoplight, the soft buzz of radio music humming around him. Traffic had become a little more existent in the past hour. He waited.
Across the road, a street lamp flickered. People ambled around. He watched with some amusement as a young high school couple walked down the sidewalk.
The girl turned. She stared for a minute. She waved.
He waved back and gave a soft grin.
The light turned green. He parted ways with the girl, who was now eagerly pointing him out to her male companion.
He considered cutting across the traffic and taking the shorter route home, but as he watched the cars beside him glide by, he felt a sense of serenity. It felt nice. He kept driving forward.
In his rear-view mirror, he could still see a fuzzy light flickering. To his surprise, he found it somewhat pleasant.
Today had felt so satisfying.