“Can anyone answer this question?” The chemistry professor’s dull, lifeless voice permeated throughout the classroom. I drummed my fingers against my desk and observed the oak branch that waved at me through the half-opened window. My mind, fogged and temporarily turned off, felt like a contained ball bumping against the sides of my head.
Despite my best efforts to separate myself from reality, I still cringed at the squeak of chalk skating across the board, and the whomp of a student’s folder that had been elbowed off of their desk, crashing to the tiled floor.
Blinking away my sudden headache, I straightened my back, stretched my legs out in front of me, and gazed at the ancient posters, taped and crinkled around the teacher’s corner of the room. I’d read those stupid things about a hunderd times, but it was better than the painful lectures about compounds and diatomic elements.
My body, for what seemed like half a second, was paralyzed in shock. I took a deep breath, then glanced at the board. Scrawled in careless, childlike lettering was a simple chemical equation. Easy. Straightforward. For several minutes, life appeared to have paused itself, the universe waiting which way I’d choose to walk, or whatever. I could feel my classmates’ glances pressing my chest, suffocating. The world waited.
I bit my lip to relax, narrowed my puffy sleep-deprived eyes, and simply bounced my attention back to the window. I couldn’t stand his eyes, all glinted with boredom, his body position screaming carelessness. This question didn’t deserve an answer. He, for sure, didn’t deserve an answer. I had the prerogative to roll my eyes, to look away, to demand respect.
My teacher said my name a couple more times, assuming I hadn’t heard him, then took my silence as an “I don’t know” and continued on, scouting the rest of the students, some of whom were wiggling in their seats, their arms waving around as if trying to touch Shawn Mendes during one of his concerts.
I kept staring at the glass, widening my eyes, clenching my fists, trying hard to ignore my professor’s voice. He sounded like an overused theme song from a commercial – useless.
The oak branch was still, its leaves unharmed by the summer gust, as if it too were shocked by what had happened. I smiled, visualizing myself climbing it – all the way to the top – stretching my fingers toward the clouds …
The days trickled by in blurry, gradual drops. I remained quiet, guarded in my fabricated world of ideas. I kept myself calm and collected. Silent.
One morning, however, the professor, looked even more board than he usually did, his eyes halfway open. Amazingly, me maganed to added groaning yawns after each. Despite the failed attempts at ebbing my irritation, I went ahead and focussed on the board, studied the sloppy, white handwriting.
“We have a test tomorrow?” I hollered, then slapped my mouth. The corpulent man with his balding head whirled around, suddenly not as bored. In fact, I’d never seen him quite so awake. I swallowed then looked away, trying not to look guilty for the crime I’d just committed. Hoping he’d think it was someone else, someone who likes to answer questions.
“Yeah. And?” The alert rat placed his hands on his hips, pathetically. His voice was so wretched, and unbearable, all mixed together. I felt like I was swallowing Benadryl rather than my own sickening spit.
“You haven’t taught us anything!” I raised my voice a couple notches. “You’ve just read the notes, and written things … and yawned! You haven’t taught us! You haven’t taught me!”
“It is your job to study what I give you during class, young lady,” he snapped back. Beneath his moderate tone, I could hear the shaking in his voice, as if desperate to scream the words.
“How do you study something important, when your own teacher doesn’t even want to study it! When your professor doesn’t find the subject, or topic, important? Or even interesting? When there is no passion in your lessons and lectures!” I stood up and pounded my fist against the wooden surface of the desk I’d doodled on all year.
We kept arguing until he won the battle by exiling me to the hallway – with a detention slip, and later, a furious email sent to my mother. The closest thing he got to an apology from me was a nod and a somewhat surrendered look. There was no way I’d ever say I was sorry. I was in the right. I know it.
Test day came, almost unexpectedly, as if the hands of time had damaged the faucet, making the watery, blurry days run even faster. It was disturbing to watch as my peers scurried into the classroom, their bodies drenched with panic, soaked with terror.
We were drowning.
The classroom overflowed with hopelessness. I could hear a few people moaning about how their parents would kill them if they brought home another failing grade. The daunting cries and groans multiplied dramatically.
Someone had to turn the faucet off.
We were trapped, unable to mollify the inevitable – or even fabricate a method of cheating. We couldn’t communicate in sign language or crank our heads toward our bestie’s deskwithout repercussion. (By repercussion, I mean a banishment to the hallway, which, in my defense, is way better than inhaling the prosaic air of robotic speech and body odor.)
We all gasped then fell into astounding silence from the echoed smack of the examination packets dropped onto the professor’s desk.
My knuckles turned ghost-pale as I caught a glare of discombobulating cheerfulness in his beady eyes. He seemed lighter, despite his plump belly – as if he could float to the ceiling at any moment.
“Is that really a question?” I muttered, purposely. I smiled at the ripple of laughter, a portion of our stress draining away.
Keep going, I began to think, as the teacher shot me a practiced look of warning.
He placed my test near my left hand, which shook, rapidly. The hairs on my arm shot straight up toward the ceiling as soon as my skin made contact with the paper. I waited, remembering my grandmother’s words – that all good things come to those who wait.
So I waited … deviously.
I swallowed my laughter down forcefully until all the tests were passed out. I felt like a sprinter anticipating the exploding bang of the pistol. And then I felt it. The habitual whoosh of the breeze, wisping the hair across my face, cool against my sweat-pelted skin. Glancing out the window, my eyes were stolen by the melodic choir of blue jays, and my dear old friend … my oak branch, waving at me, the way it always did.
I had to do something.
Once the professor slumped into his rolling chair, I snatched my test and locked eyes with him, my pearly blue against his rat-gray, my face strewn with obligation. Everyone looked up from their papers as I contemplated what I should do.
Better yet, what I would do.
And then, holding my breath, I threw the stapled bits of terror out the welcoming half-opened window and just watched, astonished at what I’d done.
The test soared through the branches, whisked a few leaves into the atmosphere, and then floated, timidly, onto the road. Momentarily, a white Mercedes sped by, taking the papers with it – obliterating its unjust existence. It was like watching art. I looked down to see if I still had my left hand, that it hadn’t flown away with my exam. I moved my fingers, which still trembled, making sure everything was intact.
“No thanks,” I then blurted, resting my feet on my desk, casually slipping my hands behind my neck. The trembling stopped.
“Excuse me?” The teacher slapped his ruler against his desk.
My classmates all gazed at me as if I had somehow transformed into the half-opened window, or Shawn Mendes, or an irresistible question – only, I was way better.
I had something far more effective to offer the world. Something more powerful and enthralling than trees and sky and facts.
I had action.
“You heard me.”
I stood up, my hair, unkempt in tawny, frizzed up curls, blew with the window’s breeze. The teacher glared at me, drilled his tiny, insignificant eyes into the center of my face, as if trying to zap lasers through me. The fact that I was still standing, motionless, made me feel stronger. Made my will invincible, my strength immortal.
“Come with me to the office right now, young lady!”
I grinned, fuming with a mixture of anger, glee, and excitement, all roaring throughout my body in fiery stampedes. I thought I was going to shoot out of the tense classroom like a rocket toward the moon – a spontaneous firework.
“If you want me, you’ll have to catch me.” And just like that, I grabbed the frame of the window, as if I were finally touching the love of my life, and slid it completely open. Ignoring my professor’s threats, the word “expelled” blasting into the air like a cannon, I thrust myself into the air and landed, perfectly balanced, onto the lawn.
My lungs tingled with a refreshing burn, as I gulped the crisp air. It tasted like the early arrival of spring.
Reality moved in slow, hypnotic motion. I could see the parking lot across from me, the yellow school bus, with its toxic smog twirling into the sky. Everything dazzled with a sudden clarity.
My entire body felt as though it had been rebuilt. I climbed the compassionate tree; the acorns scattered across the minty ground. My soul, once concealed, blossomed into flourishes of power. I was different. New. An inexplicable breathe of fresh air.
I shrugged down at my teacher, watching him through the entwined branches. It was magic. I felt like a lost girl, who was just sprinkled with fairy dust. The universe would pull at any moment toward the clouds.
Every edge of the picture was smooth, not crumbled. I could read every moment of this blazing, radiant day. Each lemony second.
One by one, my classmates jumped out the window as well – tiny Indians chasing after their Chief. First were the boys, in their oversized sweatshirts and jerseys. As soon as they felt the ground beneath their feet, they grabbed chunks of grass, shooting green shreds of confetti into the spotless air. It looked perfect against the still surface of life – like the extra glitter in a pond or the smile stretched across a newborn’s face. It was necessary.
And then came the girls, laughing, snapping pictures of themselves, the chemistry professor screaming after them – his ballistic protests the ideal accompaniment to this dancing orchestra.
We were free.
You wanna know the secret? The secret to getting what you want? To being unstoppable, a force to be reckoned with? What happened after our small protest was more than just flunked tests and marks on our academic records. There was a magic to the laughter and happiness during the hours we spent in the front yard, beside the school buses, watching our chemistry professor fail so remarkably. Me, in my tree, sitting on my dear oak branch, watching over my classmates, all who broke through the surface of torment in style.
An inexplicable balance, an irrevocable mark had been carved into the history of our high school.
We weren’t just free. We were remembered.
Honorable warriors. Soldiers, who at last, decided to fight a different battle.
The battle to be heard.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.