Jeremy and Matthew are always with me on the bus ride to school and during lunch. So far, they are still my only friends. And I have learned the school better. Apparently, the boys on my basketball team from gym class are known as the bullies in the grade. Of course, they aren’t very bright. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were failing every subject in school. My mind is always wandering during class, thinking about what I’ve been through.
School goes on like this for another month. A pair of monstrous Mr. Sulskys, a jolly-like Mr. Smith, and overboard excitement from Mrs. Watkins. The school days drag on, and I find myself behaving like a white person. Jeremy and Matthew are always with me on the bus ride to school and during lunch. So far, they are still my only friends. And I have learned the school better. Apparently, the boys on my basketball team from gym class are known as the bullies in the grade. Of course, they aren’t very bright. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were failing every subject in school. My mind is always wandering during class, thinking about what I’ve been through. I’m technically a normal kid, albeit a kid who is undercover in a white school under the penalty of severe prison time or even death.
The Mr. Sulskys are very obnoxious. First of all, though they teach different subjects, they act like the same person. Boring, gray, and unenthusiastic. I’ve managed to withstand a solid B in English, yet a healthy A in history. (But then again, an A in history is probably the equivalent of a B in English.) Many of my fellow students have been unlucky. Jeremy makes no secret of his distaste for school, barely managing C’s in every subject. (Except gym, of course, where he has an amazing A+, due to his baseball skills.) I’m sitting at my wooden desk in English class, daydreaming, while Mr. Sulsky is giving a lecture about “the great and influential poets of the twentieth century” when he says something that catches my ears.
“There will be a poetry contest for this month,” he is saying, and I hear the tiniest sliver of excitement in his voice. “It will last for two weeks, starting from today to October 17th,” he continues.
I look at the other kids. They seem to be extremely bored, while I seem to be the only one excited.
“The poem may be about anything, except for violence, vulgar language, and inappropriate content.”
This provokes some vulgar language and inappropriate content.
“That is all. Now have a good day,” Mr. Sulsky says, and a second later, the bell rings. The students scatter out of the classroom, while I’m the only kid in the class who pauses to look at the competition details. As I head to History class, I wonder what I should write about for my poem.
I spend the next two weeks writing my poem. I try to think of something happy, as I’m a person who has infiltrated a school, posing as a person who I’m now and surrounded by people who would happily arrest me or worse if they found out who I really was.
In the end, I write the standard happy poem about spring.
I write about all the happy stuff (which wouldn’t be that interesting for my fellow students, but very interesting for the teachers).
The day before the poem is due is October 16, the Friday before the weekend. In first period English, I hand in my paper to the basket marked “Poems” (which is empty besides my poem). A few students also hand in poems, but they’re all grumbling that their mothers forced them to.
At the end of the day, when I return to Mr. Sulsky’s class, the basket is barely full, not even a quarter full. As I walk out of the classroom, I hope for good luck and that I win.
On Monday when we return to school, I decide to go to school a few minutes early to see if I won the competition. I enter English class to see a bored-looking Mr. Sulsky glancing at the poems and sipping coffee from a mug that says, “World’s best English teacher.”
“Ah, Noah,” he says, looking up from his desk even though he couldn’t possibly see me since his back is turned to me. “I wanted to have a little chat with you. It concerns the poem that you wrote for the poem competition.”
“And?” I ask nervously.
“You won,” Mr. Sulsky finishes, with the tone of someone who just had a good breakfast. “Nicely done.” He turns to face me. There’s a trace of a smile on his face.
“I very much enjoyed your poem,” he continues. “In fact, it’s probably one of the best poems one of my students has ever written.”
“Thank you, sir,” I say happily.
“I think I should call your parents and let them know what a nice poem you’ve written.” The smile on his face grows bigger, and it’s the first trace of emotion I’ve seen from him in the last month.
“Thank you, sir,” I repeat, though I don’t mean it. If Mr. Sulsky looks into the address book, he won’t find my address, as we aren’t in the white community. I force myself to paste on a happy smile, which more looks like a crooked line. Mr. Sulsky seems to not sense it.
“Ok, then,” he says. He lugs out a thick, white, ancient book from out of his desk. It’s coated with dust. Hasn’t been used in a while. He plops it on his desk, which results in a loud slam! He flips through a few pages until he reaches the BE section. Then the BEC. Finally, he narrows it down to the BECKET section. There are only two names. James and Martha Becket, a couple.
He takes out his phone and dials the number besides the names, then calls. I hear the ringing of the phone as he calls. Then I hear the obnoxious beep! as the call is received.
“Hello?” The person on the other end asks.
“Hello, sir.” Mr. Sulsky says. “Are you the Beckets?”
“Yes, we are,” the man replies. “May I ask who you are?”
“I am Fred Sulsky, the teacher at Winters Academy.”
“All right,” the man says. “May I also ask why you are calling?”
“Yes,” Mr. Sulsky states. “It concerns your son, Noah. He’s recently done quite an astounding — ”
“What?” the man asks, confused. “We don’t have a son named Noah, and he doesn’t go to this school. Have you got the wrong number?”
“I don’t think so,” Mr. Sulsky says, looking a bit suspicious of me now. “Is this 662-693-0492? Becket residence?”
“Yes, it is,” Mr. Becket says. “But we don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“All right, then. I’m terribly sorry for interrupting your day. Please do forgive me.”
“Apology accepted,” Mr. Becket says. “Just be careful about who you call.”
I hear the faint click as the call ends.
Mr. Sulsky looks at me, trying to figure out what’s going on. He thinks for a few moments, and then the spark of realization hits him, dead-on. Even though I’m not a mind-reader, I know what he’s thinking. He eyes my skin suspiciously, trying to make sense of it. His confused expression goes to a face full of understanding. And then he begins speaking.
Mr. Sulsky looks up from the address book, stunned. His eyes are as big as dinner plates. Then the stunned look on his face quickly turns into a crocodile grin. “Well, well, well,” he snarls devilishly, looking at me the way a lion looks at a baby antelope. Then he cocks back his head like a werewolf and yells, “Hey! This kid’s a — “
Only he doesn’t get to finish the sentence, because I stomp on Mr. Sulsky’s foot and bolt out of the room.
As I emerge from the hallway, I see puzzled students and teachers approaching me. Though that quickly turns to excitement from the students and panic from the teachers as Mr. Sulsky shouts some words that kids shouldn’t hear. The students hurry to Mr. Sulsky’s room, wanting to see what caused such language. I take advantage of the opportunity and dash towards the stairs, where more students are coming.
Mr. Sulsky seems to have recovered from the pain of my toe stomp, and he rushes out of the classroom, determined to pound me to pieces. He steps into the hallway, only to be flattened by a mob of students. He screams as a kid steps onto his toes again and then howls as a kid flattens him like a bulldozer on a human pancake. Mr. Sulsky screams again, but I don’t know if it’s out of rage or pain or fear of being run over again. Luck finally seems to be on my side, and I’m just about to emerge when the worst thing imaginable happens. The other Mr. Sulsky is there, hustling through the door with a mug of coffee, which says, “Best Science teacher ever.” He looks up, startled to see me, then his eyes go wide with fear as I bowl over him, scrambling to get to the front door. He screams as the hot black liquid splatters onto him like a caffeine shower. Mr. Sulsky bolts to the bathroom for paper towels (in his haste, he accidentally enters the wrong one, which results in a shriek by the girl inside the bathroom).
Meanwhile, I’m out of the front door, and the fresh, cold, air hits me like a car. Some school buses are still departing the last students, while some are empty because the drivers needed to take a bathroom break. Without knowing what I’m thinking (or even thinking at all), I leap into an empty bus, commandeer it, step on the gas pedal,
and drive out of school.
Up until then, I’ve never driven a bus before. Not even a car or any type of vehicle. (Unless you count the rusty, old tractor my grandfather used to own and I drove it for fun on his farm, but even then he didn’t let me drive for fear of headplanting into the barn.) But I figured I could make an exception this time.
I try to head toward home because it’s practically the only area in the city where I’ll be safe. Fortunately, the bus route is pretty simple. I just have to follow the road I’m on and stop left and right occasionally. In the distance, I can hear police sirens roaring at me. I look back to see that they are only a block away from me. I return my attention to the bus, only to find that while I was distracted, I must’ve hit a switch that turned off the steering wheel! Fear suddenly grips me like a terrible nightmare. I can now feel the police cars bumping into the bus. One exceptionally aggressive police officer tries to slam me into pieces. Startled by the hit, I accidentally bump another switch that breaks the steering wheel! Now, I can only go straight. Up ahead, I can see the dot of my house. I’m relieved to see home, but it instantly changes to terror as I realize the river that leads to a waterfall is right ahead as well. The policemen also share my thoughts. I can practically hear the cars screech in terror as they slam onto the brakes. At least they’re safe, but I’m not.
The river grows bigger and bigger as I get closer to my doom. My mind rallies through everything I know about escaping a car that’s about to plunge into a waterfall. Not surprisingly, I barely know anything about the subject. Most spies would’ve had this sort of situation everyday, suavely jumping out and landing into the water. But I wasn’t a spy. My entire espionage experience was watching James Bond movies at Matthew’s house and reenacting scenes on the playground during recess. (At which Jeremy commented that I looked like a frog skydiving.) So when the bus hits the water, I leap out of it like a skydiver. The bus plunges into the water and a gust of water explodes out of the wide river, like a death charge. I doggy paddle toward the shore, also known as my backyard, also known as a patch of weed-infested grass with cheap furniture scattered around like a tornado had organized it.
With a grunt, I grab onto the yard, leap over the fence (so flimsy a cat could’ve knocked it over), and rush to the back door where my parents are looking at the chaos, aghast. The police cars screech to a halt, inches away from the raging river, where the remnants of the bus are flaming like it’s trying to set the river on fire.