I Will Answer for You

A scene from, La Casa de Bernarda Alba,
a drama by Federico Garcia Lorca that
will forever remind me of Doña Francisca,
my sixth grade teacher. Image

I finally made it back to the spot where my own teacher was waiting me. For the first time during that whole year our eyes met and she seemed to be in a happy mood. This was my sixth grade teacher,
Doña Francisca de Moreno, eternally dressed in her widow’s weeds. I don’t think I ever saw her dressed in anything but her mourning uniform of either a black dress or a black skirt and blouse, black shoes, etc.

She was the classic Spanish woman it seemed to me with white skin that contrasted severely with her blackened attire. She portrayed the traditional Doña who, despite her youth, had promised eternal love to someone and when her someone died she went into perpetual mourning probably never to rise again from her self imposed entombment. I was not at all happy at seeing her, however, since the black dress she wore brought back unpleasant memories of my fourth grade teacher who had wreaked havoc with my written composition.

We, in fact, had not really gotten along from the first day. I don’t know if it was her mourning clothes or her demeanor but I felt a true aversion towards her and we never did make any significant progress at knowing each other. This time I was somewhat annoyed to be called out by her again for some other chore.

When I got closer to her, however, to try and make out what she was trying to tell me, I was in for a surprise. I could hardly make out her words over the happy racket of the other kids that signalled the start of the school fair. “Don’t go home,” she ordered, “I will answer for you!” I knew from the deliberate tone in her voice that absolutely no one would defy her wishes. Such was the aura around the Spanish woman. So, I obeyed.

She leaned over so I could hear her better as I became entangled with some smaller children who were swarming me at our feet just outside the hallway entrance to the backyard. This was the place I knew so well as a gym since I was small. I recalled the first time I was enrolled in Pedro J. Sosa at nine years of age and had not been to an official school as yet and how I’d first become acquainted with this “gym.” The questioning look on my face immediately elicited another order from her. “I said for you not to go home. You stay right here. And if your people show up, I will take care of them,” she said suddenly becoming the protector and confidante I had always yearned for on many occasions.

Given the generalized fatigue I was feeling, all I could say was, “Sure teacher, I understand.” Satisfied with my affirmation she suddenly seemed concerned for me. “Have you eaten anything yet?” she asked almost tenderly, as a mother would do. “No teacher, not yet,” I said, lowering my gaze respectfully as she continued her gentle fussing. “You go right into the director’s office and there you will find some plates I have separated for you. There’s something to drink and everything. If anything just look for me and I will take care of anything you want me to do.” With that my teacher turned around and left me standing there still too exhausted to make a move.

After an entire day of standing, walking and fetching with my English teacher Ana, I figured that I’d do better to go back and just sit down and rest for a while. As soon as I returned to my spot on the hard, cold concrete of the steps on the grandstand in the gym I felt better just looking at the crowd of happy kids. I was suddenly conscious of how I had worked to become part of that fair for the past four weeks.

I laid back to rest and soon I realized that I was now part of the group of bigger kids at school, aware that I had become an example to follow. I lay there daydreaming about my younger years when, suddenly, I found myself surrounded by my classmates again. They were jabbering again about something I knew nothing about- some kind of dance. I had been working so hard for this event that I hadn’t really kept up with the reasons behind what I was doing.

“Hey, wake up man!” I heard someone say. “Tonight is the night paciero. Ha-ha-ha.” Too exhausted to answer them I just smiled weakly. Suddenly I felt someone tugging at me from behind. “Hey don’t play the pendejo. We know that you know everything. But I bet you don’t know about this…,” the boy said smiling and it turned out to be Jose Manuel, the only kid brave enough to be tugging at me like that.

“Hey, I’m tired coño!”I said half annoyed while at the same time eager to find out what Jose was driving at. I got up saying, “I got to go take a leak.” I hadn’t even taken the time out to relieve myself all that day and suddenly the urgency wouldn’t let me wait. I rushed off to the restroom hoping my cronies would still be there when I returned.

The thought of just calling it a day and simply leaving hit me as I washed my face and hands for the first time all day. Still doubting that I would have enough energy to enjoy the School Fair I had worked so hard for I really considered just bolting while the going was good.

As I dried my face and hands with paper towels I made my way out of the restroom and remembered the offer of food from my teacher. I headed for the director’s office which also served as a teachers’ lounge where I met some of the teachers but Ana Sanchez was not there.

When I got to where the food was supposed to be next to a hot plate I was suddenly disappointed. I found two paper plates containing some dried up chicken and potato salad. Somewhat disgusted I chose the better looking of the two suppers I had been promised and began making my way back to the gym with my plate; I would later regret not having eaten them both.

Back at the now almost empty grandstand I sat down to eat alone and rest myself. As I munched the stringy chicken, however, the meal just wouldn’t satisfy my sudden and ravenous hunger. Soon my pal Jose Manuel showed up leading another group of boys that I was unfamiliar with.

“Hey, Reid!” he shouted, as he reached me chewing on a mouthful of potato salad. “Guess who’s coming tonight?” he said, with a knowing smile on his face. “The dance is tonight!” he said, answering his own question, “And Albina will be here too!” He searched my face for signs of emotion unable to keep his best friend in the dark any longer.

This story continues.

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