I listen to every movement of the minute hand as if it were the only noise in the room. No one will notice I have closed my eyes. Maybe the teacher will, but I prefer not to think about him. As soon as the image of his ugly face appears in my head, I jerk my neck to stay away from the thought. I bring a hand to my neck with the regret of the pain caused. What is he talking about? Something about strategies in the use of headlines. It's obvious the titles of any article should be interesting; why would people go on to read a text that doesn't appeal to them at firsthand? Let's see, he says we have to create a title for a fictional story; a story of cats and dogs. I ponder the task without being able to concentrate on anything other than the words spoken on the stage. I closed my eyes because I wanted to stop paying attention to that boring man, but all I have done is reflect on his speech as if I had my eyes open.
Why a cat and dog story? Doesn't he have a life? I bet not. He must be one of those people who collects animals. I can imagine him picking up cats from the street to bring to his house. The thought disgusts me and not because I hate cats, it's not that at all. How could I hate them if my mother loves hers more than she loves me? Of course there are no reasons to make ugly faces when I see them...
The sheets on top of my computer fly off at the mention of my name. I don't allow myself to look for the person calling me, because all I think about is my precious laptop falling to the ground. Not again! My body comes forward before the plastic apparatus reaches its final destination. When I have it firmly in my hands, I bring it up to my chest to hug it like a teddy bear; only that it's a very rigid and flat one with dozens of amateur reports created by me. I breathe out as I see danger drift away. I don't know if I'm unlucky or if I'm not destined to continue my dream of being a journalist, because all that frequently happens are accidents involving my computer. Although it may be the negative vibe is stored in the device and not properly in me.
I can no longer ignore that voice. Could it be the teacher? I bet it's him. I bet he will scold me in front of everyone and assign me a special task just to teach me the lesson of not ignoring him. I really try to listen to him, but his nonsensical speeches, repetitive and taken from some page on the internet, do nothing but wish I could leave his class. However, that idea can't be achieved; not when we are just weeks away from completing the course. Come on, Lydia, it's only 5 weeks away. Then you will say goodbye to him and you won't enroll again in a class taught by him. I repeat to myself that I have to look at the white boards at the front of the auditorium, but the fear of seeing myself being watched by the 63 registered students makes me cringe.
"Lydia! What are you doing?"
A smile floods my face when I realize it’s not the teacher, but Sandi, who repeats my name insistently. I turn to her and pat her forehead; by way of giving her back some of the discomfort she caused me.
"Why did you do that?"
Only now do I realize she never screamed my name; she is whispering. Why is she whispering? Oh no… I gulp at the expression on her face; she's not looking at me as much as she is looking at something above me. I move my lips for her to let me know if it's the teacher. She, half ashamed, affirms a single occasion to let me know he is behind me. I breathe out mentally, how is that possible? Just imagine you are exhaling in reality to simulate it, or so I think. After my mental exhalation, which actually consists of lip tightening, panic overflow, and a pair of sweaty hands, I slowly straighten in the seat to find a grayish figure in front of my seat.
"Miss Merced, I am glad to finally gain your very busy attention. Can you show me your notes on today's topic?"
My lips are still glued together in a slightly vulgar, a little embarrassing and a little awkward grin. I decide not to move until I'm fully aware of what is happening. There is no one else in the auditorium, or at least not in the nearby rows. Another mental exhalation. At least I won't live a greater humiliation than seeing myself pouting in front of the teacher. Am I pouting? The computer falls from my arms as if suddenly it was burning. I see second by second the fragile plastic figure fall into its inevitable destiny. When the base of the laptop hits the ground, I dictate in my head that I couldn't have done anything to modify its ending; that's how it should have happened.
I leave the inner mourning behind to bring my face to the now enraged teacher, who must surely be planning a thousand and one ways to kick me out of his class. On the one hand, I would like to give him reasons to increase his anger and achieve his mission, but I think of my parents' reaction to finding out and that pulverizes my conscience.
"I'm very sorry, Professor. The sermon notes? I mean... about the class. Yes, yes of course. They are around here."
There is not much space in which to look for the sheets where I was scribbling the last minutes, because I barely have a tiny table to support my belongings, but the table is empty, which implies the sheets must be scattered on the ground; next to my beautiful smashed computer. I bend down to pick up the sheets and my laptop. Sandi catches me off guard by placing a couple of sheets among mine. I don't understand what she's doing until I stop to read them vaguely; they are her own class notes. I look at her briefly, not knowing if I should thank or scold her for putting herself at risk for me. That mania she has of putting her neck at stake to save me, one day will cost her dearly and I will have no way to pay her.
I extend the papers in an involuntary and disorganized way towards the teacher. He takes them doubtfully, continues to read them and we stay in silence for some 10 eternal minutes. Can a person go 10 minutes without breathing? I hope I have broken a record, because I don't feel the air entering my nose, but I'm still aware of the threatening presence of the professor in front of me. Sandi's silence doesn't do much to help me, because I don't want her to leave me alone and I don't dare look at her to see if she's still there. I look from the foreign pages to the face of the teacher, when I sense he is about to look at me, I look back at the front of the auditorium.
"I'm fascinated by the title you created; of howls and a few barks. It's simple, but it attracts attention without a doubt."
I smile, trying to pretend the compliment belongs to me. The professor sighs, then subtly returns the sheets to my table. He crosses the arms, while I melt in the middle of a nonexistent heat.
"I expect something spectacular from you, Miss Merced. I have no doubt your participation in the class workshop will result in a project worth of my attention, just as you just won it."
The reminder of his makes my skin bristles, because I hadn't touched the subject in my head since the first day of class. Or maybe the teacher might have remembered us at the end of each session... How much time did I say I had left in this boring auditorium? 5 weeks. It's not enough time to elaborate anything. I open my eyes in horror, because just now I realize I left the project behind, when I should have been planning it from the beginning so that it had enough impact around this time.
"Because… you have a project going on, don't you?"
"Of course she does, professor! I'm helping her due to the brilliantness of the experiment. It has a huge social impact! You will be surprised, I assure you." Sandi leans forward to reply when she sees the hesitation on my face.
In order not to leave her in a bad position, I strive to participate in her invention.
"That's right. I would give you more details, but I'm afraid it would ruin all the hype behind the initiative."
Of those few times in life when my neurons decide to work to help me, they remind me I'm running late for the next class. That excuse forms in my head as I nimbly take my things and take Sandi by the arm to lift her along with me.
"We have to go, professor, but your class was excellent. I will do a more in-depth research on the subject; I'm sure pet-based headlines have a growing audience."
Like cat videos, I think. Before I can laugh and ruin Sandi's effort to pretend I was busy with the supposed workshop project, I bow awkwardly, holding all my belongings in my arms. Immediately afterwards, I leave the auditorium with Sandi at my side.
🎤 🎵 🎤 🎵 🎤 🎵
"I don't know what to do! I have nothing planned! It was all a lie!"
"Lydia, calm down! Let's think of something."
I paid no attention to any of the classes that followed from that disastrous humiliation in the auditorium. My time is counted and I spent the entire semester rambling on anything but Mr. Gómez's words. He found the perfect opportunity to rub my zero interest in his class in my face, but he could have done it sooner. Why wait until I had no chance to follow his instructions? That teacher is evil! He is conspiring against me! He surely is going to send all of his cats to my house to scratch me while I sleep. Not only that, my mother's cat will probably open the door for them and help them. Speaking of mothers, I can't let her find out about my ineptitude; it would be suicidal to tell her something about this issue.
I walk from one side to the other in one of the hidden corridors through which we usually hide so that no one finds us. What do I do now? I can lie on the floor and cry. Let's see, that's a good idea. I place the backpack on the floor, shake my clothes to welcome the dust that is about to get dirty, and finally lie on the ground; there, in view of who likes to pass and leave a coin of pity.
"Do you have a hat?"
"A hat? What are you talking about? What are you doing on the floor?"
"People will think I'm homeless, so they'll give me coins, that's what the hat is for. Or you could beg for me. Make up some story, say I'm protesting for whatever the current student discontents are. If you can't think of something better, you can always put dolphins as an excuse."
"Sandi, pay attention. Say we are going to build a dolphin habitat."
"Lydia that doesn't make the slightest sense."
I exhale. She is right. Maybe a puppy shelter? That would be too selfish of me. I'm about to close my eyes so that ideas flood my mediocre creativity void, but a couple of students stop to look at me. I stare at them, until one of them widens his eyes like he's scared.
"Are you okay?"
I lean on my elbows to see them at a better angle than from the ground. I grin widely, which makes them jump backwards.
"Don't worry, I'm just protesting for Mr. Gomez's cats."
"What's wrong with the cats?" One of them asks, though I could bet my entire allowance they have no idea which teacher I'm talking about.
"They had kittens. It's all chaos at home. The poor man can no longer come to work; he has to take care of them. You know how that is; having to feed 7 tiny mouths with the salary of a teacher... doesn't give for much."
One of them turns to see the other and nods. When they take out their wallet and between the two give Sandi a couple of bills, I understand they bought the whole lie. I don't feel any remorse by the time they decide to continue on their way, having left the money in the hands of my friend. I get up from the ground to know the amount won.
"How much did they give you?"
"Adding up each one's money, 80 dollars."
Sandi holds the bills as if they were smeared with gum chewed by someone else. I don't want to see her suffer, so I withdraw the money from her hands to put it in my backpack.
"Aren't you going to give it back?"
"Give it back, you say? With this I buy the shoes from the mall I was saving for and incidentally the earrings you wanted for your birthday. Let's get out of here."
Reluctantly, but not entirely surprised by my reaction, she follows me with a laugh wanting to flow from her lips bathed in pink.
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