The Perils of Louella:

Chapter 193: Louella Meets Her Class

by A.C. Cherbonnier
       STUDENTS were backed up onto the sidewalk while the security guard checked every bookbag. Louella tried to make her way through the crowd. “Excuse me, please!” she kept saying, getting sullen glances in return. “I have to get through. I’m a teacher!”
      Gradually the crowd gave way, and Louella stepped inside the middle school for her first day as a long-term substitute math teacher. I’m already exhausted, and I haven’t even done homeroom! This is much more of an energy field than I ever felt on a job before! More than even the CIA! She made her way through the turmoil to her second floor windowless classroom.
      During her short orientation with the department chairman the day before, she’d asked about the lack of windows. “It’s a trade-off for the air conditioning,” Joe Horton had said. “They built this place with federal money back in the seventies, and that’s what they did back then.”
      She hung up her coat in the closet and noticed the lock was broken, and stuffed her purse in the bottom drawer of her desk. “Watch your stuff,” Joe Horton had said in parting. “You’d be amazed how things can disappear around here.”
      “But these are just thirteen-year-old kids!” she had protested.
      “Thirteen can be a lifetime on the streets,” he had answered. “You keep things locked up, there’s no problem. Just don’t lay out temptation, get my drift?”
      She had. She had even left her Coach purse at home and carried an old plastic one.
      A bell rang right outside the door. Oh great! It would be! She winced at the noise as she opened her roll book and stood at attention, hands behind her back, like the nuns had done back when she was in school.
      “Yo! Who you be?” asked a six-foot-tall boy who was nearly tripping on his over-long pants.
      Resisting the temptation to improve his grammar, Louella said, “I’m Miss Preston. I’ll be teaching math.”
      “Not to me! I’m in y’all special ed, ya know? You just got me for this here homeroom.”
      “And your name is--?”
      “I’m Damon. This here’s where I sit.” He plopped down, legs sprawled into the aisle. They exchanged smiles.
      “Y’all’s brave to be doin’ this,” he said.
      “Oh, I don’t know. You look like nice kids to me.”
      “You think so? Look, some of us is baaaad,” he grinned.
      “Well, you’ll help me out, right?”
      “Sure. You look okay to me. But you’re too skinny, you know? Need a little meat on ya.”
      Oh great! Already we’re into the personal stuff! “Tell you what--you don’t talk about my body, and I won’t talk about what you wear. Deal?”
      “Sure. Whatever.”
      A few more students came in and took their places. Louella referred to the seating chart her predecessor had made and checked them off as present.
      “Yo! Miss!”
      “Yes, Damon?”
      “How you know those other kids be in their right seats? I mean, they could be playin’ a game with y’all, ya know?”
      Guess they could, thought Louella nervously, seeing mischief on several faces. Oh great! Now what do I do? Ask for their IDs? Get their thumbprints or something?


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This story was published on February 2, 2000.