Breathe

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It's About Time—Unite!

School started on Monday with history. Caleb hadn’t picked Mina up from her home as usual because his mother instructed him to go to class without diversions and come straight home again. She had warned Caleb that he was still too young for relationships and everything else that went with it.

Caleb sat next to Mina before the lesson began and shook his head. “My mom actually thinks we made out. Can you believe that?”

Mina managed to give him a quick smile, but Caleb’s comment made her think. She waited quietly for the teacher to join class while weighing each word he had just said in her mind. Would it be so terrible to make out with me?

Caleb took his notepad out of his rucksack and slammed it down on the table. “If she thinks she can lock me up like a child, then she’s deluded. She even took my computer away—that old junk doesn’t even work.” He mimicked his mother, “You’re going to get us all in trouble with a thing like that at home,” and an incredulous laugh escaped him. “If only she knew.”

Minas studied him out of the corner of her eye. He had muttered the last remark, and the flyers and pamphlet, the words and slogans written on them, infiltrated her mind. An inexpressible urge to reach out to him, to hold him close, was interrupted by the teacher’s entry into the classroom.

“Class begins,” Mr. Gilman called into the room. Their history teacher, usually well-groomed, wore a three-day beard and had dark circles under his eyes. “Please open your books to page forty-five.” The order was followed by the sound of an entire class pulling out their textbooks, and for the first time since the attack, Mina noticed that all the students were present again—the shock of the bomb had given way to everyday life.

“On September first, 1939, Adolf Hitler declared the long-planned war for the so-called Aryan race’s living space in the East with Germany’s invasion of Poland,” Mr. Gilman began his history lesson, turning to the blackboard with a piece of white chalk in hand to note the date and Second World War. “It was the beginning of mass destruction that would never have taken place without the relentless advance in technology and machinery. Our ancestors, too, were victims of scientific progress and a technocratic society that...” Mr. Gilman did not continue. Silently, he stood in front of the blackboard and rolled the white chalk in his hand from one finger to the other, and then took a deep breath. The room was plunged into an oppressive atmosphere, everyone quiet as mice.

Eventually, Mr. Gilman faced the class but made no eye contact. He looked as if he had not slept for days. “It’s just not right,” he said more to himself than to his students, who stared at him with wide eyes, entirely baffled by his distraught appearance.

Mina noticed Caleb leaning forward in his chair as if anticipating something, his fingers clutching the pen so tightly that his white knuckles protruded.

“It’s not right,” Mr. Gilman repeated, louder this time, his gaze now resolutely turned to the room.

“What’s not right, Mr. Gilman?” It was Caleb who asked.

“Everything!” Their teacher threw the chalk on the floor with all his might. “People are disappearing and getting neglected. Young folks like you...This is just not right.”

Mina looked at her wrist with the three tattooed dots, and her hands began to tremble. It wasn’t supposed to be like this—weren’t adults meant to be in charge when everything was going down the drain?

“Enough of this nonsense!” Mr. Gilman suddenly cried out and started to run through the rows of benches like a scalded cat, snatching the books out of the students’ hands and flinging them away. He returned to his desk, panting, and dropped into the chair. Then, with his face buried in his hands, he repeated over and over again, “It’s just not right.”

*

Mina had difficulty keeping up with Caleb. Everything about him screamed tension as he left school with long strides, running across the lawn towards the parking lot.

“What are you doing?” she shouted after him, but Caleb pretended not to hear her. When Mr. Gilman had made no effort to explain himself or to continue the lesson, the students began to leave the classroom in turn. Their teacher didn't stop them, and Caleb had taken his things and departed as well.

Mina sped up and held him by the arm. “Wait a minute.” They both came to a halt. In the distance, the familiar sounds of a busy school day could be heard. No one seemed to have caught wind that a whole bunch of sophomores had left their class early.

“Let me go, Mina,” Caleb said, steady, and he wriggled his arm out of her grip. “I have to go.”

Caleb had done many stupid things in his life, but skipping school was a first even for him. Mina looked at him with pleading eyes, the faint, ever-present voice in her head saying that Mr. Gilman’s breakdown had been a trigger for him. The words stuck in her throat—she wanted to ask him so many things—but his face reflected what had been clear to her for some time now: Caleb had made up his mind.

“Are you going to one of these meetings?” Mina joined the words of the flyer and pamphlet in her mind, It’s about timeUnite!

She would remember that moment for the rest of her life as a gentle breeze played with Caleb’s dark, untamed hair, his face enwrapped by the warm rays of the morning sun. To her surprise, he suddenly looked content. “You should come with me,” he said.

“I can’t.” The answer came without hesitation. It was a decision Mina had made a long time ago, and yet, she was disappointed that she couldn't follow Caleb, that he was going in a different direction, and that she, at least for this part of his life, wouldn’t be by his side.

Caleb smiled at her. It was not a dismissive one but one of understanding. He took her hand in his and gently stroked the back of it with his thumb. His eyes were glued to their intertwined fingers, and Mina believed her heart would burst into thousand tiny shards.

“Don’t worry, okay? I’ll be fine,” he told her. Mina allowed herself to believe that he was telling the truth. At least for a brief moment. Caleb let go of her hand and turned, leaving her behind. Relaxed, he walked across the school’s old parking lot, his book bag over his shoulder and his skateboard tucked under his arm. He whistled a song that Mina knew all too well from the many sessions in his room when they had listened to record after record. The song was called "Another Brick in the Wall". She gazed after Caleb until he disappeared and then went back to school, unaware that a young woman was watching her from a second-floor window of the building.

Jessica Lee.




******
Thank you all for reading Part I of 'Breathe'.
...to be continued...'Part II: Changes' will start to go online in April :-)




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