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The Blue Puzzle

“What is it that Ms. Cherian said, that made you so angry,” asked Mr. Mitchell, the principal, his typically kind eyes now a little hard. Racism was not something he tolerated in his school. He usually had a student suspended for using racial slurs or words that even remotely sounded racist. Blue was now silent and looking down at her hands which seemed to be trembling slightly. She refused to look at Mr. Mitchell who continued to regard her coolly. Hot tears suddenly welled up in her eyes as she kept them obstinately downcast. She had not meant to say what she had to Ms. Cherian. It wasn’t that she didn’t like the teacher. It was just that the woman would not let up when she started on her work. Other teachers had just let her be. They had just given up on her and left her alone. Why couldn’t this woman do the same? She hated classwork because it bored her to death. In any case, what was she going to do with classwork? She wasn’t going to go to college. Her mother was not going to send her to college. “You go earn your keep. Don’t think I am going to take care of you all your life,” Grace would always sarcastically say.

Tears streamed down Blue’s face as she studied her nails intently. She tasted the salt in her tears as she bit her lip to stop herself from making a sound. Elisa looked at the girl, compassion rising in her, her anger already non-existent. Mr. Mitchell’s eyes softened when he repeated, “What is it that made you angry with Ms. Cherian. Is it something she said or is it just her?” Blue shook her head while she continued to stare at her nails, and barely stifled a sob. “I didn’t want to rewrite the essay,” she said softly. “You didn’t want to rewrite the essay because you think she is unfair and that it was already good enough? Or, you simply didn’t want to do it because it was too much work?” Mr. Mitchell persisted. Blue shook her head as she responded, “I didn’t think I can do any better than what I had already done. I thought I had done my best.” “And, you think it isn’t right for Ms. Cherian to think that you are probably more capable than you think are? In other words, you feel Ms. Cherian is unfair in seeing potential in you and believing in you. So you felt it was fair for you to insult her because she offered to help you get a better grade?” Mr. Mitchell continued. Elisa could barely stop a smile from tugging at the corners of her mouth. He had a flair for steering students towards realizing the ridiculousness of their indiscretion. 

Blue was silent for a few minutes. She then turned to Elisa and said, “I am sorry Ms. Cherian. I should not have said what I did. I just don’t think I can do any better.” “You don’t even want to find out if you can, just once?” persevered Elisa. Blue stared at Elisa. She wasn’t used to anyone paying her so much attention. Her mother dismissed her most of the time, while most teachers found her fatiguing, and her classmates thought she was simply weird. “Why is it so important to you that I do well in class?” asked Blue suddenly curious about this Indian woman with the sharp nose and large dark eyes that seemed to look right into her. Elisa shrugged as she responded, “Because you are my student and I like all my students to do well.” 

Elisa meant what she said but for some reason what she said did not quite sound convincing even to her. She liked all her students to succeed but there was something about Blue that intrigued her. This girl drew her. She wanted to help this surly, angry child, somehow. Blue was rude to her, indifferent and often downright offensive but there was something about her that seemed to suggest a bond or tie with her. Elisa had often wondered if it was the “Indianness.” She knew Blue was part Indian because her last name was Raman. And Valerie too had told her at lunch one day. “You should meet her mom,” Valerie had said between mouthfuls of salad, as Elisa had listened thoughtfully chewing on her paratha. “A real loony bin, either drunk or hung over all the time,” she said accepting the piece of paratha that Elisa handed to her. “This stuff smells divine. You need to teach me how to make it.” 

Frowning slightly, Elisa nodded smiling but said nothing as her mind was on Blue. “I have met her mom. She was a little standoffish, would not talk to me at all. I figured it was because I was new. Does Blue have a father?” she asked. Valerie merely shrugged and replied, “Never met him. I am not sure he lives with them. But he is Indian, South Asian. Somethins’ goin’on with that girl, though. She is always in a world of her own. One time I thought she was on something. But the other kids tell me that Blue’s mom Grace is so strict that Blue is terrified of her. I think she tried it once and got into so much trouble with her mom that the girl won’t touch it even if you handed it to her. There’s somethin’ else and she won’t talk about it.” Lunch was over and the kids began to troop back into their classrooms. Valerie shrugged and smiled slightly, almost with resignation, “We wanna help them all but we’re only with them for seven hours a day. There is only that much we can do.” Elisa had to nod for this. Anyway, what happened after that afternoon made Elisa forget about Blue, at least temporarily.

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