When I sit down next to him, I pretend it isn’t on purpose.
He joined our class late. I don’t know him like I do everyone else. The little I do – parts of his past disrupt his present, could potentially damage his future – troubles me. I sit beside him because I want to start to learn him. His reasons. Restrictions.
Asking everyone to find Chapter 2 in Their Eyes Were Watching God, I pace my classroom’s perimeter and pull out the chair nearest his as if it’s the first available one I see. I ask for volunteers to review what we read yesterday, make predictions for what might happen today.
Once I’m satisfied they’re ready, I begin to read aloud. Only a few minutes pass before he interrupts me with a question. I assume it’s about the scene we just read: Janie, our 16-year-old protagonist, discovers her grandmother plans to marry her off to a much older man. But he flips back a page and points to a single sentence.
"So she didn't know her parents? Either of them?"
When he asks this, about Janie never knowing her father or her mother, something tells me not to speak. Instead, I nod.
His eyes watch the words. I can't tell if he's reading, thinking, feeling. Eventually, he also nods. And I continue where we left off.
Kerry Graham lives, teaches, writes, and kayaks in Baltimore, MD. Her most recent essays have appeared in HuffPost, and her vignettes have been published in several literary journals. Connect with her on social media: @mskerrygraham.