One Friday afternoon, just before the final bell, my tenth-grade science teacher, Mr. Humphrey, called my name. I froze and forced myself to meet his eyes. What had I done? While the boys clowned and the girls passed notes and preened, I practiced my true vocations—avoidance and anonymity. Was he angry? Did he know, somehow, that I hadn't heard a word for at least half an hour? No, his eyes were kind. "Can I see you for a minute after class?" he asked. I felt the warmth in my cheeks ignite into the fire of humiliation, and I jerked my head once in agreement. The murmurs and snickers that blossomed around my desk made it clear that, once again, I had provided entertainment for the masses. Once more, I'd played Christian to their lions.
The bell's scream brought the room to life. My classmates poured out the door, laughing and talking. On the doorstep of the weekend, the air turned festive as good-natured teasing and tentative plans were called out.
"You have to make an effort," my mother had told me at the beginning of the year. "I know you're new, but it won't be long before you have plenty of friends." I wondered then if she had some kind of book—a manual of phrases for every miserable occasion in the life of a misfit child. I wore the clothes, rehearsed my lines and made brief attempts to blend in—attempts far more painful than my subsequent self-imposed banishment to the school's leper colony of losers. There was something wrong with me, I decided. Always had been. Always would be.
Mr. Humphrey beckoned me to the front of the class. "Wait here. I'll be right back," he said and disappeared into the storage room. He returned carrying a small wire cage that he placed on the counter in front of me. I stared at the tiny sparrow huddled in the corner, one wing tucked neatly against his body, the other drooping as though glued to his side by a small child.
"I rescued him from my cats," he said. "I think his wing is broken."
I know Mr. Humphrey had heard the cruel words and seen me bite my lip and blink back the tears. He'd watched me sit alone as the others selected their lab partners. Was this his silent apology, his way of telling me that none of it really mattered? Perhaps, like my mother, he believed that my situation was temporary—that one day I would wake up special and sought after. "Do you think you can help me out?" he now asked.
I nodded and took the cage. Abruptly aroused from his lethargy, the bird panicked, fluttering and throwing himself against the wire. I took my sweater out of my book bag and placed it over the cage. Mr. Humphrey smiled. "I knew you could handle it," he said.
All the way home, I heard the bird chirping and flapping his one good wing. I hated the sound, and by the time I reached my house, I hated him for thinking he could still fly. In my backyard, I removed the sweater, and he resumed his wild and terrified dance. I opened the door and he stopped. I tapped the cage and urged him to go. "Why does everyone think broken wings can be fixed?" I said.
About the author:
Susan B. Townsend is a writer and stay-at-home mother. Transplanted from the west coast of Canada six years ago, she now makes her home on a farm in southeastern Virginia with her husband, five children, and too many animals. Her work has appeared in Megaera, The Moonwort Review, Pierian Springs, The Rose and Thorn, Poor Mojo's Almanac(k), Thunder Sandwich, and others.