The car engine stops gurgling. I stab at my seat belt release button with my thumb, and open the back door of my mom’s white Mazda Station wagon. The smell of car, gas and lotion mixes with the cool February air. I rub the tips of my thumbs around each other as I wait for Mom. I look at her navy blue nurse uniform and notice she still wears her white work hijab. Mom takes off her glasses revealing two red spots on the bridge of her brown nose. Her eyes seem deep, dark and distant.
We head to the nearest door of my elementary school Brookhaven P.S and I bounce ahead to open the door for my mom. I lace my fingers tight and rub my thumbs hard against each other.
“We’re not allowed to go in from here during school--it’s for big grade five kids.”
The building smells like old leaves, metallic heaters, rubber boots and salted snow. We walk by a radiator which feels hot on my already warm face. I look at my feet and keep twiddling my thumbs.
When I look up again we stand at the foot of the staircase.
I run ahead and count every other step making sure I don’t step on any cracks. We step through the door, turn into the hallway and peep into my class.
My grade two teacher, Mrs. Chesworth talks to a Chinese lady-someone with slanted brown eyes, milky white skin and silky black hair. Mrs. Chessworth’s short blond hair shimmies at the bottom while she talks. I think she smiles at the lady: Mrs. Chessworth smiles a lot.
Mrs. Chessworth opens the classroom door and says goodbye to the Chinese lady, they both laugh and smile. Mrs. Chessworth waves us into the room training her smile on us. Mom quickly steps into the class but I stop at the door. I stand on one foot with my hand gripping the doorframe. My mom continues inside not sensing my hesitation. Mrs. Chessworth looks at me, her hazel eyes full of something I don’t understand.
My mom eyes me and I rush across the room nearly colliding with a table before I dive into the chair across from my teacher and beside my mom.
“Hello, Mrs. Temame.” My teacher says awkwardly.
“I don’t know what Sara has told you about …”
I slouch down in my seat, trying to see across the room into my desk. I do it quietly, slowly and carefully so mom doesn’t notice. I think I left my eraser in there.
I glance over at my mom, her lips drop at the sides making a long even line. At the corner of her mouth her beauty mark quivers. She holds her glasses in her fist as she glares at my teacher. Her brown eyes don’t move.
I start twiddling my thumbs as I reach for binders in the desks I sit at but then I remember the class finding a cockroach in a binder last week. I yank my fingers back and sit up. I put my fists on the table and rest my chin on my fists. I make sure my belly leans far from the binder.
“So what can we do?” My mom’s eyes wrinkle at the sides, her lips lie flat.
I stop wiggling around in my seat.
“Well, Mrs.Temame, Sara isn’t doing very well. If she doesn’t improve, she’ll have to repeat second grade.”
I look away from my teacher. She pauses for a frightfully long time.
Cautiously, I look at her.
She looks from me to my mom, then back to me, and then she looks down at her papers. She stays like that for a moment before speaking.
“There is something that we-- you could do. There is a test that Sara can take, to see if she can be identified.”
“It’s so that she can pass, and get some extra help in grade three.” She says this last part looking at my mom.
My mom’s face is a chiseled stone. Her untrusting eyes stay on Mrs.Chessworth.
“What’s this test about?”
My mom and Mrs. Chessworth speak, but Mrs. Chessworth speaks more— a lot more. Mom holds the papers in her hands. Her glasses sit on her face so I can’t see her eyes. My mom can see something in the papers, something Mrs.Chessworth will not say. The wrinkles on her forehead look deep and the curl in her lip makes her beauty mark dip low. Her hard face doesn’t change not even when she reads the paper through.
I freeze and start to imagine the test:
I get chained to a chair, fused to the table, and bolted to the floor as a heavy pencil burdens my small hand and soon I hear the strange agonizing screams from other test writers and see their withering forms and I scream and shake with them when I see bad guys with shadowed faces and suits dark with menace walk back and forth across the room, watching me as I scrabble to hide the answers on the desk. I hang my head and shiver.
The day dream ends and I sit beside my mom again.
My mother’s lips fall so flat that the bottom lip disappears. She picks up the pen and looks at the paper one last time. My mom signs the paper. The paper that identifies me for grades two, three, four, five and twelve.
I can see her brown eyes again; they restore the softness to her face but the wrinkles on her forehead don’t go away. Neither my mom nor Mrs. Chessworth smile when we leave.