Friday, 4 July 2008

Spot the Symbolism

It was destined to be an anomalous day right from the start. After all, the day began miserably raining while the sun shone though. But the case was truly made as I opened my textbook to today’s ninth grade lesson:

I read over the dialogue and then I read it again. Something just wasn’t right; something was, in fact, agonizingly, glaringly wrong. Before I had a chance to think about it further, however, I was ushered into my morning meeting with Nabeshima, my co-English teacher. We had finished discussing the lessons when he mentioned that he had been quite sick the day before. “I hope,” he grimaced, “that I can just make it through to lunch. There are no classes after lunch, at least.” I nodded sympathetically, feeling run-down myself.

Harnessing our secret stash of “teacher might” (mine was coffee, his was an energy drink) we went forth to class where twenty lethargic souls stared back at us unimpressed for ten minutes solid, until this event took place:

I was walking up and down the rows, checking the work of the students, when all of a suddenly a bee flew in through an open window. It was larger than any bee I’ve seen in Canada, in fact larger than any bee I have seen anywhere, for that matter. It was not so much its abrupt appearance into our lesson, however, that caused a stir but its inebriated “plunk plunk plunk” against the windowpane. Over and over it circled the room and came rudimentarily back the same spot, no doubt perplexed by the transparent shield that prevented its freedom, and which was the cause of its imminent death.

Having caught the attention of each and every child within the room, the bee proceeded to dive low into the crowd, creating a wave of screams and flapping arms in its wake. A boy (we will call him Taro) jumped courageously on the desks and began leaping from one to the other in a heroic effort to quench the beast’s life. I, meanwhile, was just as busy making everyone sit back in their chairs and “pay no attention to it, for heavens sake,” and “get back into your seats. What did that bee ever do to us?”

And then there was a moment. Deep within me there was a moment of telepathy as what was about to happen dawned on me, and there was nothing to do but flinch in anticipation.

And there it was… Taro, in slow motion, leaping from one desk to another, his fist striking an abrupt blow against the windowpane. It struck a blow and then it struck again, and without defying any rules to objects that are inflicted so, Taro’s hand went clean through the glass.

The room was silent. We looked from the window to his hand where blood was now beginning to swell. He smiled at the class, as cool as ever, and jumped down from the desk, laughing softly as he made a graceful exit from the class. There were drops of blood leading from the shattered glass down the hallway.

It is impossible to predict how things will effect you. Through the next and final class I stood in a bit of a daze, waving between shock and indifference. All in a day around here, I thought to myself. Just last week I caught the same boy climbing on the roof outside the third floor. When I hauled him into through the open window he was wet from the rain. Are you crazy! I cried. There were other boys standing there with their hands in their pockets. Are you crazy, I said again. I stared at them all with astonishment. Later that day I learned that a boy had died in Tokyo the day before. He had climbed onto the roof of the school and had fallen to his death.

Half an hour left of class. The sixth graders were more sober than usual because they had heard about the bee and the broken glass. They were given a stern lecture at the beginning of class, warning them to leave the bees alone, to ignore them, and to never, ever hit the glass. I looked outside and saw that it was beginning to rain again. It was insufferably humid. A bee entered the class. It made a silent flight around the room and then it predictably struck itself against the window. The students turned all at once and stared crying “sensei sensei!”

Called to arms, Nabeshima took up a piece of paper and rolled it. He struck out at the bee, hitting his mark and crushed it under his shoe. Only minutes later he was after yet another. He stumbled around the room after it, swatting and swatting. Inside I was screaming. I watched the scene like a spectre. There was a moment of confusion as several shoes joined the fight, and then all at once a second corpse lay on the ground.

I stood for a moment, feeling overwhelmingly stunned. What I wanted to do then was to walk away from that class, to walk away from the entire school. I stood for such a long time fighting the impulse that had to call my name several times before I came back to consciousness. Everyone was staring at me expectantly. I gazed at the textbook. I had no idea what we were doing; none at all. Before I could find my place in the book a third bee flew into the class. Like the bee before it, and the one before that and the one before that, it entered, it flew, it meandered, and it made for the window. And there it landed as one final, one tremendous, fatal blow was struck with Nabeshima’s rolled up textbook.

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