How a teacher made an embarrassing moment more awkward, and how I was rescued.
Written and illustrated by Alejo Porras de los Ríos.
I was trying to keep the video camera steady in my hands while I chuckled at the scene, the rest of my friends attentive at the two guys acting out the most amateur script ever written:
“I have come from the dead to eat you,” mumbled one.
“…uhh… yes?” responded the other, with a blank expression that confirmed he had forgotten his lines.
There was an awkward silence and then we all burst into teary-eyed laughter for the next half an hour. It became irrelevant if we had to repeat this scene a thousand times, as this was the most fun homework we had been given in a while. As I rubbed my sore belly and attempted to shoot the same scene again, I realized how happy I was to be in this group. So happy indeed that I had almost forgotten the embarrassing way I ended up being part of it.
Even though my parents didn’t have much money when I was growing up they decided to enroll me in a private school to make sure I would receive a great education. I understand their decision now and I appreciate the effort they made, but back then I wasn’t thrilled about it. Being a poor kid in this environment meant that I felt out of place pretty often. Most kids would gather during the breaks to eat the food they purchased at the cafeteria, have avid conversations involving their favorite cable TV shows or their vacations to Disney, and proudly displaying their fancy backpacks. Granted, not all of them were like that, but as I kid I was prone to focus on extremes, especially the ones who reminded me of my shortcomings.
The highlight of my day was sports. I was decent enough to be invited during recess to play. Like many boys my age, this became my way to socialize which meant I didn't really develop relationships beyond the soccer field. That is until the incident with my well-intentioned fifth grade English teacher happened.
One sunny day, after teaching us about the use of adjectives, she thought that the best way for us to absorb the new lesson was to get together with a friend and describe him or her, using the new vocabulary we had learned. Well, that was a bright idea because everybody has a friend, right? My heart sank and a cold sweat ran down my neck as I heard the soft rumble of the chairs and desks moving out of their usual rows, and the happy chatter as everybody got together with their favorite persons and described each other. I started to panic a little bit. I was going to be singled out.
So I came up with a sort of plan, not a smart one I confess. My clammy hands grabbed my notebook and pencil as I slowly stood up and walked towards my teacher’s desk. A hint of sadness started to peek out of my eyes but somehow I arrived at the front of the classroom without any of my classmates noticing. I cleared my throat and shyly asked if I was allowed to do the assignment about her. She lifted her head to look at me frowning:
“Did you hear my instructions? You are supposed to get together with a friend and write descriptions about them,” she said in an irritated tone. As she said that I realized this had been a bad idea; I could’ve described one of my neighborhood friends or somebody else I knew. But I was confronted now, and embarrassed, so with a dry mouth and eyes fixed on the floor, I mumbled: “But... I…ehm… I don’t have any.”
My teacher’s expression softened, but then rapidly shifted to indignation. I was scared. She seemed mad at me as she stood up abruptly and addressed the whole class:
“Attention kids, our classmate here has just told me that he doesn’t have any friends to do his homework with,” she announced in her strong voice. The whole class remained still and attentive as I stood awkwardly and dead silent, wanting to vanish from existence.
“This is unacceptable!" she continued, "he’s a nice person and everybody deserves a friend. I am going to leave you a group project, to make a short movie, and I want five of you to step up to be his friends and work together on this homework. Who would like to volunteer?"
Time seemed to stop after this last question, the perplexed expressions of my classmates felt like spotlights burning my skin. But the silence was intense and I was shaking, humiliated to the core of my bones. What was I thinking? I was socially defunct for sure, any minute now the earth was going to swallow my corpse and bury it in shame.
My teacher’s fierce expression made it clear that it was a serious matter and she wouldn’t take anybody making a joke of it, but still nobody was moving a finger.
I scanned the silent room once more on the verge of tears. This was hell, there was no doubt. My head felt tremendously hot.
But suddenly some timid movements filled the air. Five brave souls raised their hands, with a mix of fear and compassion in their faces. It was as if their arms had stretched out to catch me before I fell into my self afflicted grave.
I could feel the air filling my lungs again.
“See, now you have some friends. Go do your assignment,” my teacher said.
With my face still red I ran to my desk and join my new group of friends. They were casual and kind enough to not make fun of me, and we started brainstorming ideas as if the last 10 minutes hadn’t happened. We decided to make zombie movie, that way we could be forgiven of our bad pronunciation (undead people are not particularly eloquent).
A few days after the incident I was filming our English homework with them, the five guys who had dared to rescue me from embarrassment. As I directed the camera once more to shoot the scene for the hundredth time and hit the record button, I also let my mind capture this moment. I didn’t know then but they would become my closest friends for the rest of my school days.