“Okay people, who wants to read first?”
Squinting for better vision, Hector Bates scanned his class of twenty-three students. Forty-five eyes were looking at anything and everything but him. Some students were writing furiously in a vain attempt to look like they were taking notes. Some were shuffling through their backpacks, and one was even picking her nose. A student in the back, who had lost his left eye in a B.B. gun accident when he was in grade school, was rolling his glass eye around on the desk. That kid was a character. Always taking out that eye to play with when he was bored. Seeming to sense he was being watched, the boy very carefully blew the dust off the eye and popped it back into his socket, folding his hands innocently on his desk when he finished.
“People, the assignment was to write a short poem about forgiveness. Did any of you actually do it?” Again, Hector looked around the classroom. It was obvious that none of them had done anything. He could feel his chest tightening as a familiar feeling built up inside him. What the hell is wrong with kids these days? Why is it that they can never do anything that involves a little bit of thinking?
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t more than a little bit disappointed in all of you. Now I know that you are all intelligent students… you’d better be; you are in college. I’m afraid that I’m going to have to fail each one of you for this assignment. And I don’t want any complaints. This is the way real life works. When you slack off, you risk losing. You’re lucky your only losing a grade here. Believe me, things could be a lot worse…” He glared at his students. “What if your life had depended on completing this assignment? Would you have done it then?”
“Ugh! Really, Professor Bates, I think most of us did the assignment, we just don’t want to read out loud!”
Hector’s eyes darted to where the voice came from. The short brunette in the back was rolling her eyes at him. What was her name? Mercedes, or Lexus, or Toyota, he knew it was a car of some sort.
“I’m sorry, young lady, but this course requires you to read your original work out loud to the class, so they can benefit from hearing other peoples writing styles, and you can benefit from the critique.”
The car-girl snorted. “Actually, this is a poetry writing class, sir, I don’t hear anything about poetry reading in the title, do you?”
Hector fumed silently while the classroom filled with snickers. Where did they get off talking to him that way? Didn’t the youth of this day respect their elders? Their professors? Their superiors? What ever happened to “Yes, Professor Bates”, “We’ll do that assignment, Professor Bates”, “We appreciate you, Professor Bates”? How dare these students sass him like this? Would they speak to their grandparents in this manner?
Hector was silent for a few minutes, slowly looking over the classroom. He had to calm himself down. He didn’t want to end up doing something he might regret.
“You know what? I think class is over. I don’t really feel like dealing with you right now. You are all excused for today, but please be here on time on Friday. Everyone who did the assignment please leave it here on my desk.”
* * * * *
Hector stared blankly at the empty classroom. It certainly hadn’t taken them very long to leave. These days it seemed like no one wanted to learn anymore. No one cared about education, or increasing their knowledge. They were wasting their lives, and causing him to waste his. They were taking up his time and taking up room on this planet with their meaningless existences. But no, he was being too harsh. They had to be worth something. At least one of them had to have actually tried on the assignment. One of them had to give a damn.
Sighing, Hector slowly walked over to his desk. He could feel his bones creaking with every step. “fifty-two years…”
He lowered himself carefully into his chair and began reading over the poetry. Just one, he thought, I only need to find one. If I can find one, only one, maybe things aren’t so bad. One good poem. That’s it. Someone has to care about learning. Just let me find that one person… the one person who actually tried…
The room was so still that Hector could hear the second hand in his watch tick, reminding him of each passing second. He read one. Then another. He continued to read his students’ poems, feeling his frustration rise as he went through page after page of pure crap. After reaching the end of the stack of papers, he replaced the cap of his pen, and carefully put it on the desk. He studied the veins and wrinkles in his hands. Hmmm, my fingernails could use a cleaning, he mused. He looked at his watch. Three-fifteen. Hector put his head in his hands, thinking… and waiting.
* * * * *
“Penny, can you believe that guy? I mean, he’s like, older than my grandfather, and he thinks he knows anything about modern poetry? Why do they stick us with these old geezers for teachers all the time? You’d think they’d force them to retire by this age.” Mercedes flipped her hair back with one quick swish of her fingers and looked over to her best friend Penny, who was nodding her head in agreement. “And he better not expect me to read my stuff out loud in class on Friday. That is not why I took this course.”
Penny frowned as she removed her glasses and cleaned them on her shirt. “Yeah, but you were kinda mean to him. I mean, he’s old. You might give him a stroke or something if you mess with him too much.”
“Well, that would be his fault for teaching a college class. If he can’t handle a little criticism on his teaching style, then maybe he shouldn’t be teaching anymore. And he’s so old! He’s gotta be like eighty-something!”
“Still, you ought to be a little nicer to him. I mean, for all we know he could be like this insane head case that’s going to go crazy and kill one of us for mispronouncing a word!”
The girl snorted. “Please, he probably can’t even make it to the bathroom by himself at night, I doubt he could kill anything… except maybe our interest for poetry!”
Laughing hysterically, the two girls continued their walk back to their dorms.
* * * * *
With a start, Hector sat up in his bed and listened. Did he hear a sound? Was a noise coming from his basement? But no, no, that basement was soundproofed decades ago. Nothing could get into it. Or out of it. Nothing and no one. He hadn’t been down there in years himself, so it would be impossible for anything else get down there. It must have been a dream. Yes, just a dream. He lowered his body onto the bed and went back to sleep. Tomorrow was Friday. Tomorrow. Tomorrow.
* * * * *
“Well class, I hope all of you are up to reading your poetry today.” Defiant stares greeted him. At least they are looking at me this time, he thought.
“Um, professor Bates, I don’t think any of us want to read. I don’t see why you need us to read out loud.”
That car girl again. But instead of getting angry, Hector smiled. “Yes, I thought that, Toyota. I figured as much. And to tell you the truth, I didn’t think too much of any of your poetry in the first place.”
The class stared at him in astonishment or anger, sometimes it is hard to tell the difference. The car girl seemed to object to being called Toyota… He must have guessed wrong.
“OK, I’ll tell you what. Since none of you seem to care much for this class, I’d like to make a deal with you. Far be it from me to try to force education on the uninterested. However, if you all agree to come on a field trip to my house, I’ll show you my complete collection of poetry from the last two centuries. If, after seeing and hearing some of the greatest poetry ever written, you can all truthfully say that you still don’t want to take this class, I’ll let you off the hook. I’ll give you all B’s in my class, and you don’t have to come again. Is that fair?” Judging from excited murmers and the looks on the faces of everyone in the room, Hector could already see that they would do it. He smiled.
* * * * *
“Damn, it smells in here,” Mercedes whispered to Penny as they entered the house. “He must have like eighty cats!”
Hector’s head turned slightly towards the voices. Not yet, not yet…. “This way, class. Come, my library is in the basement. I think you will all be pleasantly surprised with what I have down there.” he said, choking back a chuckle. He lead the way towards the heavy, iron door. It took all of his strength just to open it. Hector stood to the side as they all filed into the basement. They had only just started to scream when he shut the door behind them, silencing the voices forever.
Hector stood quietly next to the door for hours, almost as if in a trance. When he came to, he shook his head, as if he did not remember how he got there. Ah, I’ll never get used to getting old, he thought, as he turned around and headed to the kitchen and make himself a sandwich.