Wandering down the office as slow as he could, he thought about Ms. Spellman. She was a middle-aged woman with curly blond hair and large dangling jewelry hanging low off her neck. She was the school’s counselor. Philip knew that the dumb kids and troublemakers had to meet with her. Was he dumb or a troublemaker? He knew he wasn’t dumb. Everyone told him how smart he was. He had always believed them. A troublemaker? All he had done was turn in his math homework in crayon. He had done it on the bus this morning on the way to school. He had suddenly remembered the homework as they were pulling away from his bus stop. The page was a ball in the bottom of his bookbag. He fished it out and then looked for a pencil. There was one in the bag but the tip had broken off. He pushed the broken tip hard against the page. It didn’t make a mark. He tried scraping the end of the pencil on the metal edge of the bus window. The wood just got flat and shiny. He fished around in his bag again. All he had was the broken end of a purple crayon. Philip scanned the page for duplicate problems. As the class had only reached five on the multiplication table there were always duplicates among the fifty problems. Four times four, two times three, and one times five were all printed twice. One times three was printed three times. Phillip quickly marked the answers for the duplicate questions. He then looked for inverted problems: two times three and three times two, etc. Finding those he answered them in short order. He then scanned the page for “one times…” questions. There were four of them. He quickly marked down the answers for those. The bus began to turn into the school parking lot. As he filed out of the bus and walked into school he pushed the paper to the back of his hand and began answering the rest of the questions in order, starting from the top right and moving back and forth down the rows like a farmer plowing a field. As he turned into the classroom he folded the paper and put it in the middle of the pile growing on his teacher’s desk. He went to his desk and put his bookbag underneath his desk. Remembering his pencil he pulled the bag to the top of his desk and found the pencil and took it to the pencil sharpener. He sharpened the pencil to a fine point and returned to the desk just as the first bell was ringing. Two hours later, as the rest of the kids ran out to the playground, Philip was called to the office to answer for the crayoned homework.
Now he was sneaking down the hall peeking into classrooms and making faces at the students. He imagined himself a spy invading the enemy compound as he darted from doorway to doorway. Inside the classroom were prisoners that he was here to save, if only he could find the control room and… Philip tried to imagine what it was that he would do in the enemy’s control room that would send the compound into chaos. He then noticed that he had reached the end of the hallway and had forgotten to turn the corner earlier. He backtracked to the corner, now imagining himself at the head of an army of marching soldiers. “Left Face!” he shouted in his mind as he turned the corner. He marched stiffly humming a cadence to himself. “Left Face!” He thought again as he turned into the classroom. The classroom was strangely silent as he entered. He looked around and realized that everyone was still at recess. Mrs. Armstrong looked up from her desk. She was a pretty woman somewhere in her thirties who consistently wore decorated sweatshirts and slacks to school. She had holiday versions and vacation versions and even some that were made by her previous classes and decorated with their signatures. “Back already? You can go out to recess if you want, you still have ten minutes.” Philip shook his head and walked to his desk. He was secretly relieved that he had missed recess. He spent most recesses alone on the swings with a book. The other children didn’t make fun of him or pick on him. They simply ignored him and allowed him his private space and his book. He would sometimes look over the top margin of the page and feel lonely as the other kids threw balls at each other or chased each other screaming across the pavement. He was not very coordinated and couldn’t run very fast. He figured it was because he was lazy. And it hurt a lot. So instead he would immerse himself in a book, swinging slowly back and forth, until finally the bell would ring and he’d trot up to line formed at the door. So he was perfectly happy with not going out to the playground. He sat at his desk with a book in hand.