A story for my brother.
I quietly trudged up to the classroom door, each step feeling as heavy as if I had just crawled out of a pool of thick mud. Mom said I would be fine and make new friends, but I didn’t really believe her. It used to be easy for me to make new friends, but after moving to new cities and transferring schools three times in the past two years, I’m not sure I remember how to.
I pushed open the door marked “003” and came into what looked like a jungle. The green carpet was littered with toys and coloring utensils. Kids were swarming around a bin full of markers and colored pencils like an army of ants devouring the carrion of a peacock, while another group chased after one boy in a frenzied game of cat and mouse. I looked around and saw a group of boys playing leapfrog in one corner, and some girls playing hair salon with Barbie dolls. I ignored the other children and dragged on to find a desk somewhere in the back of the classroom. I walked so slowly mostly because of my lack of enthusiasm, but partially because of my backpack. It was so full of books, folders, and paper that it felt like I was carrying a house. It didn’t help that I stuffed my lunchbox in there too. For a second, I pondered crawling around on all fours to make my excursion into the depths of the Congo classroom easier, but I didn’t want the other kids to look at me like a freak. Despite the huge burden it was on my feeble spine, my backpack provided some comfort; its monstrous size somehow made me feel safe in this new world.
When I sat down at my chair with my oversized book bag, my chest was pushed up against the desktop. I felt too big to be sitting in such a manner, but I tried my best not to worry about it. I wondered where the teacher was and began twiddling my thumbs to pass the time. I was about to pull out my juice box when I looked over next to me and saw the class pet sitting in a tank.
I climbed out of my chair and walked over to the glass case marked “Franklin.” He was a small green turtle, about the size of a burger, with bright green skin and a darker colored shell. It was outlined with a bright yellow strip, and was sprinkled with brown and grey spots. Franklin was standing next to his food dish munching on a lettuce leaf when I came up to him. I think I scared him because he quickly receded into the safety of his shell.
“Don’t worry little guy,” I softly said to him through the glass. “I’m your friend. My name’s Tony.”
Franklin didn’t budge. I could see him shift a bit, but he didn’t come out. I guess Franklin was afraid of people, or he was just really shy like me.
All of a sudden, I had a great idea to help him see how much I wanted to be his friend. I took off my tank of a backpack and pulled out my crayon box and a sheet of paper. I quickly drew a green dome, added four little stumps for arms and legs, and a small circle for a head. I finished my illustration with a smile and black dots for a face, and I topped the page with the words “Tony the Turtle.” I excitedly ran up to the glass once more and pressed up my picture against it. I gently tapped the glass to get Franklin to wake up, but he remained indifferent to my attempt at gaining his attention. Disappointed, I slumped down onto my backpack. I was about to put my stuff away when I felt someone’s finger tap my shoulder.
Whoever it was startled me, and I sprang up from the ground the way a cat does when taken by surprise. I turned around to see it was a girl with bright green eyes and wavy red hair. She was really, really pretty.
“Are you trying to make Franklin come out?” she asked, bobbing her head to the side like an owl.
“Um…” I couldn’t look at her. I was embarrassed for being startled so easily.
“You have to pet his shell if you want to do that,” she smiled. “Teacher doesn’t let us open up Franklin’s case, but the poor thing needs love and attention so I always play with him before class. I think it’s sad how he’s always alone in there.”
I wasn’t sure how to respond. The girl smiled at me once more and I felt my cheeks grow hot. Still humiliated and now more nervous, I felt like taking all my stuff out of my backpack and crawling inside for safety. I disregarded the notion, and watched as the girl opened the hatch atop the case and stuck her small white hand inside. Her delicate finger unfurled from her palm as she began softly tracing patterns on Franklin’s shell. She tenderly caressed each small plate before tracing a line to connect them all.
“Come on, Franklin. Say hi,” she whispered to the glass.
Sure enough, Franklin’s head gently popped out his shell. He looked up towards the red haired girl before letting his legs and tail out. I think the turtle recognized her. My face beamed with delight from seeing Franklin come out of his shell so much that it somehow sparked me to come out of mine as well.
“…He really likes you, huh?” I mumbled.
“Franklin likes everyone,” she said, now petting the turtle’s head. “You just need to warm up to him before he starts to remember you.”
“Th-thanks for helping me see Franklin,” I stuttered. I’ve never done that before. “My name’s Tony.”
“I’m Misty,” she charmingly responded as she pulled her hand out of the turtle’s tank and set it before me. “Nice to meet you.”
I slowly took her hand in mine and we shook. While just moments ago I was unable to maintain eye contact with this girl, I found myself staring into those lustrous green eyes with a smile across my face. She noticed too, and she bashfully looked away as her cheeks glowed a soft pink. My own face retained its former warmth, but I didn’t care. She was beautiful to look at.
Misty and I stood by Franklin’s glass tank and continued petting him until the school bell rang. The teacher walked in as we took our seats next to each other at the back of the classroom. I smiled at Misty once more, and instantly knew this school would be different from all the rest.