The school bell rang to signal the end of the day. Children dressed in puffy coats lined up at the door eagerly awaiting their chance to go back home.
“Okay, bussers,” Miss Fairway said, “you can head down the cafeteria to wait for you bus.” A large group of kids rushed out of the classroom door. “And the rest,” Miss Fairway said turning to her remaining students, “can follow me to the lobby where we’ll wait for your parents to pick you up.”
“Miss Fairway,” a student said.
“Why do you send the bussers off on their own but have to walk us down? We’re big kids, we can wait for our parents by ourselves.”
“I have no doubt that you all are big kids, but it’s a rule for us teachers. We need to stay with you to make sure you go home with the right parents.”
Amy snickered. “I’m pretty sure I know my mom and dad.”
Miss Fairway smiled and said, “I’m sure you do, Amy. But still, rules and rules.”
Hearing no further objection about dismissal, Miss Fairway led her remaining students out of the classroom and down into the school’s lobby which was filled with parents waiting to bring their children home. As soon as students saw their parents they broke out of the line to rush them. It was sort of startling, Miss Fairway thought, the differing levels of reactions that were displayed among the crowd of parents as their kids ran to them. There were some who bent down to embrace their children warmly, asking about their day (and they sounded genuinely curious). There were those who barely looked up from the cell phone to make sure the small being next to them was indeed their own. When that had been verified, they turned and walked out, not even looking back to make sure the child was following them.
Leila didn’t even look around her father, she went and sat down at a bench in front of the school’s office. She was small for the average fifth grader and her feet barely scraped the floor. Miss Fairway sat down next to her and asked, “You didn’t even look around for you dad, Leila.”
“He isn’t here.”
“Well, how do you know if you didn’t look around?”
“Because he’s never here on time.”
“Does he work? Maybe he’s just caught up in traffic.”
“No,” Leila said. “He will get here when he’s ready to come pick me up.”
Miss Fairway sat in awed silence. Leila was usually a very kind and friendly person to get along with, very open. Now, it seemed, everything she said was laced in double meanings and wrapped in hurt.
“Excuse me, Miss Fairway?”
Miss Fairway looked up and saw a parent standing above her with Alex at her side. “Could I have a moment with you?”
Miss Fairway looked over at Leila, who gave no indication she knew another woman was around her, and said, “Of course.” She stood up and motioned to a corner that was less crowded with parents and children.
Alex’s mom wanted to talk about how Alex’s grades were a bit below what she expected and honestly, Miss Fairway was only half involved in the conversation. Her mind kept wandering back to Leila and her predicament and what she could possibly –
Shaking herself slightly, Miss Fairway looked at Alex’s mom and said sincerely, “I am so sorry, Miss Miller. I’m a bit distracted right now. Would you like to set up a meeting time to discuss this further?”
Miss Miller smiled, as though she knew and sympathized with Miss Fairway’s distractions. “Of course. Does Monday after school work for you?”
“Sounds perfect,” Miss Fairway said.
“Come on, Alex,” Miss Miller said, turning to her son. “There’s a surprise waiting for you at the house.”
Alex grinned and started bouncing up and down. “Is he back? Is he back? Is he back?”
Mrs. Miller smiled. “Well, it wouldn’t be a surprise if I told you now, would it?” She turned around a winked at Miss Fairway. Alex’s older brother was in the military and had come home for a while. Mrs. Miller had wanted him to walk in and surprise Alex during class, but the times had conflicted and it would be better anyways, since Alex’s grades were a bit below average.
Miss Fairway smiled and turned back to the bench Leila had been sitting.
But the sad little girl was gone.