I ain’t like the other kids. I do my school work, I stay quiet, I follow directions. And right now, the direction is left. We turn left when we get to the end of the hallway to circle back to the other end. And then we repeat, turning left again. We’ve been doing this for ten minutes straight, because our line to and from the bathroom break was loud and crooked. People keep muttering under their breath, sighing loudly, slapping their feet down hard on the tile floors, and straying from the line just a little too much. Titus has stopped walking entirely. He’s leaned on the wall near the water fountain with his back to us and keeps repeating “I don’t care” as Mrs. Fries - pronounced freeze for whatever reason - keeps telling Titus that everyone will keep walking until he gets back in line. We become this circling brown wheel at least once a week since the teachers don’t allow us to go anywhere individually anymore. Hall passes allowed too many disruptions, too much time to be wasted, too much sneaking around to do other things.
I ain’t like the other kids. Sure, the bright hall filled with colorful motivational posters and a bulletin board with little kids projects look nice, but I’d rather be looking at the black and white sheets of a math packet, working hard as Mrs. Fries stares at her computer screen. Mrs. Fries says I’m the only one that acts like I care about my education. And I do care. That’s why, as usual, I want to finish my homework after that packet. But here I am, turning left, passing by the same bulletin board covered in kindergarteners’ crayon drawings of their future selves.
I ain’t like the other kids. My mama says I got things going for me besides drugs and jail, because I’m smart and behave just as asked. I turn another corner, and I already know Titus is about to get suspended again. Maybe an in-school suspension. He’ll sit in Mr. Jackson’s cramped classroom doing silent work all day or staring at the dingy beige walls covered with the many staples left there after decorations were pulled down. Maybe he’ll get an out-of-school suspension.
“I don’t care,” Titus says as he throws his head back.
Mrs. Fries has both hands on her hips as she stands in front of him. “Titus, don’t yell at me.” Her voice is screechy.
“You yelling at me!”
He hits the wall with his side of his hand, hard and loud, and Mrs. Fries flinches despite how much bigger than him she is. He huffs and flexes his arms as he steps away from her.
“This is dumb. Y’all are dumb.”
I look away. Maybe this is dumb. Maybe he’s right.
A few students say or mouth “ooooooo” and look at each other, smiling. This is the liveliest moment of our day.
Mrs. Fries’s blotchy pink face goes red. Her body is rigid. “Time to go see the principal.”
“I don’t care.” Titus turns right and goes down the other hallway, banging the walls all the way. Other teacher’s heads poke through their classroom doors, light brown and blonde hair swinging. Except Mrs. Thomas’s gray curls, which sit stiff just above her shoulders as she steps out the classroom in front of us, her back to us. Mrs. Fries asks her to watch her class as she scrambles after Titus.
As Mrs. Thomas spins to face us, her frumpy floral dress flares out. “Keep walking.”
So we do.
I ain’t like the other kids. I’m gon’ make it somewhere. I’m gon’ be somebody. Somebody like me can’t get caught up. I turn left again with everybody else.