I had to wait until I was called. Right outside room 215, back leaning against the cool tiled wall, my legs jutted out like stilts, propping myself into an isosceles triangle with the wall and the floor. Rolling my eyeballs if I had to, scratching my neck when itchy, digging the dirt out from my fingernails, sighing but not too heavily in case they could hear me from behind the closed door. I slithered down the wall until my butt hit bottom, and I bounced back up like an accordion playing to my internal rhythm. Just as I started to think about quickly running to the bathroom because I really, really had to go, I heard her screech out my name -- or a decapitated version of it.
- Shin, are you there? Shin?? Would you come in please??
I bolted upright, brushed the dust off of my hands, smoothed out my clothes, straightened my backpack, reached for the doorknob, pushed it open trying not to make a creak, and slid my neck out slowly like a turtle weary of its surroundings.
- Yes, Mrs. Millman... I'm right here.
She was sitting behind her teacher's desk, her face caked with enough foundation to support her bird cage buffon that diminished her already beady eyes, her thick arms encased like sausages in a multicolored top, and her thighs in black polyester pants, jutting out like dolphins from behind the desk. My old second grade teacher, Mrs. Gettleman, sat across from her in one of our fourth grade chairs. She wore the bleached blond clown wig that fell off once during our arithmetic exercises when her inch long manicured nail got caught in one of the curls while she gesticulated in the air. As I approached, I could smell the thick perfume that always gave me a headache.
I inched closer, but they hardly bothered to turn their heads to see me as they continued with their conversation.
- Oh, no, Barbara! Don't go there. They have much better prices at Woolworth's. I got mine for only $19.37. By the way, do you want onions on yours?
Mrs. Millman scribbled as Mrs. Gettleman adjusted her hair one more time with her fingers poised in the air, and I saw her candy sized rings glimmer through her wig.
Mrs. Millman finished scribbling and handed me the piece of paper folded in half with a $20 bill.
- Now, Shin, run straight to the store and please bring back the change.
- Yes, Mrs. Millman.
I pushed the folded note and $20 carefully into my back pocket with a flap and button and buttoned my pocket. I ran my hand over it to make sure that I could feel them through the fabric. And then I headed back out, taking a quick peek behind me to make sure I hadn't dropped the note or the $20.
I walked down the hall, down the stairs to the first floor, across the bathrooms, and thought about stopping by the bathroom because I still really, really had to go, but what if I drop the note or the $20, and won't I really, really be in trouble? I checked my pocket again to make sure the note and the $20 were still there, and I kept walking, extra quickly past Principal Bratton's office, and out the front door and down the front steps. I crossed across the basketball court that was also a handball court and then past the big slap of concrete that was our playground. I saw Tina and Mei from my class playing jump rope and Sun and Penelope playing jacks. They waved at me, but I just waved back quickly because I didn't want to stop.
I stopped at the corner and when the light turned green, I crossed and stepped into Sal's Deli. There was already a line past the deli counter, and I quickly got behind the man in a brown uniform. I prepared by taking the note and the $20 out of my pocket. I held the $20 firmly in my left fist, and opened the note with my right and practiced how to say the order when it became my turn. When the man behind the counter finally got to me, I said my order with perfect pronunciation. One pastrami sandwich on rye with onions and mustard and one turkey sandwich on wheat with swiss cheese, mayo, lettuce, and tomatoes, please.
After placing my order, I ran to the refrigerator to grab two Italian sodas, one cherry and one raspberry. I ran back to the counter while the man rang up the prices, and it came to exactly $11.28. When he gave back the change, I asked for a receipt so that I could show Mrs. Millman exactly how much they cost, and I put the receipt with the change back into my back pocket with the flap and the button. After I buttoned up the pocket, I ran my hand over it make sure they were in there safely.
I hugged the brown paper bag with the two Italian sodas, the pastrami sandwich, and the turkey sandwich to my chest, and I ran out of the store, back across the street and toward PS 20. Just a short walk across the playground, the handball court, up the stairs and up to room 215. And if I walked really, really fast, I would be back in less than 15 minutes. I could then have my lunch, and maybe Tina and Mei would still be jump roping.
I was selected out of the entire class to run this important errand. And even though I didn't know it, maybe that is when my training began...