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Chemistry Class

(You can listen to this piece on S2E22 of the podcast)

“Psst,” comes the sound of the boy with the full-lipped gummy smile and two sizes too big dark wash jeans sitting behind me. I roll my eyes. “Psst. Shauntae.” Then I feel a poke in my left armpit. A scratch of something pointy but not sharp. Mr. Wilkins is lecturing on osmosis which we should all know by now but needs refreshing because of the big statewide test us 10th graders have to take. Half the district believes we will fail. I shake my head to demonstrate my disapproval before snatching the folded up note from his hand, all without turning around.

I should be in honors classes. But half the teachers teaching those classes are subs. Half the teaching staff in this broke down excuse for a school are long-term subs, and I’m old enough, smart enough to know that this spells failure for my future. So I’m sitting in general chemistry with one of the most senior teachers in the school who gives me accelerated lessons after school because he’s a widow and old school and willing to spend his time on bright students whose mamas send vanilla pound cakes and oatmeal pies made from scratch.

“That’s good chemistry,” Mr. Wilkins says every time he takes a bite of my mama’s baked goods. Then he smiles. Checks my work. He’s tough and I appreciate those spectacled eagle eyes. We’re good chemistry, my teacher-tutor and me.

I glance at this note from that boy in back of me that says, “So when you gon’ give your boy a chance?” I roll my eyes again and refocus on the lecture and this afternoon’s tutoring session and passing 10th grade and somehow, someway, having a bright future outside of this God forsaken school all the while sitting in front of a boy with whom I have chemistry wishing it was only the class.


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