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  • It is only fifteen minutes.

    Just the quarter-hour between eight-thirty and quarter-to-nine. The busses pull up and discharge sleepy slouching high schoolers, middle-schoolers adjusting their attitudes before their inner mirrors and the little kids all off and away, racing into the Lower School hallway.

    In the first five minutes the hallway goes from echoing silent to 300 kids sitting, defined loosely, by grade and various associated parents milling about. Kids, waiting to go to class. Parents, waiting to start their day. My job:

    Greeter: Hola. Que tal? Good morning, Buenos dias. How are you?

    Patroller: to the doors for greetings, to the kindergarten group at the end practicing what looks to be break dance moves, to the grade fours- one class always has recorders, to the grade five boys to remind them to keep the toilet doorway clear of backpacks, instruments and bodies.

    Enforcer: Walking feet, I like the way you’re walking, NO RUNNING. Keep your hands and feet to yourself. Save the ball for recess. I’ll hold the ball for you.

    I didn’t see James come in with his dad. Usually I feel a hand in mine and look down and there he is. A twisty smile and scrunched up eyes looking up at me. I had a book ready for him. Spiders. He brought in a plastic floppy spider a few days ago and showed me how the legs jiggled. The grade four and five boys are readers today.

    His father stood above him glancing toward the door then down to where James held his knee. Face pressed close. His blond hair still perfectly combed, brown cargyle plaid sweater neat above matching belted pants and shined shoes. A four-year-old model of success. His father’s hand did not quite reach his head.

    His father bent down, almost close enough to kiss the top of James's head, twisted slightly, said good bye over his shoulder.

    James took three steps after him. Both their faces tight, twisted, as though caught between competing expressions.

    Other times, when he comes on the bus, James has pulled a runner. Made it out the doors a few times laughing wildly silent.

    I stepped behind him. Called his name. James turned and reached for me, caught me around the legs and held on. I called his name again and he looked up. Face scrunched in agony, tears streaming.

    I got on one knee and had him look at me, told him his father loved him and wanted him to learn and have fun at school and he had to be ready to tell all about it later. I said take a deep breath.

    He held his eyes with mine and we breathed in. And again. And three times, as though in all the world and in that crowded hall we were just us two. He looked at the brightness of the doors at the end of the hall one more time.

    “Here,” I said. Jonathan will read to you.” He slipped out of his backpack and settled in beside Jonathan.

    I grinned. He gave me one thumb up the way I do the older kids. I gave him back two.

    It is only fifteen minutes before the day begins, before I clap- clap – clapclapclap for line up time.

    Only fifteen minutes.
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