The teacher looks at the students around him. Eyes lock on to fair skin, green eyes, dark hair, turns, steps, and stops. Rachel has that look in her eyes again, and he moves into her line of sight because he knows that she won’t come back to reality on her own. Rachel vacantly stares through him and Mr. Hayes can’t help but register the dark circles, the tangled hair, ruffled clothes. Her notebook lies closed on the desk and there isn’t a pencil in sight; maybe it’s inside of the backpack lying on the floor, maybe she just hasn’t brought anything to class.
“Well, what do you think?”
Eyes focus and,
“… What?” She says in monotone. Not disrespectful, not uninterested: just not there.
“I was asking what you wrote for the prompt.” She turns, pupils scanning across the board, then turns back.
“I didn’t write anything.”
“I saw.” And somehow this gets a chuckle out of someone, but it’s quieted. Mr. Hayes isn’t paying attention to that. He continues, “Nevertheless, I would like to know what-“
“Can’t be.” This gets a sigh out of Rachel, the, I’m-done-talking-please-leave-me-alone-and-pick-on-someone-else-sigh that she’d been using much more frequently in recent months.
And Mr. Hayes starts to hear a few distant relatives of that sigh rebounding in the room, like the I-really-hope-he-keeps-talking-like-this-until-the-end-of-class-because-I-didn’t-write-anything sigh, or the, it’s-another-Rachel-moment-again-so-I-guess-I-can-just-chill sigh.
And everyone starts to lose interest.
But Mr. Hayes goes on. “Think about it. You’re God! Total control over the universe. What would you do?”
“I said I wouldn’t change a thing, Mr. Hayes.”
“Well, at least tell me why. Why wouldn’t you do anything?” Rachel is quiet for a moment, but before Mr. Hayes opens his mouth again he looks at her carefully. She’s thinking.
“Why do anything at all?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that I’m okay with the way the world is.”
“Mr. Hayes, I know. The world isn’t perfect. I think we all know that,” she says, glancing around the curling linoleum, the concrete walls, ratty desks; she nods to all of this, accepting it. Eyes lock on to dark skin, brown eyes, receding hairline and, Mr. Hayes has heard of the moment where the student has become the teacher and the teacher becomes the student, but it’s one thing to read about it. It’s another to experience it.
“But I would never change a thing. I think that the world is fine. There are a lot of people who die and should have lived. There are a lot of people who live and should die.
“There are a lot of people who are sad too often, and a lot of people who are always happy. There are a lot of unjust things that go on, and there are good things that happen. And I think…
“I… I think that if everything was good, we wouldn’t appreciate what we have today. I mean, I wouldn’t.”
With that, Rachel turns away and stares into empty space again and Mr. Hayes swallows. He nods and turns to the next student and he thinks about his life for the rest of the day as he absentmindedly carries on through the remaining lessons and drives home to his condo. The teacher sits in a chair. Moonlight streams through the window and he is still thinking, phantom eyes still piercing his own.
Mr. Hayes has never been one to say whether something is right or wrong in class, but, maybe…