Written by M.J.C
Part 1: GET SOME TAPE
“We need help,” Leah said.
Leah was listening to her friends talk and thinking hard about what to do. And then it came to her. The Guru! They needed to seek out the Guru. She would know what to do, Leah thought.
“Dunya, we need to ask Guru,” Leah said, a little to loudly, drawing a look from her friends and her teacher.
“But I don’t know what to ask. We’re in danger and there’s no way out,” Leah said exhaustedly. It had been a very long day. A long week and Leah and her friends were all out of ideas.
Now after using all their skills to solve the 2nd semester mystery that had stumped the entire 7th grade: Where had all the “Of Earth and Vine” prizes and gifts disappeared to?” Leah’s idea was their last hope.
The “Of Earth and Vine” fundraiser was an annual school fundraiser – it was the biggest of all school fundraisers – and was happening in one week. It was the fundraiser that helped fund language, arts, music, and sports teachers. Without these funds, the school would lose those teachers and those classes for the next year.
But Leah and her friends – Zoey, Beanie, Dunya, Julia, and Alana – had tried to solve the mystery themselves. They turned things into an even bigger disaster and now it looked like they would lose the teachers, and the classes those teachers taught, and had now also risked not being able to go on the biggest field trip ever: the long-awaited field trip they had been fundraising for since first grade, to the nation’s Capital, Washington, D.C.!
But right now they were concerned with no music, no language, no arts, and no sports teachers for their 8th, and the last year, at their beloved (mostly) school. The friends just tried to help but their efforts turned the mystery into an even bigger disaster and threatened to have the fundraiser canceled for good, and perhaps forever.
“We shouldn’t have done anything,” Zoey whispered to Dunya in class. Dunya nodded her agreement and looked to Beanie who may have been crying. Or laughing. You never knew if Beanie were laughing or crying, Dunya thought.
“Leah,” Dunya whispered a little too loudy. Leah turned her head quickly and shushed Dunya.
“Dunya, stop talking! She’ll hear us and I can’t bear the look of disappointment when she looks at me!”
“Okay, but I have an idea!” Dunya replied, a little louder.
“I also have an idea. Just wait until after class then; we need to be quiet,” Leah retorted sharply.
“Leah, what would you like to share with the class?” Mrs. Beth (whom they called Mrs. B) said, in that teacher voice that signaled an extra assignment, an apology to the class, or both.
“No, Mrs. B. I was just trying to get Dunya to stop talking,” Leah said.
“I wasn’t talking! I was trying to tell you I have an idea, Leah!” Dunya said, missing the irony of her words.
“Then you were talking, Dunya!” Leah said, again too loudly.
“Leah, maybe she does, let’s hear what she has to say, Beanie piped in.
Mrs. B just stood there taking it all in, and quietly deciding on which classroom chores needed to be done at that very moment.
Then Mrs. B started talking in a sing-song way, very quietly, until the girls, and the entire class was looking at her and waiting for her to speak.
“I know you are all anxious about the missing gifts and prizes, and I know there are concerns about the fundraiser. I am happy to see you all so invested in our school. I think things will be fine and you all need not worry.”
“But Mrs. B, if the fundraiser is canceled, we will lose so many teachers,” Julia said quietly, as the other kids nodded.
“And our big field trip,” Alana said quietly and matter of factly.
Mrs. B stood still. She had a way of not showing much body reaction when her kids were losing their minds in class, and as a result her kids usually responded in kind to her stoic and calming demeanor.
But not today, and not with this issue. They were, in fact, losing their minds and Mrs. B knew she’d have to take drastic action.
“We need to get back to our lessons,” Mrs. B said. And then: “I have something that may help you.”
“What do you mean, “Help us?” Leah asked respectfully, yet forcefully.
“Stay after class and I will answer your question, Leah,” Mrs. B. responded with confident authority that stemmed from her many years as a teacher. Some of her students said she had been a teacher for at least forty years, when in fact, she had been a teacher for under twenty.
“How did she even know I had a question?” Leah said under her breath.
“Okay class, let’s get back to our easy 7th grade lesson that will baffle your old parents:
Construct an argument supported by empirical evidence that changes to physical or biological components of an ecosystem affect populations.” She said this with not a hint of laugher.
Soon class was over and as the class spilled out of the classroom, sounding a bit like a stampede of zoo animals thumping down wooden stairs, while rolling bowling balls, and bouncing basketballs.
But the girls stayed behind to hear what Mrs. B had to say.
“Okay, what are you going to tell us, Mrs. B? Dunya started impatiently.
“I have a question first, Dunya,” Leah interjected.
Mrs. B stood there and looked at the girls in front of her. She had been their teacher since 1st grade, and now they were almost done with 7th grade. They had grown so much, she thought as she stared at them and recognized they’d soon be face to face and her height by the start of eighth grade. And their noses weren’t always so runny now, she thought wistfully. They do smell though. Mostly the boys, but the girls too, to a lesser, much lesser, degree. Her nose turned up slightly. Yes. The smells.
“Are you thinking about how the boys smell so much?” Leah asked. Leah was perceptive like that, Mrs. B thought. Leah said few words during almost all of 1st grade, most of 2nd 3rd, and much of 4th, but she’d recently started talking more. Not a lot, but more. Not nearly as much as Beanie. No one spoke as much as Beanie. Then Julia, and sometimes Dunya, when she wasn’t daydreaming. Mrs. B smiled and looked at Zoey. Zoey always had a pleasant smile on her face. She also smiled when she was plotting hijenks in class, Mrs. B recalled.
Mrs. B. was more than a teacher at this point. She was a parent, friend, counsellor, critic, and confidant. But mostly, she remained their teacher.
And this, she thought sharply, was a teaching moment.
“Girls,” Mrs. B started. “And Leah, to answer your question that you haven’t asked yet, we need to have the fundraiser. As you know it is our biggest and most important. Not only do we fund our music, arts, sports, and language, this is also the fundraiser that covers the cost of our Washington D.C. trip next year.”
“I already made my ‘RESIST’ sign,” Beanie said sadly and maybe through tears.
“I plan on talking directly to the president and giving him a piece of my mind” Julia said, before launching into her prepared speech that she was going to say to the president.
Alana was quiet, but thinking about missing out on visiting Michelle Obama’s White House garden.
“Yes, I understand all your concerns and I share them. That is why I wanted you to stay after class today. I believe you all can help, but I can’t say too much since all teachers are under a gag order – that means we cannot talk about the ongoing investigation into what happened with the gifts and prizes. So I am sorry I can’t say more.”
“Why do you think we can help then?” Zoey asked, perplexed, speaking for all the friends.
Mrs. B looked at them. Then she inhaled deeply, and the girls instinctively did the same, as she had taught them all these years. She took another deep breath, and they did the same.
Then she said: “Girls. Your efforts were appreciated by me, but not by anyone else. I know your hearts were in the right place but you took the wrong path and made poor decisions. Trying to break into the principal’s office was a huge mistake.”
The girls all looked at Dunya.
“It’s okay, don’t be mad at Dunya” Mrs. B said, for perhaps the fourth time today.
“I still think you can solve this mystery. But you will need to be discreet. Again, I can’t say more but I can give you a clue.”
“Discreet,” Leah whispered. “Okay, we can do that. But we need your help, Guru,” Leah said, saying their code name for Mrs. B.
Mrs. B smiled at hearing her code name
“I am glad you came to me,” Mrs. B said, looking at each girl in the eye one after another. Teachers did this trick to ensure each student was listening, but also to give themselves time to think of just the right thing to say, because often teachers daydreamed and needed to refocus. Students don’t know that, though, preferring to believe their teacher is in deep thought about the next day’s lesson plan or some such classroom thing.
“Here is the answer to your question, Leah, and all of you,” Mrs. B said, to a question that was not in fact, never asked.
“Your clue,” she said, as she turned and reached into her desk and pulled something out.
Then she turned to the girls and handed Leah a roll of tape.
“Why’d you give me tape?” Leah questioned.
“Because tape can fix anything,” Mrs. B replied.
And then she said: “That’s all I can say without getting in trouble. Now go! You have all you need to start to solve this mystery but you only have a week left before the big event!”
And with that, Mrs. B ushered the girls out of the classroom.
Outside, Leah was holding the tape and she was in deep thought. The girls were looking at her waiting for her to speak.
Finally, Leah said: “I know what the tape is for! Follow me!”
To be continued …