Gil and I finished very quickly (there wasn’t really all that much to do), and we were sitting and talking quietly at one of the lab tables. About the origins of thunderstorms and time that stops. (Not really: We were wondering what was for lunch that day.)
In few minutes Mr. Gisborne returned. His hair was wet and combed, his face shaved, and somewhere he’d found fresh clothing to wear. Now I was certain he had spent the night at school but had no idea why. I felt the engine of my curiosity come awake and hum quietly in the background of my brain. Waiting for instructions.
He looked at us sitting there, doing nothing, and his newly washed face darkened. “Why are you sitting there doing nothing?” he said.
Gil and I had already agreed that he would talk for us. There seemed to be something about my voice that ignited some kindling inside Mr. Gisborne, and a fierce fire soon erupted in him. “We finished everything you told us to do,” he said.
“Oh, you did, did you?”
Mr. Gisborne looked at Gil. I think the teacher liked that sir part. Liked it a lot. “Well,” he said, “we’ll just see about that, young man.”
I could tell he was trying very hard to find something amiss, and, sure enough, he found a little corner of the chalkboard that I’d not completely washed. “How about this?” he said. “You call this clean?”
“I’m sorry, sir,” said Gil. “I guess I just didn’t notice.” He got up, retrieved the sponge form the lab sink where I’d left it, and wiped the area clean.
“That’s better,” huffed Mr. Gisborne.
All I was doing was smiling—a serious smile, if you know what I mean—and hoping he was not interpreting my look as insolence.
“Well”—Mr. Gisborne glanced at the classroom clock—“it’s not all that long before the other kids come in. Go on out to the cafeteria.” We started to move. “And don’t ever behave like that again in my class—especially you” he said to me. “Or next time you won’t be washing chalkboards and sorting books. Next time you’ll … you’ll ….” He was having a hard time thinking of something. “Well, it just won’t be anywhere near as easy as this.” He waved back to the room, and Gil and I slipped quietly out into the hallway.
I whispered, “That man is insane.”
I heard adult feet charging across the room. Mr. Gisborne leapt out into the hall. “What did you just say?” he bellowed. This man was sensitive! Ears like Air Force radar.
Gil was quick. “I said it can really rain around here.”
A flash of light from the windows at the end of the hallway illuminated Mr. Gisborne from behind. He loomed over us like a dark shadow and was saying something that the crack of thunder obliterated.
He waved us on. And on we went.