It was the day for our fifth grade class to give their oral reports. “Oral report”, I had just learned, meant I would be expected to give a speech in front of the whole class, and not a briefing on the condition of my teeth. It was too bad, I thought, because I had a great check-up last time, which made me really happy because my dentist was pretty awesome. He had a Parrot named Flossy and let you wear these cartoon character glasses while he worked on your teeth. Once my mom had to cancel an appointment because it interfered with a meeting at work, and I’m not too proud to admit that I cried.
“Who wants to go first?”, she asked.
Several eager hands shot up into the air.
I slunk down as far as could into my seat, wishing I were at the dentist.
“I think you should go first!”, my gray-haired teacher turned to me and smiled.
I looked at the papers I had been clutching in my hands, wrinkled and damp with the sweat from my palms.
I stood reluctantly, slowly, and began to walk up to the front of the classroom.
Shuffled my papers, took a deep breath, and quietly began,
“Matrin Luther King Jr was bor—”
“Speak up, please! We can not hear you.”, Mrs. Treffry called out in a sing-song voice from her little perch on the radiator at the back of the room.
I cleared my throat and began again.
“Martin Luther King Jr. was bor—”
“Try moving your hand away from you face, that way we can hear you waaaay back here”, she stood with her right hand holding a stack of papers and her left cupped behind her ear, pulling it forward, as if straining to hear.
Suddenly I became aware of this stray hand, this alien hand, hovering awkwardly around my face–some place between my eyes and my mouth.
I pulled it down to my side. The class giggled and I could feel my hand wanting desperately to resume its previous position.
“Begin again, please. We are waiting.”
“MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. WAS BOR—”
“Now, you are yelling dear. There is no need to yell. Just speak up.”, she sighed.
My face flushed. I locked my shaking knees.
“Martin Luther King Jr was bor—”
“Yes, Martin Luther King Jr was born! Geez! Tell us something we don’t already know!”, Chris heckled from the second row, catching me off guard.
My papers dropped to the floor. I felt my knees go weak as I leaned down to pick them back up.
“Mrs Treffry, she’s never going to finish her report! Can I go now? Puleeease?”, begged an impatient teacher’s pet sitting in the front row.
“No, Shareen. Wait your turn”, she replied before returning her gaze to me. “Now. Please continue”.
“Um… Martin Luther King Jr. was bor— it’s okay. I really don’t mind if she goes first. I can wait”, I suggested to Mrs. Treffry. Hoping she would see the desperation in my eyes and excuse me.
“No, no. You can be excused when you are done. Continue please.”
I exhaled sharply as a dizziness began to make my head ache.
“Martin Luther King Jr. was born… … …”
“Yes? Go on! We are all listening.”, Mrs Treffrey tapped her foot.
“Martin Luther King was born…
And then he died…
It was really, really sad.”
Avoiding her frowing face, I lowered my head, walked back down the aisle, took a seat, and shoved the three page report I had written into my desk. Tears began to spill over my bottom lashes.
Mrs. Treffry sighed loudly.
“Shareen, you may go now.”