Previous Challenge Entry (Level 1 – Beginner)
Topic: Accent (02/21/13)
TITLE: Perfectly Articulated
By Rita Minner
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I pushed my way up the stairwell to the fourth floor. Such a congealed mass of people in one building; Where are they all going?!
Huffing and puffing to the top, I questioned where I was going. Looking to the right, nothing looked familiar. It’s been too many years. Shoved by the teaming student body hustling to class, claustrophobia hit and I began to panic. Jerking my head to the left I saw through the shuffling maze of people, a nearly-empty corridor. I thought I could make it to the custodian’s room before the bell’s jolt corralled this herding exodus into the confines of their respective classes. If not, my conspicuous presence in old Central High would certainly be scrutinized and I’d be escorted out. Mere seconds remained.
I think I can…30 seconds…. I think I can…25, 24, 23... the li’l red caboose chugged into mind,… I think I can!…I stretched for the tarnished brass doorknob…7, 6, 5, turned it…3, 2,1.. and slid in just under the wire!
As the bell reverberated through the halls, tumultuous waves of long-forgotten memories flooded in and threatened to drown me. The uproar in my heart darkly contrasted the routine sounds of classroom doors closing. Two surprised workmen sitting at a paint-peeled table stared but continued to nurse their coffee mugs. I attempted a feeble shot at a joke, “Sorry, I don’t have a hall pass”. The smell of strong cleaning solutions and burnt coffee assaulted my nose. Mops standing in water, brooms, and maintenance supplies were stocked everywhere.
“I’m looking for Marlita”. She seemed old, years ago….a little Spanish lady who spoke choppy English. She was responsible for keeping all fourth floor restrooms clean. She found me huddled and sobbing on the cold, ceramic tile of a stall. My disastrous life appeared to be caving in and I believed I would not survive. I’d never make it through high school, let alone real life.
She lifted me to my feet and I was surprised by her firm grasp. She took my face in her warm hands and wiped my eyes with a cold, wet, paper towel (I still remember that smell.) She told me I would go back to class and go every day, no matter what. She didn’t ask. It wasn’t a request. With a strong accent, her Y’s sounding like J’s, “Jou will be O.K.….Jou can do this…I know Jou can”. She opened the door and I obediently exited the restroom. Her absolute certainty was mind-blowing and a bit unnerving but she knew.
This little woman had made all the difference and I needed her to know. Now I was afraid she had retired or even passed.
Both men looked doubtful but the elder of the two drawled, “I been here come near 22 years now and no Marlita ever worked on this floor or at this school”.
I was certain he misunderstood. Agitated, I spoke more slowly, possibly a bit louder as if he had a hearing deficit. “Mar-li-ta Her-nan-dez…about this high (I held my hand at shoulder height)…a little roundish around the middle… braided, black hair with some strands of wispy gray. She wrapped it in a bun at the back of her head”.
These men were not going to argue. “You can ask at the office”. They turned back to some serious coffee sipping. I stepped out. The hallway now empty contained only the invisible mufflings of teachers and students conversing. The floor gleamed with new wax. Making my way down the stairwell, I moved toward the big front doors. They were heavy. I had heaved them open hundreds of time and this would be my last. Old Kalamazoo Central High, the most elegant structure in the city at one time, was closing its doors. This cavernous, brick shell, drafty with age and cracked window panes, barely resembled the once-glorious edifice. All students, upon their return from Christmas break would be bussed to the new-and-improved ‘Central’ across town.
With a shoulder shove and a whoosh, I stepped into the fresh air. The sunshine greeted me warmly, bathing the skin on my arms and face. Things could have turned out badly for me but she knew I’d be O.K.
Marlita’s irrefutably beautiful, broken English, never diminished the clarity of her message. “Jou can do this”, she affirmed.
Perfectly articulated, she accentuated the importance of a lone teenager’s existence and spoke life into a parched soul, “I know jou can”.
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