One other year when I was teaching, a student came into my algebra class and gave me an apple. It was a little petite thing. I loved how it shined in several places with white beryl spickles of importances as it used the white fluorescent lights overhead to produce its own kind of explanation marks. Obviously, this was the old ‘apple for the Teacher’ setup, and I was smiled-on by the gesture because here in my hand was an attractive, mannerable, and quietest of cafeteria lunch apples which had just come from the hand of the quietest and most mannerable young man in the class. It was his genuine soft spoken kind of smile that attended the offer which automatically guaranteed my acceptance of the setup. For several moments I kept his smile on my face—the one he caused by his mild-mannered presentation—not because I was stuck or didn’t know how to receive the apple, or had any trouble whatever regarding the student’s readable thought behind the red-skinned thing. No, it was that subtle thread of intention that this smile had upstarted in me; it was that sharp surprise that still hung in the room even though it was filling with other noisily arriving students. In seriousness, most American students didn’t bother with the old ‘apple for the teacher’ bit; it had fallen out many years ago, and was replaced by showing the teacher the finds on cellphones of how to let the internet do your quadratic equations for you. Yet there Nabil had stood, saying with his small English, ‘for you’—and immediately following, my chest feeling the jolt of his javelin-of-sincerity just above my sinus node. What I now held was his coin—his way of saying without poster, or American greeting card, or fruit basket, how much my gentle teaching had meant to him thus far. Over and over, his ‘weight of honor’ chi-chinged in my hand, rippling repeatedly up the radial nerve of my arm then whooshing upward to invade both eyeballs. While I stared at his thin, tan face, my brain kept my hands busy by palm-wrapping and unwrapping the smooth waxy skin of that fruit; at the same time almost all my other sensors joined in, measuring and un-measuring its mass, its coolness, and even my pinky began to quickly read the fine hairs that still sprouted in the calyx: my mind was now in dual-core response with what to do with this tiny treasure. It was too unsafe to leave out on my teacher desk, and too bulging for any of the pockets in my cargo work pants. My gut idea for the apple was to eat it in only three half-bites. By that moment, however, the truth had firmly developed that all the mental math charts that now graphed and began to overlay themselves inside of me were just too valuable to let go of. The longing I now grieved with was: how to preserve the memory of the weight of the honor I had experienced, for I now felt an unsurpassed increase in my ‘pocket weight’. In that one moment in time, one foreign expression had made me more valuable inside.
Well, when the bell rang and the teacher’s voice had set the quiet-now command, I also set my own calming command for the heaving waves within. The rest of the day I guarded the apple, and at the end of classes I took it home. By passage of time, pondering and reverie I now knew what I would do with it. I would make it memorable, so that neither Nabil nor I would forget that day, nor this honest, likeable gift of cherishable thought. I would do this simple writing to make this learning child famous in his new American world, for I was sure he was unaware that he had created a new currency (in our relationship, at least)? Oh, the usual currency still stayed there between teacher and student, but now because of his brilliant offer he had fashioned a new and improved form of legal tender—and had done so without house bill, committee delays or even a trudging preamble of senatorial Dictaphone of words. The whole brief change-over took less than ten seconds wherein a verbally frail novice, in a scary new world handed over ‘weight of honor’ in a song without too many words that mathed out in quiet sublimation, ‘You’re my very favorite teacher.’
[And so I was, and even more so, when his family and ten cousins, already attending our school, found the writing about his fame on my writing website, along with the photo of the uneaten apple.]—Dumas fils