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Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Contest Entry · #2121739
It's important to eat a good breakfast. For several reasons! 3rd Place, What a Character!
All Words: 1338

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Congratulations, you won  Third Place  in the  May 2017  round of  [Link To Item #character] ! *Bigsmile*

"Are there twelve of these?"

"Yes, Ma, I told you there are. I counted them three times." Shweta ran her hands through her frizzy brown hair, as she always did when she was irritated.

"Don't take that tone of voice with me, young woman. You be polite to your mother."

Shweta looked up at her mother. Since she had been a very small child, she had had the same image of her mother -- a long nose and sensible black spectacles. Those were the features that stood out for Shweta -- she didn't notice her mother's brown eyes, brown hair or pale whitish skin much.

"Well, you've asked me about twelve times if there are twelve sheets. Why don't you just count them yourself if you don't trust me?"

"What did I tell you about your tone?"

Shweta knew from her mother's voice that to argue more would be dangerous. She bit back her retort and helped her mother put her things together for the presentation.

Annoyed though she was with her mother, she couldn't help admiring her. No wonder she had risen to Head of the Biology Department so quickly in school. She knew her subject and she knew how to make it interesting. This presentation, on why the biology syllabus for Grade 10 needed some tweaking, was one of the most compelling things Shweta had ever seen. Shweta ought to know. She had been subjected to the presentation five times, as her mother worked on it. There were questions, there were answers, there were games and puzzles, there were facts, there were stories, there were even a couple of songs -- and yet, it wasn't too long. It was just the right length and carried just the right amount of punch.

"There we go," her mother was saying. "Everything double-checked. Now, get in the car."

"We're leaving? But I haven't had breakfast," Shweta protested. "We usually leave at 7.30."

"I know, I know, but I want to be early today. Don't you realise, the Head of the Board is coming to our school? I have to have everything perfect."

"You have everything perfect right here in your bag. And you stayed late to make sure the conference room was ready yesterday. And I heard you tell the help-staff a hundred times to clean properly."

"Tone, young lady, tone. Now, in the car."

"But I'll just get ..."

"Don't find excuses to dawdle. You should have realised you needed to be ready early today. Get in to the car. Take this carton with you and carry it carefully, it's important."

Shweta did as she was told. She occupied a corner of the back seat with the carton next to her. Her mother climbed carefully in to the passenger seat in front. Shweta watched her get in gingerly, so as not to crease her outfit. Her mother didn't wear a salvar-kameez too many times these days, she found pant-suits more practical while teaching. Her attire today spoke eloquently of how important the presentation was to her.


"Now, listen, listen, students!"

Miss D'Souza's voice rang out above the shouts and yells of the sixth-graders having their break. They fell silent, listening to their teacher.

"Students, as you know, the Head of the Board of Secondary Education is in our school today. She is listening to a presentation by Shweta's mother, about the syllabus. Now, the Head of the Board wants to visit some classes and speak to some students before making her recommendations to the Board. She will be visiting our class right after break. I want all of you to be clean and tidy."

Hastily, belts were straightened, hair was flattened, and pockets were tucked in and smoothed. The HEAD of the BOARD was visiting THEIR class. It was a big deal, one they could talk about to friends and cousins who attended other schools. They must not blow it. For once, the sixth-graders returned to class before the bell had rung, to make sure everything was in order for their important visitor.

The visitor looked the part.

She was tall and wore high heels that make her look even taller. She had a long plait of jet black hair, and her crisply starched black saree swung in time with her long locks as she entered the classroom.

The students stood up to greet her, and to greet Mrs. Aitahb (Shweta's Mom), and then sat down again.

"Now," the Head began, without preamble or introduction, "Your biology teacher has been emphasising the need to link what you learn in school with what you do in life. So I'm going around asking students about some things they do to stay healthy. Let's start with the beginning of the day. Now, you know it's important to eat a good breakfast, don't you?"

"Yes," the class chorused.

"Let's see how many of you are actually doing that. What did you eat for breakfast?" She was pointing at Delna, who had had a hearty meal of scrambled eggs, toast, and milk, and got a smile and a nod. Some people had eaten idli, others, dosa, some had feasted on pongal.

Then it was Shweta's turn.

She stood at her place, her face red.

"Yes, dear?" the Head urged. "Don't worry. Whatever it is you ate, you can tell me."

Still Shweta didn't speak.

"It's okay, she's shy," Mrs. Aitahb said, suddenly realising what was going on. "We'll move on to the next student. Sit down, Shweta, dear. It's okay."

"No," the Head insisted. "This is what the whole thing is about, isn't it? The real, practical value of what we learn in school. If the child is hesitating, it's because she thinks there's something wrong with whatever she had for breakfast. I insist on knowing. If need be, I'll take her out and speak to her."

Shweta stood up again. Everyone was looking at her, and the Head nodded, urging her to speak.

"I -- I -- didn't eat breakfast," Shweta finally managed, in a hesitant whisper.

"Why not?"

"Because -- because -- we left home early and I hadn't eaten yet."


"My mother and I."

"Your mother?" The Head followed the child's eyes. "You are Mrs. Aitahb's daughter?"

"Yes." It was barely audible.

"Mrs. Aitahb?" the Head turned to the biology teacher. "You didn't give your daughter breakfast this morning because you were coming for a presentation in which one of your main examples was the importance of a good breakfast?"

The class was holding its breath. Nobody felt like giggling. This was not funny. It was totally serious. One of the senior-most teachers in their school had been caught out by the Head of the Board in a completely embarrassing situation.

Mrs. Aitahb had gone white.

"It's true," she responded, and her voice was hardly louder than her daughter's. "This presentation was important to me."

"I understand, but you need to find some balance .."

"I know. I'm sorry."

"Well, let's ask your daughter. Are you hungry?"

"I ate in the cafeteria at break, I'm okay."

Mrs. Aitahb suddenly burst out, "But before break, darling, how was it? You may tell the truth."

The child looked warily at her mother, and said, "I was hungry."

Mrs. Aitahb continued, "And your lessons? Could you concentrate on your lessons?"

"No, Ma," the child replied.

Mrs. Aitahb turned to the Head. "Well, there you go. I'm truly sorry it had to be my own daughter, and I assure you it won't happen again -- but that just proves what I've been saying, doesn't it? It needs to be included in the syllabus, the importance of a good breakfast, so that one can concentrate on the work at hand!"

The room went silent again.

Then, giggles broke out, and chuckles, and laughter, and the one who laughed the loudest was the Head of the Board.
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Prompt for May 2017: Your character is in a situation where he or she is trying to make a good impression (job interview, speaking at a professional event, in-class presentation, etc.). When a piece of potentially damaging or embarrassing information is brought to light, how does your character handle it?
Note: I know that the 'character' and the 'protagonist' in this are perhaps two different people, but I think I've met the prompt for 'What a Character'!

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