Water cleans more than dirt as talking wipes away this student's misery.
| Searching for the words, he felt the air escape his dry, cracked, lips.
His dark, sullen eyes darted here and there, blinking away the tears that so untimely assaulted him. His eyes were so somber, so desperate. Wiping his face, his eyes finally came to a resting place on the cold tile.
He lay there, on the soiled floor against his locker, his wet fingers soaking up the grime beneath them. Books, papers, and pencils were strewn everywhere. Looking up, I saw that his locker was empty.
I had never seen him so miserable. He wasn’t a close friend of mine, but I knew this wasn’t him, not right then anyway.
I kneeled down in front of him and looked him straight in the eye.
“Hey, man, are you okay?”
No response. He just closed his eyes and leaned his head back against his locker.
“Here, let me help you. You seemed to have dropped some things…”
I proceeded to gather up his materials into one big pile. Once I was finished, I tried again.
“Cleaning out your locker, huh? I know how you feel. I got so mad once, I just threw everything away.”
He opened his eyes and looked at me, piercing straight into me. I looked down.
“But I see I interrupted you before you got that far. Good thing. Books are expensive.”
He wiped his eyes again, leaving wet dirt streaks down his face. I slowly moved and sat down next to him.
Leaning back against the smooth locker, I heard his breathing. It was heavy, with sudden quick, sharp breaths here and there.
This time, it was him who spoke first.
“Sorry you had to see me like this…” he said softly. Hearing him talk was the worst part. His voice conveyed no feeling, no emotion at all. All of it was jumbled and raspy speech being muttered.
“Hey, we all have our days. You just gotta take ‘em one at a time.” Again, no response. “You want to talk about it?”
He let out a heavy sigh.
I turned and examined him, watching his eyes. He stared up at the ceiling, continually blinking to hold back the tears. It didn’t work. I could tell he wasn’t being truthful, but it would have been inappropriate to say so at the time.
“I mean, what’s there to talk about?” His monotone voice made me shudder. “I just had a bad day.”
“Well, tell me about it. Maybe I can help. And they always say talking about it makes it better, not worse. Sometimes it‘s good to let it out.”
I felt stupid. What a stupid thing to say. I couldn’t think of a way I could have been any more clichéd.
The laugh caught me off guard. “Listen, thanks for picking up my stuff, but I think I’ll be okay.”
I didn’t know what to say to that. However, it felt wrong to just leave him laying there on the dirt-ridden floor.
I positioned myself directly in front of him, and I looked into his cavernous eyes, glistening in the fluorescent light. A single tear rolled down his face, turning brown as it went.
“I’m not leaving until you tell me what’s on your mind. Come on, talking about it will help, I promise.”
He glanced down at me, almost with a look of curiosity in his eyes, and bit his lip.
It took a few more minutes, but he finally lowered his head and began whispering.
I listened intently, and never spoke once until he was finished. What he told me I will never forget. I offered some words of comfort, if you could call them comfort, and after a time, the tears stopped.
I never even heard the sloshing sound approaching as we talked.
“Hey, you guys gonna move soon?”
We both looked up into the eyes of a night shift custodian, mop in one hand, bucket in the other.
“I’ve been waiting to clean this area, but I think it’s been long enough.” With that she walked a few feet off, and began mopping.
Standing up, I grabbed his pile of books and papers and fit them back into his locker. He slowly stood up, the brown streaks on his face dry and flaky.
“Well, you take it easy,” I said with a smile. “Just remember, take ‘em one at a time.” I turned around and started walking.
“Hey…” his voiced trailed off. Turning around, I saw him mouth a silent “thanks.” He picked up his bag, and left.
As I turned and continued walking, I heard the slish-sloshing of the janitor as she mopped the spot we had just left.
She was just doing her job, though when thinking about what just happened, I think I took care of it for her.