Lady, Can You Spare a Backpack?

Student walking down foggy streetThe backpack plopped on my desk.

I look up and see a student, freshman by the looks of him, with shoulder length brown hair parted in the middle, ringlets of curls around his ears.

“My backpack broke,” he tells me, holding it open to demonstrate. “It’s the zipper.”

I nod, not quite grasping my role in this situation. Was I supposed to repair it? My sewing machine was home. Somewhere. Maybe in the garage.

“Do you have a bag?” he asks me.

“A bag?”

He nods. “For my stuff… cause this one broke.”

I shrug. He doesn’t move. We both look at the backpack. “Um… I suppose I could look around,” I suggest. “Maybe I can find a grocery bag?”

It takes him a while to respond. It’s as if he comes with a delay switch; After every statement I make, there’s a three to five second gap before he speaks. Plus his voice is monotone. Imagine that as well.

“My old school had bags,” he mumbles, “for kids who needed them.”

I look at him again. More carefully this time.

The zip code of our high school is highly desirable. Nearly every student fits the ‘P’ word to a tee – we’re talking doctor, lawyer and engineers’ kids. But also walking the halls are transfer students from other zip codes, some from struggling families. With a capital ‘S’.

The thing is, you can’t always tell  by looking. It’s best just to play it safe.

“I’ll look around,” I tell him. And I do, but all I can find is a Trader Joe’s bag. That’s the thing about being in a nice zip code; people assume there’s no need for donations.

“I’ll just hold mine shut,” he finally says. “Maybe no one will notice.”

His tone and expression aren’t so much sad, as completely resigned to his fate. He heads back to his English class, clutching his pack in front of him.

The principal walks out of her office. I explain the situation. “Did you give him one?” she asks.

“Do we have any?”

Turns out we do. They were shoved in a closet in a corner office, about eight of them. I call the teacher and soon the student is back, standing in front of the closet, trying to decide.

Which, as you can imagine, takes a long while.

Eventually he opts for a black one. Then he takes it over to the area by my desk, sits in one of the chairs and begins transferring his items from one backpack to the other.

Which, as you can imagine, takes a long while.

Every so often I look over. Yep, still there.

You wouldn’t think there’d be that much paper on the third day of school, would you? But then, if you’re gonna move each page, sheet by sheet…

Room with sofa and tableThen it hits me — he’s sitting in Nate’s chair! Nate, who sat there since he was a freshman, both before school and during lunch. Nate, who is now a senior with early dismissal.

I hardly see him anymore.

Could this be Nate’s replacement?

Finally, the transference of materials is complete. He comes to my desk and asks for a pass, so his absence will be excused. Also, could I throw away the old backpack?

I put my trash can on top of my desk and he stuffs in the pack.

S-l-o-w-l-y.

Then he heads back to class.

S-l-o-w-l-y.

It’s gonna be an interesting four years.

Author: C. J. Hartwell

Christi lives in Phoenix with Husband, Son, Daughter, and Dog. She enjoys moonlit walks on the beach, but as she doesn't live anywhere near a beach, she's usually in bed by 9:30.

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