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Chapter 2

When Brandton's alarm sounded, he immediately felt a wave of despair wash over him. He had worked on his homework until after midnight and didn't get nearly enough sleep.

As miserable as school normally was for him, it appeared that this day would be that much more so.

No matter how much he might enjoy lounging in bed for a while longer, he knew that the price that he would have to pay was too high.

With more than a little reluctance, Brandton climbed out of his bed and stood.

"Do we typically have to wake so early? I thought that classes didn't begin until eight o'clock." Bitru asked from the top bunk.

"That's right. But we've got to get showered and eat breakfast, then catch the bus. So we've got to get moving, right now." Brandton said wearily.

"You were still working when I fell asleep. How late were you awake?" Bitru asked curiously.

"I went to bed around midnight." Brandton said tiredly as he gathered his clothes for school.

"Do you typically have that much homework to do?" Bitru asked as he climbed down from the top bunk.

"Yeah. It's all just busy work that doesn't usually have anything to do with what we're doing in class, but we get graded on it, just the same, so we have to do it." Brandton said frankly.

When he turned, he was surprised to see that Bitru was stark naked. Just as with his face, Bitru's body was pale, which was in distinct contrast to his dark hair. The boy was slender, but not remarkable in any way. Brandton was surprised to realize that he didn't feel the nervousness that he usually felt when showering in gym class at school.

"I had always assumed that homework was given to supplement the lessons you were trying to learn." Bitru said honestly.

It took a moment for Brandton to get past the shock of seeing Bitru's naked body, but he was finally able to say, "Maybe it's like that at other schools, but here, I think they give homework as a way to keep the pressure on you, to drive home the point that they can control you, even when you're not in school."

"I have to admit that I never thought to research what American schools were like. I suppose that I blindly accepted the depictions portrayed in the popular media." Bitru said slowly as he, too, began to gather clothes.

"Nobody talks about it, but the way I see it, the people who run the schools must really hate kids. They think that we're all criminals. So all day, every day, they punish us while they're looking for ways to prove that we're doing something wrong. That's what we're really doing at school each day. We're trying to get through it without getting caught." Brandton said seriously.

"Caught doing what?" Bitru asked cautiously.

"That's the thing, it keeps changing. What's fine one day will get you arrested the next day. It doesn't matter if you're doing something wrong or not, if they catch you and decide that what you're doing is wrong somehow, then you'll get nailed for it." Brandton said frankly.

"I don't understand what you mean." Bitru said slowly.

"They have these things called 'Zero Tolerance Policies' that let them treat you like a criminal for doing regular everyday things. If you bring nail clippers to school, they'll have you arrested for carrying a weapon. If you have a picture of a gun, they'll expel you or call the cops for bringing a weapon to school. But the thing is, just when you think that you understand the rules, they change them again." Brandton said wearily, then thought to add, "You might want to put on some shorts or something before you leave the bedroom."

Bitru looked down at himself, then quietly said, "Yes. I have been cautioned about Americans' puritanical beliefs regarding shame about their bodies."

"Yeah. That sounds about right. It's okay when it's just us, but you'll need to cover up when we're around my parents. they'll probably freak." Brandton said frankly.

While Bitru was pulling on some athletic shorts, Brandton went on to say, "There's another thing that might throw you off. All that stuff they tell you about 'human rights' and 'civil liberties' doesn't have anything to do with kids. In school, you have no rights at all. You're guilty until you're proven innocent... except that they won't let you prove that you're innocent. They won't listen to you. They believe that you're evil and wicked and that everything you say is a lie."

"It sounds horrible." Bitru said anxiously.

"Yeah. It is. But we don't get a choice. We've got to go." Brandton said simply, then asked, "Do you want to shower first?"

"Yes. But will you come with me and tell me more about your school while I do so? It appears that I am not adequately prepared." Bitru asked quietly.

"Yeah. Come on."

* * * * *

"Go ahead and shower and just leave the water on and I'll jump in when you're done." Brandton said as he placed his clothes by the sink.

"What else do I need to know to be prepared for attending school?" Bitru asked as he stepped out of his shorts.

"Well, there's a few things I can think of, but I don't know what you already know." Brandton said thoughtfully.

"I have very few preconceived notions. Anything you can tell me will be appreciated." Bitru said honestly.

"Okay. Well, when they bring the drug sniffing dogs in, you need to drop your backpack, then get down on the floor and put your hands on the back of your head. Don't move around or talk until they tell you to get up. If you just lay there and don't do anything you'll probably be alright. But if one of the dogs alerts on you... well, I don't know what to tell you. They'll strip search you... and from what I hear, they're not too gentle about it." Brandton said anxiously.

"How often does that happen?" Bitru asked before turning on the water.

"The cops are there all the time. They call them 'enforcement officers'. They bring the dogs in every week or so, but that's usually when we're in class and all we have to do is sit still while they sniff around and check our lockers and backpacks and stuff. The big 'drug raid' thing only happens once or twice a year. That's the only one you really have to worry about. Usually, when they do that, the cops have got their guns out and are just looking for a reason to use them." Brandton said thoughtfully.

"I understand. On a related topic, I was warned about the possibility of being offered drugs while I am here. Is that something that I need to be concerned about?" Bitru asked in a louder voice to be heard over the shower.

"Not really. I mean, I guess if you hang out with a group of people who do drugs, they might try to talk you into something. But most of the time, if someone asks you if you want to try something or buy something, just tell them 'no' and they'll usually leave you alone about it." Brandton said frankly.

"I hope that it's as easy as you say. I have heard horrible things about drug dependency." Bitru said honestly.

Brandton could tell that Bitru was nearly finished and began taking off the sweatpants and tee shirt that he had slept in.

"Yeah. After you've been at school for a couple days, I bet you'll understand why someone would decide to use drugs to help them 'cope'. But if you're worried about drug dependency, that's not the big thing that you have to worry about here." Brandton said seriously.

Bitru stepped out of the shower and Brandton handed him a towel before stepping under the water's spray and continuing, "When you're in class, if the teachers notice you moving around or talking, they might decide that you have ADHD and need to be on drugs. If they do that, then they'll send a note to the parents who'll take you to a psychiatrist and you'll be on drugs before you know what hit you. I've seen it happen lots of times."

"But, if I don't have a psychological impairment, the psychiatrist should recognize that." Bitru said cautiously as he dried himself.

"Yeah. You'd think that. But if he doesn't find anything wrong with you, he doesn't make any money. If he can find a reason to drug you, then you have to keep coming back to get your meds adjusted. Each time they change your meds, you become more and more of a zombie, and each time he'll just keep prescribing more and more drugs until you O.D., kill yourself, or turn eighteen." Brandton said as he quickly washed himself.

"I will be sure to remain quiet and still during class." Bitru said as he started to pull on his clothes.

"Another thing is, don't ask questions. If the teacher says something that you know is wrong, or if you want to understand 'why' something was done the way it was, don't ask. They'll drug you up for that faster than if you're sitting there fidgeting all day." Brandton said as he turned off the water.

"I thought the purpose of going to school was to learn. How can you learn if you don't ask questions?" Bitru asked cautiously.

"The only thing we're expected to 'learn' is how to take tests and how to do what we're told without thinking about it." Brandton said as he started drying himself.

"I don't think this is what my parents intended when they sent me here. It sounds much like the operant conditioning of Skinnerian behaviorism." Bitru said anxiously.

"Um, yeah. Whatever you say. But, you're here now and there's no getting out of it. Just keep your head down and your mouth shut and do your best to get through it. I'll help you as much as I can." Brandton said as he began to dress himself.

"Thank you. Any assistance you can offer will be appreciated." Bitru said quietly.

"Okay. There's one other thing I can think of right now that you need to know." Brandton said seriously, then asked, "What's one plus one?"

"Two." Bitru answered cautiously.

"Yeah. That's what I used to think, too. But if you gave that answer in school, they'd probably tell you that you were wrong, then give you all kinds of hell about it."

"What other answer could I possibly give?"

"One plus one is the sum of grouping 'a' added to grouping 'b'." Brandton said mechanically.

After a moment to consider, Bitru cautiously said, "I suppose that while that is technically correct, it doesn't answer the question."

"If the question asks you to express the numerical result of one plus one, then two would be the right answer. But when it asks you what 'is' one plus one, it's asking you to restate it as a formula."

"The reasoning seems to be unnecessarily convoluted."

"Yeah. And don't even get me started on multiplication. But the worst part is that next year the exact same question will probably have a completely different answer. And I guess I should tell you that if you decide that their BS answer is stupid and that the answer is really 'two', then they'll either fail you, drug you, or transfer you to the 'exceptionally motivated' class."

"From the way you say it, I take it that being 'exceptionally motivated' is a bad thing." Bitru said cautiously.

"Yeah. Let me see if I remember this right... a long long time ago, someone who wasn't smart was called 'slow' or 'dumb' or something like that. Then they came out with tests to see how smart people really were and the ones who did the worst on the tests were called 'idiots', 'imbeciles', and 'morons', but someone thought that that sounded too mean, so they started calling them 'mentally retarded', because it sounded nicer. Then, 'retarded' started sounding bad, so they went to 'mentally handicapped', 'mentally disabled', 'mentally challenged'... I don't know, there's a bunch of them. Then, I think the next one was 'a person with an intellectual disability' or something like that. Here, at this school, they call people like that 'Exceptionally Motivated'." Brandton said seriously.

"Have you ever read George Orwell's, Nineteen Eighty-Four?" Bitru asked slowly.

"No. And if you don't understand why not by the end of the day, ask me again and I'll tell you." Brandton said wearily.

Bitru nodded thoughtfully as he looked in the mirror, then quietly asked, "My clothes don't look like yours. Will they be adequate?"

Brandton took a moment to look him over before saying, "Yeah. They look fine. As long as you aren't flashing any expensive brand name labels, no one should mess with you."

As Bitru picked up his phone and prepared to put it in his pocket, Brandton quickly said, "You'll have to leave your phone here. If you take it with you, they'll take it away from you."

"My parents expect to be able to contact me at any time." Bitru said uncertainly.

"Listen. Some kid, somewhere, took a video of a teacher body slamming a kid in class. Ever since then, no one is allowed to have any phones or iPads or anything like that at school. If they catch you, they'll take it away from you and you won't get it back." Brandton said seriously.

"But it is my personal property." Bitru said slowly.

"From the way the school sees it you're 'their' personal property."

* * * * *

"I was just about to come and get you! Your breakfast is on the table. I need to get ready for work." Liz Anne said as she passed them on her way out of the kitchen.

"What is... this?" Bitru asked as he looked at the bowl of brightly colored puffs.

"Haven't you ever had cereal before?" Brandton asked with surprise.

"Yes. Of course. But it was nothing like this." Bitru said as he took a seat at the kitchen table.

"Go ahead and give it a try and see if you like it." Brandton said before he took his first bite.

Bitru seemed to brace himself before tentatively taking a spoonful.

Brandton glanced at Bitru in time to see him stop all movement.

The look of horror on Bitru's face told Brandton all that he needed to know.

It was obvious that Bitru was trying to decide if it would be better to spit out the cereal or try to swallow it.

After a moment more, Brandton finally said, "Go ahead and spit it out and I'll make you something better."

As discretely as possible, Bitru spat the mouthful of cereal into a paper napkin.

"Do you like toast?" Brandton asked as he got up from the table.

"Yes. Thank you." Bitru said between deep breaths, then asked, "How can you eat this?"

"It's just like with the lasagne and the cheesecake. After a while, you get used to it." Brandton said frankly as he put two slices of bread into the toaster.

"When I came here, I never imagined that I would have so much difficulty finding edible food." Bitru said honestly.

"If you think this is bad, just wait until you try the cafeteria food at school." Brandton said with a weary chuckle as he opened the refrigerator.

"If that's the case, perhaps I should prepare lunch here and take it with me." Bitru said seriously.

"Nope. They don't let us bring our own food to school." Brandton said simply as he placed an apple and an orange beside Bitru's cereal bowl before taking the bowl away.

"Why wouldn't they allow us to bring with us the food that we enjoy?" Bitru asked curiously.

"The official reason is that someday, somewhere, someone might have an allergy to peanuts or something like that and if we brought food from home, then they might possibly, somehow get sick from it." Brandton said simply.

The toaster popped and Brandton took the toast out and started buttering it before he continued, "But I think the real reason is for another way to prove that they own you while you're there. They control when you eat, what you eat, and how fast you eat. And that reminds me, make sure that you don't drink too much. Another thing they control is when you can go to the bathroom. Some of the teachers get their jollies out of watching kids suffer, trying to hold it until lunch."

"We aren't allowed to go to the toilet between classes?" Bitru asked cautiously.

Brandton set a paper plate with two slices of toast before Bitru as he said, "When the bell rings, you've got four minutes to make it to your next class, and the classes are usually on opposite ends of the building. With every kid in the school being let out into the halls at once, it's all you can do to get to your next class before the bell rings."

"The more you describe your school, the more it sounds like a prison." Bitru said frankly.

"Well, I've never been in prison, so I don't know for sure. But since prisons are filled with adults who still have certain human rights, I think school is probably worse." Brandton said honestly before taking another bite of his cereal.

The sound of the doorbell stopped any further conversation.

Bitru looked at Brandton with question, silently asking if he were going to answer it.

"Mom'll get it. If I go out there, she'll just yell at me for not being in here, eating my breakfast." Brandton explained between bites.

After a moment to consider, Bitru went back to enjoying his breakfast of toast and fruit.

* * * * *

"Bitru, you have a visitor." Liz Anne said as she led a man in a suit into the kitchen.

"Good morning. I'm Mr. Silverstone. Which of you is Bitru Rechin?" The man asked in a voice devoid of any emotion.

"I am." Bitru said as he stood and offered his hand in greeting.

"It's a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Rechin." Mr. Silverstone said as he shook the offered hand, then continued, "I've been engaged by your father to facilitate your enrollment at the local public school. Given the circumstance of your foreign citizenship and diplomatic status, there may be some matters that need sorting out."

"I understand. Thank you." Bitru said respectfully.

"I've also taken the liberty of securing the school supplies listed for your grade level, which includes your gym gear." Mr. Silverstone said seriously, then added, "You may wish to verify that the clothing selections are of the correct size."

"I will do so, following my meal." Bitru assured him as he returned to his seat.

"Yes. Please excuse my interruption." Mr. Silverstone said quietly.

"That's quite alright. Thank you for your foresight." Bitru said before taking another bite of toast.

Brandton had finished his cereal, so he took his bowl to the sink.

"Brandton, you'd better get a move on, or you're going to be late." Liz Anne said seriously.

"If you wouldn't mind, I can drive him to school, since we will be going there, anyway." Mr. Silverstone said simply.

"Yes. That would be fine. Thank you." Liz Anne said with surprise, then seemed to notice the time and quickly said, "Excuse me. I have to finish getting ready."

Brandton stacked the rinsed cereal bowls in the dishwasher, then turned to find Bitru slowly eating his breakfast.

In that quiet moment, Brandton felt something. He didn't know if it were the beginning of a familial bond forming between them or perhaps it was simply seeing the boy who appeared to be so alone. Whatever it was, Brandton was determined that, as they traveled forward, he would protect Bitru to the best of his ability.

* * * * *

After a few minutes for Bitru to verify that the gym clothes fit him, they each gathered their things, then followed Mr. Silverstone out to a nondescript black car with diplomatic plates.

The ride to school was nothing short of luxurious, and was a definite contrast to Brandton's usual ride on the city's mass transit buses. Not only was it much more comfortable, it was also quite a bit faster, since they were going directly to the school instead of following a bus route that only coincidentally happened to pass by the school.

When they got out of the car, Mr. Silverstone started walking toward the nearest entrance, but Brandton stopped him.

"If you don't have a student ID, you can only go in the front entrance. If you try to go in back here, they'll just send you around to the front to get checked in." Brandton said frankly.

Mr. Silverstone seemed to be slightly annoyed by the announcement, but Brandton didn't get the sense that it was directed at him.

* * * * *

"You guys go ahead. I'm a little bit early since you gave me a ride." Brandton said as he stepped aside.

Bitru looked around cautiously as they entered the building.

"Empty your pockets and place your personal items in the tub. Go ahead and give me your briefcase." The woman behind the desk said in a bored tone of voice. There was a uniformed 'enforcement officer' standing on the other side of the desk from her, just the other side of the metal detector.

"I need to speak to someone about enrolling young Mr. Rechin into classes. Could you possibly direct me to where I need to go?" Mr. Silverstone asked cautiously.

"Empty your pockets and place your personal items in the tub." The woman said without hesitation.

"Excuse me, did you hear my question?" Mr. Silverstone asked with frustration.

"Empty your pockets. Place your personal items in the tub. Step through the metal detector. Then I'll tell you where to go." The woman said firmly.

From her tone of voice, Brandton was fairly sure that she wasn't talking about directing him to the administrative office.

"We've got enough time, I can take you to the office when you're ready." Brandton quickly offered.

"Thank you." Mr. Silverstone said to Brandton sincerely, then began to empty his pockets into the filthy gray tub.

When he was nearly finished, Brandton gestured to Bitru to step forward, then told him, "Put your backpack on the counter and empty your pockets into the next tub, then step through the metal detector. When they're finished going through your stuff, they'll give it back to you on the other side."

"Do I need to remove my shoes and belt, as I did with the airport security?" Bitru asked cautiously.

"Only if they have metal." Brandton answered simply, then thought to add, "Sometimes they decide not to give you back your belt. They say it's because you might be able to use it as a weapon. But that just depends on who's working the desk that day."

When Mr. Silverstone had finally stepped through the metal detector, Bitru started to empty his pockets.

"You'll need to move faster. We're getting a line." The woman behind the desk said impatiently.

Brandton scooted in beside Bitru and started going through the familiar routine of emptying his pockets.

As soon as Bitru was through the metal detector, Brandton immediately followed.

"You do this every day?" Mr. Silverstone asked Brandton cautiously.

"What's my other choice?" Brandton asked rhetorically as he received his tub and put his wallet and keys back into his pockets.

"Excuse me, Sir. What business do you have here, today?" The 'enforcement officer' asked Mr. Silverstone in a reasonably respectful tone of voice.

"I've been engaged to facilitate young Mr. Rechin's entry to this institution." Mr. Silverstone said seriously.

The puzzled look on the officer's face said more loudly than words that he didn't have a clue what Mr. Silverstone was talking about.

"He's here to enroll Bitru." Brandton translated, then quickly added, "I can take them to the admin office, if you want."

"Yeah. Do that." The 'enforcement officer' said shortly.

"Come on." Brandton said urgently.

* * * * *

"Is that the library?" Bitru asked as they walked down the hallway, toward a door with a small nameplate affixed beneath the darkened window.

"Yeah. I think it's just for the preps. You can only go in there if you're scheduled for it. I've never been in there. But if you want to go to the library sometime, I'll take you to the public library in town." Brandton said as they passed by.

"Mr. Rechin, I hope you won't think it too forward of me, but I intend to have a discussion with your father about this... institution." Mr. Silverstone said gravely.

"Once my father has made a decision, he rarely revisits it. But you may discuss the matter with him if you wish." Bitru said simply.

"Here it is." Brandton said as they approached another door.

There was a sudden buzzing sound, then Brandton pulled the door open.

"How did they know that we were here?" Bitru asked as he looked up and down the hallway.

"There's cameras everywhere. But someone at the desk probably called and told them that you were coming." Brandton said simply.

Bitru looked more carefully and finally spotted one of the cameras in the hallway.

"If I don't see you again before the end of the day, I'll meet you in front of the main building after classes." Brandton said as he held the door open.

"Won't you come in with us?" Bitru asked with a touch of anxiety under the question.

"I have to get to class. Remember, if things get too bad, just fake being sick and ask to go home. If it's after lunch, you probably won't even have to fake it." Brandton finished with a sympathetic smile, wishing that there were more that he could do.

"I will meet you in front of the school." Bitru said with renewed strength.

"I'll see you then." Brandton said, then reluctantly released the door.

* * * * *

Brandton arrived in his first period class a few minutes early and went directly to his assigned seat.

The teacher was standing outside her classroom, stone faced, staring at nothing, as students filed past her into the room.

Brandton took off his coat and draped it over the back of his chair, then went through his backpack and took out one of many folders which held his homework for his various classes. Once he had located his Spanish homework, Brandton placed his classbook on his desk and waited for class to begin.

The desks were packed so tightly into the classroom that Brandton had to duck out of the way more than once as other students walked past his desk, to avoid being hit by their backpacks.

As soon as the eight o'clock bell rang, the teacher seemed to 'switch on' and asked everyone to pass their homework to the front while marking her attendance sheet.

Brandton took the stack of papers that was handed to him from behind, then added his own to the stack before handing them to the person in front of him.

Once all the papers had been collected, the teacher then proceeded to review the material that they had been working on the previous day.

The lesson was an overview of the rules governing the conjugation of verbs in Spanish, but what puzzled Brandton was that they were just learning the rules. So far, since the beginning of the school year, they hadn't uttered a single word of Spanish in the entire class.

Since Brandon had heard the whole thing the previous day, he felt his lack of sleep catching up to him.

As the time was nearing eight-thirty, the teacher seemed to be on the verge of encroaching on new, not previously discussed material. The door opened and Brandton felt a cold gust of air rush in, which raised gooseflesh on his arms.

When he turned to look at the door, Brandton was only slightly surprised when Bitru walked in, accompanied by one of the women from the administration office. Due to Bitru's younger age, Brandton had expected him to be assigned to the sixth grade.

The woman from the administration office walked across the front of the room to the teacher and talked with her quietly for a moment as Bitru looked around the room curiously.

The size of the class made Bitru's task of finding Brandton more difficult than one might expect, but finally Bitru spotted him and gave a slight smile of relief.

The woman from the administration office finished her conversation with the Spanish teacher, then quietly said something to Bitru before leaving the room.

"If you'll take the seat at the end of this row, it will be your assigned seat for the remainder of the year. I'll get you a classbook when I assign today's homework." The teacher said seriously.

"Thank you, Ma'am." Bitru said before walking down the indicated row.

The teacher looked at him with surprise at the unexpected courtesy.

Within a minute, Brandton was once again trying to wrap his brain around the rules of grammar related to conjugating verbs in Spanish without knowing what any of the verbs were.

The teacher continued talking for about five more minutes, then stopped so that she could hand out that night's homework assignment, which had to do with the rules for punctuation in Spanish.

While the papers were being handed out, the teacher found a classbook and gave it to Bitru.

* * * * *

Brandton had his coat back on and everything in its place and was ready to go when the classbell rang.

He moved to the front of the room and waited for Bitru by the door.

"In all the chaos, I was worried that I wouldn't be able to find you." Bitru said with relief as he approached.

"What's your next class?" Brandton quickly asked.

"Algebra. Mr. Silverstone was very firm in his insistence that I be placed in all your classes." Bitru said cautiously, somewhat concerned by Brandton's rushed question.

"We need to hurry. Stick close to me." Brandton said urgently.

Before Bitru could question further, Brandton was out the door and into the fray.

* * * * *

Bitru was astonished by the sight of the hallway, which minutes before had been completely empty. Now the hallway was packed with hundreds of students, each frantically scrambling to get to their own destination.

There were a few times when Bitru nearly lost track of Brandton. But finally, they rushed into a classroom which was being guarded by a stern-faced man, standing at the doorway with his arms crossed.

"Is it always like that?" Bitru asked as he fought to catch his breath.

"Sometimes it's worse. Just wait until gym, we have to go all the way across the school for our next class after that." Brandton said frankly.

The classbell rang and the man by the door walked inside and closed it behind him.

"Get in your seats and pass up your homework." The man barked as he walked to his desk.

"Excuse me, Sir. I've been assigned to this class." Bitru said as he followed.

Brandton walked to his desk, then dug into his backpack to take out the homework that he had done the night before.

"There aren't enough desks for everyone. You'll have to drag a chair over and sit at the table at the back of the room." The teacher said sourly, then asked, "Do you have your class schedule?"

Bitru handed the teacher a sheet of paper.

The teacher jotted Bitru's name on his attendance sheet, then handed the paper back as he said, "Get in your seat. We've got a lot to do today."

Bitru struggled to get through the desks, packed so tightly that he had to turn sideways to get between them, but he finally made his way to the back of the room.

The teacher collected the homework from the people at the front of each row, then said, "Now that Thanksgiving's over, we'll be getting back to our regular routine. I'm listing the questions and the page numbers for Friday's test on the whiteboard. The answers are in the back of the book."

Brandton quickly looked to the back of the room to find Bitru sitting almost at the table. There were already four other people sitting in a space that would normally accommodate two.

The teacher approached the table and thrust a book in Bitru's direction as he said, "We test on Fridays. If you can solve the problems, that's fine. If you can memorize the answers, it'll be good enough."

Before Bitru could respond, the teacher went back to the front of the room and took his seat.

Brandton quickly wrote down the information from the whiteboard, then started to go through the questions. Since class hadn't been in session the previous Friday, he had been through the same set of questions once before and didn't have to push himself to solve them or memorize the answers.

* * * * *

The teacher didn't speak to them for the remainder of the class.

A few minutes before the bell, he got up from his desk and wrote on the board, "Homework-2.3 quiz, odd."

Brandton quickly wrote it down on a sheet of paper, then stuffed it into his 'Algebra' homework folder.

When the bell rang, Brandton once again went to the door and waited for Bitru to make his way to the front of the classroom.

"You okay?" Brandton asked as Bitru approached.

"I'm not sure." Bitru answered honestly.

"Close enough. Our next class is in a portable building outside. We need to run." Brandton said before leading the way out of the classroom.

* * * * *

When they arrived in their next classroom, Brandton asked, "Is it anything like what you expected?"

"No. Not at all." Bitru answered honestly as he fought to catch his breath.

"Any questions?"

"Is it always like this?" Bitru asked as he looked around.

"So far, today's been a good day. It can be a whole lot worse than this." Brandton said frankly.

The rush of students hurrying into the room made it impossible for them to say any more, so Brandton went to his assigned seat.

As soon as the bell rang, the teacher stalked into the room and went directly to her desk.

"I've been enrolled in this class." Bitru said quickly.

"Schedule." The teacher demanded without looking at him.

Bitru quickly handed his class schedule to her.

"Fine." She said as she quickly penciled in his name on her class roster, then continued, "We're out of desks. Take a seat at the back. We're out of books, too. You'll have to share." The teacher said without once making eye contact with Bitru.

"Yes, Ma'am." Bitru said before walking away.

"Homework! Pass it up!" The teacher barked to the rest of the class.

Brandton took out his homework, then glanced to the back of the room where Bitru was sitting with six other people in a row along the wall.

"Those of you with books, turn to page forty-three and read the short story. When you're done, loan your book to someone who needs it, then do the analysis questions on the board. If you don't have a book to refer back to, then you don't have to give exact quotes for explanatory textual evidence. Just paraphrase." The teacher said wearily.

When Brandton quickly looked to the back of the room, he could see that none of the six people sitting with Bitru appeared to have a textbook.

* * * * *

As quickly as he could, Brandton read the short story, then got up and hurried to the back of the room to give his book to Bitru.

"You can give it back to me later." Brandton whispered before hurrying back to his desk.

Answering the questions turned out to be a lot more difficult without the book to refer back to. The exercise was basically to dissect the short story into its component parts, putting a label on each. As he worked, it occurred to Brandton that none of the questions had anything to do with what the story said. The message, if there were one, was irrelevant. The writing was to be viewed as a collection of meaningless parts. In the light of meeting Bitru, the realization seemed to have some significance, although what it might be was currently beyond him.

* * * * *

As the end of class approached, Brandton looked to the back of the room and found Bitru and the six others who didn't have desks, gathered around, all trying to get their assignment done while using the same book.

"Hand them up!" The teacher barked as she stood from her desk.

After a moment of waiting, Brandton added his classwork to the pile, then passed it forward.

Once all the classwork had been collected, the teacher walked from row to row, handing out stacks of paper as she bellowed, "Pass them back!"

It took a few minutes, but when a small stack of papers finally made its way back to Brandton, he saw that it was the homework assignment, having to do with identifying parts of speech.

Brandton dutifully put the paper in his 'English-homework' folder, then got everything put away so that he would be ready for the next bell.

* * * * *

"Is our next class far from here?" Bitru asked as he approached Brandton at the door.

"It's not too bad. Come on." Brandton said before hurrying outside.

* * * * *

Bitru was astonished when they walked through the wide open double doors.

He took his class schedule out to verify what he already knew before cautiously saying, "My schedule says that my next class is supposed to be Social Studies."

"Yeah. That's right. On Tuesdays, we have class in the gym." Brandton said as he led the way along the edge of a basketball court and into an area that was partitioned off by hanging gray sheets of canvas suspended on metal frames.

"With the number of students, it seems as though they should build an additional school." Bitru said frankly.

"They just closed two schools down and sent all the students here. As far as I know, those buildings are just sitting there, standing empty, while we're all being crammed into this one." Brandton said as he led the way into their 'classroom'.

"Why..." Bitru began to ask, but the classbell interrupted him.

"Ask me after school. It could take a minute to explain." Brandton said simply, then went to his assigned desk.

When Bitru saw the teacher, he went to him and said, "I'm new here. I've been assigned to your class."

The teacher let out a long sigh, then asked, "May I see your schedule?"

"Yes. Of course." Bitru said quickly, then handed his schedule to the thoroughly exhausted looking teacher.

"You're in the right place. Hold on for just a minute and I'll get you a desk." The teacher said wearily, then said to the class more loudly, "Everyone, hand in your homework, pass it to the front."

Brandton hurried to get his 'Social Studies' homework folder out of his backpack and was ready when the stack of papers from behind him made it's way forward.

Once that was done, Brandton watched as Bitru stood at the side of the 'room' and waited.

After collecting the last of the homework, the teacher then announced, "If any of you chose to read ahead in the book, good for you, but unfortunately, all the information about Yugoslavia is completely out of date. Since I don't have any state approved information to hand out that is current, we're going to skip a couple chapters ahead to the cultural study of the aborigines people native to Australia."

The sound of a police style whistle sounded, then a man's voice could be heard yelling from outside the 'room'.

"If you'll take out your books and begin reading chapter six, the test on Thursday will be over the odd numbered questions at the end of the chapter. The answers are in the back." The teacher said more loudly to be heard over the sound of a bellowing gym teacher.

Once he was assured that his message had been received, the teacher slipped between two sheets of canvas and returned a moment later with a desk for Bitru.

"This is going to be your assigned seat. If the desks are out of order, just remember that you're behind him." The teacher said as he placed the desk behind that of another student.

As soon as the teacher was back at the front of the room, the boy in front of Bitru turned and said, "He doesn't know any of our names. I'm Chris, by the way."

"It's a pleasure to meet you, Chris. I am Bitru."

Another whistle sound interrupted them, then the unmistakable sound of basketballs filled their ears.

"Here you go. Chapter six." The teacher said as he returned with a textbook.

"Thank you!" Bitru said in response, but wasn't sure if the teacher could hear him over the escalating sound of basketballs being bounced.

* * * * *

The teacher didn't even attempt to address the class while the gym class was playing basketball.

Several times during class, basketballs impacted the canvas 'walls' followed by the gym teacher going off on one or another of his students. It wasn't possible from inside the 'classroom' to determine if the basketballs were intentionally being thrown at them or if they had been honest accidents. Regardless, it made staying focused on the incredibly boring and outdated reading material that much more difficult.

A shrill whistle sounded, like so many times before, but this time, after a bit of yelling from the coach, the 'room' became quiet as the basketball players left the court to go to the locker rooms.

"Here's your homework assignment for tonight." The teacher said as he started handing stacks of papers to the front of each row of desks.

Brandton took one and handed the rest back, then looked at the assignment. He let out a sigh of resignation when he saw that the assignment was a map of the Ottoman Empire with blanks needing to be filled in for several of the physical features of the region.

Brandton suddenly broke out of his thoughts and tucked his homework into its assigned folder before putting everything away. Without a watch or a clock in the room, he needed to be prepared.

As soon as the classbell rang, Brandton was out of his seat and across the room.

"Come on, we need to hurry." Brandton called as he approached.

"I thought that we had lunch next..." Bitru began to say.

"If you want to eat, come on!" Brandton said firmly, then ducked through the canvas and hurried toward the door without looking back to see if Bitru were following or not.

To Be Continued...

Editor's Notes:

Brandton and Bitru seem to be getting along with one another really well, for having had just met.

I notice a few things about Bitru that are a little different from most of the other kids. For one thing he is very polite to others, which in modern life seems to be pretty much lacking in almost everyone, teachers administrators and students alike. I did notice a few kids actually speaking pleasantly to Bitru and Brandton, too, for that matter, but I noticed that it seemed unusual to find anyone being polite.

I always found it a bit self defeating to place the answers to the question that are going to appear on the test, right there in the open in the back of the book.

How does that relate to learning the subject if all you are doing is memorizing the questions and answers? Nothing discussed during the class bears any resemblance to the actual subject the students are studying.

Let's see... math class; all the kids in the class take out their calculators, and begin pushing buttons, looking at the screen, then writing down the answers that appear there.

Please tell me how this teaches them any math.

Although I always find MM's stories thought provoking, interesting and downright interesting, it makes me sad, though, that this story follows pretty darn closely what is going on in our own world.

I am ready for the next chapter.

Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher